Tuesday 30 November 2021

LETTER: In praise of Adventure Playgrounds


 Dear Editor


Children spend 6 months of the year in school, and if you include holidays and weekends, 6 months of the year NOT in school. Places like these WERE Stonebridge, Church End, Roundwood, and South Kilburn Adventure Playgrounds where children had the opportunity to play outside doing all the things they love to do, but cannot do at school or at home. 

They enabled children and young people from different ages, schools, abilities, backgrounds, and postcodes to come together in a spirit of challenge, adventure, managed risk, learning through experience, creative expression, and low-key safe supervision.


Brent closed them all down as part of their ‘austerity measures to save money’. 


But what was the real cost of these closures? Where do the children play?


In August 1982 the local paper ‘The Willesden and Brent Chronicle’ published a front-page article entitled ‘Under 5s living in Sky prisons’ ‘A shocking report released last week shows that despite Brent Council’s policy of housing families with children in flats below the fifth floor, a quarter of the under ten-year-olds on South Kilburn and Stonebridge Estates live above that level.’


Well at least they had a policy back then even if they didn’t stick to it! What is the policy now? As more and more high-rise blocks are crammed into every corner of the Borough’s available open-space, and patches of land, where now demolished community facilities once stood…where do the children play? If you live in a high rise, or even a low-rise do you let your children out to play somewhere within your locality where you feel they are safe when out of sight? Or is it now a world where children don’t play outside any more, just stay indoors when not at school, and play on their PlayStations and Xboxes?


We keep a Facebook page for all the past-users of Stonebridge who remember their childhoods there so here are a couple of comments from there;


“Some of my best childhood memories were spent at the playcentre with my sister and friends/ neighbours (names deleted) The playcentre shaped our lives and made us the people we are today. There was and will never be another place like it.


I Loved making wax candles, and wax hand moulds. The chips after school from the tuck shop the inflatable in the square pit, The rope swing, the wooden tower/climbing frame that I never got to the top of, because all the older kids owned it the firework displays. The children of today can only dream of a childhood like the one that the staff provided us with. 


Thank you all, for everything you did for us growing up x “


“Spread the word, the kids need somewhere to go other than the street corner or their bedroom. Just like we did and had.”


We had so much fun going there every day in school holidays. I used to look forward to the trips. I’ll never forget it”


Omg my kids loved it there and so did I.”


 Glynis Lee

TfL on compulosry face coverings on services from today

 From Transport for London

 In line with new Government regulations on the wearing of face coverings on public transport from Tuesday 30 November, we are reminding all customers travelling on the TfL transport network that they must wear face coverings for the duration of their journeys or risk being fined, unless they are exempt. 
The Government has confirmed that face coverings will become compulsory again on public transport and in shops across the country in order to help prevent the spread of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant in the UK. Since the Government removed the national requirement to wear a face covering on public transport, face coverings have remained mandatory on TfL services under TfL’s condition of carriage but enforcement powers under these conditions were highly limited.
This new regulation means that customers must wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth for their entire journey, including on transport services, in stations and on platforms, unless they are exempt. Additionally, face coverings should be worn by everyone in taxi and private hire vehicles for the duration of their journey. Exemptions include people who have trouble breathing, children and anyone who finds it difficult to manage them correctly.
TfL’s 500 uniformed enforcement officers and TfL's police partners will be out across the transport network ensuring that customers comply with the Government regulation. Anybody who does not comply may be refused entry, directed to leave the network or face a fine. 
Customers are reminded to treat everyone on the network with respect and compassion, and to understand that some customers and staff will be unable to wear a face covering for medical reasons or other permitted reasons that may not be immediately obvious.
Scientific advice suggests that although face coverings are unlikely to prevent an individual from catching the coronavirus, they can help prevent someone who is infected from infecting others and thus help control the virus.
To support the reintroduction of national regulations, TfL is also handing out face coverings at key locations across the capital for a short time to help Londoners do the right thing and keep each other safe.  Alternatively, face coverings can be purchased at a number of local shops or online. 

