Monday 31 October 2022

Brent Council announces retirement of its Number 1 Manchester United fan, CEO Carolyn Downs


Carolyn Downs addresses Brent residents at the most demanding moment in her long career as Covid hit its peak in March 2020 


Brent Council has announced the retirement of its Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, who will leave in Spring 2023.


The announcement on the Council website said:


Brent Council’s long-serving Chief Executive Carolyn Downs has announced that she is to retire in the spring.


After a career in local and central government that has spanned more than four decades, concluding with more than seven years as Chief Executive of Brent Council, Carolyn will step down at the end of April 2023.


Carolyn’s career in local government began in 1982 in Haringey’s library service. Following 8 years in Haringey, Carolyn moved on to Stevenage and then Calderdale councils before, in 2003, becoming the first female Chief Executive at Shropshire County Council where she lead the Council to become one of the first ever County unitary authorities. After that, she became deputy permanent Secretary and Director General of Corporate Performance at the Ministry of Justice. Carolyn then became Chief Executive of The Legal Services Commission and subsequently Chief Executive of The Local Government Association for four years.


Having established herself as one of the most respected leaders in local government, the self-confessed ‘public sector devotee’ joined Brent as Chief Executive in June 2015.


During her time at the helm of London’s fifth largest borough and one of the most diverse boroughs in Britain, Brent established itself as a pioneering council that ‘set trends and didn’t follow them’. During her tenure, the supply of affordable housing increased significantly, with Brent delivering more housing completions last year than any borough in the history of the Greater London Authority. The number of people in temporary accommodation has fallen while Brent achieved its best ever Ofsted rating for the quality of its children’s services.


Brent was named London Borough of Culture 2020 by the Mayor of London and later that year was crowned the LGC’s ‘Council of the Year’ with the judges commenting: “Brent has embraced its communities in a celebration of diversity, lifting up the whole borough. The council demonstrates how to convene place and communities – an antidote to today’s fractured society. It impressed on multiple fronts, showing leadership in the round.”


The council was also often seen as leading the way during local government’s response to the COVID pandemic with Brent breaking new ground on the procurement of PPE, hyper local testing and its approach to engaging with local communities.


Current Brent Council Leader Muhammed Butt with Carolyn Downs 


Carolyn Downs said: 


Brent is a very special place and it has been an enormous privilege to work here. Brent truly is the borough of cultures – with a mixture of challenges and opportunities as varied as the residents we serve. From building new council homes to building community cohesion and resilience, everything we do is focused on improving the lives of local people.


Despite the challenges faced by local Government we have achieved a lot together and one of the things that pleases me the most is the consistently high levels of residents’ and staff satisfaction over recent years.


It will soon be time for me to hang up my boots and spend a bit more time on my other passions including spending some more time with my wonderful family. Nobody can do this job alone and I will be leaving Brent knowing it is in a good place and with fantastic managers in place across the whole council.


I have been fortunate to work with a hugely talented group of officers as well as ambitious and supportive elected members and the many amazing voluntary and community groups who all make Brent what it is today. Brent’s diversity shines through both our workforce and elected members. Although there will be plenty of time to say farewell over the coming months, I do want to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone I have worked with for what have been seven of the happiest years of my career.


Cllr Muhammed Butt, Brent Council Leader, said: 


 Carolyn’s huge knowledge and experience has been a massive asset to Brent during some of toughest years local government has ever faced. Her central role in supporting our borough get through the Covid pandemic showed her tireless commitment to public service. I would like to thank Carolyn for her stewardship and leadership over the years and the mutual respect that is evident between members and officers is a testament to her approach. I will always respect her wise advice which has helped us to become best in class in a number of areas as we have worked together with our communities to deliver a better Brent.


To ensure a smooth transition, recruitment for a new Chief Executive will begin shortly with the council looking to make an appointment early in 2023.






Reacting to the news Cllr, Ketan Sheth said:


Working closely with Carolyn as Chair of scrutiny in Brent and NW London, she’s been able to bring together the NW London councils and the NHS — a pioneering move to deliver joined-up services, which support residents, and address deep rooted health inequalities. Carolyn’s approach to leadership has helped to transform Brent, particularly during the toughest years we have ever faced. Her pivotal role in supporting the Borough to get through the Covid pandemic exemplified commitment to public service. Her ability to drive forward our plans to regenerate our town centres and support communities across Brent illustrates the talent she has brought to the role. I wish her all the very best for a long, healthy and happy retirement.


