Thursday, 21 November 2019

Green candidate calls on Brent Council to review Mapesbury asphalt & Furness trees decisions

William Relton, Green Party  parliamentary candidate for Brent Central is calling on Brent Council to review two actions that were due to be implemented on Monday morning in the night of its Climate Emergency Declaration. William said,
Quite why this is happening so soon after The Climate Emergency Declaration was made is quite staggering.The Climate Emergency Declaration must be more than a public relations stunt. It will only have credibility if residents can see that it affects Brent Council’s every environmental action. I support Mapesbury residents concerned about the detrimental environmental impact of asphalt replacing paving in Dartmouth Road and the people of Furness Road who have managed to delay the cutting down of trees in their road, five of which are outside Furness Primary School. Both cases indicate that the Council is prevented by a bureaucratic interpretation of its own guidelines in making sensible decisions that contribute to   the fight against climate change. 

I call on Brent Council to review both decisions and ensure that all such actions are seen through the lense of the Climate Emergency Declaration. Coincidentally I responded in the comments section of the CED specifically about Brent needing to implement a large scale tree planting programme, and this removal of healthy trees seems to be completely at odds with its own policy.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Roe Green Strathcona strike again to save jobs

When talks with Brent's Strategic Director of Children and Families on Tuesday evening failed to win a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, NEU members at Roe Green Strathcona decided to take a sixth day of strike action today.

Jobs are threatened following Brent Council's decision to implement a phased closure of the Strathcona Site.

The NEU is asking for funding to enhance voluntary redundancy, retrain staff and to pay the existing staff who will be deployed at the main site in the expectation they will gradually leave for new jobs.

Public urged to support the Roe Green Strathcona staff on strike today

NEU staff at Roe Green Strathcona School will be on strike today following the failure of attempts to negotiate an arrangement with Brent Council that would avoid compulsory redundancies and facilitate redeployment from the Strathcona site to the main Roe Green Infants site.

Striking staff will be demonstrating outside Brent Civic Centre from 8am to 9am this morning. This will be the sixth strike in a campaign that initially started to stop the closure of Strathcona but following confirmation of the Labour Council's decision has now moved to protecting jobs.

Battles over school closures were last prominent in the 1970s when the number of pupils in schools fell.The strike is significant because it will set a precedent for how closures are handled by local authorities. It is thought that closures are likely in some of Brent's neighbouring boroughs. Falling pupil numbers are likely to be affected by movement out of the UK by some European families in the event of Brexit.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

'If not now, when?' Read the Green Party's radical Manifesto here - '

Click on bottom right corner for full screen view:

Council pauses work in Furness Road to re-assess the situation

A spokesperson for  Brent Council told Wembley Matters this afternoon that the Council had paused the work in Furness Road 'for now so that we can re-assess the situation.'

Earlier in answer to a request from Wembley Matters they gave the background to the issue:
“When a footway is selected for renewal based on a condition survey, we make an assessment of all the trees in that street to identify those that are either dead, diseased or dying, and so which can sensibly be replaced by a new tree as part of the work.

“It’s actually a means of taking advantage of the work in order to be proactive in the management and replacement of poor quality trees.

“There are also other factors that may need to be taken into account regarding these trees, not least if their roots are presenting a significant trip hazard that cannot be overcome or if their health is likely to be impacted negatively by the new footway work so that they perish soon after.

“Of those considered a safety risk, a further site assessment is carried out specifically to see if there may be a workaround so that we don’t take them out unnecessarily.   

“Whenever we decide we must remove a tree as part of these works, it’s always a case of one out and a new one. There is no net loss. We are very mindful of air quality and climate change considerations and the council is committed to a much wider programme of planting new trees all over Brent.

“There’s a balance to be struck. As the local highways authority, we do have a duty to provide safe footways for our residents, particularly for the elderly and for those with mobility issues.”

Pensioner's heating restored after a week of cold

I am pleased to hear from John Healy that his heating was restored yesterday by Oakray. His South Kilburn flat was without heating and hot water for more than a week following a boiler breakdown.  Vaillant were distinctly unhelpful and attempts to make a complaint via Brent Council failed. LINK

Brent children need clean air NOW!

