The Kinks and Willesden Green

Enjoyed the Christmas break by doing very little!  Got a very pleasing present - The Kinks CD that includes the song “Willesden Green".  This was the title of a song written by Ray Davies and included in the soundtrack of the 1971 film "Percy":

Well I tried to settle down Fulham Broadway
And I tried to make my home in Golders Green
But I gotta get that train
And go back home again
Oh how I miss the folks back home in Willesden Green
You know, I tried, I really tried to settle in this big city
And I always thought I could make it all on my very own
But there's one thing that keeps calling me
To that little, that little semi-detached
That's the folks, yeah, the folks back home
In Willesden Green

Unlock democracy?

Councillors get all sorts of letters promoting schemes or point of view. Just received one from a organisation called "Unlock Democracy" aiming to get support for a "yes" vote for the Alternative Vote (AV) system in the referendum on May 5th 2011. The letter is supposedly from the comedian Eddie Izzard, who also asks for funds for the campaign. I won't be supporting AV as I don't find Izzard's arguments plausible. I don't find him very funny either.


More on Burnley Practice campaign

Attended a meeting for patients of the Burnley Practice on Friday. The PCT had called the meeting to discuss what patients might want in the option 1 bid our campaign had secured.  The consultation goes on until the end of January and the notice of tender will be published on the Brent PCT web site in February.  We had a questionnaire to complete to say what services we might expect from a re-tendered practice. Additional opening hours was top of most people's wish list.  If all goes well, the contract will be awarded by June 2011. Although some patients are taking a rather cynical view, I do believe the campaign has been successful and there is every intention to keep the practice open at the Willesden Centre for Health and Care.


Déjà vu?

This is from a Labour newsletter 25 years ago.

History is said to repeat itself as this picture demonstrates!


Burying bad news?

All governments are sometimes accused of "burying" bad news when the media is taken over by one dominant or interesting issue.  This was certainly true of the time Prince William announced his engagement. Among bad news stories from the coalition government were:

- Children's centres in deprived areas no longer be obliged to offer full daycare or to hire staff with both Qualified Teacher and Early Years Professional status (Announced by our MP, Children’s Minister Sarah Teather at the Daycare Trust conference.) 

- "Aim Higher", the programme to get working-class youngsters into universities, is set to be axed by the government – at the same time as fees for university students are trebled.

- 3000 jobs are set to be cut from the Greater Manchester Police Force, representing a 23% cut in the workforce over the next four years – contrary to promises to protect frontline services.

Thanks to the media obsession with the royal family and some media management and convenient scheduling of announcements, these cuts will be overlooked, when they should be significant news stories.

Progress on Burnley Practice campaign

Patients of the Burnley Practice at Willesden Centre for Health and Care will have received a letter letting them know the PCT have opted for option 1: putting the practice out to open tender to keep it at its current base - the Willesden Centre for Health and Care.  This marks a success for the campaign by patients and ward councillors against the original proposal to close the surgery and to disperse patients to other doctors. We were warned that if Option 1 did not succeed, the PCT would disperse the patients to other surgeries - not a simple task to move around 3,000 patients in an area already acknowledged to be short of doctors.  The PCT has at last listened to the concerns of patients and we now await the recommendations being agreed at the NHS Brent Board meeting 25th November.  (For background, see More on the Burnley Practice)

Brent council rewarded for member development excellence

Brent Council has received a special London Councils award to mark its good work in helping their councillors do a better job. The Member Development Charter is awarded to councils in recognition of their work to provide councillors with the support, skills and training they need to develop and to manage their local authority’s budgets and services. It is backed by Local Government Improvement and Development (LGID). The council has demonstrated commitment to providing support to its members and helping them to develop the skills and knowledge to undertake their demanding role in developing and monitoring policy and serving their residents.


Planning objections

 I take a particular interest in planning applications for conversions or new build in the ward.  Some developers are very greedy and try to pack too much in the space available. When I send objections, they usually cover concerns about over-development or poor quality accommodation or amenity for potential occupiers. Some applicants go on to appeal to the independent inspectorate and are often refused at that level. Have just heard that one of my objections went as far as the Magistrates Court where an owner was found guilty of breaching an enforcement notice which required him to remove a very large extension.  He was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay the Council’s prosecution costs of £2,663.60. It's good to see the borough's planners get support from the independent inspectorate and the courts.

Play area completed!

The Learie Constantine play area looks finished at last. Looking forward to an official opening soon. The funding for the work came from the Labour Government's Play Builder scheme. Brent originally got around £1m to improve a number of its open spaces in but most of the funding was stopped by the new Coalition Government. This play space just made it as work was well advanced when the cut came. 

