30 Apr 2012

HS2 Extraordinary Meeting at Kensal Triangle: "No body wants it! Everybody will pay for it!"

On 23 April, I attended an Extraordinary meeting of Kensal Triangle Residents Association (poster advertising the meeting on local street pictured). I attended a very informative meeting in December (blogpost) and was looking forward to hearing more from Keri Brennan, a guest speaker active both in Hillingdon and the pan-London group against HS2.

The meeting was deftly chaired by Deepak Nambisan, a local resident and lawyer who, leading on one of the items himself, was able to furnish us with a update on the legal battles ahead and the likely timetable for them. Three judicial reviews were in the pipeline, two initiated by the HS2 Action alliance, focusing on the environmental impact and the compensation process, respectively, and the third by the 51m Group, focusing on the inadequate consultation process (it was explained that 51m took its name from the projected cost in millions to each parliamentary constituency).

Keri Brennan spoke passionately about her campaigning to date, explaining both how she remained defiant in the face of attempts to pacify the Ruislip group with the offer of a tunnel and how she had lost all faith in the consultation process to date and the politicians and lobbyists she said were manipulating things from start to finish. She told us how she got involved after discovering the proposal to run a line through her back garden, that she and her family had been expected to endure floodlighting for 24 hours a day for seven years of construction. She told us how the advocates of HS2 were making up costs as they went along, often as a reaction to the hidden costs that were being revealed by the campaigners. Instead of the oft repeated price tag of £32bn, she estimated a more realistic cost of £79bn, if it went ahead.

Ms Brennan concluded, "No body wants it! Everybody will pay for it! The people who do want it do so only for their careers."

A discussion was also had about the compensation schemes currently on the table, that were being consulted about by the government. There was much uncertainty in the room about if and when such compensation would be applicable, given the number of variables being deployed. I also sensed a general unease at the prospect that in seeking to establish the true risks from the project, they should not talk down the area or overstate the impact of tunneling as this would also adversely affect the marketability of their properties. I left the meeting thinking that the very fact of imposing this predicament upon the residents was itself deserving of remedy, if not compensation.

A separate item was taken on the impact on the area of lorries using Harrow Road for construction of Crossrail and why they had not been consulted about it. A figure of 68 lorries daily for the next year was given as an envionmental impact. There was generalised dissent about the failure of Brent Council to engage with them about the proposal. One resident declared that, in her experience, "Communication with Brent aint that great. They only respond to threats." An opinion was expressed that Brent had waived its jurisdiction over the matter, unlike neighbouring boroughs.

I was welcomed to the meeting as a representative of the Green Party and the Chair read out a statement from Jenny Jones, Green Party mayoral candidate. Excerpt from Jenny Jones' Green Party Statement on HS2:

"The Green Party is firmly against this project. As currently planned, HS2 is not viable either environmentally or economically. As Mayor, I would oppose the construction of HS2 in its current form for many reasons, both for Londoners and for those living outside London. These plans are for an ultra high speed railway, meaning that it has to run in a fairly straight line, ploughing through areas of natural beauty and invaluable countryside.

I am particularly concerned about the negative impact upon the residents of North Westminster, Kilburn and Kensal Rise of proposed tunneling under their homes. My Green Party colleague in Brent Shahrar Ali has been keeping me informed of the campaign against this.

Of course we need high speed rail services that reduce our reliance on flying, but the planning process must take full account of social costs such as relocation and the loss of social housing. Rail services should provide benefits to people from all walks of life, not just business people who want to shave a few minutes off their journey.

We want to make it easier, cheaper and more pleasant to walk, cycle and take public transport than to drive. More affordable fares, less congested roads and safer streets can all be achieved by prioritising people and public transport over cars. Our plans will deliver immediate improvements while setting in motion plans to transform our transport network.

Rest assured that I will continue to oppose HS2 and fight to protect London's public services as Mayor or as a Green Member of the London Assembly."

26 Apr 2012

Letter in Brent Times: Leaflet Policy is Danger to Free Speech

Transcript of letter in Kilburn Times, 26 April 2012 edition (p. 16):

"Leaflets: Policy is danger to free speech"

Thank you for exposing the audacity of Brent Council’s latest proposal to constrain free speech on our streets (‘Leaflets fee set to hit protest groups’, front page, and ‘Is new leaflet control really just about cutting litter?’ editorial, Brent Times, 19 April).

