Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Get in touch with Sufra to nominate individuals or families for a Christmas dinner

A message from Sufra NW London

Would you like to refer someone or a family to Sufra NW London for Christmas Dinner? We don’t want anyone to be alone this Christmas. If you know someone or a low-income family that you would like to refer to Sufra NW London, please get in touch: admin@sufra-nwlondon.org.uk

Will Lime-E, dockless electric-assisted bikes, be a success in Brent?

Outside the Civic Centre
Outside Kensal Green station (Photo Kensal RA)
You may have seen, well the colour scheme makes them unmissable, these Lime-E bikes around the borough and you are likely to see a lot more of them as they can be left in any location after use.

Marketed as 'dockless' they are picked up at a location via a phone app and can be left elsewhere once used, unlike Boris bikes. Users are asked to be responsible in choosing where to leave them but some towns there has been controversy over bikes 'littering' the area after use.

Brent Council hailed the scheme at its recent launch:
Lime, the urban mobility company launched their bikes at Brent's civic centre on Friday 7th December.
Called Lime-E, the dockless, electric-assist bikes are equipped with a 250-watt motor and have a maximum assisted speed of 14.8 miles per hour. The electric battery reduces the effort required to cycle, making the bikes suitable and accessible for people of any age or fitness level.

The Lime app makes it simple to find, unlock and pick up a nearby e-bike. They will cost riders £1 to unlock and an additional 15 pence per minute of riding time.

1,000 Lime e-bikes will be located in Brent & Ealing initially by the end of the month.
The 15p per minute (£9 per hour) is more expensive than Oyster and it will be interesting to see whether the convenience  will win potential customers over. 

On social media there has been a general welcome although there have also been dark warnings that the app will track user's every movement.

On a practical level many local people will see the usefulness of the scheme  as limited by the lack of cycling infrastructure in the borough, in particular the north-south barrier at the North Circular in Neasden.

When the proposal for dockless bikes was made n January Brent Cyclists said:
Dockless hire bikes have been a success in some other cities in the world and so we think they would be a good experiment for Brent. It’s important to realise, though, that their effect on cycling take-up will only be marginal, as the perceived safety factors that are the reason most Brent people do not cycle will remain. The main things that would increase cycling in Brent, as always, are good cycle lanes and paths and low-traffic streets, which separate cyclists from heavy traffic for most of their journey.'
Contacted today they reiterated their statement and added:
The difference though with the e-assist element is that it may appeal to people who may not already cycle. Those people may then add their voice to the call for a  better and more inclusive infrastructure that would enable more to cycle, more regularly.

Download the app HERE

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Passions run high as community gets behind bid to save Bridge Park

If anyone had any doubts about the level of support the bid to save Bridge Park had from the local communities of Stonebridge and Harlesden they will have been dispelled this afternoon when people turned up in their hundreds to pack the Centre's hall and hear about the campaign.

Feelings ran high as the issue was put in the context of the struggle black people have had, not only in this century and the last, but for centuries before. The words of Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley were recalled as speaker after speaker pledged to defend what had been won for the community back in the early 80s when riots were taking place elsewhere.

People listened attentively as Jay Mastin, Strategic Head of Bridge Park Community Council (BPCC) outlined the legal success the organisation had won through the Land Registry, putting a stop to Brent Council's sale of the site to an off-shore developer with a conviction for fraud. Much of the case will rest on the protective Covenant that Brent Council persuaded the GLC successor body, Bromley Council, to annul. The Council is going for a summary judgment to remove the stop claiming that the BPCC had no interest and no standing in the case.

Legal assistance in such a complex area does not come cheap and the campaign, which has no political or religious affiliations, is busy fundraising and may in the longer term need up to £100,000 to fight the case - but this is over a site worth millions.

Jay took on rumours of corruption in Bridge Park head on, asking members of the audience to put up their hands if they had heard such rumours. Quite a few hands went up as he persuaded people to put it out in the open. When he asked if such rumours should meant that the Council should go ahead with the development the audience bellowed a resounding, 'No!'

