Passion not powerpoint

29 Nov

BirdOfLiberty-01_600px315pxSomething is not quite right about the Lib Dem message at the moment. That may seem like a statement of the obvious while we remain on single figures in most polls. But it is a bit of a puzzle.

Having talked it over with various party colleagues and read a few blogs in a similar vein, I am concluding that our official headline policies and messages are being framed from a restricted perspective.

The party leadership now sees politics through the prism of national Government – the current coalition and a potential post-2015 coalition. This is perhaps understandable, given that most of them are part of the current Government. This leads to an exclusive focus on how we might make a future Conservative Government a bit less nasty or force a future Labour Government to face up to deficit reduction. And there is an understandable fear of making a very explicit promise that we cannot keep if we enter a Government with either of them (the ghost of tuition fees).

Now I want to make it clear that I have been and remain a strong supporter of this coalition. I believe its record in delivering Lib Dem policies in our 2010 manifesto is quite remarkable and we stepped up to the plate when the economy was in crisis and stable Government was required.

But the forthcoming election will not be primarily about the record of the current Government. And most voters will not leap to the question of what policies Lib Dems might persuade the others to sign up to in coalition negotiations. Another coalition with Lib Dem participation may or may not happen (I don’t think it should, but that’s the subject of another blog). But the assumption that the Lib Dems will be a junior partner in coalition should not be the start and end point when trying to persuade people to vote for you.

The starting point should be liberal values, liberal passion and a forthcoming fight for liberalism. A clarion call to keep the liberal voice alive and kicking in our politics and in our Parliament.

Ironically, the need for liberal voices in Parliament has never been stronger. Nationalism – the right-wing, populist version in England and the centre-left, populist model in Scotland – is on the rise. We face the prospect of a vote on Europe, which is really about whether we are an open country looking to the future, or turning our backs on the world and looking to the past. We face hysteria on immigration which is losing connection with rational debate. There is also a newspaper fanned, anti-politics agenda which shows disinterest in democratic solutions and borders on nihilism.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives and Labour are moving away from liberalism, driven by their fear of UKIP. This is a capitulation to a party that stands for fear and not hope.

There are countries in Europe that have three main parties – a social democratic party, a conservative party and a nationalist/populist party – and no strong liberal voice. I don’t want Britain to become that type of country, and I don’t think we are that type of country.

This blog has been in gestation since Lib Dem members received an email last month from the Lib Dem Director of Strategy (I’m not picking on him, it was typical of the general positioning). It set out some uninspiring bullet points, with messages to mix and match for different segments of the electorate. It was mostly more of the same from our time in Government and just lacked oomph. Centrist, sensible but not very inspiring or liberal.

I’m now going to hypocritically provide a quick list of the issues and policies that I want to hear more about (my excuse is that I don’t want this blog to go on forever). Offering a fair deal on housing to young people, prioritising social care (particularly dementia), reforming the laws on drugs, rehabilitation of offenders, revitalising local government and city regions, investing in transport outside of London. And a passionate defence of the positive contribution that immigration makes to the UK’s economy and our diverse nation.

All big topics in themselves, but the key point is we need to talk more about distinctive liberal priorities and positions, underpinned by our unique liberal values.

To be fair, the Lib Dems normally take the right position in these debates and we have some good policies going forward. And to be positive about the national party, the current sustained campaign on mental health is excellent. It’s distinctive, it’s important, it’s fresh and it’s passionate.

But we need more of that. More passion and less powerpoint please.

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Janet, James and Jack – the local team for Kilburn

19 May
Three Jays

Kilburn’s ‘Three Jays’ – Janet Grauberg, Jack Holroyde and James King

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blog. I’ve been so busy talking to thousands of residents across Kilburn ward over the past few months it’s been hard to find time to write a post. But with the local elections coming up this Thursday (22 May), I thought it might be helpful to summarise why my Kilburn Lib Dem colleagues Janet Grauberg, Jack Holroyde and I are standing to be local councillors and what our priorities are.

Janet, Jack and I believe that Kilburn needs strong local voices to represent it, because Camden Council seems to be neglecting us. The streets are not as clean as they used to be, but the Council’s Clean up Camden initiative bypassed Kilburn. We lost our Citizens Advice Bureau on Kilburn High Road and the Housing Office on West End Lane is now standing empty.

