Thursday, 23 October 2014

More Communication Problems at the Willesden Green Cultural Centre

Last month we blogged about the rumours that there would be no Customer Services (previously known as the One Stop Shop) at the new Willesden Green Cultural Centre and that, despite several enquiries from both Make Willesden Green and from individual residents, there was little knowledge of the plans from our councillors although they did promise to keep people informed if, or when, they found out more.

Having not heard anything further we were surprised to see the issue on the agenda at Brent Cabinet last week, hidden within a long document on Community Access Strategy. Two local residents spoke at the Cabinet meeting and raised several queries and objections but the document was approved unamended. There were no representations from any local councillors at the meeting.

The document presented a case to say that, since more residents were using the online service rather than seeking face-to-face contact, there was no longer a need for a dedicated Customer Services space within the Cultural Centre. Instead, self service computers and telephones with a direct line to the Wembley Civic Centre would be placed in the library and a weekly "by appointment only” surgery would be held (in an unspecified space within the Cultural Centre) for those who could not travel to the Wembley Civic Centre. 

The (approx 210sqm) space on the first floor that was to have housed Customer Services is now subject to a “local dialogue” about its alternative use but that use, says the council, will need to be both "of public benefit” and “income-generating”.

It’s a great shame that while the strategy document contains some positive proposals to improve the quality of the council’s online service to residents it seems to have come at a high cost, both to those who are unable to use that mode of communication and to library users who will see their facility further reduced.

Some of the points raised by residents at the meeting were:
  • a significant proportion of people still do not have online access, they are most likely to be poorer, elderly, disabled and more vulnerable residents. These are the very people who have complex needs that need to be dealt with face-to-face, rather than via a self-service computer or on the phone.
  • the majority of the council’s high need residents live in the south of the borough.
  • the housing of the Customer Services self-service computers and telephones within the library will represent a further reduction in the actual library facility – library users will be jostling for space with self-service customers and librarians will be expected to facilitate both sets of users.
  • the redevelopment of the library site was “sold” to residents on the basis that the old building couldn’t house an enlarged Customer Services facility, yet we are now going to end up with less than we started with.
  • there has been no consultation with local residents on what they feel their needs are relating to Customer Services provision.
  • how will the "alternative use" of the space be determined? Is there a contradiction between the need for it to be both “of public benefit’ and “income-generating”? Will the “local dialogue” be nothing more than giving us a choice between a Costa and a Starbucks?
Despite these concerns the proposals were nodded through. The broken promise that the Cultural Centre will mirror services at the Wembley Civic Centre  leaves us yet again feeling like the south of Brent is the poor relation of Wembley and that we are subject to a two tier service when it comes to council provision.

Having made this decision without any reference to residents views, Brent Council is hosting a meeting next week, the agenda is to include:
  • An update on progress with the building and services
  • A presentation from the building designers and a chance to take part in design workshops for the interior
  • A chance to give your views on how the community can be involved and put this building at the centre of life in Willesden
Monday 27 October 2014  6:30-8:30pm
St Andrews Parish Centre, 2 St Andrews Road, NW10 2QS

All residents are invited to attend and we encourage you to do so.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Willesden Green Cultural Centre - Lots of Questions, Few Answers

At the Willesden Green Town Team meeting on 1 September residents were shocked to learn from a Brent Council officer that a decision had been made to scrap the enlarged One Stop Shop (now known as Customer Services) at the Willesden Green Cultural Centre (WGCC), and instead let the space for commercial use.

The implication was that this would not be a commercial retail let to a bookshop or café but would instead be commercial offices in a similar vein to the current proposal to let 2 floors of the Wembley Civic Centre to Air France, which is currently under consideration.

Many residents will remember that the council’s original rationale for the building of the Cultural Centre included:
4.6 The Council is currently driven by the overarching concept of One Council. This aims to provide excellent public services and deliver these in the most efficient way but also to build strong relationships and better communications between the Council and citizens ensuring local priorities are addressed and that local potential is nurtured. A redeveloped WGLC will play an important role in this strategy supporting both the One Council Library Transformation Project and the One Council Future Customer Service Project. 
4.8 The Future Customer Service Project aims to improve efficiency and clarity of the services offered to citizens. The strategy is dependent on developing a new customer contact centre at WGLC providing a service for the south of the borough, an area where many of the Councils high need customers reside. 
Report adopted by the Brent Executive on 16 January 2012

So to hear that yet another public facility (arguably the only part of the new Cultural Centre that represented an improvement for local residents) was being stripped from the new building was concerning, meaning a further reduction in community assets.

