Make Willesden Green Manifesto
1. For greater democracy and accountability
i. The right to recall Councillors
MWG will push for a right to recall Councillors if a petition is signed by 51% of voters in the ward at the last election. This means a Councillor would be forced to stand for re-election before their term of office ended, giving us far greater power to hold our politicians to account. This would have enabled us to force Gavin Sneddon, our Lib Dem Councillor for Willesden Green who no longer lives in Brent and attended just three meetings in 2013, to face the electorate again. If Brent Council proposed the Right to Recall under the Sustainable Communities Act, central government could not ignore this request and it would be considered by and independent panel If Alex is elected as a Councillor he will sign a pledge committing himself to a reelection if it is demanded by 51% of the number of voters at the last election . We challenge all other candidates in this election to do the same.
ii. End automatic expenses, reimburse Councillors only for work done
Some Brent Councillors have a poor attendance record, both at meetings and at ward surgeries yet they are automatically entitled to almost £8,000 of allowances each year. MWG wants an allowances system based on attendance, expenses incurred and on actual work carried out. Councillors should who do no casework nor attend meetings should not be entitled to our money.
iii. Full transparency in planning and better consultation on developments that will impact on the character and life of the neighbourhood
MWG is participating fully in the Neighbourhood Development Plan that is being formulated to shape our neighbourhood.However this may take years to come to fruition. In the meantime we would like to see better consultation and an ‘open book’ policy for controversial and/or large scale developments before any pre-planning agreements are reached.
The scandal of the secretive and binding pre-contract deal that was made for the Willesden Library development, on the consent of just 12 library users, some of whom were not even resident in Willesden, must never be repeated.
Major projects such as the Library and the Queensbury Pub developments should not be able to go ahead without the active support of local people.
iv. Rejuvenate the Brent Connects area forums and give them decision-making powers
The local 'Brent Connects' area forums are moribund and depressing affairs, often attended by more Councillors and council officers than actual residents. They are a tokenistic attempt to give a voice to residents, which is then ignored. These forums need to be reinvigorated to attract more resident participation eg, in summer meetings could be held in places where people naturally pass through, like the Sainsbury’s forecourt. They also could be given decision-making powers and control over ward-working budgets which are currently spent by Councillors with little scrutiny. We should reinstate a steering group which includes residents to decide topics for discussion, rather than leaving this solely up to the Councillors and officers.
2. Places for people
i. Give us our fair share
New residential developments in Willesden Green will provide Brent Council with significant funding through Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy payments. A greater proportion of this money needs to be spent within Willesden Green rather than diverted to Wembley and other parts of the borough.
ii. Clean up Willesden Green
The effects of the cuts in street cleaning are plain to see. Our roads are filthy and plagued by fly tipping. We need to permanently increase the street cleaners’ hours and have more enforcement officers targeting fly tippers in Willesden. We need recycling banks in fly-tipping hotspots and more litter bins. Landlords registered under the new licensing scheme should be entitled to free collections of bulky good to help stop the plague of mattresses infesting Willesden.
iii. Improve our high street
We demand that the £80,000 nominally agreed by the Council for local improvements is released immediately rather than sitting in council coffers while our high street decays. We also want the Council to produce an openly accessible survey of all the vacant retail spaces on our High Road, so they can be targeted for occupancy. Independent specialist retailers, like the sadly missed Willesden Bookshop, should be encouraged, Planning policy should be formulated so that permission can be refused for any more betting and chicken shops. We will campaign for a Pubs Protection Policy so that valued facilities like the The Queensbury Pub are no longer threatened. Funding should be given to local shopkeepers to restore and upgrade shop frontages to create a more cohesive look. Signage at the gateways to the town centre (junctions with Dudden Hill Lane, Chichele Road, and Willesden Lane) would give us a better sense of place and clear definition.
iv. Give us some space
The open space in front of Willesden Green Library is sorely missed. Adequate open space should be retained for public use whenever a new development is considered, eg. outside Electric House the pavement could be widened and landscaping included. We need more Pocket Parks to provide play facilities and safe family spaces, but council-owned sites such as the disused basketball court on the junction of Willesden High Road/Dudden Hill Road lie derelict and neglected. Indoor community spaces are also crucial; we will fight for more community participation in the management of the new Willesden Green Cultural Centre and for buildings like The Queensbury Pub, which are listed as Assets of Community Value, to be given protection in planning policy.
v. Protect our local heritage
Our High Road is a Conservation Area although you would never guess from looking at it. The pavements must be repaired and street lighting improved to make it safer and more appealing. The Council should assist in restoring locally listed buildings such as St. Andrews Church as these landmarks define the character of the area and the local identity.
vi. A more user-friendly high street
A traffic-calming change in road surface from the pedestrian crossing zone outside the library to the tube station crossing in Walm Lane with 20mph restrictions and a ban on HGV through traffic would help to make our high street safer. We need better pedestrian access and more cycle lanes with safer, secondary routes that circuit off the High Road so they do not cross bus routes.
