26 Aug 2011

Back-of-Envelope Civic Centre Finances Revealed

On 14 July 2001, I advertised that I had requested from Brent Council financial data for the civic centre project, under Freedom of Information law. Unfortunately, I find their response dated 9 August 2011 wholly inadequate. Here it is.
2011-08-10MrAliFOIInformationsupplied[1] To make matters worse, the covering letter to the response stated:

Brent Council: "Following careful consideration, [Brent Council] can inform you that we have decided not to disclose some of this information. [We] attach a copy of the information which can be disclosed in the form of a pdf file. The remainder of the information you requested is being withheld.

The exemption applied is Commercial Interests (public interest test) section 43. This exemption applies because it applies to trade secrets and to information which if disclosed would, or would likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person, including the authority holding it." (10 Aug 2011)

I have since written to the local papers, and replied to the Council themselves. Here is the gist of my follow-up to the Council:

SA: "Thank you for your FOI response. Unfortunately, I do have a number of follow-up questions, which I feel should have been covered in your original reply but have not been. Allow me to put them here:

- What is the cost of the Civic Centre? Remarkably this is not in there.
- What is the cost of financing the debt?
- What is "the most recent financial assessment of the project benefits"?
- How is the £89m figure quoted made up in terms of "reduction of operating costs" and "other efficiency savings"?
- On what basis has the "risk adjusted" figure of £2.85m per year over 25 years been arrived at?

I was looking for a response more akin to a balance sheet, showing income and expenditure over the lifetime of the project. Moreover, any reference to other documents should surely be referenced - and means of access to further data given, or hyperlinked where appropriate - and it not be assumed that the enquirer knows what is being referred to. Certainly, no prior knowledge should be assumed and the response should be self-contained and inclusive."

The good people of Brent await a High court ruling to have the Council's reckless decision to axe half the borough's libraries overturned. By such means the Council sought to save £1m. Since, on their own inadequate terms, Brent seeks to make savings of £2.85m per year over the next 25 years, to make the Civic Centre work, are we not entitled to know what further "efficiency savings" lie in store for us?

For an informative overview of the most recent Council budget, with reference to the Civic Centre, read my colleague Martin Francis. The full budget documents are still available as appendicies here. In particular, note that on page 3 of Appdx. B, the income line (red parentheses) is without evidential basis.

Previous Soapbox slot on why the Civic Centre is such a bad idea. Recent press letter, Harrow Times: How will this be paid for?.

23 Aug 2011

Brent Voter Registration Happening!

Last year, I described the flawed voter registration process of Brent Council. This year, I'm happy to report that the on-line method did work (evidence revealed above, click to enlarge), and was painless! As of today, at least. Since, on 7 Aug 2011, a Brent registree did report problems on this blog. It seems they must have been rectified. Here's to trouble-free registration for everybody else this year!

19 Aug 2011

Nuclear Trains Action: Green GLA Candidate Interviewed

The Nuclear Trains Action Group organised a successful day of action on 23 July 2011, converging at Stratford station. There were speeches (including myself for the Greens) and song, followed by a die-in (pictured). News was also given of a temporary stalling of trains during the Olympic games.

I was subsequently interviewed by Pete Day of NuSound radio, who has kindly sent me a copy of the audio file for this blog:

This campaign is of ongoing concern for Brent residents. Our latest information is that Willesden is still used as a transit point. Greens have been campaigning on this for several years (see press release of 1999), including a recent question to the Mayor by Darren Johnson AM. Was the Mayor's reply adequate?

16 Aug 2011

Brent cyclists invited to meet Jenny Jones

Jenny Jones, Green Party candidate for the London mayoral elections,  will be coming to Brent on Friday to meet cyclists and investigate with them how cycling could be improved.

Her visit will start at Wembley Stadium station at 10am on Friday August 19th where anyone interested should come and meet her. She will then be able to cycle to any spots in the borough which give cyclists particular difficulties.

Could everybody who decides to come respond to with their telephone number in case of any emergencies or delays.