Both MWG and individual residents contacted some of our councillors and met with varying responses.
An enquiry on Twitter received an aggressive and unhelpful reply from Willesden Green ward councillor Tom Miller. 

A full week later Cllr Miller was still none the wiser about what was actually happening but was at least a little more considered.

An email inquiry to Cllr James Denselow, the Cabinet Member for Stronger Communities asked the same question and got a vague response:

“We're still gathering this together and seeing what the exact customer services offer will be run from the library - will be in touch shortly”

Other residents have had responses from both officers and councillors saying no decision has yet been made – and the council’s entire Customer Services programme is subject to a review which will report back in October – a response which flatly contradicts the council officer’s very definite statement at the Town Team meeting and leaves residents in a state of confusion, fearful yet again, that backroom deals to reduce public assets are being done behind our backs with no transparency or accountability. If indeed there is a proposal to reduce the physical Customer Services space (perhaps as a result of more transactions being done online) then the additional space can be well utilised by the community in this part of Brent, rather than commercial offices that offer no benefit to residents at all.

We note also that any attempt to change the Customer Services area to commercial offices should require an amendment to the original planning application for Change of Use to be discussed by the Planning Committee.

Meanwhile, after a reasonably amicable meeting in July, two months on we are still waiting for answers from Councillor Denselow to a series of questions we put to him regarding, among other things, the community input into the running of the centre and the process by which the agreed retail tenants will be selected (so as to promote more of a community venture or an independent business rather than yet another Costa coffee shop). A recent request asking for progress on answering our outstanding queries brought a two-word response:
“Will do”

However, one interesting feature which did come to light as a result of a residents’ recent email is that Cllr Lesley Jones states that :

As for how centre set up and used, I have officers working on setting up an informal  ‘panel’ or ‘friends of’ the centre who could comment, suggest, complain on these aspects.  Expect panel to be local interested people from different perspectives, including original objectors to the development.  Early days yet, but invites to join a panel will go out eventually, probably in the new year.”

This was one of the suggestions MWG made during our meeting with Cllr Denselow so we’re pleased to see they are taking up our idea. Nevertheless, on current form it will be down to us to make sure this is real resident involvement and not an attempt to hoodwink residents into some form of sham consultation as happened with the proposal to build the centre itself. We await our invitation.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

A Spectre is Haunting Willesden - More Zombie Planning

You may have noticed some big signs springing up which ask "What will Brent look like in the future?" Other than the slightly spooky figures on the poster which might lead you to answer "free-from ghosts, hopefully", there are some important responses needed to this question.
The council is consulting on its new Development Management Plan (DMP) which will guide its planning decisions in the future. This is the first time in over 10 years that the plan is being revised so whatever is decided now is likely to shape Brent planning for some considerable time.

The plan contains a number proposals relating to housing provision and the makeup of our high streets. Of particular interest to us as Willesden Green residents is the section on protection of community facilities. Many of us who have been involved in the Save The Queensbury group have been lobbying for over 18 months for the council to adopt a specific pub protection policy so it is a hugely disappointing blow to see that the council has failed to include this within the draft DMP. Yet again, there has been lip-service which is not backed up by proper action on policies. There is one passing mention of pubs as a part of social infrastructure that should be protected, but given that many other local authorities are recognising the role that pubs play in communities and have adopted very detailed pub protection policies, it seems like a huge missed opportunity that Brent hasn't done the same.

The draft DMP can be be found here and you are encouraged to respond either by completing the online comment form or by emailing before 5pm on 31st July.

