Friday 30 November 2007

Sarah Teather's profile is so strong

I've just had a constituent on the phone - from Swiss Cottage ward - they have rarely voted in elections, they usually watch Question Time and last night they did again. Sarah Teather MP was the Lib Dem on the panel and the constituent says Sarah was truly inspirational. Her clarity, straight answers and plain speaking stood out from the rest of the panel.

It's true of course, Sarah is one of our most articulate, impressive and conscientious MPs and an astonishingly effective media performer, but it is good when people take the time to ring and express it.

I didn't see Question Time (I was at the Camden police meeting - see previous posting), but will be taking time to see it on 'listen again'.
Well done Sarah, keep up the good work.

Wednesday 28 November 2007

When is a police station closure not a closure but an enhanced service?

So, the Asset Management Plan for the London Borough of Camden has been issued by the Metropolitan Police Authority.

It's a genuine, open, transparent process in which local people will fully participate. Ok, ok I'm being a bit cynical but after a two and a half year battle to get some of this stuff into the public domain I think I can be a teeny weeny bit cynical... but it is all deadly serious. The first meeting to discuss this will be on Thursday at 7pm at Camden Town Hall - anyone can come along and see if the police are listening... I'll be there.

I do hope that the consultation is genuine and that a real dialogue can happen - and that the this can comprise the community (genuinely and not a traditional police tokenistic approach), the London Borough of Camden (who are property asset rich and also need strong visible community presence), the Corporation of London (who have the Hampstead Heath Constabulary locally), the Royal Free Hospital and the University College London Hospital (the hospitals have some of the highest crime rates) and the CPCCG (Camden Policy Consultative Community Group).

The bottom line of the Plan is that the Police are about to change the nature of policing in the local area. What are the changes?
  1. There will at last be a new state-of-the-art custody suite to tackle finally the disgrace that currently exists across the Borough

  2. There will be high street shop fronts occupied by Safer Neighbourhoods Team (this will be the preference over old stuffy traditional police station counters)

  3. Patrol Police will be moved out of all (including West Hampstead and Hampstead - pictured) Police Stations and placed in a central warehouse building (yet to be identified) in central Camden.

  4. Two of the six current police stations (Hampstead and Kentish Town) will cease to fulfill that function in the lifespan of the current plan (3-5 years).

  5. Hampstead Police Station (a significant site for which the police own the freehold valued at £10-14million) will be disposed of.

So what's the problem?

No-one doubts the need for custody suites - the current situation is disgraceful and has led to tragedy and legitimate accusations of neglect by the police. But this has been used against the host of current buildings as a whole. The failings in custody have been used to condemn all the current police facilities and that doesn't seem quite right. I believe that the case for custody suite improvements should not be held up by wider debate, but as so often the case with law reform and unfashionable causes the facilities for the accused slip off the agenda unless trumpeted by the brave (often the few).

The Plan talks variously about pre-1935 and pre-1940 buildings as though they are of their nature all flawed. This ignores the failure of the Police Estates Team to maintain and develop their buildings and reflects what has been outright neglect of the buildings they hold in trust for the community. This is further exacerbated when you realise that any sale of any land asset will not go to the respective Borough but into the MPA central London-wide coffers. The fact is old buildings can be modernised. If they sold, for example Hampstead Police Station, are they suggesting that the developer would replicate the small rooms, disconnected by corridors etc? The reality of course is that any developer would open the building up into real space that can be used, indeed probably even lived in or dined in! Why don't the police do that and make it operational space again?

The Police are reassuring us that they will replace like for like, and indeed it will often be better facilities. But of course the foundations they are constructing are incredibly flimsy. Safer Neighbourhoods is new, barely conceived, let alone tested, and to take front line counter services out of freehold owned Police Stations and place them into leasehold rented shop-fronts creates a risk. It will expose much of our policing resource to the annual battles and strains of budgets and cuts in the future - I don't think policing should be put in that position.

Patrol Police - this is the most interesting. As well all know there is some truth to the adage that 'everything is local' but with policing this is especially the case. One of the reasons the public feel reassured by local police stations that have stood the test of time is that the police based in them know the local area. They know what is and isn't a one way street in Hampstead, they know which roads you can turn right off of on the Finchley Road, they know the boundaries and railway bridges on the Kilburn High Road etc etc. By creating a central command centre (which the police describe as a Patrol Base) then there will be none of this familiarity, none of the attachment and loyalty and areas will legitimately risk feeling like they are nelegected by the reduced sustained visibility.