The Abbey Area development is moving at a snail’s pace, but despite all the money spent on consultants, most residents feel that the Council hasn’t listened and the opportunity to offer affordable housing to young families has been missed. Janet had to push hard to get the Council to recognise the negative impact of High Speed 2 on Kilburn and South Hampstead, and still our Labour MP voted in favour of it.

Many people say they want local councillors who they recognise and see around the streets and estates of Kilburn. I live on Kingsgate Place, Janet lives on Cotleigh Road and Jack lives in South Kilburn.

We are the only local team standing to be the local councillors for Kilburn – by contrast the Labour candidates live on the other side of the borough in King’s Cross and Highgate.

It would be a privilege to represent the ward where I live, and it seems to me common sense that you are more likely to be an effective councillor if you spend most of your time in the area you have been elected to serve.

Here are some of our top priorities for the Kilburn Lib Dem team in the council elections:

  • Reversing the cuts in street cleaning and taking action against fly-tipping and dog fouling
  • An additional police officer for Kilburn ward to work with the local community in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour
  • A new primary school in NW6 which meets the needs of local parents
  • Bringing face-to-face housing and advice services back to NW6
  • Revitalising the Abbey Area development and pushing for a better deal for local people
  • Improving housing services for tenants and leaseholders and offering new housing options for young people
  • Tackling the ‘Council says No’ culture on Camden Council, and reducing the money wasted on consultants and council propaganda

You can find out lots more about what we stand for in the Camden Lib Dem manifesto here.

If you are a Kilburn resident, please do drop Janet, Jack and I a line if you have any questions before you make your decision. And don’t forget to vote on Thursday!

 

Published and promoted on behalf of the Liberal Democrats by S.Drage at Unit 1, Streatham Business Centre, 1 Empire Mews, London, SW16 2ED, and by E. Watson on behalf of J. Grauberg, J. King, & J. Holroyde (Liberal Democrats) all at 242 Webheath Workshops, Netherwood Street, London, NW6 2JX.

Flaws in Council plans for new school building

9 Mar

James outside Kingsgate 3It has been evident for at least the last four years that there is a shortage of primary school places in Kilburn and West Hampstead. So it’s disappointing that it took Camden Council so long to bring forward plans to address this problem. But it is even more concerning that the Council is pushing through a highly unusual and controversial strategy.

As many readers will be aware, the Council has proposed that a new school building should be developed at Liddell Road. But rather than facilitating the development of a new primary school, the Council is proposing that the new building should instead be an expansion of Kingsgate primary school on Kingsgate Road. So infant children will attend the Liddell Road site, and older Kingsgate pupils will continue to go to the Kingsgate Road site. This model appears to have been pursued because of Camden Labour’s aversion to the development of a new free school or academy, which could offer an additional choice of school to parents.

The broader downsides of the proposed development at Liddell Road (in terms of the loss of small businesses and the lack of affordable housing) have been well-documented. So I want to focus here on the issues for parents and children in Kilburn, which were included in a Kilburn Liberal Democrat response to the Council’s latest consultation.

Split site school

I am not opposed in principle to the expansion of Kingsgate primary school. Indeed, until recently I was a governor at Kingsgate, and wholeheartedly agree with Ofsted’s most recent assessment that it is an outstanding school. Often missing from the debate is recognition that Kingsgate has already expanded to take on additional ‘bulge’ classes at the Kingsgate Road site to meet the increased demand for school places. That is good and sensible, given the school is so popular and well-run.

However, the Liddell Road site is a problematic location for a more significant expansion strategy. It is 0.8miles away by foot from Kingsgate Road. There are very few examples of primary schools split in this way, and no convincing educational case has been made for adopting such an unusual structure. The distance will inevitably limit mobility between the two sites, and make the development of a single school ethos very difficult.

Most importantly, parents with children both at the infant school site (at Liddell Road) and the junior school site (at Kingsgate Road) would have to negotiate the very busy West Hampstead interchange every day when dropping off and collecting their children. Anybody who is on West End Lane at 8am will know this is not a matter to be lightly dismissed. The prospect of an additional challenge for busy parents, many of whom will also be juggling childcare and work, may deter some of them from choosing to send their children to Kingsgate school in future years.