Points you might like to raise are:
  • The purpose of a policy is to give proper consideration where (for example) a developer claims a pub is not viable or not needed. A pub protection policy would have established the value of The Queensbury and its building early on on the planning process, saving the planning department a lot of work and residents of Willesden Green a lot of distress.
  • Tagging "public houses" on the end of a list of buildings deemed to be community infrastructure  is an ineffective and insufficient substitute for a dedicated pub protection policy. Brent should follow the example of local authorities in Lewisham, Kensington & Chelsea and Cambridge, among others, in adopting a detailed pub protection policy. As part of the policy, these local authorities maintain either a formal register or an informal list of all the pubs within their area.
  • Under the new draft DMP, it is highly likely that planning officers would have reached the same conclusion as they did in March 2014, recommending  demolition of The Queensbury.
  • The consultation reads that "in keeping with the NPPF, public houses are classed as social infrastructure and proposals which would result in their loss will be subject to this policy and town centre policy DMP 3 ‘Neighbourhood Centres and Isolated Shop Units" However the latter policy makes absolutely no reference to pubs. Hence this will be easily evaded at planning decision and appeal stage.
  • The draft DMP does not propose any additional protection for buildings which are listed as Assets of Community Value under the Localism Act. ACV-listed buildings should be protected from applications for Change of Use. The process for an ACV listing already requires a very high bar so the fact of it being worth preservation should not be in question. Although ACV regulations are not primarily planning regulations, it should be noted that 2.20 of the DCLG guidance on ACVs states:  "However the fact that the site is listed may affect planning decisions - it is open to the Local Planning Authority to decide whether listing as an asset of community value is a material consideration if an application for change of use is submitted, considering all the circumstances of the case."  This means that ACV listing can be used as a material planning consideration if desired – it is up to Brent to be bold enough to say that they will give these assets real protection and make the ACV status recognised and valued within the DMP.
  • A Pub Protection Policy is not specifically for heritage or rural pubs – CAMRA's model policy covers both rural and urban pubs. Brent has a number of significant historic pubs, some of which are locally listed by Brent for heritage reasons. It has been requested several times that The Queensbury be assessed to be placed on the local list of heritage buildings yet to date this has not happened.
  • More weight should be given to the preservation of the characteristics of conservation areas within the DMP. The current policy states that a building in a conservation area cannot be demolished unless it is thought to be actively detracting from the the look of the conservation area. Nobody could argue this is of the current Queensbury building, yet Brent planning officers chose to ignore it when they recommended demolition. The policy should therefore be given more emphasis in order that it is not easily over-ridden.
Aside from the important Queensbury issue the draft DMP is also an opportunity to input on the number of payday lenders/chicken shops/shisha bars on high streets, the height of new developments and the amount of affordable housing that's available. It is an important document, so do be sure to have your say.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Fascists not welcome in Cricklewood

Make Willesden Green is participating in the North West London United campaign against a planned fascist march through Cricklewood this coming Saturday (19th July). Along with many other local groups and trade unions we have signed the statement below, and we hope that as many local residents as possible will join the protest at 12 noon on Cricklewood Broadway to say that racist hate is not welcome in our neighbourhood.

Fascists not welcome in Cricklewood

The South East Alliance (SEA), a group of racist, Islamophobic thugs is threatening to return to Cricklewood on Saturday July 19th. This group, made up of remnants of the Essex branch of the EDL, includes known fascists and has links to Ulster loyalists. They say they are demonstrating against the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, but since that organisation moved to Austria in April before the SEA came to Cricklewood on 14th June, they clearly intend simply to bring their message of hatred to disrupt Cricklewood’s vibrant multicultural community.

In Cricklewood, as in the whole of North West London, we are proud of our diversity. Here people live and work together, children study, play and grow up together in mutual respect, regardless of faith or skin colour, language or place of birth. We will not tolerate attempts to divide us or stir up hatred. We stood united on June 14th to show the SEA that there is no place here for their racism and Islamophobia. We ask you to join us on 19th July to do the same again. 
This statement has been signed by:

Rev Jane Morris Vicar St Gabriels Walm Lane NW2

Rt Rev Pete Broadbent Bishop of Willesden and Deputy Bishop of London

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein Senior Rabbi Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue

North West Islamic Cultural Centre

The following Brent Councillors:

Cllr Muhammed Butt (Tokyngton) Cllr Rita Conneely (Kilburn), Cllr James Denselow (Queens Park), Cllr Liz Dixon (Dollis Hill), Cllr Harbi Farah (Welsh Harp), Cllr Sabina Khan (Stonebridge), Cllr Arshad Mahmood (Dollis Hill), Cllr Margaret McLennan (Northwick Park), Cllr Tom Miller (Willesden Green), Cllr Neil Nerva (Queens Park), Cllr Michael Pavey (Barnhill) Cllr Ahmad Shazad (Mapesbury), Cllr Sam Stopp (Wembley Central),