More on the Burnley Practice

I have been involved in supporting the fight to retain the Burnley Practice, a GP practice now at the Willesden Centre for Health and Care. Brent NHS was proposing to shut the practice and to disperse patients to other GPs. Having settled into the facilities at the Willesden Centre, patients now find their surgery is at risk yet again, in spite of assurances over the years to resolve concerns.  I worked with other councillors in leading objections and attending meetings with Primary Care Trust staff and patients.

It is really important for councillors to take up issues like this, especially to resolve a problem in an area where there are fewer GP’s per 100,000 population than other areas of the borough.  The issue was also raised at the council’s Health Partnerships Overview and Scrutiny Committee which recommended as follows:

“The Health Partnerships Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommends that NHS Brent carries out an open tender process for the Burnley Practice registered patients service. This is to ensure that the service continues to be delivered from Willesden Centre for Health and Care and to avoid dispersal of existing patients in an area which already has fewer GPs per head of population than other areas of Brent.”

As a result of the objections and meetings, a further look at options for the Burnley Practice and further meetings are expected before the final decision is made next month.


Free bulky waste collection returns!

The Labour group has kept its promise. Brent Council ceases to charge for bulky waste collections from the 1st October, overturning the Lib Dem/ Conservative administration's charge of £25. Household can have up to three collections of up to five items per year. Dumping of rubbish has increased in recent years and we hope this change will keep our environment cleaner.


Freedom Pass in danger?

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has announced  that he would no longer be supporting the London Councils position on the Private Bill regarding the Freedom Pass. The Mayor's support for this Bill also formed part of a five-year deal on concessionary fares that were believed we have been reached with the Mayor. This included, in exchange for part-funding, the Mayor’s commitment to free travel in the AM peak and a cap on the borough contribution to the Freedom Pass. This deal no longer stands. Without the cap, costs for boroughs could increase from the capped amount of £266M to around £302.9M on current figures. This can be described as the Tory City Hall failing to honour its side of a deal – a deal which the London boroughs sought in order to protect the Freedom Pass and council taxpayers.


Lechmere Road dumping

This terrible mess left at the High Road end of Lechmere Road. This road is right in the centre of the High Road opposite the library - a normally busy site.  There are houses nearby, so amazing that no one spotted the dumper.  Had heard that some personal information left behind, so with luck, the miscreant can be charged. In a few weeks (1st October) the charge for the collection of bulky waste will be abolished as the Labour group promised. Dumping of this sort will not stop overnight, but stopping the charge is expected to help.


Raid in Strode Road

The local paper had news of a raid in three properties in Strode Road where ten suspected illegal immigrants were arrested. Most were said to be Chinese and Filipino nationals.  The properties were said to house dozens of people, including many families, living in a maze of bedrooms and bungalows illegally erected in the back garden. There was therefore serious overcrowding and while occupants had made efforts to keep their spaces clean and tidy they were a potential death trap.  Someone was making large amounts of rent and exploiting these people. They probably relied on the tenants not speaking of their poor housing as their illegal status would be discovered.  Previously the premises had been used as a workshop for duplicating videos and cassettes – another scam for the landlord.  Crimes such as trafficking and cramming people into accommodation such as this is a form of exploitation we must guard against.


Houses in multiple occupation: End of protection?

Have recently read an article by Tom Lloyd in the journal “Inside Housing” and was very alarmed to discover that Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, is overturning rules governing houses in multiple occupation. This means that landlords could change the status of a property from a standard house to a house in multiple occupation without seeking planning permission, reversing changes in the Town and Country Planning Order 2010, which were introduced by the Labour government in April last year, shortly before the general election. This appears to me to be a gift to landlords which many do not deserve.  It is said that councils will still be able to require landlords to seek planning permission to create a HMO in areas where such properties are deemed to be a problem. This has to be true of Brent.


Planning controls

Good to see that the Planning Service continues to judge some proposals for converting houses into flats as unacceptable. In a number of instances, policies H17 and H19 are cited as reasons:

"The proposal is unacceptable in principle in that it results in the loss of a family dwellinghouse, for which there is a recognised need in Brent, without the replacement of a family sized unit. By reason of the limited original floor area of the building and its location on a heavily parked street, the dwelling house is insufficient in size to be considered for conversion and would increase the demand for on-street parking, to the detriment of the free and safe flow of traffic."