TfL is continuing to ensure customers can travel safely and confidently on its services. Tube trains and stations are cleaned with hospital-grade cleaning substances that kill viruses and bacteria on contact and provide ongoing protection. Independent testing by Imperial College London has been carried out monthly since September 2020, taking swabs of touch points in stations, buses and air samples in ticket halls. No traces of coronavirus on TfL’s public transport network have been found. 

TfL's enhanced cleaning regime continues to make the network cleaner than ever, with more than 1,100 hand sanitisers installed across the network, and at least 200 UV light devices continually sanitising escalator handrails. TfL’s buses and trains are well ventilated, with air on a typical train carriage changing every two to three minutes on average.

Monday 29 November 2021

CLOSES TOMORROW NOV 30th: Have your say on Brent's Air Quality Action Plan

 From Brent Council Website

Dirty air costs lives.

That's why we have made it a priority to work with our residents and businesses, TfL, the Mayor of London and national government to improve air quality across the borough. While great progress has been made in recent years, there is still work to do; and we want to hear your views on what action to take.

We are working to update our Air Quality Action Plan to make sure the action we take over the next five years will have the most impact, where it's needed most.

In 2019, 59% of Brent’s monitoring sites had an annual nitrogen dioxide level higher than the legal limit. When it comes to particulate matter, both our PM2.5 sites and one of the PM10 sites exceeded World Health Organisation limits.

Clearly, more needs to be done. Air pollution is considered the world's largest environmental health threat, with over 4,000 deaths across London attributed to air pollution in 2019.

This is not just an inner London problem – a report by the GLA and Imperial College London shared that the highest number of these deaths were recorded in outer London boroughs.

Pollution levels lowered during 2020 as a result of COVID-19 restrictions but there is a risk that, if more people return to using cars, pollution levels could increase to over and above 2019 levels.

We want to work with you, our residents, to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Over the next year, we will be working to review progress made against our current Air Quality Action Plan and updating it to make sure the actions taken over the next five years (2023-2027) are as ambitious as possible. This will support national and London-wide policies, such as the Ultra Low Emission Zone, to help protect Brent residents from the health impacts of poor air quality.

The review will take place over a series of stages:

 1) Developing the draft Air Quality Action Plan:

We want you to help us design the plan. By filling in the below survey, you can tell us what air quality means to you and what action you think should be taken across the borough. The survey will be open until 30th November 2021.

Meanwhile, we will also be undertaking borough-wide air pollution modelling to better understand the situation in Brent, identifying pollution hotspots and dominant sources for those locations.

2) Feedback on the Draft Air Quality Plan:

The information you share in the first survey, along with the borough-wide data modelling, will help feed into the creation of a draft Air Quality Action Plan.

Once the draft is written, you will have an opportunity to give your feedback on the draft plan, through a public consultation on this site, before the final version is published in 2023.

3) Publishing the Air Quality Action Plan

Once the plan has gone through that final public consultation, the final plan will be shared in 2023 and delivery of the actions will start.

In other news! Brent’s Long-Term Transport Strategy is being developed alongside the AQAP – you survey responses will also be fed into this. You can have your say on the draft Transport Strategy in the coming months – watch out for more news on this site.

Advice for those struggling with energy & utility bills - Brent Civic Centre Friday December 3rd 10am-3pm



Stand up for Brent children's right to play - take part in this London Play survey now



I have not forgiven Muhammed Butt and co for the loss of the fabulous Stonebridge Adventure Plaground.

Just look at the video above to see what our Brent children are missing out on as a result of the Council's action in removing the grant and earmarking the site for development.

London Play are running a survey aimed mainly at people (adults and children)  living on estates, or high density housing areas to try to ascertain the changing face of our communities with reference to children’s play.

They may be in receipt of some Lottery money in order to further some of their objectives regarding getting communities more involved in children’s play.

To take part in the survey follow these links: 


Children and young people survey link: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/LondonPlayCYP2021


Adults survey link: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/LondonPlayAdults2021

Saturday 27 November 2021

LETTER: Natural Grass Playing Field Conversions to 3G

 This is the first Letter to the Editor to be published. Send your letters to wembleymatters@virginmedia.com with your name (tell me if you do not want you name  published). Maximum 1000 words - shorter preferred). I reserve the right to edit the letter and not to publish if I deem it unsuitable for publication.

