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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Furness Primary School Playground

I just thought I would do a quick post on how welcome the changes to Furness School playground are.  It is so much better than the old dull tarmac.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Housing and Planning Applications

I have picked up a sense of confusion in some recent planning discussions around what a planning authority can demand in terms of housing in a planning application.

The first confusion is around market, affordable and social housing.  Market housing is easiest.  That is just housijng sold at the market price.  Generally, that is where a developer makes the main profit that funds the project.  The real confusion comes with affordable housing.  This means housing rented at 80% of market rate.  In London that can easily be seriously unaffordable for many people.  Social housing  is more genuinely affordable, but seems to be being steadily eroded not just in planning conditions but also through the Right to Buy.

Tenure Mix
Two more things to look out for are whether the properties are sold or rented.  If sold, they can sometimes by subject to shared ownership or other concessionary schemes.  It is also worth looking at the mix of sizes.  A viable community should have some family and some smaller accommodation.  However, the market currently favours one or two bedroom flats over family accommodation.  Brent therefore tries to push developers to include more family accommodation. 

The third area where people seem to misunderstand is the nature of a planning authority's powers.  Brent cannot simply demand whatever it wants.  it has to be able to demonstrate that its decisions are in line with various planning policy documents (or deviate from them for a good reason), and that its demands are reasonable and proportionate.  Developers generally try to reduce the proportion of non-market housing by pleading poverty.  In recent times, the Council has started putting in a clawback position in cases where the developer subsequently stands to make a killing. 

Frequently, the Council is seeking to trade off one benefit against another.  Thus the Willesden Library development was judged justified in not having non market housing because the developer was paying for a new cultural centre, for example.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Local Welfare Assistance

The Guardian has a good piece on the facts around local welfare assistance.  What is does not bring out is the extent to which Councils are constrained by central government policy.  Not only did central government simply shunt the responsibility on to Councils with a significant reduction in funding, it did so with very little notice.  It is also inherently harder for local authorities to give out loans since (unlike the DWP) they cannot dock benefits.  That means that they cannot recover past assistance and roll it over into next year in the way the DWP could.  Hence there is even less funding in the system, even ignoring the 10% cut.

There is also every prospect of the entire funding being cut from 2015, which would leave Councils cutting services even further to carry on the payments, or simply stop the scheme altogether.  In turn this makes Councils reluctant to publicise the system since it may not exist soon.

The whole policy is one designed to fail, but with the blame transferred away from central government.  As such it is one of Iain Duncan Smith's most cynical manoeuvres.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

David Cameron Looking Both Ways

I see that David Cameron is now being called on to make good on his claims about the UK being a "Christian country".  His presumably Lynton Crosby inspired dog whistle to Christian groups appears to be running up against his previous attempts to appeal to gays.  I wonder which will win out?

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Brent Library Outreach Services

One part of Brent's library services that does not get properly appreciated is the outreach service.  This tends to get dismissed as a "bookswop" but I think it can have a much more valuable role.  Since we bwent ahead with our new library system in 2011, Brent Libraries have seen a massive increase in library services.

The graph shows an increase of more than 600% between 2011 and the end of 2014, an even bigger growth than with home library services.  The number of outreach loans is actually greater than the total number of loans from Harlesden Library

What i9s more interesting is the number of ways, the outreach service can reach parts of the Borough that are less accessible to the physical libraries:

  • Outreach arrangements can be made with areas that have never been near a physical library.  An example would be the Children Centre in St Raphaels in Stonebridge.  For those who don't know it, the St Raphaels estate scores very badly on most measures of deprivation, and is somewhat physically isolated for people without a car.  Putting a library outreach service in the middle of it helps Brent Library Service access an area where they have been largely absent.  
  • Outreach arrangements can provide temporary cover during building work, as was successfully done during the Kilburn Library refurbishment.
  • Outreach can also be used to reach audiences previously untouched.  For example, it has been used in coffee shops, hostels and even Northwick Park hospital.
  • Outreach can also be used to respond to shifts in population.  The likely growth in Alperton, for instance, could be serviced in this way.  When Brent's first libraries were founded in the 1890s, much of the Borough was fields and transport and technology were entirely different.
Outreach certainly cannot replace physical libraries, but what it can contribute is often overlooked. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Stop and Search In Brent

A few days ago I was sent some figures on stop and search in Brent.  They show a disproportionate number of black people are being stopped.


 These figures cover from February 2013 to February 2014.  The proportions are similar for arrests following a stop and search.