22 Sept 2011

20 Sept 2011

The Earth is Turning. The Planet is Burning.

Awe-inspiring view from Greenhill behind Brent Town Hall on 17 September 2011 (I took). But what kind of uninhabitable planet, and damaged atmosphere, are we leaving behind for future people? What will it take to jolt the human race into meaningful collective action to preserve even the possibility of such uplifting magnificence?

16 Sept 2011

Brent Dry Recyling Bins: Pay more for less?

Blue topped dry recycling bins are currently being rolled out across the borough, ahead of the start of a new waste collection regime in October 2011. In a nutshell, residents will now have three bins, a green one for organic waste such as food and garden (weekly), a blue one for dry recyclables such as plastics and newspaper (to replace the green box, but now fortnightly), and the grey one to continue for non-recyclable or non-compostable material that has to go to landfill (but alternate fortnightly).

Whilst many residents will have missed the past "consultation" period and may be caught unawares about the changes, there has been comment and formal representation to the Council from the likes of Brent Friends of the Earth before now. They have raised important concerns about the pitfalls of commingling waste, the risk of adverse working conditions for labourers further downstream and, of course, the lack of quality of the consultation (no surprise with Brent council - expose of managerial style).

There is clearly an argument in favour of reducing landfill (grey bin collection will move to fortnightly) and increasing provision for recycling. However, even if all this can be reconciled to, Brent appears to have failed to conform to its own commitment on the provision of the new bins.

In the St Andrews conservation area of Welsh Harp ward, residents have received only one blue bin per two households. Unfortunately, this is not compliant with the Council's own stipulations - that residents will only have to share bins if "living in converted properties" or already sharing bins. Neither of these conditions hold in the case of these streets of which mine forms a part. The maisonettes are purpose-built (one of the features contributing to conservation status) and the boxes these bins are supposed to be replacing in part, are not already shared.

There is definitely an argument to be had about reducing the number of bins overall, as these can contribute to street clutter on collection days and also represent a material cost themselves (see excellent overview by my colleague Martin Francis). However, this argument has not been made by the Council. Moreover, as one of the main services relied upon by local ratepayers, there is clearly a quasi-judicial assumption to be had, that services will remain equitable for all, per household.

So, whilst there may be a case for having neighbours sharing bins, this would have to be on a sufficent criterion, not an arbitrary one. Otherwise ratepayers will find themselves receiving half the level of collection (volume per household) depending on where they happen to live in the borough, without explanation. This may be of overall benefit to the planet, but this should not be imposed upon some ratepayers but not others. Collective actions work best when everybody plays their part equally, can be encouraged to do so, and without having extra burdens imposed upon some only. Unless, of course, the Council would like to offer those households sharing blue bins a rebate.

Unless ... of course, the Council has an addtional motive, to use the rolling out of bins, also to reduce the number of overall collections it has to make. No doubt, some legitmate savings can be made on that score, but only up to a point. Where the commitment has been made for bins to be replaced, like for like - not one for every two households, but one each - any departure from that would constitute inequtiable provision. Like ratepayer; like service provision.

One further legalistic consideration. Brent is keen to mention its powers under Section 46 of the EPA 1990 (environmental protection act) to decide collections strategy. However, enforcement of its powers would become doubly difficult if the Council were unable to determine liability by any resident for contamination of the waste stream - for example, where households have had a shared bin imposed upon them for like cost.

I am soliciting feedback from both the neighbours and the Council about this.

Wembley Park Station: We rely on you to tell us what's going on

A scene from the late morning rush-hour at Wembley Park station. Large queues for the ticket office, which seem to have been getting worse all week. Why?

The causal reasons - as opposed to the unintelligible ones - are that over 50% of the ticket machines were out of service or closed. In particular, machines that ordinarily accepted notes were closed or only accepting coins. Moreover, only one cashier was serving and another half a dozen or so service points were closed. I guess the only fault of the passenger, sorry customer, is that they either had complicated journeys, or did not have coins to the value of their ticket (who carries correct change for a £7.30 travelcard, for example?) or wanted to avoid spending on their credit cards.

The less intelligible reasons are that when I finally got to speak to the station manager - after first being offered a telephone number for a centralised customer service - he was apparently ignorant of what was going on in his own station. I pointed at the queue, asked him whether this was really acceptable, and reported back to him the advice of another of his staff earlier in the week, that some of the machines were malfunctioning. How about getting them fixed? Moreover, the manager was adamant that cash was being accepted at the machines but then qualified this to say only coins were.

I do think that commuters deserve better station management than this. Many locals already have to contend with being redirected the long way round the ticket barriers on their return journeys, when it should be obvious that at least 50% of people might wish to use the Kingsbury or Neasden-bound pavements and buses.

How about a transport system run for the benefit of passengers? Locals, and local businesses, will also face the impact of Jubilee and Metropolitain line closures this weekend.

15 Sept 2011

Letter in Brent Times: Civic Centre Sums Don't Add Up

8 September 2011 edition

Greens contest Highgate By-election in Neighbouring Camden

Camden Green Party is contesting the Highgate by-election on 15 September 2011. We have a strong chance and already a track record of doing what it takes (convincing the voters), as in the memorable by-election win of 1 May 2008 (Highgate: Green, Alex Goodman).