Admissions

Although this has not been spelt out by the Council, the introduction of a new school building for Kingsgate is likely to lead to a change in the admissions criteria for the school. I am concerned this has not been clarified and explained in the Council’s consultations as it is a material consideration for parents in assessing the merits or otherwise of the split site model. For example, it may make it more difficult for parents in the southern part of Kilburn ward (e.g. Abbey Estate, Rowley Way) to secure a place at Kingsgate if the admissions point moves northwards.

Parental input

It is very concerning that only five parents responded to the Council’s previous consultation. This suggests the Council has failed to engage the most important stakeholders in this decision. The Council should not adopt such a significant change in primary school options in NW6 until it has secured and considered the views of parents with children at Kingsgate and other parents in NW6 with pre-school children.

Alternative approaches

Parents should have been asked for their views about alternative approaches to addressing the shortage of school places in NW6, such as opening an entirely new primary school at the Liddell Road site or another location. The Government has provided £6.7m in additional funding to help the Council create new school places, which might have been used to support alternative models. I note there is a growing campaign from parents within NW6 to establish a new school, and regret that the Labour Council appears to have adopted an unhelpful attitude towards them.

As noted above, Kingsgate school has already expanded at the Kingsgate Road site, taking on a series of bulge classes in recent years. The Council could explore the scope to permanently maintain an expanded Kingsgate school at Kingsgate Road while providing a new smaller primary school site at Liddell Road or an alternative site to increase choice for parents in NW6.

In summary, it seems the educational case for the Council’s proposed model has significant flaws. The Council has just completed the statutory consultation on the expansion so I hope it will be giving due consideration to the issues outlined above. We need to make sure that parents in NW6 have a good choice of primary school options for their kids in the years ahead.

HS2: The Impact on Kilburn

1 Mar

Guest blog by Janet Grauberg, Cotleigh Road resident and Kilburn Lib Dem campaignerOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is a huge debate – both nationally and here in Camden – about the merits or otherwise of building the High Speed 2 rail line. But there has not been much focus on the implications for Kilburn, so I have been shining a light on this by submitting a Kilburn Lib Dem response (attached below) to the HS2 Environmental Statement consultation.

By way of background, it’s proposed that HS2 would come through the south of Kilburn ward, just south of the existing London to Birmingham line that runs between South Hampstead station and Kilburn High Road station. The route is in a deep underground tunnel throughout Kilburn, but just opposite South Hampstead station an “Intervention and Ventilation Shaft” will be constructed, to provide air pressure relief from the tunnel, and allow access into the tunnel in case of emergency.

The main effects on the Kilburn area appear to be:

–        the impact across much of the south of the ward (Belsize Road, Abbey Road, Kilburn Priory) of works needed to move utilities (water, sewers, gas, electricity etc) which cross the tunnel route. We know the impact on bus and car traffic when the roads are dug up for this – so we can look forward to lots more congestion and disruption between 2016 and 2019. It will be even worse if Camden Council’s much delayed Abbey Area development on the corner of Abbey Road and Belsize Road is still under construction at the same time (as scheduled).

–        the impact of traffic and pedestrian diversions during the building of the vent shaft on Loudoun Road. This involves the demolition of the small terrace of shops and businesses (61-83 Loudoun Road and 1-8 Langtry Walk) including a fish shop and a launderette and the construction of a deep shaft and of a securely fenced “headhouse” 10m high. The construction period is forecast to last 5 years (2019 – 2023), and during the peak time up to 100 HGV lorries per day are expected along Boundary Road, Loudoun Road and Alexandra Place. The pedestrian access from Loudoun Road to the Alexandra & Ainsworth estate will be shut.

–        The impact of tunneling under the Alexandra & Ainsworth estate. The unique concrete construction of the estate means that it is especially sensitive to movement, and so there are fears that the tunneling process will affect the foundations and walls. Lib Dem Councillor Keith Moffitt has asked Camden Council (the landlords) to undertake a structural engineering survey, but this hasn’t made any progress yet.

–        The impact on Kilburn of bus and traffic of HS2 construction work elsewhere in Camden – for example Adelaide Road is due to be shut for four months between Primrose Hill Road and Chalk Farm Road, which will cause traffic chaos along Haverstock Hill and England’s Lane, disrupting the C11 and 31 bus routes.