Recently Ms Downs has attempted to improve the sometimes toxic relationship between members of the different political groups on Brent Council and sought to show the benefots of working togather for the common good of Brent residents. Work that I hope will continue under the new CEO.


Perhaps an Opposition councillor or two could sit in on the Appointments Panel for the new CEO?

On a personal note I have encountered Carolyn in my role as Editor of Wembley Matters as well as the Election Agent for Brent Green Party.  Her role as Election Returning Officer is not mentioned in the Council press release but that is where a broader sweep of Brent people meet her.  She has always been polite despite the criticisms I publish on Wembley Matters and as the borough Election Returning Officer her sense of humour helped lighten many a long tedious night. Her communication skills are clear from the above video but not often seen by the public, perhaps mostly when she comes to the rescue with whispered instructions (or suggestions) to the Mayor when s/he is presiding over Full Council Meetings

This is the latest in a list of recent changes at the top of Brent Council including the Assistant Chief Excutive and the Strategic Director of Children and Families.







Volunteers needed to create pollinator garden on derelict site at Kenton Grange

 From Friends of Woodcock Park


This beautiful, south-facing walled area is part of the old Kenton Grange gardens to the north of the brook. It had become a magnet for anti-social behaviour, was fenced off and became overgrown. However, we still had issues with anti-social behaviour. We have worked with Brent Council and local volunteers to clear this land since spring 2022. We are now working on autumn plantings to produce year round flowers. We are focusing on pollinator plants for late autumn, winter and early spring, but are grateful for any nectar rich flowering plants and insect habitats. Bulbs, corms, tubers, dwarf fruiting trees, bushes and climbers are all very welcome.


Friends of Woodcock Park have worked with local schools and school children for many years and are developing a mosaic for the pollinator biodiversity garden with local children, as well as plantings and other fun activities. We are developing new paths and beds, habitats to support pollinators’ breeding, and have secured funding from a number of sources to help with some of this work. We won Gold in the London in Bloom Awards for Large Park each of the last two years, and have also achieved a Level 5 – Outstanding ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ Award from the Royal Horticultural Society and Britain In Bloom this year. 


If you are interested in donating to or volunteering on our project, please contact us on


Brent launch Landlord Licensing Consultation possibly extending licensing to all wards except Wembley Park

 From Brent Council


A borough-wide consultation on landlord licensing for privately rented properties in Brent launched today (31 October 2022) for twelve weeks. The consultation is now live.

The online consultation is open to anyone to have their say on landlord licensing in the borough.

Three types of licensing schemes operate in the borough: mandatory, additional and selective licensing. Selective licensing applies to a single household renting a property, be that a family or just one or two tenants.

This consultation asks people whether they are in favour of selective licensing schemes in Brent.

Cllr Promise Knight, Cabinet Member for Housing, Homelessness & Renters Security, said: 

More than a third of people in Brent rent in the private sector. Whilst most landlords provide safe and decent homes, sadly that isn't always the case.

Licensing has helped keep renters safe. Since we introduced our first selective licensing scheme in 2015, we've driven up housing standards, reduced overcrowding and tackled anti-social behaviour. Where landlords have fallen short, we have been relentless in taking action and will not hesitate to throw the full-force of the law at rogue landlords.

All wards, with the exception of Wembley Park, are being considered for selective licensing in Brent. Selective licensing previously applied to Harlesden, Wembley Central and Willesden Green, and presently applies to the old wards of Queens Park, Kensal Green, Kilburn, Dudden Hill and Mapesbury. But this current scheme ends on 30 April 2023.

Have your say on the licensing consultation today.

Wembley Matters asked Brent Council why Wembley Park was not included and they responded:

Although Wembley Park ward has a high level of rented properties, these tend to be relatively new builds and therefore do not have the high levels of housing hazards that we see in other parts of the borough. Wembley Park has required the least number of interventions from the council with only 28 Housing & Public Health Statutory Notices served over a five-year period.


Although there has been a small number of ASB incidents, there is negligible repeat ASB incidents. Therefore the evidence to support a designation based on ASB is also lacking. The council considers it more appropriate to be selective in its approach and focus resources on the worst affected areas. However, this ward will be kept under review and a third designation could be considered should the evidence change.