It is this last point that is the most objectionable. I believe that the withdrawal of these uniformed police from West Hampstead and Hampstead Police Stations is a major conundrum for Fortune Green, West Hampstead, Frognal, Hampstead, South End Green, Belsize. In short, many areas, often outlying (often places close to Borough boundaries), will see fewer police on the streets, we will find there is a lower level of police knowledge and it will lead to a lower standard of crime fighting than we deserve. It will be too easy to neglect residential areas in favour of commercial areas, teams will be swapped around, the traditional police base will be miles away from the boundaries of the Borough and we will see the effects through absence rather than activity.

Further, and crucially I do not believe that there will be anything like the commitment to the shop front strategy from the 'operational police' who will regard it as the remit of the 'Safer Neighbourhood Teams'.

This latter point has particular credence if you read any of the police trade press or follow the debate on Community Police Support Officers versus fully fledged Police Officers (the difference strikes me as a bit strained and narrow, but it is a fact that there is a divide and it's a current debate. This is not dissimilar between the debate of teachers versus teaching assistants).

So, the Borough Commander (Mark Heath) has promised that the consultation is genuine, and open and transparent - indeed he has to his credit asked for extra time for the consultation as it's happening over the christmas new year period, but I have significant doubts. Why do I doubt his word?

Well, the following pages in the report have assumptions that the report is fixed in stone and will be implemented in due course once the consultation is over!

  • Page 4, last line "This document... gives details of the changes and developments planned over the next three years"

  • Page 5 penultimate para "We will start to implement the proposals in this plan at the earliest opportunity"

  • Page 9 "Over the next 5 sections we will introduce to you the key parts of the future Met police Estate for the borough and explain why these facilities are needed"

  • Page 11 "It is our intention to move these teams to permanent bases... as soon as suitable bases become available."

  • Page 13 "This would be a new style of police base... Potential sites are now being sought for this facility".

As I said, the first meeting to discuss this will be on Thursday at 7pm at Camden Town Hall - anyone can come along and see if the police are listening... I'll be there.

Save the old visible painted wall adverts!

There's quite a few old visible painted wall adverts round here in North West London and I'm taking pictures as I go - and it seemed worth sharing them.

On the side of walls, usually in commercial shopping areas, there are quite a few old painted wall adverts that are still visible. Clearly fading, but not yet obscured, they are left to brave the elements.
I noticed that one in West Hampstead had been cleaned away recently and also on the Finchley Road, but this nice old from from West Hampstead Mews has hung on... There's another really good one on the Kilburn High Road which I'll try and capture in the next few days when I pass it next.

I just think it adds some real character to the area. A mate of mine commented that they have the same definition of old medieval paintings that are sometimes uncovered in churches - I'm not sure I'd go that far, but you get the idea...

Monday 26 November 2007

NW3 Hampstead triumph

That's the end of the year then! The christmas lights have been switched on in Hampstead village - to my mind there is no surer sign that the year is coming to a close, the nights are so drawn in as to be closed and I've not done all the shopping I need to do.

So it's a huge well done to NW3Hampstead - the traders association for Hampstead village. Driven by the amazingly energetic Linda Chung with the help of a host of local shopkeepers and managers, it's a genuine effort to raise the profile and raise some good seasonal cheer. The musicians pictured above were just great and played for hours in what was pretty cold weather.

Gail Porter brilliantly hosted the Hampstead Christmas Show from 1pm and at 4.15pm Jon Culshaw did the actual deed of switching on the lights.

It's well done all round - the musicians who played all day, The William IV, Tesco, Mirage, the Ham and High, Keith Winn of Photo Craft, Jonathan Bergman of Amberden Estates, the various stewards (including the hat Chris Mason was wearing) - everyone who took part, joined in, came along and expecially those of you who gave to the charities.

And of course, thanks to Santa Claus for being there.

Friday 23 November 2007

Well done Sarah Ludford and Jonathan Fryer

Well it's good news for residents in Hampstead and Kilburn that Sarah Ludford and Joanthan Fryer have been selected as our first and second placed candidates for Members of the European Parliament for London.

Sarah is currently the MEP for London and Jonathan missed out on winning the second seat last time by a very narrow margin of votes.

Sarah has been very supportive with our campaign to save the Kilburn State and Jonathan works in Camden and was my running mate in Hampstead Town ward in 2006 local elections.

Pic one is Sarah signing the Kilburn State petition with Nick Russell, Cllr James King, me and Cllr Anthony Dunn.

Pic two is me, Linda Chung and Jonathan - the local Town and Around Team for Hampstead.

Thursday 22 November 2007

West End, West Hampstead, Fortune Green

The top corner of Camden is the ward of Fortune Green, previously the ward of West End - it's a lovely part of the borough and in broad terms the area is framed by Cricklewood, Kilburn High Road/Shoot Up Hill and Finchley Road.

It's represented by Lib Dem Cllrs Flick Rea, Russell Eagling and Jane Schopflin and is home to Hampstead School (of which I am a Governor), Hampstead Cemetery (the early 19th century overflow from Hampstead Parish Church), West Hampstead Community Centre, the UCS playing fields and Fortune Green itself.