–        The permanent look of the vent shaft “head house”. As you can see from the picture, it isn’t a thing of beauty. Although HS2 say that detailed design will be agreed with the local authority through the planning process, actually it’s quite tightly specified how it has to be constructed in order to function properly as a ventilation system.HS2 shaft

Obviously, the impact of HS2 varies a lot place by place. If you are one of the 700 or so Kilburn residents who have received a “Schedule A” letter, saying that HS2 is taking legal powers to compulsorily purchase your property, or gain access to the soil underneath it, it’s quite a big deal and a source of anxiety. If you live up near West Hampstead station, it will be more months of traffic disruption caused by building works and digging up the roads.

The sad thing is that Camden Council, despite the significant impacts on quite a lot of Kilburn residents, really haven’t paid any attention to this area. The draft of what they intend to put formally to Parliament during the “Petitioning process”, which is the next formal stage of consultation, doesn’t mention anywhere north of Chalk Farm. A group of residents from Kilburn and South Hampstead did a “Deputation” to a full meeting of Camden Council in January, but as far as we know, Camden hasn’t made any changes. I think its disappointing that the Council, which is supposed to represent all of us, is so focused on the south of the Borough.

If you’d like to know more, get in touch with me on j.grauberg@googlemail.com. Or you can attend a public meeting that Camden Council is arranging on Tuesday 18th March at Kingsgate Community Centre, 107 Kingsgate Rd, London NW6 2JH from 7pm to 9pm. Come along and tell the Council they should listen to Kilburn too!

Janet Grauberg

HS2 Response

Kilburn community gardens under threat

1 Feb

Kingsgagte plants

One of the best things about Kilburn is the number of local people who are passionate about doing their bit to improve the look and feel of our streets. But instead of encouraging community driven initiatives, Camden Council seems to be actively undermining them.

Just before Christmas, the Council managed to anger local residents in the Kingsgate Road area, when they ripped out plants and flowers that had been planted by the local gardening club.

It is hard to understand how the Council’s workers could make such an error, particularly given that the planters concerned contained signs celebrating the prizes won by the Kingsgate Garden Club. The club’s achievement has been recognised by London in Bloom and the It’s Your Neighbourhood competitions. 

If you were generous, you might say that mistakes happen from time to time. But I feel rather less charitable when you bear in mind that the Council is actively threatening to destroy another residential garden in the Kilburn area.

There is a hidden shared garden behind the back of the parade of shops on Belsize Road, which has been named the Priory Urban Green Space (PUGS). Last year, Camden Council sent a crass letter to a local resident setting a deadline for the garden to be destroyed, or threatening to bill him for the costs of its disposal.

Hundreds of local people have signed a petition urging the Council to think again. More information about the Save Our PUGS campaign can be found at this Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Our-Priory-Urban-Green-Space/675126245838549?fref=ts

We need a different attitude from the Council, so the Liberal Democrat councillors for West Hampstead put down this motion at this week’s meeting of Camden Council:

  • This council should be committed to supporting volunteers who wish to improve the streets where they live.
  • We therefore need a change in culture so that the Council does not destroy local community gardens developed on neglected Council owned land.
  • Further, following the destruction of the work to improve the streets around Kingsgate, the Council should admit its mistake and make amends with some appropriate token of compensation.

Perhaps displaying their ignorance of what’s going on in NW6, the Camden Labour Group amendment to the motion completely fails to address the Kingsgate Garden Club fiasco and makes no apology. Instead, the amendment makes a bizarre attempt to blame the previous Lib Dem/Conservative administration (which left office nearly four years ago in May 2010) for the current dispute regarding the PUGS land.

All this suggests Camden Council continues to have little regard to the value of community gardens. While the issues regarding ownership and access to the land behind Belsize Road are no doubt complicated, it is very clear that the Council has mishandled it and lost touch with what was going on at this site. They should now be bringing together local residents, businesses and other interested parties to agree a sensible way forward, rather than arrogantly throwing their weight around and trying to pin the blame on others.

A change of attitude is needed on the Council to support residents who want to make Kilburn an even better place to live.

New advice services in Kilburn

29 Dec

Kilburn library advice sessionsIn the summer, I blogged about the closure of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) on Kilburn High Road.