The audacity of the proposal being tabled at the Executive, “Control of Distribution of Free Literature on Designated Land”, and the flimsiness of the environmental pretext given for it, does not conceal the danger to the principle and practice of free speech that it would pose.

My Green Party colleague, Martin Francis, has solicited a clarification from the Council that exemptions for the requirement to apply for a licence to leaflet would also apply to political literature of a non-party political sort. This more inclusive interpretation, though welcome, is hardly cause for celebration. The proposal itself would have us fundamentally alter the presumption of free speech which we enjoy in this country.

Firstly, there should be no question that a potential leafleter need seek permission from the Council before distributing literature not covered by the exemptions, such as that promoting a local business or a cultural event.

We already have sufficient legal apparatus to cover cases either where literature is inciting hatred or where trespass has occurred or in order to combat littering.

Second, there should be no question that a potential leafleter should have been expected to anticipate such a requirement, if and when operative, either upon payment of a licence application fee or on pain of penalty otherwise.

Third, the principle and practice of free speech, as enjoined in the publication and distribution of literature, is ordinarily of no material business to the Council, and certainly not on some relatively inconsequential basis as the prevention of litter.

Moreover, the criteria given for potential application of such licensing regimes are neither physically proximate, in the case of streets far from Wembley Stadium, nor clearly confined to the duration of the Games and the Games alone.

This potential threat of interference to the ordinary and everyday business of Brent residents and local business people, and the very fact that the Council would even consider such action, betrays yet again the contempt with which they must hold us.

The Council is demonstrating, in its half-baked clarifications and lack of anticipation of them, not only gross incompetence; but, moreover, ill-motivation in seeking to legislate against something which is a fundamental democratic entitlement.

Not content with doublespeak over the harm they have perpetrated over library closures, they now wish to audit and censor what we would read, for a fee, of course.

One is left incredulous at the incompetence and maliciousness of this administration, which apparently knows no bounds.

Shahrar Ali
Green Party London Assembly candidate for Brent and Harrow

UPDATE: Since this letter was submitted, the Executive approved the proposal. Coverage by Martin Francis Here and Here. Brent Times story Here.

24 Apr 2012

Council continues with bad proposal to charge for leafletting

Dear Councillors Ashraf and Hopkins,

 Thank you both for your reply to my earlier email about the proposal to charge £175 for a license to give out leaflets in the main shopping areas of the borough with a further charge of £75 a day, I was glad to learn of your opposition to this. Does this mean that this is the position of the Brent Liberal democrat group?

 I am sorry to hear that the proposal was passed yesterday by Brent Council Executive and I am therefore now asking you to request a "call in" of the council so that the proposal can be more fully debated and ,hopefully, overturned.

 Yours sincerely Peter Murry
 Dollis Hill Ward constituent, Secretary Brent Green Party, Committee member Brent Campaign Against Climate Change.

21 Apr 2012

Control of Distribution of Free Literature on Designated Land: Brent Council's Dangerous Nonsense

Brent Council is currently considering the following proposal, to be debated at the Executive on Monday 23 April. The title of the proposal should ring alarm bells, and already has elsewhere, notably on my colleague, Martin Francis' blog, here and here. You couldn't make it up and I'm trying to work out whether the proposal is ill-motivated (ie. money-grabbing fees schedule even to apply for a licence to leaflet) or cack-handed or both.

One thing is absolutely sure, this is a nonsense proposal, and dangerous nonsense at that, which would seek to curtail the free exercise of speech and shift the presumption of its enjoyment by citizens to have the Council vet it instead, for a fee and after expenditure of effort on the part of the potential leafleter.

Martin's correspondence with the Council has focussed on the important question of what forms of literature would be exempt from the requirement for a licenced approval in the designated areas of Brent in question. Section 3.4 of the proposal states:

"These powers do not apply to materials promoting charities, for religious purposes or for political purposes." (Control of distribution of literature on Designated Land, 3.4)

Does "political purposes" extend to political campaigns that do not have any formal party political affiliation to speak of? The current reply of the Council spokesperson is that the exemption would apply to political campaigns of a non-party political sort.

However, this clarification, welcome though it might be, is hardly cause for finding confidence in the remainder of the proposal. The Council pretext that special restrictions may be required to control litter in the run up to the Olympic Games hardly explains the reach of the restrictions, either in terms of:

1. The neighbourhoods that would be affected include Harlesden, Willesden, Cricklewood and Kilburn, nowhere near the Wembley Stadium Protective parking zone (in so far as proximity could be a criterion).

