Tuesday 31 January 2023

Brent Green Party sends message of solidarity to striking Brent NEU members

The news that National Education Union members in Brent will be striking on February 1st is welcomed by Brent Green Party, who together with  the Green Party of England Wales as a whole, support all workers taking part in the current strike actions.

We recognise that NEU members are making just claims for pay increases that at least give some respite from the pressures of inflation which is outpacing the incomes of many except wealthy cabinet ministers and donors to Tory party coffers.

We know that the issue is not just pay, the NEU strikes and others are in defence of proper public provision in such vital areas such as education, health and transport. A viable low carbon economy can only be built on these foundations, so the strikes of the NEU members in Brent and many other trade unionists are an important part of wider struggles which are vital to us all.


Peter Murry, Trade Union Liaison Officer, Brent Green Party



From Brent branch of the National Education Union




NEU members will gather across 24 picket lines tomorrow morning from 7.30am in a bid to “save” their schools due to funding pressures and below-inflation pay.


Teachers will be on strike in an attempt to push the government for a fully funded pay award in line with inflation. They say that teachers in Brent are using food banks and cannot afford to live where they teach. After years of pay freezes and awards that were below inflation, and not fully funded, the NEU says Brent schools are in a sorry state and striking is a last resort.


Brent teachers smashed through the government thresholds placed on trade union ballots with a turnout of over 70% and a huge YES vote to strike. Many schools will be closed or partially closed tomorrow as a result.


All 3 Brent MPs have offered support to striking NEU members, as has the Leader of the Council, school governors and many parents.


Jenny Cooper, Joint District Secretary of Brent NEU and NEU national executive member has stated:


Teachers never take strike action lightly; we went into this job because we care about children and we certainly didn’t go into it for the pay! We feel it is our duty to do the only thing left that we can do to force the government to understand the mess our schools are in; this is another symptom of broken Britain,



Monday 30 January 2023

1 Morland Gardens – How many more times can they get it wrong?

 Guest Post by Philip Grant in a person capacity



1 Morland Gardens, behind locked Heras fencing, 26 January 2023


It is almost three years since I first wrote about Brent Council’s plans to demolish “Altamira”, the locally listed Victorian villa at 1 Morland Gardens, and build a new adult education facility and 65 homes there. Ever since the project for an updated Brent Start college, intending to retain this beautiful heritage building, was “hijacked” at the end of 2018, to provide a large number of new Council homes, there have been mistakes and delays. Now there are more.


Brent Council does now have a vacant building, as the six month stay by Live-in Guardians has ended, and a barrier of Heras fencing now surrounds the outer wall of the grounds. They also have a contractor in place for their project, Hill Partnerships Ltd, under a two-stage Design & Build contract awarded last July. The first stage, a Pre-Construction Service Agreement, is underway, and as part of that the contractor submitted a Construction Logistics Plan (“the Plan”), as required by one of the conditions of the planning consent (given in October 2020!).


Condition 20, for a construction logistics plan, from the 1 Morland Gardens planning consent.


The submission of the Plan, in December 2022, was treated as a separate planning application (22/4082), but it was not advertised. I only discovered it online last week. It may not sound like a very interesting document, but when I read it, I found a number of things to comment on, pointing out in my objections how Brent, and their contractor, have got it wrong again.


The Plan treats the development site as a single plot of land, when it is actually two. Brent Council owns the public realm and highway outside the boundary of 1 Morland Gardens, which its proposed new building would partly cover. But it does not have any legal right to build on that piece of land. It first needs to obtain a Stopping-up Order for a section of the highway, and if it gets that order, the Council would need to appropriate that land for planning purposes. 


There are objections to the proposed Stopping-up Order, and Brent has yet to submit its request for an Inquiry by an independent Inspector. As far back as May 2021, Brent’s Development Management Manager confirmed that an order would need to be: ‘approved prior to any development taking place on the areas that are currently adopted highway. Until the stopping-up process has been completed under S247 of the Town & Country Act 1990, works will not be able to start on the development insofar as it affects highway land.’