The need for young people to have such a centre and the importance of education was a theme taken up by several people.  Against the background of knife crime and educational failure young people needed a place to motivate them and where they felt safe.  At the same time the community was urged to put aside its differences, take on responsibility and come together for the sake of the next generation.

Towards the end of the meeting, Dawn Butler, Labour MP for Brent Central, who had been in the audience, was asked where she stood. She said she had been meeting with BPCC, sometimes in public meetings, sometimes private, which she couldn't disclose.  When she said that the Council had sent out thousands of consultation letters  but had received only 50 responses, there were cries from the audience thay they hadn't seen them. She urged everyone present to make their views known so that the Council was aware of the stremgth of feeling in the community.

Shaka Lish, Green Party candidate for the Brent and Harrow constituency at next year's GLA election, was also at the meeting and said afterwards:
Brent council have behaved appallinglyand no better than a bunch of greedy crooks. If they think they can rip out the heart of Stonebridge community, they have underestimated us. We don’t want their visionless plans. We want our plans that serve, nourish and enrich our community
This was the biggest public meeting I have ever attended in Brent and it is clear that Brent Council faces a campaign that means to fight tooth and nail for its heritage.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Community urged to rally to the support of Bridge Park on Sunday afternoon as Brent Council moves to seize back the site

The Bridge Park Development site
Wembley Matters has been reporting the community's attempt  to claim back possession of the Bridge Park complex ahead of Brent Council's decision to sell the site for development to an off-shore developer. LINK LINK

The latest round of the battle will take place this Sunday, December 9th, from 2.30pm to 4.30pm following reports that Brent Council is to apply to the Land Registry for a summary hearing to lift the restriction on the sale won by Bridge Park Community Council (BPCC)  last year.

The Centre was started in the early1980s by a group of young black people from Stonebridge who wanted to contribute something positive for the community at a time when there has been uprisings against racism, police oppression and discrimination in Brixton and several English cities. LINK

The meeting is at Bridge Park Centre itself on the Harrow Road. 18 bus or Stonebridge Park station.

The Kilburn Times LINK quoted Jay Mastin, chair of BPCC:
In August 2017, an application was made by BPCC to the Land Registry to restrict Brent Council from selling Bridge Park. BPCC made several offers to negotiate with Brent Council. However, they have chosen to not come to the negotiating table. Instead they have apparently sided with commercial interests and have used council funds to take the community to the High Court. We would like support from the local community. This is our legacy. It is a building we own, we raised the money through grants, Brent are merely the custodians of it.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

NEU call for a halt to The Village School academy conversion. Butt fails to respond to meeting request.

Press release from Brent National Education Union
An investigation by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) into financial irregularities related to the academy and Multi Academy Trust (MAT) conversion process between Woodfield academy school and The Village school in Brent has still not been published. This means, according to our source at the DfE, that the possible conversion date has been pushed back until February 2019 at the earliest.

This investigation was triggered by reports and whistleblowing from NEU members with regards to overpaid off-payroll consultants who were interfering with governance and HR matters at the Woodfield trust whilst receiving up to £240,000 for ‘services as defined by the school’. The financial due diligence process carried out by governors for any academy conversion, was led by one of these consultants working at the schools.

Since the MAT process was started, consultants have continued to be paid with funds intended for the education of SEND children in the borough. Restructure of the senior leadership teams has increased the funds at the top levels while vacancies remain unfilled and agency staffing increases in the classrooms.

NEU members at the school are seeking a further ballot for strike action, following their 13 days last year, to try to keep their school in the local authority. To this end, they wrote to the Leader of the Council Muhammed Butt on 20th November requesting an urgent meeting. There has been no response. This follows Brent NEU sending him the resolution below* on 6th November. There has been no response. Brent Central Labour Party passed a similar resolution at their meeting of 15th November. There has been no response.