The Burnley Practice

In recent years I have been in regular contact with aggrieved Willesden and Dudden Hill patients registered with the Burnley GP Practice. This surgery was originally in Burnley Road but it closed in 2001 when the doctor left without warning.  Patients were transferred to the Roundwood Practice at the Pound Lane Clinic with the promise of a return to a surgery in the Burnley Road area. Eventually the practice was relocated to Willesden Centre for Health and Care, but the inferred intention has always been to find appropriate premises suitable for local residents. 

Recently there have been indications that there were plans to close this surgery and to distribute patients to other practices – few of which are within easy access for older or mobility impaired residents. There is genuine concern that one of the options being considered is to disperse the lists and a petition with over 150 names has been submitted.

Having settled into the surgery at the Willesden Centre, with patients familiar with its facilities, they find their GP practice is at risk yet again, in spite of assurances over the years to resolve concerns. Many residents will not understand why the practice is threatened with closure or what alternative arrangements are possible, but it is recognized that a “post code” lottery does exist in Brent, with the Willesden area (NW2, NW10) having fewer GP’s per 100,000 population than other areas of the borough.

As this is a community rather than a party political issue, I have sought the support of co-councillors for Willesden Green and Dudden Hill Wards, all of whom put their names to a letter of objection to the PCT Director.  We also supported a meeting with PCT staff and about 40 patients. This was a good meeting where patients could express their concerns and could feel they were listened to. As a result, a further look at options for the Burnley Practice and further meetings are expected.

Trading Standards Success

The Local Government Association has highlighted how criminal assets are recovered by local authorities under the "Home Office Incentivisation Scheme".  This lets councils to recover up to 37.5% of money confiscated, using powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act to conduct financial investigations and to undertake enforcement work against benefit fraudsters, counterfeiters, etc. The Brent and Harrow Trading Standards Service is given as an example which uncovered a fake handbags scam, leading to fines of £400,000, of which £132,000 went to the boroughs.

Latest on the Learie Constantine Open Space

There is new fencing in place but other work on the refurbishment of the Learie Constantine Open Space in Villiers Road has been sporadic.  There has been plenty of digging and the layout plan is emerging but there appears to be a long way to go before it is finished.  The delay may be due to having to wait to see if the Lib Con government would continue to fund playgrounds with the "Playbuilder" scheme. Recently heard this scheme was abandoned, but where work on a play space was advanced, it could be finished.  So it looks as though this play area will survive the cuts.  I am asking officers for the potential finish date and will include an update later.


Road works at the Library Centre junction

There are very mixed feelings about the TfL funded works at this central area of Willesden. The work on the paving around the library is good and the trees on part of the High Road and in Brondesbury Park are generally appreciated. It appears that the work will correct the flooding problem at the site. Concerns included the removal of the guard rails, the trees and the traffic disruption. The intention to provide pull-ins for deliveries to shops created more problems that they solved as buses could not pass large vehicles parked there. As a result, one of the the central islands and its trees were removed. Because of these problems, the work will not be completed until the end of August. Local traders have collected a petition for the council to explain the problems and this will go to Highways Committee at its next meeting in October.


Cinema at Library Centre

Lots of residents have raised the issue of the cinema closure. It would be good to find another new management for it, but the equipment would need upgrading.  Was given this statement on it:

"Unfortunately the cinema closed when the tenants decided it was no longer a viable business. We are currently looking Willesden Green Library Centre as a whole and how we can develop the cultural facilities to provide the best offer for local people. The cinema will remain closed in the short term as it does not meet the technical requirements for a modern digital cinema. We are investigating alternative uses of the space".


Limiting conversions to flats?

I have been concerned for some time about the apparent 'rush' of developers to convert family houses in Willesden into flats or houses in multiple occupation (see earlier item, "Housing stock - maintaining balance").  Read somewhere that local councils can put covenants on houses to prevent conversions on single houses rather than a bunch of them, and may be possible only on council-owned properties. Believe there is a real and urgent case to campaign for a local planning policy to to have a % limit on conversions in particular roads. Both worth exploring in detail when the new administration is elected - certainly if this is a Labour majority administration. Delighted to find Brent Planning Enforcement officers taking action against some clear breaches such as houses converted for multiple occupation without planning permission and often rented to students at a high rent.


Ward Working 2010/2011

Willesden councillors will be meeting soon to discuss how we will use the Ward Working (formally Neighbourhood Working) fund (£20,000) to provide improvements in Willesden Green.  We can only spend on items not the responsibility of the council to deal with or "one off" events.  One or two ideas already, but would be good if residents shared their ideas with us.  Last year we cleaned up the statue area at the bottom of Dudden Hill Lane and got the "eyesore" wall refurbished.  This year we might be funding football kit for a Willesden youth team or a project in the Brent Museum.  Some areas might like some more street trees.  Your ideas please!


