Saturday 29 February 2020

Brent accused of misleading the public with its Borough of Culture library posters

 

Paul Lorber, of the volunteer-run Barham library has challenged Brent Council over posters which appear to suggest that the council run ten libraries.

He wrote:

The posters about Borough of Culture at London Underground Stations has been drawn to my attention especially this item about 10 libraries in Brent.

The implication is that Brent Council runs 10 Libraries which of course is not the case.

Brent Council could have done so but Labour Councillors decides almost 10 years ago (2020 is the 10th anniversary) to close 6 (half) of its public libraries.

They also refused to hand over the 6 library buildings (many of them donated and free of rent commitments) to local people who volunteered to run them.

In the case of Barham every effort possible was made to deny the building donated by Titus Barham to the local community. It is only through our hard work that we managed to get back into a much smaller building in another part - for which (the only one if the 4 community libraries) Brent charges us a rent.

While we have agreed to participate with the Borough of Culture 2020 we are doing this for the benefit of our community.

We do not however want our position misrepresented or for Brent Council to imply that they are running or managing 10 libraries in Brent - which is clearly not the case.

In view of this can you please arrange for the Posters (and any other references to libraries in Brent) to be changed to reflect the true position.

The correct description is 6 Council run Libraries plus 4 Community Libraries run by local volunteers.

I would appreciate an early confirmation that this change will be made.

Thanks
Paul Lorber

1 Morland Gardens: there IS an alternative


A Brent councillor asked on Facebook for further information on Philip Grant's reference to possible alternative plans for 1 Morland Place. LINK

Philip had written: 
But there is an alternative, as the architects were asked to submit two possible schemes, one of which included retaining the Victorian villa, which is a locally listed building. That scheme would provide around 30 homes (with the same 32% of 3 and 4 bed units), and virtually the same extra facilities as the other scheme.
Philip has responded:
 
The information on the alternative was provided to Willesden Local History Society by Matthew Dibben, Brent's Head of Employment, Skills and Enterprise, following a meeting between them at 1 Morland Gardens on 12 February.  Explaining how the retention of the building was considered, he said that:
'the council asked the architects, Curl La Tourelle Head, to consider two options, one to retain the Victorian villa and another to remove it. Retaining the building meant losing a number of benefits to the scheme.  The proposed retention of the villa in the above plan wraps around 3 of the 4 sides of the villa in order to deliver more floorspace for homes and education use.    It would mean that the view of the villa would only be from Hillside. As highlighted when we met, the real challenge with this site is the central location of the villa so that it cannot be incorporated into the perimeter of the scheme.'  

Setting out what the option to retain the villa would mean, he said:

'the following can be delivered in this iteration.
-       Circa 30 homes (with the same proposed balance of 32% 3 and 4 bedroom accommodation)
-       1800 square metres of adult education space split across 3 floors
-       600 square metres of affordable workspace.'

The 32% of around thirty new homes would mean either nine or ten 3 and 4 bedroom flats and/or maisonettes. If councillors want to see more detailed documents and plans about the alternative option for retaining the Victorian villa at 1 Morland Gardens they should ask for these from Amar Dave, Strategic Director, Regeneration and Environment. Amar.Dave@brent.gov.uk

Friday 28 February 2020

St Raphael's Estate: a recent meeting and upcoming exhibition

I wrote recently about the competition between two groups to win the hearts and minds of people on the St Raphael's Estate where residents are faced with choosing between refurbishment and in-filling on the estate or complete demolition and rebuild financed by the development of private housing on the estate.

St Raphael's Estate Community organised a public meeting attend by more than 60 residents on February 25th which was attended by ASH (Architects for Social Housing) as well as by some leading members of St Raphael's Voice.  St Raphael's Voice claim on Twitter to be the represenative voice:
St Raphaels Voice - The Representative Residents/Tenants/Stakeholders Board for St Raphaels Estate are officially on Twitter - Please ignore all other fake accounts
Further details on the Brent Council website HERE 

St Raphael's Estate Community also on Twitter state:
Ordinary Peoples Rights THE RESIDENCE OF ST RAPHAELS WANT TO KEEP THEIR HOMES, NO TO REDEVELOPMENT/REGENERATION. YES TO REFURBISHMENT With Infills
 Their website is HERE

Inevitably I understand there was some disagreement between the two groups at the meeting.