Dear Editor,

This month Brent Council is again tasked with considering a planning application for a commercial 3G artificial grass floodlit football pitch development. But will this finally be the last of its kind?

We have seen these applications several times before, and they almost read the same. This time it is by Queens Park Community School (QPCS) in Brondesbury (Ref 20/1411) [1]. Like its predecessors, QPCS wants to replace its natural grass playing fields with artificial 3G rubber surfaces, complete with state-of-the-art floodlights and commercial football hiring until 9 pm. As is the case with many other schools in London, QPCS is located in the midst of a quiet residential area.

The arguments remain the same. 3G rubber crumbs are invariably bad for the environment and players' health. 3G pitches are banned in parts of the EU as a result. These operations tend to be very noisy. And, the commercial hiring aspect routinely draws in large numbers of visitors from further afield that will be using private transport because the site is not well connected to the public transport network.

On the other end, the school is citing the desperate need for an all-year football pitch because the grass surface becomes difficult to play on during the winter months.

The Head of QPCS recently took her cause to the Brent & Kilburn Times stating that 'QPCS has produced "outstanding top-flight footballers"' before naming a few [2]. This is, undoubtedly, a remarkable record, but it also begs the question that if QPCS can 'produce outstanding top-flight footballers' on its natural grass playing fields, then why does it even need to replace Nature with artificial grass with all the dire consequences this development would bring?

But there is another question. How much should we be focussing on producing more professional football players? Only a tiny fraction of players will ever make it to a level where they can support themselves following this elusive dream. And, it is often a rather short dream due to the immense physical strain players are under. For some, it is over as quickly as a flight into suborbital space.

As a nation, we are under immense pressure to solve the many complex problems we are faced with today. We are battling a global pandemic. We are battling Climate Change. We are battling social injustice, an ageing community and a looming care crisis.

We are in desperate need of healthcare professionals, doctors, engineers, scientists and leaders that can help us get through these challenges. Our Government has failed to attract a single applicant to its fast track Global Talent visa scheme.
Therefore, should our schools in Brent not be focussing on producing the skills and expertise that we so desperately need? Should our role models not include Sir David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, or the many unsung heroes of our time who develop vaccines against Covid or work to solve our growing need for renewable energies?

This particular planning application is additionally facing serious ecological challenges. There is anecdotal evidence of there being colonies of bats at the site which is adjacent to Tiverton Green. Yet, when QPCS presented its initial plans in 2020 and when it resubmitted these plans in 2021 it did not commission or present a single bat survey as would be customary in these situations. This has taken many observers by surprise. However, due to the efforts of the Brondesbury Park Residents Association who privately commissioned a professional 'Bat Activity Survey', we finally have clarity on this point. There are indeed two species of roosting and foraging bats in the immediate vicinity of the site.

This 'Bat Activity Survey' was uploaded to the Brent Planning Portal only hours before the end of the consultation. Unfortunately, this has meant that the public, including pupils, their parents, neighbours, and everyone who has commented on this application, did not have the benefit of this important evidence and information.

I suspect that further bat surveys will now be required covering all of the proposed site and its surroundings. This would need to be done before this application could possibly be resubmitted in the form of a revised application if this should even still be deemed viable.

I feel that QPCS and its management has let down the public and its supporters by resisting to undertake professional bat surveys right from the start. It would also seem inconceivable that anyone would be tempted to continue pursuing a planning application when it stands to contravene the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2017).

Moreover, there appears to be an important lesson for all when it comes to schools wanting to replace their natural grass playing fields with artificial materials such as 3G rubber surfaces.

As the many detailed responses to these planning applications repeatedly show, the impacts these have on the natural environment stand in no comparison to the perceived incremental benefits these might offer.

If we are to learn from past mistakes, we need to change how we go about our natural resources. If COP26 in Glasgow has taught us anything then we need to change now. We cannot afford to further destroy our local natural habitats and let a commercial undertaking benefit from its demise.