Dr Ian Mudway addressing the meeting

A packed meeting held at Queens Park Community School last week (Tuesday 12 November) heard from experts and campaigners how severely our children’s health is being affected by air pollution, and what should happen now to stop it.

Over 60 parents and campaigners from across Brent came together to hear Dr Ian Mudway, a respiratory disease specialist at King’s College London, explain how children’s lungs are damaged by daily exposure to diesel emissions, even when they don’t display any apparent symptoms.  Dr Mudway, a global expert on the subject, said:
I now believe that there’s no doubt that children who grow up in polluted areas have stunted lung development. Their lungs don’t develop properly. We’re seeing that in our children in Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Their lungs at the age of nine were already smaller than they ought to be. And that’s a burden that they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.
The meeting also heard from Rosamund Kissi-Debrah.  She became a passionate campaigner after her daughter Ella, who had a rare and severe form of asthma, died in 2013.  She was nine years old.  The pathologist who carried out her post mortem said it was “one of the worst cases of asthma ever recorded in the UK”. The family were living next to the South Circular road at the time. 

Rosamund said:
It is unacceptable that children in Britain today die from asthma. There are 240,000 under-19s with a diagnosis of asthma in London.  Government and local authorities are not taking strong enough action…there needs to be new Clean Air Act.  Air pollution is related to many other diseases as well, costing the NHS millions each year to treat…My daughter suffered terribly, and hopefully her death will not be wasted.
In May 2019 Ella’s inquest was re-opened, to determine whether "unlawfully high levels of air pollution" were partially the cause of her death. Air pollution has never previously been officially recorded on an individual's death certificate.

Cllr Krupa Sheth, Cabinet Member for the Environment at Brent Council, attended to outline various Council initiatives to combat air pollution including measures to increase awareness about the dangers of idling, and a piloting of School Streets.   She said that “air quality has become a high priority in the council.”

Cllr Thomas Stephens who is currently chairing a Scrutiny Committee Air Quality Task Group said:
Air pollution is an invisible killer.  It’s hard to persuade people to take action when you cannot see it.  For example there’s a perception that people are safer inside a car, when this is not the case. We need to do a lot and need to do it quickly.
Mark Falcon, Chair of Clean Air for Brent, which is taking part in the Air Quality Task Group said:

Brent contains 4 out of 10 of London’s most polluted roads (1).  We believe the time has come for traffic control measures in the worst pollution hotspots, particularly those near schools. We urge Brent Council and Transport for London to take bold action now to protect our children’s health.

Did Brent Council do enough to save the Queensbury?

Although it was the Planning Inspector who gave the go ahead for the demolition of the Queensbury Pub there is also an issue of Brent Council's role.  Brent Council never got round to listing the building which would have been a first line of defence but the Planning Inspector himself seemed doubtful that they had properly prepared for the case.

The Save the Queensbury campaign on social media accused the Council of dithering:

Because this was Brent's own doing. Inept officers dithering about new plans in front of them, dancing to the developer tune, rather than preparing for an upcoming Inquiry. Car crash of an Planning Committee in June, officers desperate to approve led to zero prep for the Appeal.

The campaign  are asking Cllr Butt, leader of Brent Council and Carolyn Downs for an explanation of the Inspector's comment on the Council's preparation for the Inquiry (Para 46)

The evolution of the design of the proposed building was clearly set out in the appellant’s evidence, and was carefully analysed by the appellant’s architectural and conservation witnesses. In comparison the Council’s evidence was far less detailed and was given by an architect with apparently very limited experience of comparable developments, and who was doubtless hindered by being instructed only a week before evidence was submitted.

In contrast after considering objections to the Save the Queensbury's website inclusion of an image of a previous application which he said could have been misleading, he writes (Para 70):
That said, the STQ evidence was clear and relevant, and there could be no suggestion that their clear evidence was in any way misdirected
This is the Inspector's conclusion:

Planning balance and conclusion

I have already identified the policies which are most important for determining the appeal above. There is no persuasive evidence that any of the policies are out of date. Considering the policies as a whole, the policies are not out of date and I conclude that the ‘tilted balance’ under paragraph 11 of the Framework is not triggered.  