ASH have published a full account of the meeting with slides from their presentation on their website HERE along with the two videos below. The first is the main presentation and the second an account by Pete Firmin on the experience of residents on the South Kilburn Estate of 15 years of redevelopment/regeneration with another 15 to go.





St Raphael's Voice are advertising two public exhibitions of design alternatives for the estate:


Today Brent Council issued this press release about the exhibition:

The St Raphael’s community will get their first glimpse of what their future estate could look like at two public exhibitions in early March.

The exhibitions, taking place on Saturday 7 March between 12-4pm at St Patrick’s Church, and Tuesday 10 March between 5-8pm at Henderson House, will be a chance for residents to have a first look at the initial designs for infill development and redevelopment – the two approaches being considered to improve St Raphael’s for existing residents while providing much needed new affordable housing.

Earlier this winter, residents attended 11 co-design workshops that saw them explore how each approach could best benefit the existing community. Karakusevic Carson Architects, who residents appointed as their chosen architect in July 2019, then used the community’s ideas to create the initial designs.

Councillor Eleanor Southwood, Brent’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Welfare Reform, said: “For the last year we’ve been working closely with residents and community groups as they have created plans for how their estate could look and feel in the future. It’s vitally important that the community continues to lead the design process, so I encourage everyone living locally to tell us what they think and their preferred design option.”

Chair of the estate’s resident board St Raphael’s Voice, Asif Zamir, said: “The public exhibition is a significant milestone for all residents; I’m excited to see the community turn out and to have some thought provoking conversations on the possibilities, and their aspirations, for the future of our estate. We will continue to empower residents to lead the way forward together, so that we can get the best outcome for everyone whichever option is preferred.”

Following the exhibitions, the community’s preferred initial designs will be tested to ensure they meet planning guidelines and are affordable. Later this year eligible residents will choose their preferred vision for the future of St Raphael’s.

UPDATE: 1 Morland Gardens, Stonebridge – Housing or Heritage? Or both?


Historic Stonebridge Park – “Altamira” and “Hurworth”, now 1 & 2 Morland Gardens.

Guest post by Philip Grant, in a personal capacity

A Brent Council news release on 24 January, about the Cabinet’s decision to go ahead with a redevelopment scheme at Morland Gardens LINK , said that this would ‘create a landmark building in the heart of Stonebridge.’ It did not mention that the plans involve the demolition of a Victorian villa, which has been a landmark building in the heart of this community since 1876.

A lithograph used to promote the Estate in the 1870’s. [Brent Archives online image 1776]

The original Stonebridge Park Estate was developed by the architect H.E. Kendall Jr. between 1872 and 1876, to provide “smart new villas for City men”. One of the first buildings, in this new suburb of the village of Harlesden, was the Stonebridge Park Hotel, now a Grade II listed building LINK . At least sixty villa homes were built on a 35 acre site, which benefitted from a nearby station (Stonebridge Park – not the one on the Bakerloo Line!) in Craven Park, on the Midland and South-Western Junction railway, that opened in 1875. The villas were built in the “Italianate” style, which was very fashionable in the mid-Victorian period, following its use by Prince Albert when building Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s holiday home on the Isle of Wight.

Osborne House, the inspiration for the design of the villas at Stonebridge Park.

The villas in Stonebridge Park had names, not numbers. “Altamira” (now 1 Morland Gardens) was the home of George Hillier, the Secretary to the São Paulo (Brazilian) Railway Company, and his family, plus a cook, a housemaid and a coachman, who lived with his family above the stables at the back. Next door, at “Hurworth” (now called Sankofa House), lived F.A. Wood, who was Chairman of Willesden Local Board (the then Council) for much of the 1880’s. He did much for the local area, and later had a road called after him (if you’ve ever wondered how Fawood Avenue got its name …!). He was also an important local historian, whose collection is now available to see and use at Brent Archives. 