2. The expiry date of these proposals is not carried.

3. The negative impact upon local businesses who might otherwise have leafleted, through lack of a licence or penalty for not soliciting approval, is disproportionate to the harm supposedly mitigated, that of litter.

To the contrary, this proposal leaves one feeling incredulous that a Council could be both so incompetent and ill-motivated. I guess the answer to my earlier question was both all along.

20 Apr 2012

Outrageous proposal to charge for giving out leaflets

From: Peter Murry
 Sent: 20 April 2012

Subject: Outrageous proposal to charge for giving out leaflets

 Dear Councillors,

 I am writing to you as my ward councilors and copying this email to Cllr Ann John as leader of the Council because I learned that you intend to discuss on Monday a proposal to charge £175 for a license to give out leaflets in the main shopping areas of the borough with a further charge of £75 a day. This proposal, if passed, would drastically curtail freedom of speech, especially by those least well resourced who are often the very people who most need to exercise the right to publicly communicate their causes to other people.

 Apparently, political parties, charities and religious groups will be exempted, but I often give out leaflets for bodies which do not fit any of these categories like the Campaign Against Climate Change, or local campaigns on such issues as Brent Cross redevelopment proposals, Neasden pollution or the building of an Incinerator at Heathrow which might pollute Brent. The proposed charges for leafleting would in effect be a gag on such protest.

 The editor of the Kilburn and Brent Times recognises the threat to democracy posed by your proposal, I hope that you will see this too and that someone will be allowed to speak at Monday's Council meeting to oppose this misguided idea.

 Yours, Peter Murry
Dollis Hill Ward constituent,
Secretary Brent Green Party,
Committee member Brent Campaign Against Climate Change.

15 Apr 2012

Rocking for Votes at the Ace Cafe

On Sunday 15 April, I spoke at a convention of the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) at the Ace Cafe, in Stonebridge, off the North Circular. The MAG describes itself as the UK's leading riders rights organisation aimed at shaping policy in the capital and beyond for motorcylists and scooters.
Shahrar Ali, Green London Assembly candidate, speaking on behalf of Jenny Jones and the London Green Party. In my opening speechette, I said that Greens were in favour of bikes, both pedal and motorised, for the simple reason that the motorbike was a very efficient way of getting around the city, compared to the motor car, when the amount of journeys with empty seats was taken into account. Our policy against the use of motorbikes on the bus lanes shared by pedal cycles was not particularly popular but I explained how this could be reconciled by better, dedicated cycleways that we were actively campaigning for, to better assist all road users. However, I also said that a better managed road space, with less traffic in the main lane would facilitate bikers that way, too. I emphasised that Green policies would help tackle air pollution, that bikers were particularly vulnerable to, and that our mission for a properly integrated, affordable public transport system would help everybody, since nobody was reliant on just one mode of transport.
Shahrar answering questions from those present. There were many questions, and only two political parties represented, although the questions seemed to be directed more at the Greens than the Tories. I didn't mind that, and learned plenty to report back to our policy people about. There were concerns about inadequate parking, speed humps and speed limits. We were asked to end with a closing pitch and I found the mood constructive and reception warm.
Simon Mouncey, MAG rep for Essex and Herts, with Shahrar Ali.
Carol and Pete, fellow riders. I discussed with them the apparent proliferation of bad scooter drivers delivering for pizza takeaways and they sympathised. Whilst it was said there was an obligation to take a CBT (compulsory bike test, short of the full licence), another biker who has worked in the trade chipped in to aver that huge numbers of such employees were getting away without their employer insisting on these tests and checks.

Press Release on London Greens website.

14 Apr 2012

Conversation with Muslim Political Activist in Harrow

On 14 April, I had a stimulating conversation with a Muslim woman in Harrow-on-the-Hill shopping precinct. Nadia and Farhana (right, with whom I spoke) are pictured here on their stall, with literature promoting Hizb ut-Tahrir. For those who wish to read more about the group, its stated political aims are available in a 'media pack' on its website. The group has been targetted by Cameron for proscription, see Watchdog recommends Tory U-turn on banning Hizb ut-Tahrir. A primer on the group is available on Wikipedia.