The Plan has been submitted because it needs to be approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority (Brent Council) ‘prior to commencement of the development’. If or when the legal hurdles I’ve just mentioned have been overcome, and the contractor has a site it can start work on, there are still plenty of problems.


The Key Site Constraints page from the Construction Logistics Plan.


As this early page from the Plan shows, there are a number of “constraints” involved in developing the site. Some of these are the result of the project’s designers trying to squeeze too many new homes into an unsuitable site, and ignoring the practical “constraints”. (Does that sound familiar? Newland Court and Kilburn Square come to mind, among others!)


One of the “constraints” listed is the single access/egress point to the site during construction, along the residential cul-de-sac of Morland Gardens itself, which would restrict the size of delivery vehicles. The Plan deals with this by saying that deliveries by articulated lorries will be unloaded from the lay-by, or “pit-lane”, on Hillside. What lay-by? 


Page showing where vehicles would deliver materials to the site, from the Logistics Plan.


Someone involved in Brent’s project has made a major mistake here. The lay-by on Hillside for deliveries and refuse collections was part of the original plans submitted in February 2020. Those plans had to be revised, because both TfL and Brent’s Transportation Unit objected that a lay-by there would be unacceptable. Hillside is a London distributor road and bus route, with no waiting allowed at any time along its frontage with 1 Morland Gardens because of the proximity to traffic signals. A lay-by there would also be too close to the bus stop, and make the footpath too narrow for safe use by pedestrians. It appears that the contractor has been given the original, and incorrect, plans! 


The site diagram above shows all deliveries by “rigid vehicles” coming through a gate from Morland Gardens, and then using the existing “turning head” to drive into and then reverse, so that they can exit forwards once they have been unloaded. But that “turning head” would no longer be available for vehicles making deliveries to, or collecting refuse from, the other properties in Morland Gardens. This, again, would ‘unduly prejudice the free and safe flow of local highways’, something the Plan should not be allowed to do, if it is to be acceptable to Brent’s planners.


Access for deliveries to Brent’s proposed Morland Gardens development is not an unforeseen problem. I raised it in an objection comment in July 2020 (see the “Transport and Access” section of a guest post I wrote before the Planning Committee meeting), after the revised plan removing the lay-by had been submitted in June 2020. However, Planning Officers dismissed my objection by saying it would be dealt with by a condition requiring a Delivery and Servicing Management Plan for the new college (ignoring the fact that there would also be deliveries and servicing for 65 homes!).


The other page from the Plan which has caused me to make an objection comment is the one labelled “Proposed Sales & Marketing Area”. 


The “Sales & Marketing” page from the Construction Logistics Plan.


Sales and Marketing? The 65 homes in this planned Brent Council development are all meant to be “genuinely affordable” homes. Condition 3 of the planning consent confirms that, stating: ‘The development hereby approved shall be implemented and maintained for the lifetime of the development as 100% London Affordable Rent.’ Yet the diagram above shows a 2-bedroom, 3 person “show apartment”, available for viewing in the first section of the development (due for completion in week 64), to be used for sales and marketing purposes.


The 1 Morland Gardens planning application went totally against both Brent and London planning policies on the protection of heritage assets, and Planning Officers admitted that. The justification for doing so was the “public benefits” of the development, particularly the provision of 65 homes which would all be “genuinely affordable”. If some of the homes are to be sold, not let to Council tenants who urgently need them, that shifts the balance more towards scrapping the demolition, and keeping the Victorian villa as part of a more sensible scheme.


The Report to November 2022’s Cabinet meeting about the conversion of some LAR homes to shared ownership did include a paragraph on Morland Gardens, which suggested “value engineering” the project (without giving details). Martin published a guest post from me, including my open email to the Council Leader and Lead Member for Housing. I suggested, not for the first time, an alternative solution, but Cabinet members and Brent’s New Council Homes team seem determined to carry on with a project which is unviable and impractical.


How many more times can they get it wrong, before they realise they’re just throwing good money (our money!) after bad?


Philip Grant.

Sunday 29 January 2023

Brent to take out 999 year lease on former ear-marked school site in Orient City


Potential school site enclosed in the purple line

The Cabinet has been asked to approve a 999 year lease with a pepper corn rent, on part of the former Orient City site on the Edgware Road, as part of a Section 106 agreement with the developer.

The podium site had been ear-marked for a primary free school, designed and built by the DfE, which is now not going ahead.  Financial details of the terms of the lease have been exempted from publication.

The proposal is interesting in the light of the Council's search for an alternative site for Islamia Primary and their claim that no alternative site to  the  Roe Green Strathcona site in Preston ward was available. However, this site is a long way from the present Islamia site in Queens Park and would have similar drawbacks.

It would be interesting to know what alternative proposals Brent Council has in mind for the site.

Officers' report extract:

In June 2013, the Council entered in a Section 106 Agreement (s106) which secured the transfer of land to the Council for two-form of entry (2FE) primary school with nursery provision.

The location of the school and nursery is a concrete podium (~2,700m2) to the north-west corner of the development site, alongside the boundary with Airco Close. The site is inclusive of 39 parking spaces in the basement car park along with access to the site from Airco Close and from within the Morrison’s service yard.

Following on from the planning approval, the initial proposal for the site was to develop the school site for a two-form entry school. Initial plans were to provide a Free School with the Department for Education (DfE) managing the design and build process. The School Podium was completed in 2015 and in accordance with a Technical Specification that has been submitted and approved by the Council

In May 2016, Cabinet approved the leases for Floreat Education Academies Trust (FEAT) in May 2016 to operate the proposed new school at Airco Close and an interim lease at 434 Church Lane, Kingsbury, NW9 9BD until the new school was ready.

However, since then, pupil numbers have decreased and it was confirmed there was no need for a school in this part of the borough, FEAT withdrew from operating a school in the borough and the DfE confirmed they would not be providing a new school building at Airco Close. The project to deliver a primary school on this site was aborted.

The site has remained vacant since completion in 2015 except for being used as a building compound for the residential developments which completed in 2018. The developer has undertaken protective measures as well as recent repairs to the area to ensure it is transferred to the Council in a reasonable and appropriate state.


There is currently no requirement to provide a Primary School in this part of the borough. Within the terms of the lease, the Council has the right to seek the landlord’s consent for other uses and such consent should not be unreasonably withheld.

The estimated costs to cover any security and maintenance of the site and the site’s contribution to the landlord’s service charge share until the site is utilised are £20k per annum and will be covered within the existing projects budget.



Brent bids farewell to school catchment areas and moves children of staff up the priority list

The school catchment area map

 Brent Council will drop school catchment areas as part of the admission criteria for community primary schools. The council says that catchment areas, an area around a school which gives priority for pupil who live there, are of more use at times of high demand. Its abolition will make the admissions criteria simpler. When pupils are 'tied' in terms of meeting the admissions criteria, the place will be awarded on the basis of the nearest pupil to the school measured in a straight line from their home address.

More controversially the children of the school's staff will move up the priority list, ahead of children who already have siblings in the school. 

A further change is that medical and social priority is expanded to those of the parent or carer as well as the pupil.

The criteria for entry will now be:

1. Looked After Children

2. Pupil from a linked infant school

3. Medical or social needs

4. Children of staff 

5. Siblings of pupils including  half or step brothers or sisters (not cousins)

6. All other applicants, including the distance tie break.

The full document cane be read HERE.

Saturday 28 January 2023

Brent Council Tax to rise 6% to £1924.45 for Band D, council rents up by 7%, district network energy up by eye watering 196%

 Brent Cabinet will be putting forward a budget to Full Council which includes an overall Countil Tax increase of 6%, equating to £109.20 increase on a Band D property to £1924.45. The amounts for all the bands are shown below:

Recognising that the rise will hit residents the report to Cabinet outlines current support:

While it is acknowledged that increasing Council Tax will be difficult for some households, it should also be recognised that the Council continues to invest in the Council Tax Support scheme, which provides over £32m of support for around 28,000 households who are financially vulnerable. This support will be supplemented in 2023/24 from the Government’s £100m Council Tax Support Fund, which will enable Brent to reduce bills for Council Tax Support claimants by up to a further £25. In addition, the Council’s Resident Support Fund has made available additional funds for residents who are having difficulty due to unforeseen financial circumstances as a result of COVID-19 and the cost of living crisis.

The Council Tax increase includes an increase  of 4.99% (the government maximum) by Brent and 9.7% by the GLA.


Council Rents Rise by 7%

The Council will be raising council rents by 7% as set out below:

The rents for residents of the former Stonebridge HAT, now managed by the Hyde Group also rise:

 The gross rent for NAIL (New Accommodation for Independent Living) includes service charges and rises by 7%.



Service charges - some increase by up to 100%

 Rent of course is not the only charge to tenants. There are additional charges which vary according to the accommodation with, for example, some of the new properties having a concierge.

There is no increase for grounds maintenance, laundry and TV ariel but other charges rise, particulalrly those hit by the energy crisis. The heating and hot water rise is actually more but has been capped by the council at 100%.



District Heating Network in South Kilburn charges up by 196%

Wembley Matters has previously reported on concerns over District Heating Charges in the light of surging energy costs. The rise in tariffs justifies the concern.


 'Savings' NOT 'cuts'?

The Scrutiny Committee's Recommendations LINK  are included on the agenda but do not appear to have affected the report, which is not surprising given the time scale. Cuts by the Labour council are still referred to as 'savings' although the Tory Chancellor does make cuts:

The additional resources provided in the provisional local government finance settlement have resulted in a reduction in the savings requirement for 2023/24 and 2024/25 to £21.0m, profiled £13.5m in 2023/24 and £7.5m in 2024/25. This enables the deferral of £4.5m of the savings previously identified for 2023/24 to be deferred to 2024/25. Based on current estimates, this leaves a budget gap of £3m in 2024/25. However, this settlement also deferred many of the spending cuts that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had set out as necessary in his Autumn Statement to return the nation’s finances to a sustainable position over the medium term. Therefore, it remains likely that further savings will be required from 2025/26 onwards and this will be kept under review and reported to Cabinet throughout 2023/24.


School budget deficits and potential staffing cuts

School budget funding comes directly from government according to a formula and for local authority schools is distributed via the local authority based on decisions by the Schools Forum. Academies and Free schools received funding directly from the government.The budget report notes the difficulties some schools are currently facing previously covered on Wembley Matters.  This will result in staff cuts and there is a possibility of school amalgamations or reductions in forms of entry:

The number of Brent schools experiencing difficulties in 2022/23 has increased with 67% projecting an in-year deficit. 23% of these schools’ plan to use over 50% of reserves to balance their budgets in 2022/23. Schools are feeling the impact of rising inflationary costs, including increases in energy prices alongside teachers pay increasing by 5% in 2022/23 and starting salaries rising by 8.9% to £30k. A number of Brent schools are also experiencing falling rolls and as a result have had significant reductions in funding. This is requiring schools to make strategic decisions to mitigate the impact of this, including the consideration of staffing restructures. Alongside measures to support schools, such as capping admission numbers, the Local Authority has established a School Place Planning Working Group to review the sustainability of provision in primary planning areas.


Use of Strategic Infrastructure Levy for major projects

The amounts allocated are not  listed here but I will endeavour to find more details. I am particularly interested in the allocation to the College of North West London for its new building in Wembley Park which followed a deal with the council.

S106/Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) will be utilised to undertake major infrastructure projects meeting the conditions or terms for funding. The capital programme includes CIL funded schemes totalling £46m. The total CIL allocation includes contributions towards the fit out cost of 3 medical centres, a new facility in Wembley for the College of North West London, the new Morland Gardens educational facility, a new pedestrian and cycle bridge in Alperton and contributions towards community facilities in Stonebridge, Preston Community Library, Learie Constantine Centre and Brent Indian Community Centre


Full Council Decision

Given the top down nature of the Cabinet system of local government  and the huge Labour majority, adoption of this budget by Full Council is inevitable.  The Tory and Lib Dem groups may put forward alternatives and they will be voted down.