The Green running along Fortune Green Road is a great open space with a play area which hosts the Jester festival each year. A group of residents wanting to get improvements in the local area have called a small meeting to push for local improvements. I think it's a really good initiative and can only enhance what is great open space.

Flick and I have met on several occasions to discuss small improvements and indeed further down Fortune Green Road, on the corner of West End Lane and Mill Lane there is another green space with a lovely old water fountain just by Emmanuel Church, Lyncroft Gardens (Flick and I pictured talking about one of the many clean-ups we have pushed for).

I'm a member of the Friends of Hampstead Cemetery - it's a great place to wander around, serene, peaceful and curiously amusing: I particularly like the gravestone of Charles Cowper Ross, which reads:
What will be said,
When I am dead,
Of what I used to do?
They liked my smile?
I failed with style?
Or, more than likely, "Who?"

And of course the actress Gladys Cooper is buried there which is a particular interest of mine...

Tuesday 20 November 2007

North End or Bull and Bush Tube station anyone?

It's hard to appreciate that the tube lines servicing Hampstead (pictured) and Belsize are 100 years old this year - opened in 1907 by David Lloyd George (the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway) the Northern Line was a major link between 'rural' and inner London.

Hampstead as an village started to expand following the opening of the North London Railway in the 1860s (now the North London Line previously operated by Silverlink and now Overground) and expanded further after the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway opened in 1907 (now part of the Northern Line) and provided fast travel to central London.

There are three elements that I find interesting:
  • Hampstead is supposed to be the deepest tube on the tube network - caused mainly by the tube being build deep into what is actually a very deep hill. But you can still get mobile phone signal at the bottom of the lift shaft!

  • Belsize has a second world war deep bunker which is still in part visible from the street.

  • A further tube station was started for construction at North End but never completed.

I'm fascinated by the history of the North End station. Apparently the station was designed to serve the top of the heath, up near Jack Straw's Castle. It had been planned by Yerkes but opposed both by key dignitaries in Hampstead and the local preservationists. Accordingly plans were changed so that the location was moved to a point just across the borough boundary. On this basis platforms, but not access shafts, were actually constructed for a station.

It was at this point that the intended name for the tube stop was changed from North End to Bull and Bush. The station, which never opened, was used for storage of archives in the First and Second World Wars.

Anyone out there know any more? I sense a long walk around North End to locate any vestige of this construction...

On the Belsize bunker (pictured) it goes something like this: after heavy bombing in mid-1940, it was decided to build deep shelters in October. Eight shelters were commissioned and completed in 1942 beneath existing underground stations. Of these seven were on the Northern Line. They consisted of two parallel tunnels about 1200 feet long, divided into two floors. Each 100ft underground and contained 8000 bunks, canteen and hospital facilities. Now you can still see the bunkers...

There's more on the development of Belsize, Hampstead and the local area here:

Part of Kilburn has passed away...

I have posted below a notice and tribute to a local resident Peter Cadogan who has died.

I only knew Peter for the last three years, but if anyone could claim to be "Mr Kilburn" then it was him. He had a great line about a 13th century Abbot of St Albans failing to take the chance to re-unite Kilburn into one parish and that explained why it was still administratively split between Camden and Brent. He would then go on to lament the lack of investment and opportunity that flowed from that false but ancient administrative dividing line.

He contacted me in the run-up to the 2005 General Election to urge me to understand Kilburn better and he showed me around some of the local estates, he supported our campaign that residents be heard before the reconstruction of the main railway bridge - he was a regular responder to the FOCUS grumble sheet...

He cared for the community he lived in and he will be sorely missed. A part of Kilburn has passed away.



It is with great sorrow that I have to inform you that Peter Cadogan died in his sleep early on Sunday 18th November. His daughter, Clare, was with him and his brother, Jack, had visited him the previous evening. Peter’s will to live shone through as the inevitable approached: he kept sinking and then recovering, sleeping then wide awake. His mind was alert but his breathing was difficult and, of course, he slept a lot. There must have been at least 70 people who came to see him during those 10 days in St Mary’s and, except for the last few, he recognised everyone. He and I sorted out the key papers for an anthology, Clare and Jack discussed the Memorial planned for St James Piccadilly, and grand-daughter, nieces and nephews read the cards, telephone and email messages from those people who could not make it. He even recited some Blake poems and spoke movingly of Blake’s Jerusalem on Plate 99 which the moving force of the Society, Tim Heath, brought in for him to see once more. He seemed to enjoy the lively debates that sprung up between a bewildering procession of friends and admirers gathered around his bed. He was told by, choosing a few at random, Professor Kevin Morgan, John Rather of The New Ireland Group, James Robertson, former colleagues in South Place Ethical Society, those in Values and Visions, Kilburn Councillors, former comrades and activists on the left of their love and appreciation of his life’s work. He was the most expelled man from leftwing groups in the land but kept the admiration, love and friendship of all those with whom he disagreed.