The Sillitoe Tartan

Ever heard of the Sillitoe Tartan?  Apparently in 1932, shortly after he took office as Chief Constable of Glasgow, Sir Percy Sillitoe ordered a test run of the pattern.  By August of that year he deemed the test a success, ordering that all caps should bear the distinctive pattern and it is still in use today. Why do I find this interesting? My name before marriage was Sillitoe but try as I might, I have not found a family link to the former head of MI5 - Sir Percy Sillitoe. Still fancy trying the tartan in some guise or other.


Kings Hall Community Association

The Summer Fete at the Kings Hall Community Centre went very well. To aid the fund raising, I used my local and family history interest to offer visitors look-ups of the 1911 census to see who lived in their house in 1911. Most of the houses had more people living there than today.  Some Kings Road addresses had servants recorded. There was even a professional footballer lodging at one local address.

Doubt whether many of today's professional footballers would be lodgers in NW10!


'Team Willesden’

Congratulations to the staff at Willesden Bus Garage who recently won the London Buses Award for Best Vehicle Centre. ‘Team Willesden’ were rewarded for their quick response to the vandalism of 29 buses at the depot in June 2009, cleaning every bus the morning after and preventing any delays for passengers. Well done, team Willesden!


Transport at Brent Cross/Cricklewood development sites

In 'Missed opportunity areas', published on 17 May (Surveyor 21 May 2010), the Campaign for Better Transport analyses transport infrastructure provision at the Brent Cross / Cricklewood sites, concluding that both regeneration projects will increase car use on-site and in the surrounding area. That means us in Brent!  Good reason to keep the local campaign going.


The Dudden Hill Lane wall

The 'before' and 'after' pictures of the Dudden Hill Lane wall. A very welcome improvement to what residents remember as an eyesore.

This is a positive use of some Neighbourhood Working funds, agreed with the owner of the business site, Mr McGovern, and ward councillors.


Council elections 2010: Labour pledges

Now the council elections are over, the 40 Labour councillors will be working on delivering our pledges:  

Repeal the £25 charge for bulky refuse collection.
Keep Council Tax levels at or below the London average and introduce a discount for those over 75 who are eligible
Introduce free parking for the first hour in council car parks to encourage local shopping for local people.
Rebuild our secondary schools and ensure that school facilities are fully available to the wider community, especially young people
Crack down on crime and anti social behaviour
Introduce a Green Charter in consultation with local residents and other stakeholders.

Other high priorities: 
Introducing 20 mph speed restrictions in areas where residents' want them.
Introducing fairer care charges for elderly and disabled people.
Making Brent a Fairtrade borough.
Provide a multi use games area in every suitable open space.
Provide a safer environment for our young people.
Work with other local authorities and central government to change legislation to allow the Council to restrict the growth of betting shops in town centres and fast food outlets near schools.


Work starting on open space

Passed by the Learie Constantine Open Space a few days ago and saw diggers about to start work on preparing the ground for the refurbishment.  Very good news after many months of preparation including the planning application and landscape design, and actual years since first boarded up.  A space to watch!


Pound Lane safety scheme

It has taken some time but the safety scheme in Pound Lane I petitioned for is almost complete. The pedestrian crossing by Bertie Road is a great success.  When in Pound Lane and Unity Close yesterday I heard people praising the crossing and the transportation unit for implementing it. Now a much safer crossing point particularly for the elderly, children and parents pushing buggies.  Safety treatments further up Pound Lane (by Harlesden and Hawthorn Roads) are also expected to make a big difference.


Roundwood Park cafe

Now that the trial and sentencing of the previous leaseholder of the cafe in Roundwood Park is over, I hope we can look forward to the cafe reopening with new management. The Parks Service is keen to retain the cafe as a valuable community resource.  The former leaseholder (known by a variety of different names) was found guilty of 23 counts of benefit and other frauds at Harrow Crown Court on March 18th and has been sentenced to four and a half years. 


Carriageway repairs in Willesden

Disappointed yet again that none of my nominations for pavements or roads in need of repair or renewal were successful. Only two Willesden roads feature in the list - Buxton and Deacon Roads - will have the carriageway resurfaced in 2010/11. At this rate, it could take up to 50 plus years to restore our roads and pavements to good order.  As yet there is minimal work on dealing with the great number of pot holes in Willesden.