Stonebridge Park in a 1907 postcard. [Brent Archives online image 7914]

After the First World War, many of the villas were too large to continue as ordinary family homes. By 1926, “Altamira” had become the Services Rendered Club (sometimes referred to as the Altamira Working Man’s Club), with ground floor extensions made over the years to enlarge the bar and provide other facilities. In 1994, the building was converted to become the Stonebridge Centre for Adult Education, and is now the home of Brent Start. “Hurworth” became the Willesden West Conservative Club, and continued this use until around 2000, when, with its Victorian façade retained, it was converted to provide 18 flats. These two, now numbers 1 & 2 in the section of Stonebridge Park renamed as Morland Gardens, are the only surviving Victorian villas from this historic development.

Brent Council’s plan for the site of “Altamira” is: ‘to invest up to £43m to deliver a state of the art adult education centre, 65 new affordable homes, 675 sq metres affordable workspace for start-up businesses from the local community, and a public facing café.’ No one would argue that new Council housing is urgently needed in the borough, and having eleven 4 bedroom maisonettes in the mix (the other 1, 2 and 3 bedroom flats would be in blocks 5 and 9 storeys high) would be a bonus.

But there is an alternative, as the architects were asked to submit two possible schemes, one of which included retaining the Victorian villa, which is a locally listed building. That scheme would provide around 30 homes (with the same 32% of 3 and 4 bed units), and virtually the same extra facilities as the other scheme. In January’s 17-page report to Cabinet by the Strategic Director of Regeneration it only received one short paragraph:

‘3.34 Development options that retain the locally listed building have been explored, but to achieve this, it would considerably reduce the size and viability of the scheme. In summary, retention of the building would deliver half of the proposed new homes (32 less) and 30% less education space.’

Brent’s Regeneration Department has “history” in wanting to demolish heritage buildings! Many of us remember the battles to save the Victorian section of the Willesden Green Library building in 2012. As well as the great effort by the local community, one of the factors that helped to prevent that locally listed building from being knocked down was that it was in a Conservation Area, so would have needed special consent to allow its demolition.

1 Morland Gardens is not in a Conservation Area, and it is more likely that it will be demolished. But that has not stopped Willesden Local History Society from opposing this further example of the disregard of Brent’s heritage by the Council. They have set up an online petition LINK.

We, members of Willesden Local History Society, and the local community, petition Brent Council to prevent the demolition of the Victorian villa at 1 Morland Gardens, N.W.10, during the redevelopment of the facilities on the site.

The Victorian building, presently home to the Stonebridge Centre for Adult Education, is one of only two villas, that have survived the developments in the Stonebridge Park Estate, built in 1876, and designed by the important architect H.E.Kendall jr. The house is in the Italianate style popular in the mid-19th century. We should not lose this heritage asset, locally listed, and a valuable part of the Stonebridge scene. This is especially relevant during 2020, when Brent should be leading the way as "Borough of Culture”.’

The planning application for the Morland Gardens redevelopment was submitted in early February, with the reference number 20/0345. It would create a ‘landmark building’, out of scale and style with its surroundings, and particularly with the last the original 1870’s villa, “Hurworth” (now the Sankofa House flats) beside it.

The east elevation drawing for the proposed Morland Gardens development.
[From Brent’s Planning website, ref. 20/0345]

There are already objections to the application LINK . A resident of Fawood Avenue has written:

Brent, the London Borough of Culture for this year, cannot be serious to plan to demolish such a glorious building of high regard in Stonebridge. We local residents who live just a couple of [streets] away deserve more than this. The villa must remain and stay twinned with the other villa. They look superb TOGETHER.’

The ‘twin’ villas, “Altamira” in the foreground, with “Hurworth” beyond.

Another local resident has commented, in support of their objection:

‘Preservation of two 1800s villa is part of the real character in the heart of Stonebridge. Demolition is not the answer of these unique buildings in Stonebridge Ward. We may be poor and forgotten by Brent2020 but we are rich in respect of our neighbours, residents and visitors in Stonebridge.’

Given the demand for affordable housing, and the fact that the Cabinet has already given the go ahead for the scheme, it seems unlikely that Planning Committee will not approve the application (perhaps as early as April). There IS an alternative, which could see this heritage building retained, while still providing at least 30 new Council homes, but the Cabinet were not offered that as an option.

