Wednesday 30 June 2021

The ten mistakes of Boris Johnson's government that cost tens of thousands of lives

Matt Hancock has gone and we have a new health secretary. Boris Johnson has been briefing that he wants to draw a line under Hancocks reign and move on. But the buck never stopped with Matt Hancock. It stopped with Boris Johnson. He chaired the COBRA committee (when he could be bothered to attend). He was Hancock's boss. When there was good news it was him who fronted the conference (when there was bad news it was 'rent a stooge Hancock who generally got the gig). 

His government presided over the worst death rate for a major nation last year. This could have been avoided. I thought I'd list the grave errors of his government that lead to us having a 50% higher death rate than Germany. 

1. Johnson didn't bother attending COBRA meetings in the earliest days of the pandemic, this caused drift and meant that he was late to the game in his understanding the severity of the crisis.

2. When it was clear that the disease was deadly Boris did not close down air travel between hotspots and the UK (Primarily China and Italy).

3. As well as failing to close down air travel, there was no requirement for anyone returning from these places to self isolate or even have their temperature taken before or after boarding a plane. Thios point and the previous point meant that the disease entered the UK completely unhindered.

4. When it was clear that the disease was running rampant, Boris dithered for a week. If he'd have locked down a week earlier, every single study has shown we'd have had a minimum of 10-15,000 less deaths.

5. There was no attempt at all to prevent the disease entering the care home network. The most vulnerable people in the country, those most likely to get seriously ill and die, were recklessly and negligently exposed to the disease as people with infections returned from hospitals. 

6. There was no protocol to separate carers who had been exposed to the disease from carers and patients who were vulnerable in the early days of the crisis.

7. The government lied to the nation that face coverings were ineffective in slowing the spread of the disease. This was done to protect the NHS stockpile. This meant that when they changed the advice, many people simply didn't believe them. 

8.  When Dominic Cummings did his trip to Barnard Castle, he wasn't instantly sacked. This undermined the unity of the nation in fighting the disease and made a significant minority say "If they won't follow the rules, then neither will I". This meant that lockdown observance would never be as effective again.

9. Boris Johnson and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched the 'Eat Out To Help Out" scheme, without a vaccination programme in place and without tying it to use of the highly costly NHS App. I believe that if people had needed to 'check in'  on the App to get the discount, then the scheme may have been of some use, but all it did was pour petrol on the cooling embers of the fire.

10. When it was clear that the Indian Variant was rampant, he repeated the mistake of last February and March and was late in imposing travel restrictions.  Fortunately this has not lead to the same number of deaths as the first mistake, but that is completely down to luck.

None of these points are hindsight, they are statements of the bleeding obvious. The government needs to be properly held to account for these appalling failures. Sacking Matt Hancock for snogging his secretary in the broom cupboard in no way atones for the abject failure. If Boris was an honourable man, he'd have stood down long ago. 


England 2 - 0 Germany - My thoughts

 I was three years old when England last beat Germany in the finals of a tournament. I have vague memories of it. We had a telly, which was rare in 1966. The house was full of my elder brothers friends, neighbours, relatives etc and a big party was had. I wasn't really aware of what was going on, but the joyous day made a big enough impression. For the 1970 World Cup, Dad upgraded to a Colour TV. For the quarter final, the house wasn't quite as full and the long years of hurt at the hands of Germany had started. 

It has been a very long time. When I saw Gareth Southgates team selection, I felt that he'd been far too conservative. I went to the Mill Hill Services club to watch the game with friends. The slow pace, the continual sideways passing, Harry Kane missing a gilt edged chance that he'd have buried six months ago did not bode well. Jordan Pickford pulled off a couple of fine saves. It felt to me that the match was slowly grinding towards its inevitable conclusion. I was delighted to see Jack Grealish emerge from the bench, but felt is was harsh on Saka who had looked one of Englands most progressive players. I am a fan of Grealish, who makes things happen. In the second half, England looked far more solid. AND THEN.....

England finally put together a series of good offensive passing and Raheem Stirling who started the move buried it. The Services club erupted. Interestingly, the club has multiple tellies and the one we watched was three seconds ahead of everyone else. We were on our feet celebrating, before the key pass was made for the rest of the club! I was so pleased for Raheem Stirling. He has been the difference for England. He seems to always be in the right place at the right time at key moments. A few minutes later,  a loose pass from Stirling almost undid all the good work, but this wasn't the Germany we all know and love. England turned the screw, took control and having been almost invisble for most of the game, Harry Kane finally remembered who he was and what he does. Grealish put a sublime ball in and Kane buried it. That was that. You could see it in the German players, the belief went. At the final whistle, the club exploded. But lets keep our heads screwed on. This isn't even a quarter final. In truth, Germany were awful. Our next game is against Ukraine. They are unfancied, but can play with total freedom. England will be in Rome instead of at Wembley. 

It was a night to remember. The two goals were almost from another game, incisive, clinical. It seems to me that every time Jack Grealish plays, he adds another 0 to has value. Roll on Saturday. It occurs to me that if the tournament had happened last year when it was supposed to, the likes of Grealish, Foden, Saka, Mount, etc would have been considered a bit to inexperienced. We have a great squad now. Lets just hope it isn't just another false dawn. Having said that, we've beaten World Cup finalists Croatia and Germany so far. That isn't a bad start. 

Tuesday 29 June 2021

Our local Tories are looking forward to a very Spicy AGM tonight!

The joys of writing a local blog. Are you having a Pizza tonight whilst you watch the footie? What flavour? It looks like the Tories, who are having an AGM for their local association, will be having a bit of spicy sausage on theirs!

I've just been forwarded a whole stack of documents concerning the activities of one of the senior local Toriess. Various documents from companies house and the Land Registry, which seem to indicate that one of our councillors has some rather racy business interests (amonst other things). Who would have thought? Now from what I can see, at a very cursory glance there is nothing illegal in all this rather grown up activity. 

I'm not a prude, I'm all for consenting adults being able to enjoy themselves behind closed doors. Of course, I need to download all of these documents from the relevant websites, such as companies house, The Land Registry etc to ensure that they are not just clever photoshops to get us into trouble and as there is a rather important football match on tonight, it won't be for a couple of days. Then I have to ascertain whether there is a genuine public interest story. So be prepared to either see a blog in a few days of a rather spiced sausage nature, or a blog about how it is always worth checking whether documents are what they seem to be. If there is a genuine public interest story, you might hear a bit more about this matter. I love a bit of such tittle tattle, in truth though, II get sent a fair bit, but generally I take the view that unless people have their hand in the till, are exploiting people or are harming people it isn't a proper subject for a blog. 

I've got to be honest, I didn't think the local Tories had it in them. I hope they have an interesting  AGM.

Monday 28 June 2021

Environment Monday - Will Covid have been the big missed opportunity to save planet Earth

Ever feel like someone, somewhere is trying to tell you something?

The UK seems to be finally emerging from the shadow of covid. The vaccination programme has given us real hope that maybe, just maybe, we can return to some sort of normal life. One of the things that disturbs me is that none of our political parties seems to be saying "Hang on a second, what lessons can we learn from this debacle?". 

Just over a year ago, we found ourselves in a position where pollution levels in London had diminished to such an extent that the monitoring equipment was reporting system malfunctions. Roads were empty and the parks were full of people walking, taking their daily exercise. Cycling has had a mini boom in London. Taking trains has become a pleasant experience, I've taken quite a few recently and had my pick of seats. Most of my friends with jobs in the City are working from home, with no prospect of a speedy return to the daily commute and the 9-5. 

All of the talk is about getting things back to normal ASAP and how we can achieve economic growth as quickly as possible. It seems to me as if we could be at risk of missing one of the biggest opportunities to re-invent our society as a low carbon economy. I've done quite a lot of travel into town over the last few days. The Thameslink service is still very quiet. Most of the users in normal time are daytime commuters and night time visitors to the West End. There is no great demand for such services. Trips on the tube seem far busier. I guess that many low paid jobs, such as NHS workers, cleaners, shop workers, etc use the tube as they live nearer their place of work. 

Speaking to many hospitality staff, it is clear that there is an acute labour shortage in this industry. Good firms that treated staff well over lockdown and furlough'd staff are in a far better position that those who let them go. Many venues that rely on Theatres and other West End attractions are really suffering. Other establishments, less tied to such attractions are actively poaching the best staff. There are some really great eating out deals on the table at the moment. Restaurants are desperately trying to generate trade. London is a great place to go and if you just want to do a bit of sight seeing and take a meal, there will never be a better time.

But this blog is more concerned with how the Government and the Mayor are in the process of missing the biggest of open goals, when it comes to making the UK a greener and more environmentally responsible nation. 

We believe that a well designed and well planned City can be very sustainable. Clean public transport, walking, cycling and homeworking all have a role to play. Well planned community spaces are a key aspect of this. Local shops and services are another key aspect. Between the 1970's and the end of the last decade, the trend was toward large shopping centres, mainly accessed by private cars. The advent of home delivery services put a major kybosh on these. Planned expansion of centres such as Brent Cross have been put on ice. Covid has pushed us en mass towards home delivery. I'd personally like to see delivery firms compelled to use green delivery, such as electric power vehicles and for short journeys bicycle couriers. It would be good if there was some way that spare capacity on the rail network could be integrated with a network of cycle couriers for delivery of smaller and ligher items. I'd really like the government to give generous tax breaks to companies that use green delivery methods. As these develop and become more sophisticated, the need for taxpayer support would diminsh., but such things often need a kick start.

As London pollution and traffic levels return to pre lockdown levels, I can't help but wonder why the government don't try and maintain some of the gains in better air quality.  As the government and the Mayor have been at loggerheads, there is no prospect of this., but just imagine if they'd agreed that there would be half price off peak and free weekend travel until September on public transport?  This would have given everyone the opportunity to get back into town and kick start the economy. Last August we had eat out to help out, where you got a tenner off the cost of a meal. I went to Paddington basin for lunch yesterday. The cost of the journey was £10.50, a free journey would most likely generate far more economic activity than the previous scheme and would encourage people away from cars. We need to get people back into London, but not in their cars. 

Barnet Council is consulting on a new 'local plan'. This should be an opportunity to rebuild a local sense of community. Developments should have safe communal space, local ameneties within walking distance, cycle provision and some of the section 106 money should be used to improve cycle provision generally. 

I have watched the debacle of the 'Low traffic neighbourhood' scheme implementation. It doesn't seem to have occurred to planners that sending cars around the houses creates rather than reduces emissions and loses support for the concept. Some of the ideas in LTN's are good, but these need to be introduced with consent. Due to utility works recently, I've seen the benefit of reduced traffic on my street. Cars have been banned from entering through the main entrance to Millway and this meant that it was not used as a late night rat run by boy racers. It meant that there was parking for residents and it generally felt safer. As I rarely drive for short local journeys, it had little impact on me. If Barnet Council made the junction of Millway onto Mill Hill Broadway exit only, this would end its use as a ratrun, whilst making little difference to residents, who would access the road via Goodwyn Ave or Weymouth Avenue. This purely accidental, short term adjustment to traffic flows resulted in many residents realising that the traffic flows could be improved no end for their benefit. I am not calling for changes, just using my own anecdotal evidence that modified traffic flows can improve the quality of life for residents, with little impact on anyone except for anti social drivers seeking a ratrun to break the speed limit.

What we really need is a proper study of how covid has affected the lives of UK citizens with work done to try and hold on to the improvements, whilst mitigating the damage of the return. If less people are travelling, lets encourage them to use public transport. It is a progressive policy. Sadly with a Mayor and Prime Minister set on politcal point scoring, it is likely to remain a pipe dream.


Saturday 26 June 2021

The Saturday List #312 - My ten released from lockdown destinations

 As lockdown has eased, I've been ticking off the places that I've really, really been missing. I thought I'd share my list with you and a few observations.

1. The Bleeding Heart in Hatton Garden. This is my favourite restaurant in London. It was the first place we went when we were able to eat outside, the bistro has a pleasant outdoor area. We went back last night for Clare's birthday. As ever it was busy. The food is amazing and we took our grown up kids yesterday, it isn't cheap but it is well worth it.

2. Bar Italia in |Frith St. I've mentioned this in other blogs, but it is worth mentioning again. It really is the only place to get a cheeky Peroni or an Espresso in Soho. Often it is the gathering spot for Londons Mods on scooter runs. I always feel the world is right when I am at Bar Italia.

3. Ronnie Scotts. There are many gig venues I will be visiting, but I made Ronnies the first, because Jazz is the music best suited to sitting down and enjoying. I couldn't imaging watching Punk, Soul or Ska if I was stuck in a chair. An added bonus was we got to see the rather wonderful Ray Gelato.

4. The Rake in Borough Market. One of my best mates lives in Croyden, I hadn't seen him for a year. We meet on a monthly basis, drink real ale and have a curry. We have about six different runs, but as we could both get a train easily to London Bridge, we thought the Rake would be a good first stop. It has an excellent selection of ales. As it was a Monday night, I didn't want anything too strong, so I orderd the weakest IPA on the menu. We started a tab. I ordered the weakest beer and we had 2 pints. When the bill came, it was rather more expensive than anticipated. When I queried, it turned out they'd given me a pint of the said brewery's other beer, which is 8.4% alcohol. It was lucky we stopped at two. They kindly only charged me the rate for the weak beer. It was great to just have a couple of pints with a mate. The staff tell me that the weekends are busy, which is good. 