I am conscious of the considerable importance and weight to be given to the desirability of preserving the character and appearance of conservation areas. However, in this case I have found that the proposal would overall have a neutral effect on the designated area, which is to say that its character and appearance would be preserved. 

The proposal would generate the following main benefits, to which I attach significant weight: 

a.     It would deliver 48 new homes, including 35% affordable housing at the Council’s tenure split. This is accepted as the maximum reasonable amount and is subject to a late review mechanism. The percentage of family sized units is unusually high for a development of this sort.

b.    The re-provision of a larger public house in purpose built accommodation.

c.     The provision of a larger and dedicated community space, along with secure arrangements for the existing and future occupiers.

d.    The development is in a highly sustainable location opposite a tube station and on bus routes, and with a PTAL score of 6.

            For the reasons given above I conclude that the appeal should be allowed.

 The full report is below. Click on the bottom right hand corner for full size version: 

Palestine-Israel: A Jewish Perspective Thursday Granville Centre

Monday, 18 November 2019

Massive blow to Mapesbury conservation as developer wins appeal to demolish the Queensbury Pub

The scheme refused by Brent Council now approved by Planning Inspector
What we will lose

Sad news from the Save the Queensbury Campaign who have shown such determination in their fight to save a much loved pub. Commiserations and solidarity.

From their website LINK

The developer (Redbourne) has won its appeal to demolish The Queensbury pub and erect 48 flats at 110 Walm Lane NW2. The Queensbury, as we know it, is to be demolished and replaced with a six storey box-shaped building with a metal roof which should include a new, glass-fronted public house.

This is the result of the appeal of late August 2019, following Brent Council refusing permission in May 2018. We defended the building in a five day public inquiry, when both Redbourne and the pub operator set out a case to demolish the pub. The inspector has concluded that the building can be demolished and (importantly) the replacement should incorporate a new public house.

The community has fought hard to retain the historic building at 110 Walm Lane which has been used continually by the people of Mapesbury and Willesden since 1896. We successfully fought off three other planning applications and one previous appeal since the building was purchased by a developer in 2012 but without proper protection by Brent Council (and a poorly handled defence at appeal) the battle has been lost.

A little bit of heritage will be lost when The Queensbury is demolished and conservation in Mapesbury is no longer.

We have “won” a new pub, to be on the ground floor of the development, so have we Saved The Queensbury? Only time will tell.

At best, the character of The Queensbury will be lost and the current outdoor drinks terrace will be turned to paving, surrounded by cycle racks and blending onto the pavement with café style tables and chairs rather than pub beer garden. The replacement does have a larger floor area, but with shorter licenced hours to sit outside. The kitchen is tiny and inside is a more sterile, glass building which locals have described as a hotel lobby or railway station waiting room. There is a dedicated community space, with a small outdoor area attached and the current operator has committed to keep that relationship going.

Our worry is that the track record of developers actually including a pub in a mixed development (even though the plans approve this now) is dire. It is not always their fault, but developers tend not to like pubs in new builds. This is because the value of the “market” flats (which are at the front) will decrease by having a pub below.

Too often during construction the “viability” of including a pub is thrown into doubt and developers return to the council for a change of use. Even if it opens, complaints about noise follow, rates are increased, pub viability is questioned and the developer seeks permission to change use to a café or retail in the future.

We are not paranoid nor distrustful; this is happening all over London and when we asked Brent Council and the developer for examples where they have done this successfully neither could offer a response. Given this, a pub at 110 Walm Lane is still some years from being a permanent fixture.

On the bright side, we won two major commitments during the appeal.

1. The developer will have to return to Brent Council if they want to change from a pub to another use. This enables the public and local residents to scrutinise any plan to change use.

2. The developer has to work with Busy Rascals (the baby and toddler community group) to find them an alternative space if and when building work begins. This is so they can carry on their brilliant work in the community, returning to the replacement pub if and when one emerges. Again, the plans look promising.