Kilburn and West Hampstead Liberal Democrats organised a petition and collected over 500 signatures in support of our call for a rethink. The petition urged Camden Citizens Advice and Camden Council to work together to ensure that an alternative premises is provided in the Kilburn/West Hampstead area.

I am still surprised and disappointed by Camden Citizens Advice’s decision to close down the Kilburn office, given the evident need for advice services among the population of NW6. The new Albany CAB in the Regents Park area is not readily accessible to Kilburn/West Hampstead residents (there are no direct bus or tube services). It adds insult to injury that the Camden CAB Service chose to present this as a ‘move’ in the location of the Kilburn branch, rather than a closure. Meanwhile, the Council doesn’t seem to have given much thought to the impact on Kilburn residents when it sharply reduced funding for advice services, and then provided support for a new branch in the old Regents Park library.

Anyway, West Hampstead Cllr Keith Moffitt, Kilburn Lib Dem Janet Grauberg and I met the Chief Executive of Camden CAB Service a few weeks ago to present our petition, and reinforce the concerns of local residents about the loss of our CAB.

We are pleased to report that a new weekly CAB drop-in session has recently been set up in Kilburn library, 12-22 Kilburn High Road on Friday mornings from 10am-12noon.  

This is good news, as it means that a drop-in service will be available to local residents at a visible location on the High Road. In addition, some CAB face-to-face advice services are being provided at Brondesbury Medical Centre, West Hampstead Women’s Centre and Kingsgate Community Centre. These services provide tailored information and advice services for specific community groups by appointment. Kilburn/West Hampstead Lib Dems have highlighted the need for clear information about the nature of these services and Camden Council has finally produced a summary:  Welfare benefits advice in Kilburn dec 2013 (3).

Meanwhile, a new local not-for-profit group is offering a new basic money management service at the weekends. The Kilburn Financial Health Centre is open on Saturdays (10am to 4pm) and Sundays (11am to 5pm) at 210 Kilburn High Road.

I still believe there is a need for a dedicated, visible face-to-face advice service in the north-west of the borough. Camden CAB should monitor the mix of services it now provides to Kilburn/West Hampstead residents, and the Council should ensure the advice services that it funds are properly meeting the needs of residents in this area. But at least Kilburn residents will have easier access to some advice services – thanks to everybody who signed the petition and made a noise about this.

Come on Camden Council – clean up Kilburn!

13 Oct

Kingsgate Place fly tippingThis sorry picture just about sums it for me. Kilburn has a big problem with fly-tipping and litter while Camden Council’s commitment to taking action disappears into the rubbish.

The picture was taken on my street – Kingsgate Place. Every weekend without fail this corner attracts TVs, white goods, furniture and so on. This adds to the overflowing and open rubbish bags that can be found at this spot all week long, making the street look untidy and attracting vermin.

I have repeatedly asked the Council to take action. Other local residents living in Kingsgate Place and the Kingsgate Estate and our local group KingsgateWatch regularly highlight the problem too, but so far it seems that the Council isn’t listening.

They should provide a large ‘Euro bin’ for the residents and traders at that grot-spot, to make it easier for them to dispose of their rubbish tidily. Given that this area is also suffering from anti-social behaviour problems, the Council might kill two birds with one stone if they installed a temporary CCTV camera to catch perpetrators.

There are many other rubbish and fly-tipping hot spots in Kilburn ward – Langtry Walk at the entrance to Rowley Way; the Birchington Road/Kilburn High Road junction; and Gascony Avenue at the junction with Smyrna Road; to name just three. There are similar problems in parts of West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards.

Yet when a resident asked how many fines or prosecutions have been taken forward by Camden Council under the Environment Protection Act 1990 (as featured in the sorry ‘No Dumping’ sign), in Kilburn ward over the last few years, he was told ZERO.

When I talk to my neighbours on the doorsteps the poor state of our streets comes up more than any other issue. No doubt the street cleaning budgets are under pressure because of the cuts but it seems that NW6 has been hit harder than other parts of Camden. The Council’s tinkering with the rubbish collection service hasn’t helped and many people have noted a reduction in the quality of service provided by the contractors over the last couple of years.

Come on Camden Council – it’s time to clean up Kilburn!