3. Housing for all
Escalating house prices mean ownership is unaffordable for many while renters suffer from high rents and poor standards. Government reforms target the poorest in our community. With Brent being the worst affected borough in the whole country by the benefit cap, families are now being ‘decanted’ and re-homed in places like Wolverhampton and Stoke. Combined with Brent Council's approval of housing developments which include little or no social/affordable housing, MWG believes that Willesden Green is in danger of losing its social mix.
i. Protect residents from the effects of government welfare reform
Brent Council must take action to protect vulnerable residents and follow the example of other councils in not evicting council tenants who fall into arrears due to cuts in benefits. Brent should reclassify homes to protect people from the Bedroom Tax as other councils have done. Vulnerable residents should be exempted from Council Tax, not hounded through the courts for minimal amounts.
ii. Build more social and affordable housing
We have a desperate need to build more housing but this needs to be the right type of housing in the right place. Brent Council must enforce its own policy of 50% of new developments being given over to social or affordable housing. This is rarely adhered to; the Willesden Green Library development contains not one single affordable unit and was advertised to overseas investors using the lack of affordable homes as a selling point, the proposed development on The Queensbury Pub site has only 18% affordable housing.
iii. 'Affordable' housing must be truly affordable
Rents for council tenants must be kept at affordable levels. We are against the recent rises approved by Brent Council which will see rent increases of up to 30% over the next 5 years for existing tenants, with tenants in new builds paying up to 80% of market rents.
iv. Improve standards in the private rented sector
We want an effective and enforceable landlord licensing scheme which will raise standards. It must at least have the power to shut down the letting agents in Willesden Green which were exposed on BBC for racial discrimination against black tenants. We are against any licensing scheme which will become a pretext for immigration raids and damage community cohesion. Licensed landlords should be entitled to free collections of bulky goods to help prevent the fly-tipping which plagues Willesden Green.
v. More resident participation in planning housing developments
Willesden is suffering at the hands of profiteering developers with no interest in our community. We support the creation of a Neighbourhood Development Plan which will be put to a referendum, allowing us to democratically determine the type of developments that are acceptable.
4. For a democratic education
i. Oppose privatisation of education through academisation
In Brent we are seeing Michael Gove’s policy of replacing the Local Authority’s role in education with a competitive market of ’mixed providers’. This reduces democratic accountability and opens the way to the employment of unqualified teachers in inadequate buildings. It reduces funding for the remaining LA schools. With the future of Copland in the balance all other Brent secondary schools are now academies or faith schools. We therefore oppose academisation.
ii. Oppose free schools
We oppose the creation of Free Schools as they are socially divisive and educationally regressive. In most cases they also represent a waste of precious public resources. We support the NUT’s ‘Crisis in School Places Campaign’ which seeks to give local authorities back the power to open new community schools in areas of need.
iii. Support schools and parents fighting forced academisation
As primary schools have been reluctant to convert to academy status Michael Gove has used Ofsted judgements to force the academisation of schools deemed inadequate. Make Willesden Green believes all education and children’s services should be publicly funded, under local authority control and democratically governed. We will support local parent and/or teachers’ campaigns against forced academisation such as that taking place at Gladstone Park Primary.
iv. Strengthen local school improvement arrangements
We believe local people know the local needs of our schools best and we want to see the Brent School Improvement Service strengthened through adequate resourcing and staffing. We will encourage collaboration and mutual support among schools in Brent and neighbouring Local Authorities as the best way to secure school improvement.
v. Strengthen the voice of parents and carers in local schools
Forced academisations have been carried out despite parental opposition. We want parents and carers to have a right to a secret ballot after balanced presentation of both sides of any argument to change the governance of a school. All schools should have regular Parent Forums and a strong parent and carer representation in the Governing Body, so that senior management teams and governors are responsive to the views of parents and carers, and the latter are fully aware and informed of school developments.
5. Brent Council and the cuts
Coalition government cuts have had a devastating effect on local government. Brent Council has lost over £100 million of funding from central government. By 2016 it will have had its budget cut by almost 50%. MWG will oppose cuts in our services whichever party proposes them, as ordinary residents must not be made to suffer.