But what’s promised today does not always appear tomorrow.

All in all we started this process in 2012 with a 10 storey tower and no  pub. We end 2019 with a smaller block and commitment of a pub, if best intentions are delivered.

Asphalt wars break out again as Mapesbury residents challenge Brent Council

Residents in Dartmouth Road have taken on Brent Council over the proposed asphalting of their footway LINK. They claim that while there are strict rules involving the protection of their Conservation Area regarding changes to their properties, Brent Council is ignoring the spirit of such legislation in its plans to replace paving with asphalt.

The policy was challenged three years ago over the asphalting of Chandos Road with a petition launched on 38 degrees. LINK

There are, I understand, now getting on for 150 signatories on the Dartmouth Road petition to the council opposing the action and the operation which was due to start today has been suspended for a week.

Meanwhile the image above shows Grendon Gardens in the Barn Hill Conservation Area which was re-paved with brick blocks and paving stones after the asphalting policy was introduced.  When I tweeted a photograph of the work at the time someone suggested a Brent councillor must live in the street - I am sure that is not true but residents are looking for consistency in Council policy.

Brent Council defends removal of Furness Road trees

A spokesperson for Brent Council asked to comment on the proposed removal of eight mature trees in Furness Road , five of which are outside Furness Primary School, said this morning:
"These trees have been identified by our tree experts as poor quality that would need to be removed in the near future and so it makes sense to take advantage of the footway works and replace them at the same time. 

"It's our responsibility to maintain a healthy and safe tree stock across the borough and we replace every tree that is cut down so that there is no net loss."
Cllr Claudia Hector tweeted:
 The trees in Furness Road are going to be replaced. Brent has been planting more trees every year.

A different view was given by a resident who along with others had an impromptu meeting with a council officer at the site this morning:

Brent’s response is completely incorrect. I have just spent the last 2.5 hours with an officer of Brent looking at each of eleven trees that have been selected by Brent’s so-called experts for removal. All but one are healthy. The trees are removed either to make paving around them less difficult/costly, to avoid future subsidence claims, or because they are deemed to costly to maintain. This is a budget issue. Unfortunately environmental costs don’t feature in their cost: benefit analysis. Makes a mockery of their Climate Emergency Declaration. I do appreciate the officer having taken the time to explain his position today and reconsider which trees they will remove. He seems to be between a rock and a hard place.

Dawn reprieve for the Furness Road trees

The trees outside Furness Primary School this morning

Cones stacked this morning

Local residents report that the parking restrictions outside Furness Primary that had been imposed to make ready for the removal of five trees this morning LINK have been removed.  News of the proposed felling spread like wild fire yesterday on Facebook and Next Door with the vast majority of local residents opposed. Another three trees were scheduled for removal elsewhere in Furness Road.

Children left their own messages nearby:

Whether this signals a temporary reprieve or a major re-think is not yet clear. Meanwhile the chair of  Harlesden Area Action has written to Cllr Krupa Sheth, lead member for the Environment and Gary Rimmer, Trees officer:
I am receiving feedback from many residents (nearly 50 comments on Nextdoor), far and wide within both the Harlesden and Kensal Green wards, voicing their grave concerns related to the rampant removal of trees. It has come to our attention that a number of trees (8?) are to be removed on Furness Road tomorrow. In addition, one tree, located near 56 Furness Rd has now been removed, and the cutting down of another located at 88 Furness Road has taken place. 

As you are aware, Brent has declared a Climate Emergency; you spoke of this at the Clean Air for Brent meeting last Tuesday. In that light, we would like to understand the rationale behind removing these trees, for each individual tree.  

Would you please provide us with the following: 

1. Specific reason for the removal of each tree.
2. Specific reason for the removal of the tree outside of 56 Furness Road
3. Specific reason for the removal of tree cut down at 88 Furness Road

Lastly, we have understood that you have "asked the officers and contractors to put a hold on the felling of the trees until I have further information, nothing will happen this weekend”.

Please also confirm that no tree will be removed as you noted in your email to residents until we have received further information and have had time to review it.

