I attended a lively meeting about the future of the Kilburn High Road at the Kilburn State building the other night. Credit to Brent Council for organising the forum and for involving Kilburn residents who live on the Camden side of the High Road. The room was full of ideas and while there were various grumbles, it was clear there is lots of affection for our very diverse High Road, which drives the desire for things to be better. Here are some of the good ideas that came from the meeting:
Culture and community
The retail offer is important but the High Road is, and should be, about more than that. We already have music and comedy venues, dance studios, a good park just off the High Road, the excellent annual Kilburn Festival, and of course, a truly distinctive theatre in The Tricycle. However, neither Brent nor Camden Council has ever really embraced Kilburn and promoted it as a place to visit for entertainment and culture, despite the excellent transport links. Perhaps we need to extend the offer first. I suggested a small exhibition to celebrate the history of Irish migration to Kilburn. And what better location to host this, than the Kilburn State building? It’s a unique place and ought to be a destination venue in itself. An Irish exhibition could be a treasure trove for our recent history and would really mean something to the local community. It could also attract visitors to Kilburn from across the city and indeed tourists visiting London. And if we have more visitors, that means more footfall for our shops, bars and restaurants.
Put the pedestrian first
The High Road can be a nightmare to negotiate for any pedestrian, never mind the elderly, disabled or those with young children. Parts of the pavements are too narrow, particularly on the Camden side south of Quex Road, and need to be extended. There is too much street clutter and there are traders that seem to have more stock in front of their shop window than inside. Some of the traffic lights don’t give people enough time to cross the road as Kilburn Older Voices Exchange have highlighted. Cyclists need a better deal too, so perhaps we should be giving less priority to meeting the needs of traffic that simply goes through Kilburn. Apparently Transport for London (TfL) has recently allocated a pot of money to spend on improving the street environment. This should be used to make life easier for shoppers and for local residents going about their daily lives.
Show some Kilburn pride
I’m a big fan of West Hampstead, but I think the High Road has as much to offer for an evening out as West End Lane. But I suspect quite a few residents of West Hampstead have never even been to Kilburn High Road yet have formed a negative perception of it none the less. Those of us who appreciate its charms need to talk up the positives and spend a little less time moaning about the retail outlets that we don’t like. And we need the two councils to show that they care about the area too. In recent years they have let rubbish bags pile up on the High Road and the adjoining streets and this attracts litter and fly-tipping. It is not good enough.
A super-councillor or an active local MP?
While it was a lively discussion, there was no real attempt to define and commit to next steps. The most telling moment of the evening to me was when a resident suggested the High Road needs a ‘super-councillor’ responsible for knocking heads together in both Brent and Camden. While the councillors and the councils certainly have a responsibility to work together, I think there is another part of the answer. It reminded me that I was initially optimistic a few years ago when the parliamentary boundaries changed, because it meant Kilburn would have a single MP for the first time, with a mandate to get things done. Sadly Glenda Jackson, who was narrowly elected as the MP for the whole of Kilburn (and Hampstead) in 2010, is rarely seen in these parts and she has not got stuck into community issues.
Kilburn residents don’t need a MP who only gets motivated when she is reliving 1980’s arguments about Margaret Thatcher. We need an MP to provide local leadership in developing and delivering a vision to improve the High Road for businesses and local residents. An active MP should also involve, and where necessary push, other public and private sector players that influence life on the High Road, including landlords, TfL, utilities, supermarkets and large retailers. When Glenda steps down in 2015 we should be looking for an MP that rolls up their sleeves for Kilburn High Road.