I will be joining with those who seek a change of mind, via the petition and an objection comment against the planning application, to argue that you can have both housing and heritage at Morland Gardens. At the very least, if it is decided that “Altamira” will be demolished, I believe that the new development should include a prominent public record that shares the history of the original Stonebridge Park, in words and pictures, so that residents and visitors to the site can still enjoy some of its rich heritage.


Philip Grant


UPDATE

A Brent councillor asked on Facebook for evidence on the alternative scheme that Phillip mentions above.  He replied:

 
The information on the alternative was provided to Willesden Local History Society by Matthew Dibben, Brent's Head of Employment, Skills and Enterprise, following a meeting between them at 1 Morland Gardens on 12 February.  Explaining how the retention of the building was considered, he said that:
'the council asked the architects, Curl La Tourelle Head, to consider two options, one to retain the Victorian villa and another to remove it. Retaining the building meant losing a number of benefits to the scheme.  The proposed retention of the villa in the above plan wraps around 3 of the 4 sides of the villa in order to deliver more floorspace for homes and education use.    It would mean that the view of the villa would only be from Hillside. As highlighted when we met, the real challenge with this site is the central location of the villa so that it cannot be incorporated into the perimeter of the scheme.'  
Setting out what the option to retain the villa would mean, he said:
'the following can be delivered in this iteration.
-       Circa 30 homes (with the same proposed balance of 32% 3 and 4 bedroom accommodation)
-       1800 square metres of adult education space split across 3 floors
-       600 square metres of affordable workspace.'
The 32% of around thirty new homes would mean either nine or ten 3 and 4 bedroom flats and/or maisonettes. If councillors want to see more detailed documents and plans about the alternative option for retaining the Victorian villa at 1 Morland Gardens they should ask for these from Amar Dave, Strategic Director, Regeneration and Environment. Amar.Dave@brent.gov.uk

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Somali author Hashi Mohamed at Preston Community Library on March 3rd


From Preston Community Library

Local author Hashi Mohamed’s “People Like Us'' has been receiving national press and broadcast attention in the last few weeks since its publication by leading publisher PROFILE. He is coming to Preston Community Library as part of his UK-wide publicity tour on March 3rd.

Hashi arrived in the UK aged 9, a penniless, stateless, parentless refugee from the civil war in Somalia speaking no English.

Raised on benefits in Wembley, he is now a barrister in Lincoln's Inn and prolific broadcaster. He speaks in schools across the country and is mentor to an incredible 22 people. It could have all gone another way. The book is a gripping account, and an invaluable part of the debate on Social Mobility, the lack of...

Reviews

‘I found myself nodding in agreement with every word of People Like Us – Hashi Mohamed has written a moving, shocking, clear-eyed account of the increasingly rare phenomenon of social mobility using his own extraordinary story as a spine’  Grayson Perry

‘Finely written...an ambitious and far-reaching attempt to rethink the whole stalled project of social mobility’  Sunday Times

‘A work of courage and hope by a very remarkable individual’ Philippe Sands

Come and hear Hashid talk about his amazing journey through some of the lowest performing schools in Brent, to Oxford and the Bar, and join the debate.


Is Brent getting any closer to fulfilling its fossil fuel divestment pledge?

Cllr Shafique Choudhary, in a highly unusual contribution to the Allowances section of the Full Council agenda last Wednesday, made the case that the complexity, workload and responsibility - with the added issue of climate change, meant that the Chair of the Pensions Sub-Committee deserved a substantial additional allowance. 

Cllr Choudhary spoke about the role in the third person without mentioning that he is the Chair of that sub-committee. LINK

Certainly last night's meeting of the committee had a very heavy, complex and technical agenda and would have required a considerable amount of homework.  The committee had pre-meeting training on a range of subjects including the welcome addition of climate change, which made a very long evening for members and officers.


I was there as a member of Divest Brent, a cross-party and non-party group that want Brent to divest its pension fund from fossil fuels. This is a manifesto commitment of Brent Labour Party supported by more than 1,000 petition signatories and Brent NEU which represents support workers in schools who are members of the Pension Fund, among a range of other civil society groups. Divestment is made all the more relevant and urgent following the Council's declaration of a Climate Emergency.