There may be different hazards in Build to Rent properties but there may well be future problems, remembering the Granville New Homes debacle and problems with L&Q and Metropolitan Thames Valley elsewhere.  Large Build to Rent landlords are not immune from problems.


Newland Court – trees are at the root of Brent’s “infill” scheme problems

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity

Diagram showing the general proportions of tree roots to canopy. (Image from the internet)


When Martin posted a blog about the Newland Court planning application in September, you could see from the aerial view of the site for Brent’s proposed “infill” houses that they would be very close to a line of trees. 


Those trees were in the back gardens of homes in Grendon Gardens, inside the Barn Hill Conservation Area. I added a comment, pointing out that those trees were protected, because they are part of the conservation area’s ‘essential character’, and Martin posted that as a separate item of useful information for Grendon Gardens residents


Residents with trees in their gardens bordering the Newland Court site were advised to contact Brent’s Tree Protection Officer, Julie Hughes. She has submitted her comments on planning application 22/3124, and these begin by saying: ‘I have significant concerns relating to the impact that this development will have on protected trees.’ Her comments, which were only made public three weeks after she’d made them, conclude:


Final paragraph of Brent’s Principal Tree Officer on Brent’s Newland Court application.


I will ask Martin to attach a full copy of those comments below, along with a document copy of the objection comments which I’ve submitted. These also deal mainly with the harm which the planning application would do to the protected trees in the Barn Hill Conservation Area, if it were to be approved.


The Principal Tree Officer’s comments concentrate mainly on the tree canopies, the branches and leaves. Because the site of the existing garages at Newland Court is so narrow, the houses which the Council wants to build there would need most of the overhanging branches of these protected off-site trees to be cut off. The branches would, if such severe lopping did not kill the trees, grow back again, and so would need frequent cutting back, to stop them blocking the light to rear windows. 


The extent of existing protected tree canopies, marked on a plan of the proposed new homes.


Because there were trees on and adjacent to the site, the planning application had to be supported by an Arboricultural Impact Assessment (“AIA”). This was prepared for Brent Council by Watermans. When I read this document, one short extract about the trees along the southern edge of the conservation area stuck in my mind:


‘… it is considered that their roots are unlikely to have extended below the existing retaining wall which forms the northern boundary of the Site. It is therefore considered that they are unaffected by the development proposals.’


I don’t claim to be an expert on trees, but you don’t have to be one to know that where a tree has a canopy above ground, it is likely to have roots in the ground below that canopy! [See the diagram above.] It is very convenient for the Council’s plans to assume that there would be no roots from the protected trees where you want to dig foundations and build houses. But how likely is it that a brick wall would prevent all tree roots from growing beyond ‘the northern boundary of the Site’?


Luckily, I remembered a similar situation which occurred as part of the Morland Gardens planning application, where there were trees in a next-door garden, just beyond a retaining wall which marked the site boundary. In that case, the AIA included the results of a ground penetrating radar survey. This discovered that tree roots did extend below the wall:


‘The scan line results showed that the off-site trees are rooting within the site, but that the physical barrier of the retaining wall and its footings has provided a partial barrier to root encroachment.’


That evidence (rather than the “convenient” assumption by the authors of the Newland Court AIA) meant that the building plans at Morland Gardens had to include a two metre wide tree protection strip, inside the site boundary, where no construction was allowed. But the Newland Court site is so narrow that some of the proposed new houses have walls only 50cm from the boundary. These would cut through both the support and feeder roots of protected trees.


On the evidence in my objection comments, it would not be possible to build six of the seven houses without seriously harming, or killing off, both the canopies and the roots of protected trees in the Barn Hill Conservation Area. I’ve sent a copy of my comments document to Brent’s Principal Tree Officer, and asked her to consider it and give her response to Brent’s Planning Officers (as well as to me).


If I’m correct, then this planning application should be refused (and there are plenty of other reasons put forward by local residents which also justify its refusal). This is a Brent Council application, but that should not make a difference. 


Regular readers of “Wembley Matters” will know of my recent battle with the Council over another “infill” scheme at Rokesby Place, and my insistence that Brent’s Planning Officers must be seen to uphold the Local Government Association’s “Probity in Planning” rules:


‘Proposals for a Council’s own development should be treated with the same transparency and impartiality as those of private developers.’