Councillor Jumbo Chan, who has been a vocal supporter of the campaign to stop the academisation said:
 I understand from Brent NEU as well as the NEU membership of teachers and support staff of The Village School that despite nearly a year since a majority of its governing body decided to form a multi-academy trust with Woodfield School, The Village School is in a state of legal limbo.
It was disappointing earlier in the year when the majority of the governing body of The Village School chose to go ahead with academisation despite overwhelming opposition from a coalition of parents, campaigners (including the Brent Labour Parties) and of course, the outstanding, passionate and dedicated teachers and support staff of The Village School. It is worrying now that issues into Woodfield School’s account are being investigated by the ESFA.
I urge the governing body of The Village School to listen to their staff, to rescind their application to become an academy as part of a MAT, and to stay with the Brent local community
Hank Roberts, Brent NEU President said:
The terminally ill academies programme lurches from crisis to crisis and scandal to scandal with ever increasing frequency and severity. The tawdry plan to pilfer the jewel in the crown of Brent’s education service that is The Village school (costing Brent £29 million) by a rag bag of opportunist privateers has been further knocked back. Months after the school was supposed to be handed over and run privately by a group including the Brent Labour Whip Cllr Sandra Kabir the school remains with the Local Authority. We call on Cllr Muhammed Butt to write urgently to the Governors and the Secretary of State for Education as requested by the Brent NEU, Brent Central Labour Party and the staff at the school
*Resolution passed unanimously at Brent NEU General Meeting 6/11/18

Brent NEU note that The Village school is still an LA school and that Brent Labour Party policy is to urge LA schools to remain within the LA family of schools. We further note that the overwhelming majority of staff and the community have called for the school remain in the LA family of schools.

Brent NEU also note that the LP Conference in September 2018 agreed the following. That in government, the Labour Party will bring all schools back under local democratic control including academy and Multi Academy Trusts. Therefore, proposals to wind up MATs and turn over control and management of schools to local democratically controlled structures should be developed urgently.

Brent NEU therefore call on the leader of the council Muhammed Butt to urgently;

    Write to the Chair of Governors and the Governing Board at The Village urging them to withdraw their proposal to become an academy as part of a Multi Academy Trust and remain as an LA school.

    Write to the Secretary of State for Education to urge the Government not to proceed with the proposal due to the difficulties accompanying this proposal to join Woodfield in a MAT.

London boroughs ‘sharply divided’ over Mayoral rent policy - where does Brent stand?

A continuing issue in Brent, as in other London boroughs, is the precisie defintion of what is 'affordable' rent (often defined in planning applications as 'up to 80% of market rent' recognised as unaffordable for most ordinary families). This article highlights the issues regarding 'social rent'. First published at 24housing.co.uk.

With this week’s welter of housing announcements out of London, evidence has emerged of the boroughs being sharply divided over Sadiq Khan’s rent policy.

Campaigners have seized on data released under FoI they say shows that, for new council homes, the Mayor has agreed higher rents than the capital’s Council tenants have ever paid before – and in five boroughs yet higher unspecified rents have been agreed.

Responding to the claim, the Mayor’s Office said Khan specifically defined London Affordable Rent to have rent caps based on social rent levels – enabling money from national Affordable Rent programme to be spent on social rent level housing in the capita.

But seven other Boroughs seem to have have defied the Mayor’s policies.

With government funding, Khan has launched a £1bn programme ‘Building Council Homes for Londoners’, for new council-built homes in London – over 14,000 homes are to be built with the first round of funding.

The snag campaigners have caught onto has the Mayor promoting his London Affordable Rent (LAR – or ‘Mayor’s Rent’) which is £50 pw higher than standard council rents.

“Compared to an average London Council rent of £105.87 pw, the current London Affordable Rent rates applied to London’s stock mix produce an average of £158.85 pw.

So the average uplift is +£52.98 weekly, or +50.0%, all plus service charges,” says Paul Burnham, Secretary, Haringey Defend Council Housing.