Pedestrian Refuges

I have been concerned that there is a need for a pedestrian refuge on some roads in Willesden as it can be hard to cross the full width of the road safely. I asked Transportation about how such refuges are agreed and implemented and they have given me a technical answer. I am advised that they are provided individually, but more often as part of a larger scheme. The primary of a refuge use is to serve the public's need to cross the road where a formal pedestrian crossing cannot be justified. It serves a secondary purpose of separating opposing traffic flows, and calming traffic speeds. However, they do sometimes require the loss of some on-street parking and this is not always welcomed in residential streets. The criterion is accident reduction, or serving a pedestrian's "desired crossing line". The kerbing and tactiles are not expensive, but it is usually necessary to get a live electricity feed in cross carriageway ducts to serve the illuminated bollards. Again, it may be necessary to prevent parking which in turn needs a traffic order and parking restrictions. Much depends on the location. Let me know if there's a site you think should have a pedestrian refuge.


Nominating roads for repairs

Councillors have the opportunity to nominate roads where there is a need for repair or renewal. However, no guarantee they will be included, but I have submitted the following:

Footway repairs:
Tarmac side of Bertie Road (reported 3 years running!)
Paving by bus stop, close to bus garage, High Road
Harlesden Road: between nos. 2-40
Tarmac side of Deacon Road
Beaconsfield Road

Carriageway repairs:
Gowan Road
Hawthorn Road
Beaconsfield Road


The Marie Celeste of NW10?

Residents using Willesden Library Centre have expressed concern about what they see as a decline in our "flagship centre".   For several years I had the pleasure as lead councillor of seeing the library grow in the services and resources it provided, when, for example, both the museum and archives were relocated. Now residents regret that the cinema and cafe have gone, that the reception desk is often unstaffed, that there is a drinks vending machine in the reading area and that the outside area is left littered and untidy.  In the first few days of the snow, there was no gritting to protect visitors from the icy and dangerous conditions in the car park.  A Neighbourhood Working proposal was to fund the training in security of reception staff so they could legally play a more supportive security role. This was declined by management.  The current Lib Dem/ Conservative administration do not appear to have plans or proposals for reversing what we see as this downward trend.

Too many estate agent boards?

Sick of seeing an explosion of estate agent boards down your road?  Did you know they can be controlled by planning regulations? `For Sale' or `To Let' boards are limited to only one board on each road frontage and they must be on the building or land to which they relate.  It is unlawful for more than one estate agent to erect a sign on any property even if is has more than one road frontage.  Even more important is that for sale and to let notices must be removed 14 days after the sale or letting.  I am pleased to report that Brent planning service take their regulatory role seriously and do pursue offending estate agents.  Have just heard that the council has recorded 27 convictions this financial year in relation to illegal estate agents’ signage in the Willesden area and others are being investigated.  Let me know if you have any concerns in your road.


Housing stock - maintaining balance

Found the following statistics recently.  Slightly more Brent residents live in houses (54%) than in flats (46%).   The relatively high respective proportions of households living in semi or detached houses (35%) and in purpose built flats (27%) illustrates the range of Brent’s housing stock and the Borough’s diverse townscape; which ranges from suburbia in the North to very dense inner city streets of terraced houses and flatted blocks in the South.  Just over half of Brent’s households live in owner-occupier homes (54%) with most of the remainder either renting from a social landlord (25%) or privately (17%).

I am particularly interested in maintaining the balance between family housing and flat conversions. The borough has the policy to protect family-sized housing from avaricious developers.  It is therefore good to know that the planning service does sometimes refuse an application (using policy H17) that would result in the loss of “a small purpose-built family dwelling” failing to “aid in the retention of mixed and balanced communities through a variety of housing sizes.”
I am delighted therefore that some recent planning applications have been refused because of overdevelopment, loss of family housing or lack of adequate amenity. I had submitted objections to applications for properties in Kings, Meyrick and Huddlestone Roads and for Stevens Cottages and all were refused on good planning policy grounds.

Empty homes in Brent

I have been concerned that the council’s empty properties function had been scaled down. In a borough with an extreme need of more homes, this looked like a mistaken action to reduce costs. The empty property function moved into the Housing Solutions Team, resulting in a scaling down of the service.

The service has since been revived but only as a result of the council receiving external funding from the West London Housing Alliance to fund a long-term empty property officer post.  As part of the bid for this funding, 10 empty properties have been identified and the funding will be used to bring back the properties into use.  One is a well-known uninhabitable eyesore - 31 Dudden Hill Lane – where an earlier planning application in 2008 sought to convert the warehouse area into flats. However, this was refused. The hope is that this new grant will promote a new and successful application and some decent accommodation provided at the site.