Would Brent allow an application by a private developer to build houses so close to a conservation area that it damaged or killed protected trees? I doubt it!

Philip Grant.

 Philip Grant's Objection



Brent Tree Officer's Report 


Sunday 30 October 2022

Brent schools face bleak financial future as budgets fail to keep up with inflation and other costs, impacting on staff and children


Changes in the National Funding Formula mean that Brent is gradually adjusting to a lower National Funding Formula (NFF) and this along with huge increases in energy bills, the cost of salary increases (which is why education unions are calling for them to be fully funded by the government), inflation and falling pupil numbers means that schools will facing extremely difficult financial circumstances in financial year 2023-24.


Many are already expecting an in-year deficit and (if they have them) will be digging into reserves to balance the books.


Our secondary schools have been academised and are directly funded by the DfE, so this is recouped from the Schools Block funding.  A proportion of funding is allocated the Higher Needs Block) funding for Special Educations Needs and Disability) where demand is increasing.


A report going to the Schools Forum makes sombre reading:


Of the total £249.7m Schools Block budget allocated by the DfE to Brent, £131.9m has been recouped and allocated directly to academies. £1.2m has been transferred to the Higher Needs Block (HN and £1.8m has been deducted for National Non-Domestic Business Rates to be paid by the DfE directly to billing authorities, leaving £114.8m directly allocated to Brent maintained schools and to fund centrally retained items including the growth fund.


In 2022/23, the number of Brent schools projecting an in-year deficit has increased to 67%. 23% of these schools plan to use over 50% of reserves to balance their budgets. Schools are feeling the impact of rising inflationary costs and increases in energy prices alongside the prospect of teachers pay increasing by 5% in 2022/23 and starting salaries rising by 8.9% to £30k.

The DfE expects schools to manage these pressures within the allocated funding increase of 3.6% in 2022/23 and 1.2% expected in 2023/24.


A number of Brent schools are also experiencing falling rolls and as a result will have significant reductions in funding. This is requiring schools to make strategic decisions to mitigate the impact of this, including the consideration of staffing restructures.


In response to this, alongside measures to support schools, such as capping admission numbers, a School Place Planning Working Group will be established to review the sustainability of provision in some primary planning areas.

Staffing restructuring inevitably means the loss of some jobs and will have most impact on support staff such as teaching assistants and admin staff. These are predominatly women and often ethnic minority. As teaching assistants often have a teaching role through intervention programmes this could affect the quality of provision and pupil achievement.


The last paragraph regarding a review of the sustainability of provision could mean a reduction of the form of entry in some schools (i.e., the number of classes in each year group) when pupil numbers have dropped significantly and even, at the extreme, potential mergers or closures. 


At first sight it might be assumed that fewer pupils will mean lower costs, but it is not that simple. A class of 24, rather than 30. will still need a teacher and teaching assistant and their classroom will need the same amount of heating and lighting. There may be a marginal reduction in the cost of per-pupil teaching material but that will be eaten up by inflation. Staffing costs take up to 85% of school budgets. A further cost that puts Brent schools at a disadvantage is that schools pay a greater proportion of staff costs to the Brent Council Local Government Pension Scheme that schools in other London boroughs.


6 pence extra for 3 and 4 year olds 


Similarly, Brent nurseries are facing a reduction in real terms via the Early Years Block. There are government plans to worsen the staff-child ratios, but this would be catastrophic in Brent with its high number of EAL and disadvantaged children who need the best possible provision as a foundation to success in education:


Indicative rate increases for the Block are as follows:

Nationally, the 2-year-old rate will see increases ranging from 1% to a maximum 8.6%. The London average is 8.3%, whereas Brent will see an increase of 7.6% i.e., the 2022/23 funding rate of £6.29 will increase by 48p to £6.77.

Nationally, the 3 and 4 year old rates will see increases ranging from 1% to a maximum of 4.5%. The average increase for London is 1.7%. Brent will see an increase of £0.06, which represents a 1% increase i.e., from £5.81 for 2022/23 (including the illustrative TPPG rate) to £5.87.95% of the funding rate is passed on to providers and 5% is used to funding Early Help local authority services.

 Local councils have little power as this Direct Schools Grant comes directly from government so it will need a concerted campaign of councillors, education unions, parents and carers and the support of our local MPs to challenge the government on education funding.