8 Aug 2011

Council must provide leadership and resources to combat climate change

The Brent Green Party has submitted the following in response to the Council's consultation on the Green Charter:

A. Brent Green Party welcomes the initiative of Brent Council in opening up for consultation a proposed Green Charter. Unfortunately, we do not find that the current draft goes far enough and with appropriate sense of urgency in promoting or facilitating the lifestyle and social change that is required for the Borough of Brent to make its full and due contribution in meeting the challenge facing the world of reversing the present rapid deteriorating world environment, integral with which is the phenomenon of man-made global warming. This latter which, if not faced head on and forthwith at all levels, is likely to result in a largely uninhabitable planet within the life-time of children being born today.

B. Brent Green Party’s response here is directed towards the kind of radical, joined-up social and political change that should be aimed at all levels of society. The current draft is not sufficiently ambitious in this regard and needs to convey the need for a holistic approach in all aspects of human activity - energy efficiency in the home, localisation of food production, the development of habitable spaces which take into account the long term impact of transport policy and construction. Whilst we take education to be at the heart of this agenda, we also recognise that good policy has the power to shape individual and social action of the right kind, to make it easier for people to do the right thing and take local initiatives that spread good practice and ideas. The local transition towns initiatives in Brent are of just this inspiration. In contrast, the policy decisions taken by the current administration on the Civic Centre bring into question their recognition of the scale of the challenge represented by, in particular, climate change and the need to meet this challenge in the shortest practicable time-scale.
C. Our proposals below focus around investment in long-term jobs in green industry and services, as part of a package of Green New Deal solutions. The Green Charter as presently formulated puts the onus on residents to take action, which is a necessary part of the equation, but neglects the role of the local authority in providing both strong committed leadership and the resources necessary to implement real change. We ask Brent to build into its Charter the following programme:

1. The Council to implement a systematic programme of high quality roof and wall insulation, double-glazing and draught exclusion in its social housing sector.
2. The Council to make a street-by-street offer to private residents/tenants of a similar programme reducing the cost through economies of scale.
3. The Council to work with local colleges to provide training/apprenticeships in green technology.
4. The Council to provide incentives to local business to reduce excess packaging at source and to recycle waste
5. The Council to provide incentives for green businesses to locate in Brent, particularly in the regeneration areas.
6. The Council to extend the 're-use' aspect of recycling at local recycling plants by means of a warehouse to store household goods and furniture that can be re-used by residents and retailers for onward trading.
6. The Council to work with schools on making their buildings energy efficient and adopting 'green' curriculum which would see pupils as agents in the education of parents as well as giving them a role in managing the school environment in a sustainable way. This to be launched through a Climate Change And Education Conference open to teachers, student groups, governors and green community organisations.
7. The Council to set aside land in larger parks for community allotments and on under-used land such as railway embankments, derelict building sites and common areas on estates. The Metropolitan Housing allotments on the Chalkhill estate are a good example.
8. The Council to set aside land in parks for wildlife conservation and encourage schools to set up wildlife gardens

D. We reiterate our well-known opposition to the new Civic Centre on the grounds of its affordability and that its 'green credentials' have not taken into account the environmental costs of the raw materials, manufacturing and construction necessary to deliver the completed building.

E. At a more general level, Brent Green Party supports the One Planet Living Framework developed by BioRegional and WWF with the objective of helping people and organisations live and work within a fair share of our planet’s resources. We suggest this framework would be an excellent point of reference for drawing up the next draft of the Brent Green Charter.

In particular, we draw attention to the following important general objectives in formulating particular relevant proposals applicable to the Borough of Brent:

1.  Making buildings more energy efficient and delivering all energy with renewable technology.
2.  Reducing waste, reusing where possible, and ultimately sending zero waste to landfill.
3.  Encouraging low carbon modes of transport to reduce emissions, reducing the need to travel.
4. Using sustainable healthy products, with low embodied energy, sourced locally, made from renewable or waste resources.
5.  Choosing low impact, local, seasonal and organic diets and reducing food waste.
6.  Using water more efficiently in buildings and in the products we buy, tackling local flooding and watercourse pollution.
7. Protecting and restoring biodiversity and natural habitats through appropriate land use and integration into the built environment.
8.  Reviving local identity and wisdom and supporting and participating in the arts.
9.  Creating bioregional economies that support fair employment, inclusive communities and international fair trade.
10. Encouraging active, sociable, meaningful lives to promote good health and wellbeing.