Despite this, although there were warm words at the meeting about the need to take account of climate change it did not seem to move much closer to outright divestment. Although not included in any specfic recommendation adopted by the committee, there was support for 'engagement' with fossil fuels companies and car manufacturers as exemplified by a presention by LAPFF. LAPFF prioritise climate change and are part of Climate Action 100+


They think that engagement is preferable to divestment and although they would not try and stop clients from divesting would not recommend it.  - a view considered  by Simon Erskine in his presentation (see below). Instead the focus was on investing in low-carbon funds as part of the Fund's portfolio.

The committee agreed the following recommendations:

The Committee should discuss and agree the investment strategy review undertaken by the Fund’s investment advisors, Hymans Robertson, available in Appendix 1.
The following proposals should be taken into consideration:

·That the committee’s current investment beliefs are fit for purpose but expands on its Responsible Investment beliefs in light of the increased focus on, and importance of, this area.
·The current long term strategy is fit for purpose from a returns perspective as it is expected to return in excess of the required return.
·To introduce a global low carbon mandate as part of the Fund’s equity allocation and to delegate authority to the Director of Finance to agree the size and fund in question and to put into effect this investment following discussions at the committee meeting.
·The Fund’s actual investment arrangements will deviate from their target over time and therefore a degree of rebalancing should take place on a regular basis to try and prevent too much deviation from the desired strategic allocation.
Simon Erskine's presentation on behalf of Divest Brent:

Click bottom right for full page:

 

Simon had certainly done his homework but his recommendations were not addressed by the committee. Perhaps they could be on the agenda of the next meeting.

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Update on Strathcona closure process

A Task Group has been set up with officers of the local authority and Roe Green-Strathcona senior management and the Chair of Governors to manage the phased closure of the Strathcona school site.

Although the unions are not part of the Task Group they will be receiving regular reports on its activity from Brent's Operational Director for Children and Families. I understand that the unions' suggestions on avoiding compulsory redundancies are being considered by the authority.

The NEU ballot for strike action is still live.

Monday 24 February 2020

Discomfort as Brent councillors debate an increase in their own allowances

The debate comes just after the vote on the Local Plan

Last week's Full Council approved a Council Tax rise of 3.99%, numerous cuts and a rise in the councillor's basic allowance of 2% as recommended by the independent allowance review body.

Voting on your own renumeration is always an uncomfortable experience and this was no exception. As you will see in the video Cllrs Abdirazak Abdi, Robert Johnson and Anton Georgiou did not feel justified in taking the increase in the light of the Council Tax rise and many residents' difficult financial position.

Others argued that allowances had been fought for to give everyone, not just the well off, the ability to stand for Council and serve residents.

The livestream video does not show councillors as the vote was taken and it was not a 'recorded vote' when councillors' names are called out by the CEO like a school register and their vote recorded. I cannot hear the for and against vote on the video but think I heard 6 absentions.

There are quite a few barbs in the speeches which are likely to mean little to the public but seem to relate to levels of attendance at council meetings, the suggestion that some councillors are privileged and so can afford not to take the increase and allegations of 'grandstanding.'



Friday 21 February 2020

Brent Central Labour Party GC: Labour suspensions 'smack of totalitarian regimes'




Graham Durham speaking at a joint Brent Solidarity Campaign-Brent Trades Council meeting on Palestine - September 2018
 
Local Labour pro-Palestine activist and former Brent Labour councillor Graham Durham last night received support from the GC of Brent Central Constituency Labour Party followed his ‘administrative suspension’ from the Labour Party after he pointed out that the Chief Rabbi was a Conservative in the context of the Board of Deputies ’10 Commandments’ put to Labour leadership candidates.

Durham had received enough support inside the Labour Party to be on the current ballot for the NEC but has now been removed.  There had been rumours about the suspension over the weekend, which initially he denied, only to receive the notification late as it had gone astray in the post.

This is the motion:
"This GC has been concerned at the recent spate of administrative suspensions from the Labour Party.

Candidates for the forthcoming NEC elections and parliamentary selections seemed to have been targeted which has meant that CLPs and unions who nominated these candidates were de facto disenfranchised. We were however pleased that Jo Bird, for example was "reinstated" and is back on the ballot paper.