Cllr Jumbo Chan sent this written request to Brent Council nd promised to keep residents informed of the response:

My thanks to Caitlin for the photographs.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Who's kidding Brent Council? Signage mystery deepens

These signs appeared in the north of the borough  out of the blue a while ago but seem to have  suddenly disappeared.

Their positioning seemed quite random, a Salmon Street slip road had 6 or 7 over a short distance and they were often fixed facing the wrong way. I drew Brent Council's attention to the fact that they were so poorly fixed that they often slipped down to the base of the post and suggested that they get the contractor back to attach them properly. They said they would do so. Nothing happened and they were blown in all directions, broken and dangled forlornly to much derision.

Most seem to have been removed as suddenly as they appeared leaving just a few remnants apart from the lone survivor above. Is there is a market for stolen skid signs?

But seriously, several questions arise, this is all money that could be spent elsewhere:

1. Why was it deemed necessary to install these signs and was there any consultation on their installation and the speed limit imposition involved?

2. How much did it cost to buy and install them?

3. Was the contractor asked to put poor installation right or had their fees reduced because of poor performance?

4. How much did it cost to remove them?

4. Are they going to be replaced?

If only we had an opposition on Brent Council to ask such questions...

Note: all pictures taken today.

UPDATE: A reader has sent in the following comment which seems to solve the mystery:  

My impression is that these signs are put up by the company which has the new pothole injection-filling contract - there is an online map which shows that they have indeed been filling holes in the Salmon Street service road.

Consternation over Brent Council's removal of 8 mature trees in Furness Road

Brent Council's consultation on climate change actions closes today (make a last minute submission HERE) and unfortunately it coincides with what appears to be an act of environmental vandalism by the Council.

Residents report that the Council is to remove 8 mature trees on Furness Road, Harlesden, 5 of which are outside Furness Primary School.

Apparently the removal is due to a 'pavement renewal project'  which suggests confusion over priorities when the Council recently declared a Climate Emergency.

Elsewhere local authorities are recognising the importance of trees in combatting air pollution and climate change and some are encouraging schools to plant trees in their grounds and on the playground perimeter.

This is the response one resident got from Cllr Krupa Sheth, lead member for the environment:
 I nor the council want to remove trees unless they absolutely need to be removed. Yes if there are issues where we would be liable for insurance claims then we do have to remove the trees as the insurance pay outs worth thousand of pounds from the council’s already diminishing budget would not be the wisest choice for the residents nor the council.
We do our best to look after and preserve our trees and are constantly looking for funding including Brent’s CIL funding to plant more trees as well.
Cllr Sheth said that she would get back to the resident but nothing further has been heard. Meanwhile the removal signs have gone up.

The removal of the trees is due to start tomorrow - is there time for a last minute attempt at saving them?

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Brent faces up to the challenge to plan for the next 20 years - details of report going to Full Council on November 25th

Brent Council, with partners, has faced up to the formidable challenge of devising an 'Inclusive Growth Strategy' for the next 20 years.

The report on the Strategy which is to be discussed at Full Council on November 25th  states:

The Inclusive Growth Strategy (IGS) is a long term strategy that identifies choices available to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of growth over the next 20 years. Broader in scope than a Regeneration Strategy, the IGS is supported by a detailed evidence base drawn up in-house by officers across all the council service areas, with early support provided by the LSE Cities programme. The IGS builds on the medium term Borough Plan and takes a longer term scan of the horizon of different futures. Headline growth trends and impacts considered in the IGS include: 

Brent’s population projected to grow 17% and reach 400,000 people by 2040

Brent’s population over 80 years old projected to double by 2040

Automation placing a third of jobs in Brent at higher risk

Employment growth in creative and circular economies 

Rise of older workers driving demand for retraining and flexible employment 

Increasing housing unaffordability, as house prices outstrip wage growth 

Private renters increasing to be 40% of London’s households by 2025 

Growing water demand and widening deficit versus available water supply

Sewer capacity at critical levels by 2050 in north and west parts of Brent 

Transformation of Brent’s energy mix to reach zero carbon by 2050 – requiring fossil fuel use reduction of 80% and increased renewable energy use of 500% 