Cllr Lorna Russell Fortune Green, Camden Council

Cllr Abigail Wood Haverstock, Camden Council

Andrew Dismore London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden

Tulip Siddiq Labour PPC for Hampstead & Kilburn

Pete Firmin President, Brent Trades Union Council

Roger Cox Secretary, Brent Trades Union Council

Eddie Dempsey Branch Secretary Paddington no1 branch RMT

Bill McKinstry RMT Paddington No 1

Leon Brumant Vice chair RMT Bakerloo line branch

Mary Addosides National Union of Teachers Brent

Helen Davies Chair Barnet Unison

Steve Forrest GMB London Central President

Robin Sivapalan Unite Community

Sarah Cox Brent & Harrow Unite Against Fascism

Martin Francis Brent Green Party

P. Murry Secretary Green Party Trade Union Group

Scott Bartle Brent Green Party

Shahrar Ali Chair Brent Green Party

Graham Durham Brent & Harrow Labour Representation Cttee

Alex Colas Make Willesden Green

Sujata Aurora Make Willesden Green

Michael Calderbank Brent Fightback / Red Pepper Magazine

John Tymon Football Against Apartheid

Stephane Goldstein Chair, Kilburn Brent Labour Party

David Kaye Secretary, Kilburn Brent Labour Party

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Clean Willesden Green

Back in May, Make Willesden Green supporters helped our Willesden neighbour, Deborah Mahs, organise a clean-up morning drawing attention to the sad state of the service road behind Walm Lane. It seems her campaign is already yielding results and, spurred on by this success and support, Deborah has organised a wider clean-up with the Willesden Green Town Team on Saturday 26th July. Below is Deborah's message - we hope many of us can come out an help, even if it's briefly, for what promises to be a great community event.

Guest Blog by Deborah Mahs
Hello Willesden Green!! Come on down to Walm Lane, by Willesden Green underground on Saturday 26th July around 3pm and I will very likely be giving you a scrubbing brush and asking you to join in the fun and cleaning along with other passionate residents of Willesden Green, signifying our desire to improve, uplift and beautify the environs of Willesden Green, the home we live in. For a couple of hours clean teams and anyone passing who will willingly join in will be giving Walm Lane an unusual cleanup. Veolia, Brent's Waste and Recycling Management provider will be deep cleaning the pavements in the week before the event and on Saturday 26th they will be attending as well to lend their support to the community with volunteers and equipment. The Willesden Green Fire Brigade will also be on hand with one of their Fire Engines lending their support by providing the water and joining in the clean up. And this is just the beginning!! Too often in the past I have looked the other way when I see dilapidation, untidiness, dirt or things I don't like happening in my streets - but now I really am inspired to make a positive impact and I am calling on the community to join me. The clean up is to encourage awareness and involvement at any level, even if its just to look on and smile in support. I see Willesden Green as a gem hidden under a layer of dust and disconnection and I want to reach out to my neighbours because I know that over time with caring and actions, however small, we can improve our streets, buildings and local area and make Willesden Green a desirable place to live and visit and a joy for us all to be proud of. I am so looking forward to the friends we can all make and fun we can have and seeing Willesden Green begin to look fine, clean and vibrant. Please do join us for the cleaning, to look on and cheer and for the party afterwards at The Nest Cafe (5pm) by Willesden Green Underground station.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Make Willesden Green Enters a New Phase