Although I had been provided with a leaflet, my main interest was to discuss the views of the group with one of its members there and then, to facilitate better comprehension of them (in so far as one representative can be taken as evidential). I guess I have a natural disposition to want to understand an ideology, whether religious or political, before I judge it, particularly a desire not to prejudge a group only in the light of public controversy. I found this opportunity in my discussion with Farhana, whom I found eloquent and thoughtful. However, I did have something of an agenda and Farhana was very accommodating in seeking to address my lines of enquiry. The main points of the discussion I summarise here:

1. Was her group proposing Sharia law for the UK? No, the answer. Their advocacy of Sharia was for the Muslim world only. (How exactly this was to be defined, I did not pursue, but probably the imputation is of a state in which the majority of citizens proclaim Islam.)

2. Did she advoctate, therefore, observance or compliancy with the laws of the UK? Yes.

3. What was the status of so-called "Muslim Courts" getting established or finding bases in mosques in the UK? Was it not pernicious to inaugurate such "courts" in the UK when the UK had its own laws, thereby running the risk of conflicting legal judgments, when everybody had to be treated equally in the eyes of the law, surely? Farhana replied that these were not formal courts as such and agreed with my refrain that they should therefore be called by their proper name, as more akin to advisory services.

4. What was her view on voting and did her organisation not seek to boycott elections run along the lines of representative democracy? She said that she would not be voting as her interpretation of democracy as practiced in this country was as one of supporting capitalism and that her religion did not support capitalism. At this point I had a number of rejoinders and I did not find her answers satisfactory. Why should democracy necessitate capitalism, and if it really did, how could political parties advocating socialist, non- or anti-capitalist programmes manage to stand for election? How did her refusal to participate for such reasons not amount to a boycott? She said that though this was a position she freely adopted it was not one she needed to impose upon others. Why, if her group called itself a "political party" did they not find it fit to stand for election and in what sense then were they a political party?

5. My most substantial complaint, I think, was the following, which I found intellectually untenable on her part. Why, if she was prepared to comply with UK laws and clearly had an interest in what the law said, was she not committed, in all consistency, to supporting better forms of legislature, or legislative scrutiny, as could be promoted by her favoured parliamentarians? Was it sufficient for one to say that there are principled reasons for not voting - but in what principle did her disengagement from political process consist of here?

6. Finally, I asked about elements of her group, whether fringe or previous incarnations of splinter groups who wanted to have Sharia Law in this country. She said this had no basis in the Koran and demonstrated "political naivety" on their part. They did their religion no favours.

I left after completing a short questionnaire for them about Islam and capitalism and they agreed to have their photo taken for this blog.

Harrow Greens Campaigning in Harrow Town Centre

Harrow Green Party was out in force on Saturday 14 April in Harrow Town centre, campaigning for the upcoming GLA elections. Pictured here on the stall from left to right: Swati Patel, Deborah Lee, Rowan Langley, Lisa Curran, Shahrar Ali (Brent and Harrow candidate), Lawrence Mathias and Linda Robinson.
Locals were dead keen on our leaflets. These freeze frames taken by Rowan Langley show just how easy it was! (1) Candidate make eye contact with passerby.
(2) Handover.
(3) Despatch complete.

NEWS Coverage in Harrow Times.

Letter in Harrow Times: Pear Wood Reserve

Letter in Harrow Times, 12 April 2012 edition, 'Pear wood reserve: It is imperative we protect land'

I applaud the Harrow conservationists and local residents for pursuing their long-term goal of biodiversity protection despite Harrow Council's proposals for Pear Wood.

I am particularly relieved to hear that the proposal to sell land currently occupied by the derelict cottage over to property development has fallen through, for the time being (‘Pear Wood open space is protected ‘for now’’, Harrow Times, 5 April).

As Harrow Nature Conservation forum has so diligently recorded, in both words and pictures, the former cottage has practically been reclaimed by nature; snakes, deer and wild fora are all in evidence. The despoliation of this part of the wood, for human habitation, should not be part of the negotiation.

In 2010, I was part of a widespread grassroots campaign in Brent to protect part of the Welsh Harp nature reserve, and metropolitan open land, from similar housing development.

It is imperative that we preserve spaces such as Pear Wood and Welsh Harp as welcome breathing spaces today, for the enjoyment of future generations tomorrow, and for other species with which we share this beautiful planet.

In its manifesto for the London Assembly, the Green Party advocates the Green Grid, an enhanced network of green spaces across London, with protection for trees and wildlife and greater access to nature for all.