If Brent Council and its Members are serious about the Climate and Ecology Emergency it had called in 2019, and if they are serious about the Brent Climate & Ecological Emergency Strategy 2021-2030, they must act firmly and call time on these ill-conceived developments that harm our fragile biodiversity.

Brent Council should also make it clear that these types of developments will no longer be considered in future.

Daniel Hulsmann
Brent Resident

[1] https://pa.brent.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=DCAPR_149939

[2] https://www.kilburntimes.co.uk/news/queens-park-community-school-3g-pitch-8472588

Brent draft budget proposes 3% Council Tax rise and average 4.1% Council rent rise



The Cabinet will be asked to approve consultation on a draft pre-election budget LINK  for 2022-23 at their meeting on Monday December 6th (10am).  The budget includes a 3% increase in Council Tax for the Brent segment with an as yet unspecified amount for the GLA precept to be added, and an average 4.1% increase in  Council rents, an increase which is expected to be repeated in the next controlled 3 year period.  The budget gap of £2.7m will be reduced through cuts and savings already agreed of £2.7m. LINK

In discussing the background to the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) officers note:

It should be recognised, however, that forecasting over the medium term has been, and continues to be, extremely difficult. There is a high level of uncertainty over the medium term due to the delays in funding reforms, the continuing impacts of COVID-19 on residents and businesses in the borough and the impact of BREXIT. The significance of the financial challenge cannot be underestimated, however the measures outlined in this report aim to ensure that the Council continues to operate in a financially sustainable and resilient way.

If unforseen demands are made on the budget, further cuts are likely.

Key features of draft budget are:

  • A council tax increase of 3%, making a Band D council tax of £1,419.48 (for  Brent element). The GLA precept, which typically makes up 20% of the overall bill, is currently unknown and is subject to their own decision making. (Removing the funding for the social care reforms, the increase is actually 1.8% compared to 3.3% for the average government department. Nevertheless, while the additional funding announced for Local Government is welcome, the precise outcome for individual authorities will not be known until the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement, usually announced in mid-December.)
  • Budget savings proposals (all of which were considered by Council in February 2021) with an aggregate value of £2.7m, as summarised in Appendix A
  • Consultation on a rent increase of 4.1% (CPI + 1%) for the 2022/23 Housing Revenue Account budget.


The report notes:

Although growth has been built into the MTFS to help alleviate some of these pressures, they continue to present a significant budget risk, particularly in respect of the demographic and contractual pressures.

For example:

  • The impact of COVID-19 is not fully known or how the pandemic will play out for the remainder of the year. Therefore, there is a level of risk when setting the budget that the Council may be exposed to unfunded financial pressures in-year.
  • The new income loss compensation scheme announced for Council Tax and Business Rates does not fully cover the losses the Council is estimating and only applies to losses incurred in 2020/21. The ending of the furlough scheme in September, the tapering of business rates reliefs and the ending of business support grants are likely to have a continuing impact on business rates income. Other income losses will be dependent on the pace at which the economy recovers. Overall, income losses can pose a considerable budget pressure.
  • The level of ‘scarring’ that has occurred, for example pent up demand in children’s social care, long Covid and the mental health impact on adult social care. In addition, the extent to which current circumstances will become the ‘new normal’, for example greater domestic waste if more people continue to work from home and a larger role for Public Health.

If these were to transpire, without any further government support, they could expose the Council to a liability that may require it to put in place further savings and/or expenditure reductions in order to balance the overall budget and MTFS.



Nationally, there has been a significant increase in the number working age people claiming Council Tax Support. In Brent, this number has increased by 4.9% bringing the total number of working age people claiming CTS to 19,338.


The total cost of providing CTS has increased from £28.4m at the start of the pandemic to £30.7m as at November 2021, an increase of £2.3m. This is important because an increase in CTS expenditure reduces the amount of Council Tax that is able to be collected.



School budgets are under considerable strain from a number of factors that include reduced pupil numbers (particularly in some primary schools - funding is per pupil), increased national insurance costs, covid, and lack of funding for special needs pupils in the mainstream. Brent's overall education funding will be reduced as we move to the National Funding Formula and the Schools Forum has agreed a gradual move to the NFF that will mean a 10% reduction in 2022-23 only part of which will be made up by some short-term funding. The Report discuss the issues:


The Council will continue to set a local funding formula for mainstream schools in 2022/23, although the total funding available will be determined by the National Funding Formula (NFF). The provisional Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) block allocations announced show that the Council will receive a minimal increase in mainstream pupil funding of £1.8 million which represents an overall 0.71% increase. This is lower than the national percentage increase of 2.9% and lower than the average of 1.7% for Local Authorities in London. The lower overall increase is due to factors such as: varying per-pupil funding levels across local authorities in London which are higher than the NFF 2022/23 minimum per pupil rate, and the impact of decreases in primary pupil numbers.

The Spending Review 2021 confirms a £4.7 billion growth by 2024/25 for the core schools budget in England. This growth includes: funding to cover the cost of a temporary increase in National Insurance Contributions (NIC) of 1.25% for 2022/23 from April 2023 to be replaced by the Health and Social Care Levy. The funding would also be used to increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000.

The Spending Review also confirms a £1 billion Recovery Premium for the next two academic years for schools. This funding is based on pupil premium eligibility. Primary schools will continue to benefit from an additional £145 per eligible pupil, but it is expected that the funding for secondary schools will nearly double which may be close to the £290 rate for pupils in Special Schools, Alternative Provision & Pupil Referral units. Additional funding was also announced of £324 million in 2024/25 for additional learning hours for 16-19 year olds. This funding increases the average hours funded in 16-19 education by 40 hours. Further details are expected in the coming weeks detailing how the funding will be allocated.

The High Needs block (HNB) of the DSG for 2022/23 will increase by £5.3 million representing an 8% increase in the HNB income. This is below the London average of 8.21% and the national average of 8.84% due to London experiencing the lowest increase in the funding floor factor as a result of reduction in pupil numbers, and the lowest increase in 3 out of the 6 Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) bandings.

There are pressures against the HNB block due to increased demand for Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and this is a national issue. Despite the additional funds, the demand pressures continue to grow and to set a balanced DSG budget in 2022/23 the Council will request via the Schools Forum a 0.5% transfer from the Schools Block. The pressure in the HNB has led to the DSG being in a £10.5 million deficit carried forward from 2020/21 and further forecast pressures of £4.4 million in 2021/22 will increase the deficit position to £14.9 million.

The DfE require local authorities with an overall DSG deficit to have
management plan to recover the deficit over a number of financial years. The Schools Forum have been presented with actions being taken to manage demand, improve sufficiency of places and financial management to recover the deficit in the medium to long term. These include: establishing more SEND provision in the borough as part of the School Place Planning Strategy 2019-23 Refresh paper including developing new Additionally Resourced Provisions (ARPs); ensuring there is full cost recovery from other local authorities that place pupils in Brent special schools including administration and other specific costs; a review of the DSG funded SEN support services; continued central government lobbying. The Deputy Leader of the Council is actively part of the lobbying process.

The key principle of allocating the funding for the Early Years Block remains the same i.e. 95% of funding received is allocated directly to providers with the remaining 5% or £1m retained for central services. Funding arrangements for the Early Years Block have not yet been published but following the Spending Review 2021, the DfE confirmed that nationally, the block will receive additional funding worth £160 million in 2022/23, £180 million in 2023/24 and £170 million  by 2024/25 to enable local authorities to increase hourly rates paid to providers for childcare entitlement offers which reflects the costs of inflation and national living wage increases. An Early Years funding report for 2022/23 will be presented at the Schools Forum in January 2022 detailing the revised funding rates.

Proposed council rent increases (weekly)


 The Report sets out the arguments for a rent increase: 

The Housing Revenue Account budget setting from 2016/17 to 2019/20 was principally directed by the Welfare Reform Act 2016, which imposed a 1% rent reduction for four years. This has resulted in a reduction of rental income and bottom line surpluses previously assumed in the business plan. The resulting £23m loss of income, along with increased capital expenditure on major works, has led to the full utilisation of the major repairs reserve to finance investment in the existing housing stock.

Efficiency savings targets are incorporated into the budget setting process. From 2021/22 onwards, this is a 2% target across management and repairs costs, which equates to £0.5m per annum.

From 2020/21, the Council has the power to increase rents annually up to a maximum of CPI plus 1% for a period of five years. For 2022/23, CPI plus 1% equates to 4.1%, allowing the potential to increase rental income by £2m, and up to £6m over the remaining three-year rent control period.

The average rent in 2021/22 is £118.74 per week. A 4.1% increase would equate to an average rent of £123.61 per week in 2022/23, an increase of £4.87 per week when compared to the current rent levels. The increase is required for inflation led growth and to ensure sufficient continued capital investment in the Council’s existing housing stock.

Alternative scenarios of a 3.1% increase or a rent freeze were considered and rejected as leaving the account in deficit:

The report notes that because of  a court ruling on  the charging of water rates to council tenants the HRA account over-charged tenants and will have to reimburse them:

Therefore, Brent, and all local authorities, who had similar agreements with regional water companies, will need to reimburse all social housing tenants for any overcharged amounts. Brent had two such water collection agreements in respect of water charges, one with Thames Water and another with Affinity Water (formerly Three Valleys).

As these sums were received into each authorities’ Housing Revenue Account, the money for these reimbursements will need to come out of local authorities’ Housing Revenue Accounts as well. For Brent, the cost of refund is estimated to be £7.2m. Brent have set aside provisions for this in the accounts.


Compared with the Capital Programme the figures elsewhere in the proposed budget are peanuts. Note the £551,000,000 total over 5 years. Plans include retrofitting all Brent housing stock to reach Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) B Level by 2030 - a welcome commitment both for climate change through energy efficiency and hopefull wamer homes and lower bills for tenants.

Some South Kilburn residents are concerned about an apparent slow down of activity on regeneration in 2024-25 that means demolitions and rehousing will be delayed. 

A South Kilburn resident told me earlier this week that a South Kilburn housing were informed that apart from the sites already under construction, there would be nothing else available for at least 4 years.  He said, 'This explains why they are not able to rehouse the Granville New Homes residents, as there is nowhere for them to move to in South Kilburn.  My block, William Dunbar House will now not be decanted until 2028 or even later.'

I have highlighted in bold a section of the report referring to South Kilburn which seems to suggest the possibility of selling some council land and property but I stand to be corrected.


As set out in the table, the Council is planning to borrow externally up to £339m over the three year MTFS period. The prudential borrowing equates to around 61% of the total funding, followed by external grant and contributions at 25%.


Internal funding from earmarked reserves and capital receipts make up a further 7% and these will be mainly generated from the sale of council land and property that will be constructed as part of regeneration schemes such as South Kilburn.

The remainder comes from Strategic Community Infrastructure Levy (SCIL) and S106 contributions.




A low-rise fire safety programme was developed by Brent Housing Management to address risks in 1,208 converted and purpose built blocks. With regard to high-rise blocks, it was decided to go over and above regulatory standards by carrying out Type 4 Fire Risk Assessments across all tower blocks over 12 storeys, the outcome of which found no fundamental issues or safety concerns. The Council is currently in the process of developing a robust major works programme, as outlined in the Asset Management Strategy, to deliver the highest standards of compliance, providing ongoing peace of mind and reassurance to residents when it comes to fire safety in tenant homes.

As part of the South Kilburn regeneration programme, the Gloucester House & Durham Court site is being redeveloped to provide 235 new affordable homes to assured social tenants. These are expected to be fully occupied by Brent’s residents in 2021/22. Brent Council owns the freehold and the Council’s housing team, together with the Council’s energy team, will provide the billing for heat to the residents. The associated costs will be funded by service charges and through the HRA asset management strategy, in line with other communal heating networks


Proposals, together with any changes made by Cabinet, to form the basis of consultation between December 2021 and February 2022 with local residents, businesses and other key stakeholders;

Resources & Public Realm Scrutiny Committee to review the budget proposals and report accordingly;

General Purposes Committee, in December 2021, will review the calculation of the Council Tax base; and

After consultation, a budget report will be presented for Cabinet to recommend a final budget and Council Tax to the February 2022 Council meeting.