Now it seems the same method of administrative suspension has been used again, this time against Brent Central member, Graham Durham, who was also on the ballot for NEC. This means he can no longer be on the ballot.

It seems to happen to members once they have achieved enough support to be on the ballot. Labour Party elections should be as democratic as possible. Removing candidates in this way smacks of totalitarian regimes who deal with "opponents" in this way rather than letting the electorate decide.

This GC wants there to be a fair and transparent election of NEC members and parliamentary candidates. The timing of these suspensions gives us cause for concern. We ask the NEC to address these issues as quickly as possible and call for NEC elections should to be halted until all candidates under suspension have been investigated or had their suspensions lifted. "

Thursday 20 February 2020

Love Where You Live - the Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals

From the “Brent & Kilburn Times”, 20 February 2020.

Guest post by Philip Grant

Dear Councillor Butt,

Love Where You Live - the Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals.  This is an open email.

​By chance, a letter that I wrote to the "Brent & Kilburn Times" (urging readers to go and see, by 24 February, the three tile murals which were "revealed" on 18 January) has been published today alongside your article, urging readers to Love Where You Live.

Like most of my fellow law-abiding local citizens, I abhor illegal rubbish dumping as much as you do. But there is more to having an environment that residents can love living in than just fighting against litter. 

Having beautiful surroundings, that give you a sense of pride in where you live, and encourage you to look after that place for others to enjoy as well, is another important factor. That is why, for the past couple of years, I have been working with colleagues in the Wembley History Society, and with a growing number of residents who have told me that they love the tile murals at Wembley Park, to try to get this Council-owned heritage artwork put back on public display.

I realise that most of the murals are currently covered over with advertisements, or with light panels which can be used for displaying advertisements. This is as a result of a lease of the Bobby Moore Bridge to Wembley Park Limited, which you and your Cabinet agreed to in January 2018. However, the Officer's Report on which you based that decision did not mention the murals, or disclose that the advertising rights were over walls with these tile murals on them, so that there was no consideration of the heritage value of the Council asset that you were being asked to sign away control over.

The current lease expires in August 2021, and I would ask you to give a commitment now, that when any renewal of advertising rights on the walls containing the Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals comes before Cabinet again, the Report must include a proper description of the murals involved, and a fair assessment of their heritage value, so that any decision is based on the full facts.

I believe that it would be possible for the Council to receive a worthwhile advertising income from the Bobby Moore Bridge, while still allowing the tile murals, or at least most of them, to be put back on permanent public display. So that the possible options which could deliver this outcome can be properly considered, I would ask you to notify Brent's Chief Executive, and confirm publicly, that you support the following suggestion:

My suggestion is that, within the next six months, a Senior Council Officer should meet with me, and any other representatives of Wembley History Society or local residents who wish to be involved, to discuss ways that the murals can be displayed again, while the Bobby Moore Bridge still produces advertising income for Brent Council. If those discussions produce a viable plan for a way forward, that plan should be implemented in good time before the current advertising lease expires on 30 August 2021, so that the Cabinet can choose what it considers the best option for the Bobby Moore Bridge from that date onwards.  

With the "reveal" of some of the murals for LBOC 2020, Brent has finally acknowledged that these scenes from famous sports and entertainment events at the Stadium and Arena 'are part of Brent’s rich heritage'. Now we need to build on that, to help Wembley Park residents, old and new, to Love Where They Live.

Let me end by echoing the closing words of your "View from the chamber" article, which I endorse: 'Working together, I know we can make an environment we can all be proud of.’

I look forward to receiving a positive response from you. Best wishes,

Philip Grant
(a Fryent Ward resident).
 

High Court challenge to Barnhill by-election result

An Election Petition has been issued in the Election Petition Office of the High Court challenging the result of the January 23rd by-election. The petitioners have applied for a court hearing and the High Court will list a time and date for the hearing which will published on Brent Council's website.

The petition from the Conservative candidates  is set out below and is available via the Council's website. As an interested party I will comment no further other than note that the election result was declared around 12.50am on January 24th rather than January 23rd.

Click bottom right for full page.




This was the result of the Barnhill by-election: