Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Good Law Project to sue the Metropolitan Police over failure to properly investigate the Prime Minister over Partygate.

 From the Good Law Project

 

Good Law Project is today issuing formal proceedings against the Metropolitan Police - a day after the force was placed into special measures - for its continued failure to properly investigate the Prime Minister’s attendance at Partygate gatherings and its refusal to answer legitimate questions about how these decisions were reached. 

 

It was only after the not-for-profit campaign organisation issued proceedings against the Met in January 2022 that it agreed to investigate at all. The Prime Minister was eventually fined for attending a lockdown gathering in June 2020. 

 

The Good Law Project case asks why the Met apparently failed to issue questionnaires to the Prime Minister about three other lockdown gatherings - in November and December 2020 and January 2021 - when some civil servants who attended received a questionnaire and, subsequently, a fixed penalty notice.

 

Good Law Project is bringing the case because it believes the public has a right to know the truth about the Partygate investigation. The Met’s actions have raised grave concerns about the deferential way in which it is policing those in power compared to how it policed ordinary people during lockdown.

 

Good Law Project has given the Met multiple opportunities to explain its position.  On 15 June, Good Law Project wrote to the Met for a final time asking it to fulfil its duty to be honest and upfront with the public.  It chose not to respond to the substantive issues raised in the case, and instead responded by denying Good Law Project had the right to bring the legal action (known as ‘standing’). When asked who would have standing to bring the challenge, it refused to answer.  

 

Good Law Project, along with our co-claimant former senior Met Officer Lord Paddick, strongly believe we have standing to represent the public interest on this matter. Due to the Met’s failure to engage with our questions, we have no option but to sue for a second time to seek the truth about the Prime Minister’s conduct during lockdown. 

 

Lord Paddick said:

"Members of the public will have seen Boris Johnson raising a glass at a party which he apparently hasn't been questioned about.  I thought, 'If that had been me, I would have been fined.'  We are determined that the Prime Minister should be held to the same standard as the rest of us." 

 

Jo Maugham, Director of Good Law Project said:

“It's appalling that the UK's biggest police force has been placed under special measures because of a litany of failures. We need the Met to be transparent about its actions and this challenge is grounded in a single, simple idea: for the law to have any meaning, it must apply equally to us all. The Met must explain their seeming lack of action regarding this matter. We won’t stop until the full story is uncovered.”

 

The public’s faith in the Met has been severely compromised this year - it has failed to hold the Prime Minister and those around him to account for their lockdown breaches, and there have also been shocking reports of institutional misogyny, discrimination and sexual harassment. This is its moment to finally begin repairing the damage created by the Met’s inaction and restore the public’s trust.

 

The Met has until 22nd July to respond.  



Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Bush Farm and Roe Green Walled Garden among groups to win NCIL funding

 

The barn at Bush Farm, badly in need of attention

My Aunt Muriel haymaking at Bush Farm 80 years ago,  Summer 1942

I was pleased to hear that both Barn Hill Conservation Group and the Bush Farm Collective whose Neighbourhood CIL bids were featured on Wembley Matters LINK LINK, succeeded in winning funding.

The Conservation Group will use the funding for infrastructure work at the Victorian Roe Green Walled Garden, including repairs to the barn that visitors will remember as housing an amazing selection of, well I am not too sure what to call them - bric-a-brac, curios, collectors' items?  Always fascinating.  

The Bush Farm Collective will also be using some of the money for restoration work  on its barn (see above) and fencing.  There are plans for a community garden, toilets and outdoor learning facilities. The Collective now has a farming licence and hope to have a small number of animals on site including sheep.

2021 Census data: Population change 2011-2021 for Brent and its neighbours

 







Sunday, 26 June 2022

Beware fake Covid-19 Text messages. The NHS never ask for bank details.

I received a text message this afternoon from a number ending in 505 6489 infrming me that I had been exposed to someone with Covid-19 and telling me I was required to take immediate action. A link to health-care-uk.com was given to order a PCR test.

When I tried to forward the text message to my email it was blocked as having a potentially harmful attachment.  Already suspicious of the mobile numbler and the fact that it was not an NHS website I went separately to the website that looks genuine but eventually asks for name, address, mobile and then bank details for 99p postage on the otherwise free PCR test.

Clearly this exploits people who may panic at the news of exposure.

The BBC has published a warning from the NHS:

The NHS is warning about widespread scam text messages telling recipients they have been in close contact with a Covid case.

"We've seen reports of fake NHS text messages about ordering Omicron Covid-19 test kits," it tweeted.

The aim of the messages appears to be harvesting financial and personal information.


More to Watling Gardens 'new homes' than the Council is letting on

 

Watling Gardens with some of the buildings due to be demolished (note the mature trees)

Brent Concil published a press statement last week after the Cabinet meeting which presumably they expect to be used by the local press.

 

Another 125 new council homes for local families

 

125 local families will benefit from new Council homes at Watling Gardens, Cricklewood, after construction was given the go ahead by Cabinet on Monday 20 June 2022.

 

Following close on the heels of last week’s announcement that that we are investing in 155 new homes at the Alperton Bus Garage Development, this latest approval marks a leap forward towards the aim to create 1,700 new council homes by 2028.

 

The high cost of private rented housing was one of the biggest issues identified by Brent’s Poverty Commission, which recommended making building more council homes a priority.

 

Watling Gardens will consist of 125 new council homes, including 45 extra care homes especially designed for disabled and older people, 24 shared ownership homes, to provide an affordable means of getting on the property ladder and 56 London Affordable Rent homes. Building works are expected to begin early next year (2023).

 

Councillor Promise Knight, Cabinet Member for Housing at Brent Council, said: 

 

“We are invested in much-needed council homes, helping local families into affordable, secure homes. This decision to build another 125 properties as council homes in the Watling Gardens Development is yet another step to hitting our promise to create 1,700 council homes by 2028. We are driving that promise forward almost weekly.

 

Brent’s Poverty Commission clearly set out that a safe, secure home is the foundation for every family to build upon. We are determined to keep building and providing those homes for the families who live in Brent.”

 

Cllr Knight was not actually at the Cabinet meeting as she was unwell and Cllr Butt managed the item.

The claim  of 125 new council homes needs some unpacking. 42 homes (the two Claire Court buidlings and bungalows), pictured above, are to be demolished and the occupants have been decanted. That leaves a net increase of 83 council homes. However, since the announced change of tenure, 24 of the 83 will be Shared Ownership instead of London Affordable Rent, requiring a shared annual income of £60,000 to £70,000. This further reduces the number of truly affordable homes to 59.

The press release also leaves out the information that, contrary to the Officers' Report, the change of tenure has to go back to Planning  for approval as pointed out by Philip Grant in a guest post on Wembley Matters. The report was amended at the Cabinet meeting to take this into account.  LINK.

Reacting to the Council's statement Philip Grant said:

It is as if it was prepared before Monday's Cabinet meeting, on the basis that the original recommendations had been approved, without the last-minute amendments.

 

The 125 homes at Watling Gardens are not strictly all "new" Council homes. Up to 34 of the homes will have to be allocated to existing tenants whose homes will be demolished to make way for this development, if they wish to be rehoused at their former Watling Gardens location.

 

For the change from LAR to Shared Ownership to be legally permissible, Brent will have to apply for an amendment to Condition 3 of the April 2022 planning consent. No such application is yet shown on Brent's planning pages. 

 

As the reason for the existing "affordable housing" condition was 'in the interests of proper planning', there is no guarantee that the change would be acceptable. 

 

Any such request for an amendment to the condition should be dealt with by Brent as Local Planning Authority in the same way as they would for any other (unconnected) applicant. Any attempt to apply "political pressure" on Brent's Head of Planning, in order to deliver what the Cabinet and other Senior Officers want, would be improper, and probably unlawful.

 

Of course, none of that is reflected in the press release!

 

Will Ed Sheeran 'Park & Walk' in Fryent Country Park set a precedent?

 

 There was a bit of a buzz on social media yesterday about Fryent Country Park being used as a car park for the Ed Sheeran concerts at Wembley Stadium.  I had seen for myself crowds heading towards Wembley along The Paddocks (rather than the advertised Kings Drive route) often with young children in tow so investigated.  The result was the video above.

Some of the people I spoke to were concerned about the length of the walk (25 minutes was advertised) and particularly anxious about getting back to the field in darkness after the concert.

The recommended route

 

There were complaints about '25 quid to park in a field' lthough that compares with £40 in Wembley Park.

I do not know whether the arrangements were made ahead of the RMT rail strikes or because of them. Labour councillors may be interested to find out to see whether the effect was to undermine union action.

The main issue for locals is whether this will set a precedent, Fryent Way has been used as a coach or car park before for large events, but going into the park  proper is new.  

The new stadium was much vaunted as a public transport destination but that intention has since been overtaken by car park development in the stadium area and local residents renting out their driveways on event days.  Ironically, Brent Council itself took action against Chalkhill Primary School to prevent it making additional income to improve educational opportunities for its children by letting out its playground for event day parking. 

It would be interesting to know where the 'Park and Walk' earnings will be going.

Does Brent Council need planning permission to convert a green space into a car park business?

This is the official information on the Wembley Stadium website:

Fryent Park Car Parking

Event day parking will also be available at Fryent Park (W3W: firms.fully.daring) on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th June, just a 25 minute walk north of the stadium. A map of the car park can be found here. 

This car park will be operational from 1200 on each event day and all walk routes will be signposted to and from the stadium. 

Parking is available at £25 per vehicle: Please visit Wembley’s Park The Car Here website for more details. All event day parking must be pre-booked, otherwise car park access will not be permitted on the day. 



Saturday, 25 June 2022

Child-friendly bike ride Sunday 26th June - Roundwood Park to Paddington Rec

 


Exploring Amy Johnson - Kingsbury Library, Tuesday 28 June at 11am

 Guest post by Philip Grant

 


An early biography of Amy Johnson from 1933  

 

Ever since the amazing solo flight to Australia in May 1930 that shot her to fame, Amy Johnson’s story has been an inspiration to both women and men, young and old. Now anyone who can spare an hour next Tuesday morning can enjoy a free creative coffee morning event at Kingsbury Library, seeing and hearing her story, and having the chance to put that inspiration on paper in their own words.

 

As a local historian, I’m proud of Amy’s time in Kingsbury, learning to fly at Stag Lane Aerodrome, and living in Roe Green while she worked to become a qualified aircraft engineer at the London Aeroplane Club there. 

 

This time, it’s not me who is sharing Amy’s story with you, but Amanda Epe of FlygirlsUK, beginning with the short film “Flying from Brent”, which she made as part of a “Being Brent” project with Brent Museum and Archives last year.

 

Sadie Kempner as Amy Johnson, in Amanda Epe’s film “Flying from Brent”

 

You can get further details of this free event, and register your interest, on the Brent Libraries Eventbrite page. It may not inspire you to go off and fly solo to Australia (that needed a lot of hard work, determination and planning), but I feel pretty sure that you’ll both enjoy the event and come out feeling more positive!

 


Amy Johnson climbing into “Jason”, her Gypsy Moth biplane, to set off for Australia

 

I hope you can make it to Kingsbury Library on Tuesday, but even if you can’t, there is a self-guided walk (a collaboration between Amanda and me) that you can enjoy at any time, “In Amy Johnson’s Footsteps, through Kingsbury and Queensbury”.

 


Philip Grant.

Friday, 24 June 2022

Former Brent Council Deputy Leader breaks cover on alleged lack of Black Caribbean political representation on the Council

 

 

Margaret McLennan

 

Former Brent Council Deputy Leader, Margaret McLennan, who did not stand for election in May, broke cover this afternoon in reaction to a newly elected councillor's tweet about Windrush Day celebrations in Brent.

She said:

Great Rita, but what about local councillor political representation in Brent for this community that built this borough. Without this it is all meaningless words. 
Everybody sees and everybody knows.

The dimishing role of the Black Caribbean community in local politics has been an issue lurking beneath the surface for some time and goes beyond the recent candidate selection process and Cabinet and Committee appointments.

A number of years ago I chatted to two Black Caribbean ex-councillors (both Labour) outside Harlesden Methodist Church where I was running a stall. They listed a number of issues that they felt meant that their community was no longer respected, including the closure of Stonebridge Advenure Playground, the council's takeover of the Bridge Park Centre and funding for the Sickle Cell Advice Centre.

An issue that has been raised with me recently is the claim that aspiring Black Caribbean candidates have been pushed out of many wards in the south of Brent.

 


Wilhelmina Mitchell-Murray

 

In February of this year Cllr Wilhelmina Mitchell-Murray resigned from the Labour Party, citing differences with both the local and national ladership, and joined the Conservatives. She unsuccesfully stood as a Conservative candidate in Wembley Central at the May election. Her son Joshua Murray, Labour councillor for Harlesden, did not stand for the May local election.

 


The current Brent Cabinet

 


Source: https://data.brent.gov.uk/dataset/vqkrd/community-profile-evidence-pack

A crude comparison might be made of the composition of the Cabinet and councillors and that of the local population but we would need to know the self-defined ethnicity of all councillors to make a legitimate comparison. I have not been able to find that recorded on the Brent website but a rough count  puts the number of Black Caribbean councillors at around six out of 57 councillors (approximately 10.5%)

Numbers alone of course does not indicate power as this depends on the position held within the council as well as their level of engagement with the community,



Brent Council names Nigel Chapman as the new Corporate Director of Children and Families

 Brent Council has named Gail Tolley's successorfor Children and Young People, now names as Corporate Director after senior management reorganisation LINK.

From Brent Council:

Nigel Chapman is to become Brent’s Corporate Director for Children and Young People, after nine years in the borough. He will assume the role in September, following the retirement of Gail Tolley. 

Beginning his career as a social worker in 1998, Nigel worked his way up through the ranks in a series of charity and London Council roles. In 2013 Nigel joined Brent from Hackney Council, as Head of Service responsible for fostering, adoption and looked after children. Nigel became an Operational Director in 2016, where he oversees social work, early help and inclusion services (SEND). 

During this time, Brent has significantly improved outcomes for children. This progress was recognised by Ofsted, who judged the council’s children’s social care services to be good with outstanding features for the first time in 2018. In 2019 the Youth Offending Service was judged to be ‘good’, and in the same year services for children with SEND in the local area received a positive inspection outcome.

Carolyn Downs, Chief Executive of Brent Council, said:

Colleagues and partners who have worked with Nigel know that he puts the interests of children and young people at the centre of everything he does.

 His experience, starting as a social worker and now becoming our new Corporate Director for Children and Young People means Nigel brings a wealth of experience and expertise to his new role, with both front-line and strategic skills.

Nigel has a deep understanding of Brent’s young people – their hopes, ambitions, as well as the barriers that need breaking down to help them achieve their full potential.

Nigel said:

 So much progress has already been made to improve outcomes for children in Brent, from those in our care to an impressive 97% of local state schools graded ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. I’m excited to build on this excellent work.

Times are tough for many families right now, with bills going up and continued fall-out from the pandemic. Whilst we’ll always deal with families in crisis and safeguarding those children most in need, I am passionate about the importance of early-intervention.

Our Family Wellbeing Centres already play an important role in supporting parents and young people, and it is  likely that this  innovative approach will soon be adopted nationally. We’ll continue to push new boundaries to give our children the best start in life.

Nigel will take up the post at a time when numerous national debates are playing out about the best way of designing and delivering services for children and young people, from the government’s Schools White Paper, SEND Review, and the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.


Thursday, 23 June 2022

REFUGEE WEEK: People Power in The Face of a Hostile Environment

 I am grateful to  Zena Kazeme (Refugee Resettlement Officer for Sufra NW London) for permission to reprint the article below first published on the Sufra website LINK.  Do please consider contributing to Sufra's amazing work. Link at the end of the article.

 

 

It’s almost unbelievable to think that this September will mark the 7th anniversary of the death of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who captured the hearts of millions across the world, when his small body washed ashore after making the treacherous journey across the sea on a dinghy. The image of the 3-year-old jolted the world and for a moment, the tragedy provided a glimmer of hope that change would ensue.

 

Fast forward 7 years and not only have over 6,000 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean sea since Aylan’s death, but those who have managed to arrive at our shores are facing the harshest policies in an environment that is growing more hostile by the day.

 

In April this year, despite widespread condemnation, the government confirmed plans to outsource asylum seekers to detention centres in Rwanda. Following the introduction of the Nationality and Borders Act, the government announced it will transfer responsibility for providing asylum to those who arrive in the UK by irregular routes, such as crossing the English Channel in a boat from France, to a “safe third country” – Rwanda. The plan stated that anyone who had arrived in the UK ‘illegally’, as of January 2022, would be liable for removal. It slowly became apparent that once people are exported, their claims are no longer considered under UK law, but rather as Rwandan asylum claims – and even those who go on to be granted asylum won’t have right of return to the UK. The UK’s legal obligations end once they have been deported.

 

An Illegal Asylum Seeker?

 

The plans mention asylum seekers arriving in the UK “illegally”, which begs the question; is there such a thing as an “illegal” asylum seeker? In short, the answer is no. The plan is referring to individuals who have arrived via unofficial routes, usually by crossing the channel on a small boat. Under international law, anyone fleeing home to seek safety has a right to apply for asylum, regardless of how they reach the UK. In fact, the majority of the guests we work with at Sufra, arrived through unofficial routes, risking their lives to find safety. For some guests from Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, it took over a year to reach the UK.

 

Plans to export refugees to a ‘safe third country’ for processing has been lurking in the shadows for several years but it was mostly forgotten until this spring. However, the conclusion to label Rwanda as a suitable and safe third country is particularly puzzling, considering an estimated 10,000 Rwandan citizens have sought asylum in the UK between 2000 and 2018 fleeing dictatorship and human rights abuses. Many of these refugees are from the LGBTQ+ community and organisations that work with the community have expressed deep concerns about Rwanda’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies, which could put the lives of thousands of asylum seekers the UK is planning to export, at risk.

 

Seeing the Impact of the Policy first-hand at Sufra

 

As the news was announced and began to spread, I received back-to-back distressed calls from worried young people and families in temporary accommodation across London. Individuals who have already had to bear the brunt of the hostile environment policies were now facing a fresh anxiety. One single mother from Iraq who had arrived with her children in February and had still not had her asylum claim processed, called in tears asking whether she would be deported, and at the time, I could not confidently say no. Initially, the plan provided no clarity on who is set to be removed, just that it would include anyone who arrived ‘illegally’ as of January 2022.

 

Hope in Response to Hostility

 

As soon as plans were announced, immigration lawyers, activists and refugee organisations across the UK rose to challenge the decision and express solidarity with refugees. First, they challenged the retrospective nature of the rule and were successful in ensuring no asylum seekers who have arrived before June 2022 would not be deported. Within weeks, another challenge was launched against the plan over failure to identify risks to LGBTQ+ refugees. Charities across the country organised to write to MPs and place pressure on airlines not to carry passengers facing deportation. Dozens of activists protested outside of immigration removal centres, chanting ‘we are with you’, as the first notices for removal were issued to asylum seekers. Demonstrations outside the Home Office amplified the voices of scared refugees who are living in fear as they watch the news unfold every day. This led to global criticism of the plans and prompted the UNHCR to condemn the government on failing to meet the standards of legality and appropriateness.

 

As of 14th June 2022, 7 people detained in the UK were facing deportation. Despite the hard work of lawyers, activists, organisations and even criticism from Prince Charles who dubbed the Rwanda plan ‘appalling’, the Court of Appeal rejected the latest legal efforts to block the first deportation flight. Luckily, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) intervened – the Strasbourg court made a ruling on a single case, putting the whole plan on pause. However, Justice secretary Dominic Raab has confirmed the government will introduce a ‘British Bill of Rights’ which would give more power to the British Supreme Court over the ECHR and allow life-saving rulings to be ignored in the future.

 

We have seen the impact of people power reduce the number of asylum seekers facing deportation from 50 to 7, and we cannot stop now. Despite the advances we have made, there are still many suffering from severe trauma who wake up every morning to news that can upend their lives. We have seen first-hand the difficulties asylum seekers face in temporary accommodation, from unsuitable, cramped living space to starvation and lack of mental health support, and now the risk of being deported to another continent and an uncertain future.

 

United We Stand

 

The plan is unworkable, immoral, and unethical on many levels. We know that it will not deter desperate people seeking sanctuary from arriving in the UK. Instead, it will push a community that is already overlooked to the margins of society. Asylum seekers will seek any means of survival available and that could push many who fear deportation to escape from Home Office accommodation onto the streets. It will lead to an increase in mental health needs, which are already unmet. The number of young asylum seekers on hunger strike in the UK is rising daily and despite the Home Secretary labelling it as ‘attempts to frustrate the process and delay removal’, it poses a real risk to the lives of many young people.

 

As we celebrate Refugee Week and Pride Month, we must keep in mind that the hard-won rights we are celebrating were achieved through people power. Individuals came together demanding the changes we are celebrating today. We are now facing a moment in history that will shape the future of the UK’s response to refugees. We have a duty to ensure that we continue to resist any policies that pose a threat to the long-held principles of compassion and tolerance towards anyone who arrives seeking sanctuary.

 


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