Friday 28 October 2022

Enough is Enough! West London Rally, Central Mosque Willesden Green. November 11th 7pm


Join us in West London to hear from speakers across the Enough is Enough! Campaign and to get organised to end the Cost of Living Crisis.

November 11th  7pm-9.30pm  Brent Central Mosque, 41 Station Road, Willesden Green, NW2 4NX  Willesden Green Station (Jubilee line) is next door.


By Enough is Enough! West London - Campaign to End the Cost of Living Crisis

We were founded by trade unions and community organisations determined to push back against the misery forced on millions by rising bills, low wages, food poverty, shoddy housing and a society run only for a wealthy elite.

We can't rely on the establishment to solve our problems. It's up to us in every workplace and every community.

Join us and turn anger into action.


Dawn Butler NP (Brent Central)

Eddie Dempsey (RMT Senior Assistant General Secretary)

Jo Grady (UCU General Secretary)


Parking available, accessible venue.

STOP FIRE & REHIRE - the campaign continues. Film introduced by Barry Gardiner MP at Preston Community Library Saturday October 29th 7.30pm


Thursday 27 October 2022

November 5th - Join the demonstration demanding a General Election NOW!


Brent issues eight Fixed Penalty Notices under Public Space Protectin Orders over fireworks

 The morning after at Barham Park (Twitter image from Brent Council)



Local social media and community websites have been debating the issue of fireworks debris left in parks and open spaces as well as fireworks being set off in the early hours.

Brent Council tweeted several images including the one above and said:

Barham Park was left in a shocking state after being used used for fireworks. This prevented children from using its facilities. Thank you to the great keyworkers for cleaning this mess but please remember, it's everyone's responsibility to keep our parks tidy.


I understand that Brent Council had  Neighbourhood Patrols working on Tuesday night  with a focus on the Ealing Road area and One Tree Hill Park. Eight Fixed Penalty Notices were issued under the Public Space Protection Order that includes parks.

The environmental enforcement team who run the Neighbourhood Patrols are also aware of concerns.


Public Meeting on the relocation of Islamia Primary School at Preston Park Primary, November 9th 7pm. Consultation extended to November 16th

A further public meeting on the controversial relocation of Islamia Primary School from Queens Park to the Strathcona site in Preston ward has been scheduled for Tuesday November 9th at Preston Park Primary School.

At the same time the consultation period has been extended to Wednesday November 16th.
Parents are being offered the stark choice of acceptance of the move or the closure of the school. 
Brent Council's 'Have Your Say' website gives further details on the options if the school moves. The Islamia Primary School Governing Board has said that a completely new building is the only option they support while the Council doubts that this could be completed by September 2024 when the school has to start on its new site.  The Council favour option D - refurbishment of the existing building and an additional new block on the site to accommodate a 2 form entry school:


Consultation on relocation of Islamia Primary School from September 2024

The Governing Board of Islamia Primary School (Salusbury Road, London, NW6 6PE) is proposing the relocation of the school from September 2024, to the site known as the Strathcona site, which is located on Strathcona Road, Wembley, HA9 8QW.

The Governing Board is seeking the views of interested parties through this informal consultation on:

Option 1: A proposal to relocate Islamia Primary School to the Strathcona Site as a 2-form entry school (60 places per year group)

Option 2: The school ceasing to exist from July 2024.

Brent Council has identified capital funding for Islamia Primary School to relocate to the Strathcona site. The current building on the site is a 1FE school with accommodation for 210 pupils. The building is in good condition, but on its own it is not big enough for the current pupils on roll at Islamia Primary School (420).

A feasibility study has identified 5 options to provide accommodation for the school on the Strathcona site.

Option A: A complete new build of a 2 FE school as a 2 storey building

Option B: A complete new build of a 2 FE school as a 3 storey buidling

Option C: Part demolition, part refurbishment of the existing building and a new build for required additional accommodation for a 2 FE school.

Option D: Refurbish existing buildings on the Strathcona site and build a new block to meet 2FE accommodation requirements.

Option E: Keep the current 1FE primary school and provide temporary bulge accommodation while cohorts reduce.

 The Consultation document is available HERE.
You  can make a comment on the Have Your Say website. You can register with the Council to make your comment or use a Facebook or Google account.