This time the Greens are standing Alexis Rowell, who was last seen in Brent chairing the excellent Friends of the Earth hustings for Brent Central candidates in 2010.

Picture: Campaign coordinator Natalie Bennett, earlier in the week, over team talk before the final push.

Final Result:

•Anthony Denyer, Conservatives: 593
•Martin Hay, Liberal Democrats: 111
•Sally Gimson, Labour Party: 1,178
•Alexis Rowell Green Party: 947
Turnout: 34.26%
Commiserations to Team Green. We will be back for more!

14 Sept 2011

London Living Wage: Bloomsbury Fightback

Campaign for low paid workers in university sector to get London Living Wage.

Entrance to Senate House, University of London.

Volunteer Jason prepares for musical rendition.

On 14 September 2011, Bloomsbury Fightback organised a successful day of action in support of the right of low paid workers of the University of London to get at least £8.30 (London Living Wage). Senate House cleaners currently receive just £6.15 per hour.

Key demands include:
1. Immediate implementation of the LLW of £8.30 backdated to 1 Sept 2011.
2. Immediate implementation of sick pay for outsourced wokers on the same terms as enjoyed by other University of London employees.
3. Commitment to implement LLW upgrades on an annual basis.

In a statement the University of London has said:
1. The LLW is an hourly rate of pay, currently £8.30, set independently each year by the Greater London Assembly.
2. All our directly employed staff are already paid above the LLW and also have access to a wide range of benefits which compare well with other London employers.
3. All contract staff, such as cleaners, porters and security, are employees of Balfour Beatty Workplace (BBW) and will receive the LLW by July 2012.
4. The University is working closely with BBW over implementation, which has already been brought forward by a year as a sign of our commitment.
5. We are fully committed to introducing LLW by July 2012, but to commit to doing so earlier would mean failing to address the significant implications for responsible financial and staff management.

5 Sept 2011

Please sign Street Cleaning Petition

Brent: Street cleaning

From 2 October 2011, Brent Council plans to cut the street cleaning service:
• Most residential streets to be cleaned once a week instead of twice a week and not long ago it was three times a week
• Reduced service on other streets including limits on weekend work
• End of the seasonal leaf collection ie no separate clear up of leaves for composting and to protect pedestrians
• 20 street cleaning posts to go

• More people having falls on wet and rotting leaves + rubbish not frequently cleared up
• Elderly people, those with disabilities and children most vulnerable to injury (or death) from falls needing costly health and social care
• More compensation claims against the council for not properly maintaining the streets (health and safety issues)
• Dirty, messy, shabby, neglected looking streets, reducing the attractiveness of the environment and quality of life – loss of pride in the local area
• A Dirtier Olympic Borough
• More foxes, rats and other vermin in the borough
• More people (street cleaners) unemployed

What to do?
Sign the e-petition on Brent Council website ( which runs until 23 September, calling for a reversal of the decision to cut the street sweeping services.

We the undersigned petition the council to reverse the decision to cut street sweeping services and to retain the employment of properly trained street sweepers.
(Started by Martin Francis – Brent Fightback)

Complain to your local councillor – names, contact details from Brent Council, website or Tel: 020 8937 1200, or from libraries

Get involved with Brent Fightback -

3 Sept 2011

Asda Wembley Has To Stop Its Lorries from Endangering Pedestrians

In October 2010, I summarised Brent Green Party's success in getting Asda to recognise the urgent need for pedestrian safety when organising its lorry deliveries. In April 2009, after two years of campaigning and a public apology, we thought case closed - epitomised in the physical evidence of signage on the redesigned access area (pictured above). Alas, though less frequent, infractions still happen. On 2 Nov 2010, I got the following reassurance from Head office:

"I have now forwarded your pictures to the stores management team as well as our store development team. They will be able to look at ways of minimising any pedestrian danger when passing between the vehicles on the road. Thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to our attention." (2 Nov 2010)

Unfortunately, here is evidence of further infractions from last night (2 Sept 2011):

I spoke to these pedestrians last night (at 10pm) and they acknowledged that they had just been forced into the main road by this lorry jutting out and blocking the drop kerb crossing, and endangered in the process. How can Asda consistently get away with road safety violations that your common-or-garden motorist would have been booked for, if not towed away, many a time?These are double yellow, no-loading, no-stopping kerb markings, operational all hours. To make matters worse, there was no driver visible in the cabin. I have written again to Asda.

London Living Wage Campaign and Brent Council

The Greens have actively campaigned on the right of workers to a living wage across London. The London living wage is currently £8.30 per hour. On Friday 2 September, I heard from fellow workers in the University of London, Bloomsbury. Pictured: Fadili, Robinson, Samba and Paolo.

Closer to home, Brent Council also has not made this commitment to its employees and subcontracted workers. Yet the local Labour group campaigned ahead of last year's elections that if they gained control of Brent Council they would: "Conduct an audit of Council contractors to examine how many people indirectly employed by the Council are earning the London Living Wage." And? Instead we see jobs being axed in order to support a financially impossible £100m Civic Centre project that nobody wants or needs.