Around 25 residents met at the Rising Sun beer garden last Sunday to celebrate the phenomenal electoral result of Make Willesden Green at the May local elections and to discuss ways of taking the collective energies of the group forward.  Coming runner-up in the election and beating the Tories and LibDems  shows that we represent a significant number of people in Willesden Green and - with Labour's huge majority on the council - our independent voice is  now more important than ever: Make Willesden Green is effectively the ‘official opposition’ in this area.
People expressed different ideas on what Make Willesden Green can or should be. Some of the key points raised included:
  • widen and deepen our reach across the community so that Make Willesden Green looks more like the neighbourhood it wants to represent
  • keep the campaigning focus of the group, and hold our elected councillors to account
  • address issues and include supporters from surrounding wards of Dudden Hill, Mapesbury and Brondesbury Park, and make sure that Make Willesden Green connects all parts of Willesden. 
  • amplify other campaigns relevant to our area - from Brent Housing Action to Save the Queensbury
After some discussion, the following action points were also agreed: 
  • To seek a delegation at the earliest opportunity to the Council regarding the management and community access to the new Cultural Centre
  • To monitor Galliford Try profits from the library development and ensure the council receives additional monies due to the inflated housing market
  • To investigate the possibility of a street party to involve more people in Make Willesden Green  
  • To use the blog to focus attention on the the key areas of improving the High Road/and public spaces, promoting affordable and social housing, protecting our schools from academisation and upholding local democracy.      
The excellent turn-out and continuing fighting spirit on display at our first post-electoral meeting of Make Willesden Green bodes well for the group’s future activities. This website will now act as an on-line clearing-house for information on relevant events and activities. We have also set up an email discussion group which you can join HERE or email and we will add you directly. As a grassroots initiative the future of  Make Willesden Green relies entirely on resident’s collective efforts – so please sign up and  add  your ideas, expertise and energy to build an independent voice for Willesden residents.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Make Every Vote Count On Thursday

Some of the many supporters who turned up for our last mass leafleting
It was a tremendous honour to have so many fellow residents come out last Saturday to give the Make Willesden Green campaign a last push before Thursday’s election. With about two dozen supporters swarming across various parts of Willesden Green, we managed to leaflet the whole of the ward and still find time to speak to hundreds of residents outside the Sainsbury’s forecourt. Most people said they were disenchanted with the three mainstream parties, but were keen to hear about our electoral offer of an independent voice for Willesden residents.

These conversations, and the groundswell of support I have received over the past few months from a real cross-section of our community, has made me even more confident that we can make Willesden Green a thriving, clean, open, democratic and environmentally-balanced area in future if only we have better representation. People in Willesden Green have spent too much of the past four years fighting against developers and unelected bureaucrats for a neighbourhood with open spaces, secure community amenities, an improved High Road, more affordable housing and properly-funded public services. In the process, we have been ignored by our Councillors and dismissed by senior Local Authority officers. 

Watermelon Men: me with Shahrar Ali and Martin Francis, Green Party candidates for Willesden Green

In fact, when the Make Willesden Green campaign was taking shape one of the main drivers behind its formation was the general lack of accountability and unresponsiveness of our sitting councillors. Our current Labour councillor and one of the LibDem councillors were enthusiastic supporters of the Willesden Green Library project in the face of overwhelming resident opposition, while the second Lib Dem councillor has moved away from Brent, has barely been seen for a year and doesn't even respond to emails. Now of course, it's election time so we see both parties coming out of hiding to claim that they are listening and ‘on your side’, hoping that we will forget their past sins and misdemeanors.

We formulated a policy on the Right to Recall local councillors in between elections and I personally signed a pledge saying that as an elected councillor I would submit to to a by-election if enough residents demanded it. We challenged every candidate standing in the Willesden Green election to sign the same pledge – only the two Green Party candidates, Martin Francis and Shahrar Ali responded positively. Labour, LibDems and the Tories did not bother to respond at all.

However our attention was drawn to this rather mealy-mouthed blogpost from sitting councillor Lesley Jones who sets out a number of objections, all of which can be easily overcome. (‘Who will collect the petition signatures?’ Cllr Jones asks, ‘Well, how about the same people who collected 6,000 signatures against the Library development that you backed?’ would be an answer.)

All in all, the response to the recall pledge has shown that the main parties have learnt nothing from the anger, frustration and disenchantment of local residents. They want your vote on Thursday but they don't want to hear from you again after that. Do we really want to give a mandate to parties that are still scared of democracy, still afraid of participation and still reluctant to give us a real voice? 

I hope that I will get one of your votes this Thursday, but I hope you will also think about whether you want to give your second and third votes to parties who show such a fundamental disdain for the wishes of their electorate.

On Thursday we finally get a say: every vote sends a message, and by giving me one of your three votes, you’ll be making it clear the three main parties have failed our area. We need genuinely radical and grassroots Councillors to represent the interests of Willesden Green, and this Thursday is the time to vote us in.