What a Man!

John Rowley

The Kilburn State - the final closing days

I've put in here some of my pics of the Kilburn State: the alabaster cornices, the second foyer staircase chandelier, the main foyer in all it's carved marble glory and the old bingo score board.
This last pic is how most local people will have known the Kilburn Gaumont State - as a bingo hall.

Mecca Bingo have been in the State cinema building since the 1980's and have actually maintained the interior really well. This picture just reflects the state on the very last day as the fixtures were being taken down and the building was being cleared for final closure.

I was fortunate enough to get in with my camera and grab a few pictures...

Monday 19 November 2007

Kilburn - the closer you live, the better it gets...

The slogan is "Kilburn High Road (KHR) the closer you look the better it gets". Now I have moved proper I get greater immediate access to Kilburn and it's communities.

It's an amazing place and one that has a depth and a richness few have appreciated. To the communities who live on it and off of it, it has a variety and an atmosphere that is almost enchanting.

Coming out of Kilburn Tube station at the foot of Shoot Up Hill you have the amazing railway bridge mural with the allusions to HG Wells, the irish traditions andGeorge Orwell. Moving down the High Road you see rising up either side the raft of multi-occ houses that have been the basis for the transitional community - first and dominantly the Irish, subsequently younger people ('cos it's low cost) and now a rich variety of european and migrant workers. There are still some vestiges of the old 50's/60's/70's room-to-let culture if you look up and spot the old VACANCY signs - including the "DHSS accepted".

Brondesbury Station on the North London Line is one of the most neglected stations around - roll on the Overground re-vamp - but many will be interested to know that it was once called Edgware Road and only later re-named.

Of course the big issue for Kilburn is it's sheer accessibility - it's the old Watling Street of the Roman Empire - the first british motorway from Londinium (London) to Verulamium (St Albans). First for the Romans - subsequently the boundary for the Danelaw and Wessex and then the pilgrimage route to St Albans - often from Canterbury.

The Tricycle Theatre has become a jewel in Kilburn's crown with it's tradition of Irish and subsequently Black cultures. It was first the home for English photographer William Friese Greene in the 1880's. He was identified as the 'father of the motion picture' by British film-makers before Thomas edison took all the credit. :-)

The Kilburn Gaumont State is one of the most iconic landmarks of the High Road - built in 1937 it was the largest cinema in Europe seating 4,004 people (and had standing room for the next film showing for a further 4,000 people!). The State became a live music venue and had most of the greats of the 60's and 70's inclduing The Stones, Beatles and Frank Sinatra. Since 1980's it has been a cinema but has now sadly closed with an uncertain future. If you have been in you will know what a gem it is and the foyer itself is truly amazing...

Kilburn Grange Park is just great space and sits behind The Black Lion (stunning pub architecture inside and out) and also the Sir Colin Campbell - a long standing 'Irish' pub that still retains its character.

Kilburn Market - constructed on the Wessex side of the road- so taxes didn't have to be paid in Danelaw! - is a rich tapestry of virtually everything and still has the hussle and bussle atmosphere. It need an overhaul and some investment but is crucial part of Kilburn today.

And finally just off the Kilburn High Road Bridge you have the actual physical remains of the old roman walls of what was a fort (prob 1st century) and also of Kilburn Priory - originally run by Nuns and mentioned in 1134 and subsequently sold and demolished following the Henry VIII dissolution. But the physical remains are visible to see, but lie largely unknown and un-noticed.

For me today the real issue is that for too long this great trading route - Kilburn High Road - which has created such a vibrant attitude has been a great divider. Not so much drawing the community together but acting as a barrier to the development and improvement. This is most starkly brought together today when you learn that the east side is in Camden and the west side is in Brent. In fact the south is then in Westminster and the north then in Barnet. few places have been so split by local government boundaries.

The new parliamentary constituency - which melds together part of Sarah Teather's Brent East and Glenda Jackson's Hampstead & Highgate to create a new constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn provides a chance to draw together all of the respective strengths of an amazing community and set of traditions and place them all within the community of Kilburn. it's a development I intend to play a small part in - Kilburn deserves it and local residents will benefit from it.

I've watched, read, commented - time to post

Ok ok
It's been a while and I have waited and held back
But I have now given in and agreed to post a blog
I read several of you over the years and have been drawn to it but held off - having too much already to do
However, now seems as good a time as any and every long journey, small step etc etc.
Lib Dem PPC Hampstead and Kilburn
Some time local government activist