The figures show:

·      Bedsit £150.03 instead of £82.93 (£67.10 more, +80.9%) London Stock 18,643

·      One-bed £150.03 instead of £92.61 (£57.42 more, +62.0%) London Stock 118,090

·      Two-bed £158.84 instead of £105.29 (£53.55 more, +50.9%) London Stock 137,511

·      Three-bed £167.67 instead of £120.49 (£47.18 more, +39.0%) London Stock 100,012

·      Four-bed £176.49 instead of £138.76 (£37.73 more, +27.2%) London Stock 14,656

·      Five-bed £185.31 instead of £153.03 (£32.28 more, +21.1%) London Stock 1,926

·      Six or more bedrooms £194.13 instead of £165.70 (£28.43 more, +17.2%) London Stock 447

“The Mayor says that London Affordable Rent is social rent, but seven London boroughs disagree,” said Burnham.

According to Burnham’s interpretation that’s Haringey, Kensington and Chelsea, Camden, Hackney, Greenwich, Southwark, and Waltham Forest.

The City of London, which owns council housing stock mainly in Inner London but outside the Square Mile, makes the list too.

“It gets worse, the Mayor has agreed that six boroughs can set rents for 1,166 homes at new, higher levels above what we were told were to be the Caps for Mayor’s Rent, said Burnham.

“We do not know why the Mayor has agreed this, and whether or not these rents are supposed to be Affordable of Intermediate – we have sent an urgent message to the GLA to find out,” he said.

The five even higher-rent boroughs are said to be Sutton (16 homes), Tower Hamlets (375), Brent (124), Barking and Dagenham (156) and Harrow (273).

Though named in the initial campaign claim, Hammersmith & Fulham said it had still to respond to the FoI.

GLA reports recognise higher social and affordable rents as a leading cause of poverty for lower income households with children, and people with low and uncertain incomes.

“But by his actions the Mayor is undermining Council Social Rent which is the gold standard of rental affordability.

“Decisions about rent policy are made by people who do not have any idea of the household expenses and family budgets of working class people,” Burnham said.

A spokesperson for the Mayor’s office said the Mayor is “very pleased” by the response to his Building Council Homes for Londoners programme, which will see councils build more than 11,000 homes at social rent levels.

“The national Government allows affordable rent to be up to 80% of market rents – a level the Mayor does not consider to be genuinely affordable to Londoners on low incomes in most parts of the capital.

“He specifically defined London Affordable Rent to have rent caps based on social rent levels, enabling money from national Affordable Rent programme to be spent on social rent level housing in the capital,” the spokesperson said.

Supporting its argument, the Mayor’s office released additional information showing:

·      Building Council Homes for Londoners allows all boroughs to set rent levels for the c.11,000 referred to above at or below London Affordable Rent caps, which includes social rents

·      London Affordable Rent is based on 2016 formula social rents and is only offered on new lets

·      Current average council rents on new lets are higher than current average council rents which include rents set historically

GLA grant allocation by housing tenure

LAR – ‘Mayor’s Rent’, London Affordable Rent ‘at benchmark’.

SR – Social Rent.

LAR/SR homes – rented homes not yet allocated by tenure.

LLR – London Living Rent.

LSO – London Shared Ownership.

LLR/SO – intermediate homes not yet allocated by tenure.

Boroughs with all social/affordable rent as London Affordable Rent

Barnet £8,700,000. Total 87.                                       LAR 87.

Lewisham £37,700,000 Total 384.                             LAR 384.

Sutton £6,500,000 Total: 81.                                       LAR 65, LAR homes (above benchmark rent) 16.

Redbridge (funding from Right to Buy receipts) Total 400. LAR 400.

Tower Hamlets £13,000,000 Total: 675.                  LAR 300, LAR homes (above benchmark rent) 375.

Croydon £61,288,000 Total: 888.                               LAR 141, LAR/SR homes 326, LLR/SO homes 421.

Brent £65,610,000 Total 817.                                      LAR 572, LSO 121, LAR homes (above benchmark rent) 124.

Ealing £99,352,000 Total 1,138.                                 LAR 934, LLR 71, LSO 133.

Hounslow £63,252,000 Total 741.                             LAR 657, LSO 84.

Barking & Dagenham £25,338,000 Total: 565.      LAR 228, LSO 156, LAR homes (above benchmark rent) 181.

Havering £24,046,000 Total: 282.                              LAR 215, LSO 67.

Wandsworth £12,452,000 Total: 174.  LAR 22, Intermediate home ownership 2, 83 LAR/SR homes, LLR/SO homes 67.

Hammersmith & Fulham £15,308,000 Total: 251. LAR 115, LSO 13, LAR homes (above benchmark rent) 123.

Harrow £32,144,000 Total: 618. LAR homes (above benchmark rent) 273, LAR/SR homes 307, LLR/SO homes 38.

Newham £107,476,000 Total: 1,123. SR 1,056 [we think that all of these rented homes are in fact LAR], LSO 67.

Boroughs with all social/affordable rent as Social Rent

Camden £30,800,000 Total: 308.                                                               SR 308.

Greenwich £32,600,000 Total: 588.                                                          SR 588.

Kensington and Chelsea £33,600,000. Total: 336.                               SR 336.

Hackney £45,556,000 Total 949.                                                                SR: 502, LSO 447.

Haringey £62,858,000 Total: 848.                                                              SR 567, LLR 232, LSO 49.

Waltham Forest £25,518,000. Total 293.                                                SR 232, LSO 61.

City of London £14,880,000. Total 156.                                                   SR 146, LSO 10.

Southwark £89,494,138 Total: 926.                                                          SR 891, LSO 35.

Boroughs with both Social Rent and London Affordable Rent

Enfield £18,108,000 Total: 571.                  LAR 392, SR 44, LSO 61, LAR homes (above benchmark rent) 74.

Islington £24,200,000 Total: 465.                               LAR 407, SR 58.

Hillingdon £11,678,000 Total: 347.                           LAR 40, SR 86, LLR 20, LSO 201.

Kingston £67,844,000 Total: 713.                              LAR 75, SR 590, LSO 48.


Will Kilburn's 'Good Ship' sail again?

Voter registration event held at the 'Good Ship'
Brent Planning Committee on Wednesday December 12th will decide whether to approve an application for the site of the 'Good Ship' pub in Kilburn High Road. In June an application was turned down because it did not conform with the Council's pub protection policy (DMP21) and concern over the quality of accommodation that was to be provided. LINK

The application will be heard in the context of concern that Kilburn High Road is losing its live music venues and local residents will want to ensure that the pub that is now included will be financially viable and attract a tenants who will continue to put on events.

Camden Council objected to the frontage design but unfortunately their comments and those of local Brent councillors are not now available on the Planning Portal:

The officer's report LINK contains a detailed section on the proposed pub space. Note the reference to the fact that it is proposed that this provision is classified as A4 rather than D2 which would be appropriate for a venue that had  entertainment as its primary purpose:

In this submission the A4 unit is proposed to be retained, although it would have a different layout to the existing unit and be split level, occupying both the proposed basement and ground floor levels. Whilst the proposed development would no longer result in a loss, it is nevertheless important to give consideration to the principles behind DMP21. Whilst the A4 unit is being re-provided, the layout is changing and therefore attention needs to be given to the quality of the unit and its ability to operate in the long-term as a viable A4 use, even if the re-development is not resulting in a loss in itself. Therefore whilst criteria a) of DMP21 is no longer relevant to the proposal, the other criteria are to be considered in turn.

Criteria c) of DMP21 states that the proposal should not constitute the loss of a service of particular value to the community. There is no evidence to suggest that the premises were and are used to host local community events such as residents or local interest group meetings. However, a significant number of objectors have referred to the value that the premises provided in terms of the local night time economy, space for bands to play in, creative space and as one of the only places in the Kilburn area to provide live music and entertainment. The premises and its former function with Kilburn is therefore clearly valued to certain sections of the local community. It is therefore important that an acceptable A4 unit is retained. It would then be down to the operator to decide whether to continue to hold music events.

The layout of the unit is proposed to change and concern has been expressed the A4 unit would not offer good quality and usable floorspace so to appeal to a wide variety of tenants or to be used in future as a live entertainment venue similar to ‘The Good Ship’ .The existing unit occupies the ground floor with a sunken area to the rear and mezzanine level, with a floor area of 138m2 at ground floor with the mezzanine providing a further 22sqm of floorspace. Due to the creation of the basement, the proposed new unit would have a total floor area of 332m2, however it is acknowledged that greater floorspace does not necessarily equate to greater quality and part of the basement cannot be considered usable given that it would have to accommodate additional storage and toilets. Nevertheless, the basement would still increase floorspace and would be an open area contributing to the quality of the unit with the potential to operate in various ways associated with an A4 use.

In order to properly assess the quality of the space, a comparison of the usable areas of the proposed and existing ground floor, which is considered the most significant, has been undertaken. In relation to the existing unit, the main bar area measures some 6.5m wide x 11.3m long with the lower level measuring 6.6m x 4.6m. There is a circulation area adjacent the sunken floor level measuring 2.1m wide leading to the back of house area. It is raised that this area would typically not be considered practical usable space, nevertheless it has been counted as such in this assessment in that it would probably be a suitable standing area for people. In relation to the proposed unit, the main front area would measure 6.8m wide x 11.3m long (slightly wider than existing), with the opening through to the rear area measuring 4.7m (less than the existing 5.5m). At the rear the area measures between 6m / 5.1m wide x 10.5m long which equates to a total ground floor area of 146m2. Therefore whilst noting that the layout would differ from the existing, with no mezzanine proposed, the area of useable floorspace at the ground floor and the proposed layout of the unit would not be very different ( a loss of approx 14sqm at ground floor) from the existing so to conclude that the unit could not be used in a similar fashion to ‘The Good Ship’ or as a viable A4 unit in the future. The ground floor would also be double height throughout which would further ensure the quality of the space. Again, floorspace would be maximised through the provision of the basement

Objections have been received from local residents noting that Kilburn High Road has been identified as an important location for the night time economy and that the subject site makes an important contribution largely due to the fact that it is the only remaining live music venue on Kilburn High Road. The extent to which the reconfigured A4 unit would be viable as a future entertainment venue has already been discussed above, however, it is important to note that an entertainment venue would fall under use Class D2. Planning history indicates that the subject site was in A4 use long before it became the Good Ship (previously occupied by ZD bar) and there is no evidence of a planning application ever being submitted for the change of use to D2. Furthermore, if the opening hours of ‘ the Good Ship’ are considered these would support its primary use as an A4 unit given that the premises were open Monday to Sunday with long openings hours (17:00 – 02:00 and until 04:00 Fridays and Saturdays ). Therefore whilst the previous occupiers may have found their niche in terms of providing live entertainment to ensure their longer term viability, this does not appear to be the primary purpose of the unit and as such it is correct to assess the unit as an A4 use. Nevertheless, and as above, it is important to ensure that a similar venue could operate from the premises and it’s considered that this would be possible.

Whilst no longer a loss of the A4 use it is acknowledged that criteria b) of DMP21 states that the proposed alternative use should not detrimental affect the character and vitality of an area and should retain as much of the building’s external fabric and appearance as a pub as possible. In this case, although the building would be replaced, the existing building and in particular its frontage is not considered typical of the frontage of a traditional public house. The frontage does not have features typically associated with a public house that can be seen in other premises on Kilburn High Road and therefore the proposal is acceptable in relation to criteria b). Criteria d) is not applicable in this case as the premises are not registered as an Asset of Community Value.

Therefore when considering the quality, it is considered that the re-configured unit would have an acceptable layout so as to appeal to a wide variety of tenants and would have the potential to operate as a live entertainment venue if such a tenant wished to occupy the unit in future. Furthermore, given that the unit  would be of a suitable quality, it would not jeopardise or undermine the Kilburn High Roads designation within the draft London Plan as an important location for the night time economy. It is therefore considered that the previous reasons for refusal have been overcome and the principle of the re-development of the site is acceptable in this regard. A condition has been recommended to agree the fit-out details of the A4 unit, to ensure that it is constructed to a standard that will attract future occupiers and be viable.