Shahrar Ali
Green Party London Assembly candidate for Brent and Harrow
PO Box 54785
London NW9 1FL

Photo: Young grass snake in Pear Wood (picture by Claire Abbott, Harrow Nature Conservation Forum, by permission)

Greens Launch London Assembly Manfiesto

The Green Party launched its 2012 GLA Manifesto on Thursday 12 April, our vision for a more equal, healthy and affordable London, available to download HERE or here (with alternative language translations of key policies). Picture of Jenny Jones, Green Mayoral Candidate with Shahrar Ali, Green Party London assembly candidate for Brent and Harrow.

5 Apr 2012

Letter in Brent Times: Consultation, Brent has just got it so wrong

Letter in Brent Times, 5 April 2012 edition, p. 16 [e-edition here] Transcript follows:

'Consultation: Brent has just got it so wrong'

Your lament, ‘Consultation means very little to Brent residents’ is right on the money (editorial, 29 March).

The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, which has entries by language experts prioritised for their importance and usefulness, defines consultation as: “The act of discussing something with somebody or with a group of people before making a decision about it.”

Unfortunately, the Brent administration would have us believe that when the people would argue vociferously against their plans, it is instead because we wanted them all along but just didn’t realise it yet.

The people of Brent wanted to have half of their libraries closed but just sought to have the decision overturned at the High Court for the fun of it, not once but twice, right? Wrong.

The people of Brent wanted to build a £102.4 million HQ in Wembley at a cost of £4 million every year for at least 25 years, not including the cost of financing the debt, in order to mask job losses as “efficiency savings”, right? Wrong again.

The people of Brent want to demolish a perfectly usable, and popular, library centre in Willesden in order to allow a building contractor to profit from the sale of the flats they would build on it for a smaller library in return, right? Wrong again.

The people of Brent want to demolish the locally listed original Victorian library in Willesden, too, because they just can’t stand the few remaining bits of heritage that give character and soul to the borough, right? Wrong again.

Brent Council is so wrong, and wrong again, about consultation, that they would have us believe that we have been consulted when we know we haven’t because that is even less incredulous a proposition than that their plans could have been agreed to by any reasonable person.

As the Green candidate in the upcoming election, I will fight for the right of all electors to have meaningful input into political decisions carried out in their name. That includes calling a thing by its proper name.

This same dictionary defines doublespeak as, “language that is intended to make people believe something which is not true.”

Dr Shahrar Ali
Green Party London Assembly candidate for Brent and Harrow

Picture: Neasden Library boarded up (taken 16 October 2011)

4 Apr 2012

Official Nominations for Barnhill Byelection

Our candidate for the Barnhill by-election, taking place on 3 May 2012 will be Martin Francis (pictured above with a local resident). The full list of nominations appears here, or in shorthand:

Martin Francis, Green Party
Charles Pavey, Labour
Ratna Pindoria, Conservative
Venilal Vaghela, [no description]

My comrade Martin has already commented on the mystery of no duly nominated LibDem candidate. It could be for any number of reasons, ranging from deliberate to accidental, although it is unlikely to have been as a result of a technical reason - for then we would probably have seen a mark against an additional row in the official declaration. However, it is also unusual to see a candidate marked without a description, if only "Independent".

I have only illustrious things to say about Martin, as I have been privileged to work closely alongside him in local campaigns and Green politics. The thought did cross my mind that the LibDems have chosen to stand aside in this by-election, either out of fear or respect for Martin's political stature. He has breadth of local knowledge, political insight and boundless energy. Let the people of Barnhill ward seize this opportunity to elect their first Green councillor for Brent.

By-election voters also face the prospect of being spared the deluge of LibDem literature which has characterised recent by-elections, notably Dollis Hill.

3 Apr 2012

Election Campaigning: Kensal Green, Queens Park & Barnhill

Greens were out in force at the weekend, both south and north in the borough. We met campaigners supervising the pop-up library outside Kensal Rise library on Bathurst Gardens (pictured above).

I spent an afternoon distributing literature in Chalkhill estate in Barnhill, a stone's throw from the Town Hall. My comrade, Martin Francis is pictured above catching up on local politics with local resident, Kathleen.

This was a warm afternoon and the locals were equally warm. There were a variety of cooking smells to be had around every street corner, always enticing us. People were going about their play and their neighbourly conversation, and engaging us at the earliest opporunity. I was particularly charmed by the kid writing a love poem for another on the street - it seemed to have landed on the pavement without a recipient, but the children were quick to identify its destination, with a little teasing for good measure.

Pictured (above) raised beds form part of a gardening project for the local primary school on the estate, bounded by the railway to one side.

Picture without an apparent owner in Victoria Road, Queens Park.