Ageing population, obesity levels and increased risks for black and minority ethnic groups, driving even higher levels of diabetes in Brent’s population 

Continued decline in traditional retail and greater high street diversification
The full report with an attached Action Plan is a hefty 73 pages and embedded below for convenience. Click bottom right square for full page view.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Brent Council and Vaillant Boilers leave disabled pensioner out in the cold for a week

John Healy, a disabled pensioner living in a Brent Council property on the South Kilburn Estate has found himself without heating  for a week. Both Brent Council and Vaillant Boilers failed to look after his well-being after his boiler broke down last Friday. He is still waiting for the repair.

John told Wembley Matters:
My boiler broke down last Friday night and Brent's engineer said I needed a new pump. He told me  I had to contact the Council  on Monday which I did.

Vallant who supplied my boiler made an appointment for me last Wednesday but they never showed.  They made another appointment for today but they failed to show up again.

I visited the Kilburn HUB on Wednesday  saying I wanted to make a complaint against the Council but they told me I could not make one.

I rang the Council around 4pm the same day (Wednesday) but again they said I could not make a complaint against the council but I could make one against Vaillant.

I have asked Vaillant twice to send me a copy of their complaints form but they have not sent  it to me.  Instead they are trying to put the blame on me by suggesting that my hearing impairment is the problem.
So today I made an on-line complant to Brent Council.  
In conclusion, I am a disabled pensioner who needs his home to be warm and going without any heating or hot water for over a week has made me ill.

UPDATE via email  from John sent at 18.27 (2 hours after this story was published and tweeted)
Oakray have offered me an appointment for next Monday morning and they say they have their own parking permits for the council car park next to my block.

Still that will be 10 days without any heating or hot water but hopefully it will not be for any longer.

Introducing your Green Party candidates for Brent Central and Brent North

William Relton making the case for  the Green Party in Willesden Green
My name is William Relton. I am honoured and delighted to have been selected as the candidate for the Green Party in Brent Central. This really is the most important election for decades. The timing is not right for a proper General Election on the broader issues concerning most people up and down the country, which is how a General Election should work. This election will be forever remembered as the Brexit election. Just as Caroline Lucas has been campaigning ever since the ’16 referendum, we really should have had a proper People’s Choice referendum before this election. However, Parliament, or at least the two largest parties, has decided that we should have an election now, so here we are.

This will be a very important election for the smaller parties. People have really begun to realise that our two party, first past the post system, just doesn’t work anymore. A total reform of our electoral system is urgently needed. A vote for the smaller parties is a step in the right direction towards Proportional Representation, a system that the vast majority of modern democracies use. The Lib Dems are still badly tainted by their record in the coalition government with the Tories. A vote for the Green Party will help support a movement for a fairer, cleaner, happier Britain. Please do vote for me, William Relton, Green Party, Brent Central on December 12.

Secondary school teacher Simon Rebbitt
My name is Simon Rebbitt. I am a secondary school teacher of History and Geography and the Green Party’s candidate for Brent North. I have lived in Brent for the last ten years and have taught in comprehensive schools in this community all that time. The things that are important to me I believe are important to all of us: the huge rents that stop people moving onto the property ladder, the general cost of living and especially transport costs. They affect me and they affect you too. First and foremost, as the representative for Brent I would want to make sure these concerns are known in Parliament. 

As a Green Party member, I care about the environment yes, but then again, I haven’t ever met anyone who doesn’t. We all want a healthy world we can leave for our children. That doesn’t mean banning all cars or forcing everyone to become vegans, it means finding workable solutions that can make us make positive changes to our lifestyles. But right now, the biggest distraction is Brexit. The leave result was a crude answer to a complicated set of problems championed by pandering politicians looking to advance their careers at the cost of everybody else. I first joined the Greens when I saw how impotently Corbyn tried to oppose the Leave campaign. The Green Party opposes division, it stands for unity, for the planet and for its people. I stand with them and for Brent now and for the future.