5. Est India in Union St. There are many Indian Restaurants I love. Est India does an amazing 'Railway Curry' which is a Lamb dish. I rarely eat Lamb, as when I eat with Clare, as she doesn't eat meat, we have King Prawn, fish or veggie curries and swap bits of dishes. Having a lamb curry always feels linke being naughty, which is fun. I was pleased to report there were a  few other diners on a wet Monday night.

6. South Bank walk. I used to work in Park St. Every day I'd walk from Blackfriars Thameslink Station to the office. There wasn't a day when I wouldn't stop and look at the views, the river etc. Sometimes at low tide, I'd walk along the waterfront, seeing the detritus of London's 2,000 years washed up on the bank. I will never tire of that walk. 

7. The Claddagh Ring in Hendon. This was the first pub I visited locally after lockdown. I just needed a pint of draught Guinness. I love the place. The guvnor Finbar runs a very well organised pub and it is busy every night. It confirms what I always suspected. The best places will get through this crisis and ultimately thrive.

8. The Wet Fish Cafe in West Hampstead. This is another place we love. It is really easy to get to from Mill Hill, ten minutes on Thameslink. The food is amazing and it has a really lovely chilled ambience. As you can probably guess, the fish is very good. It is not too pricey. When we went, they had six tables outside. For me, it is important to support the places you love. We will be back.

9. The Lighterman in Kings Cross. This was the first place we went. It was a whim on the spur of the moment, the first day we were allowed to go to pubs and sit outside. I had a burger and chips. I love the new Kings Cross around Coal Drops Yard. We had a good walk around and the Lighterman was the only place we could get into. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it and the burger was great with a pint of good beer. 

10. Hadley FC. And finally, I support two football teams. I am a season ticket holder at Hadley FC, who are based at Brickfield Lane (Opposite the Gate pub in Barnet). They are in the sixth tier. The club invited me up for an end of season prize draw and drink a couple of weeks ago. Sadly their was no game, but we watched the Wales vs Belgium game in the clubhouse. I caught up with many of the Hadley Family. The draw was drawn by Sutton Utd manager Steve Clark, who has strong Hadley connections. It was a gloriously sunny day and it was bliss. 

Friday 25 June 2021

The Friday Joke - 25 June 2021 - The golfing nun

A young nun named Sister Mary walked into the Mother Superior's office.'What troubles you, Sister Mary?' asked the Mother Superior. 'I thought this was the day you spent with your family.' 'It was,' sighed the Sister. 'And I went to play golf with my brother. We try to play golf as often as we can. You know I was quite a talented golfer before I devoted my life to Christ.' 'I seem to recall that,' the Mother Superior agreed. 'So I take it your day of recreation was not relaxing?' 'Far from it,' snorted the Sister. 'In fact, I even took the Lord's name in vain today!' 'Goodness, Sister!' gasped the Mother Superior, astonished. 'You must tell me all about it!' 'Well, we were on the fifth tee...and this hole is a monster, Mother -540 yard Par 5, with a nasty dogleg left and a hidden green...and I hit the drive of my life. I creamed it. The sweetest swing I ever made. And it's flying straight and true, right along the line I wanted...and it hits a bird in mid-flight!' ‘Oh, my goodness’ said the Mother. 'How unfortunate! But surely that didn't make you blaspheme, Sister!' 'No, that wasn't it,' admitted Sister. 'While I was still trying to fathom what had happened, this squirrel runs out of the woods, grabs my ball and runs off down the fairway!' ‘That would have made me blaspheme!' sympathized the Mother. 'But I didn't, Mother!' sobbed the Sister. 'And I was so proud of myself! And while I was pondering whether this was a sign from God, this hawk swoops out of the sky and grabs the squirrel and flies off, with my ball still clutched in his paws!' 'So that's when you cursed,' said the Mother with a knowing smile. 'Nope, that wasn't it either,' cried the Sister, anguished, 'because as the hawk started to fly out of sight, the squirrel started struggling, and the hawk dropped him right there on the green, and the ball popped out of his paws and rolled to about 18 inches from the cup!' 

 Mother Superior sat back in her chair, folded her arms across her chest and said "Surely sister that was nigh on a miracle, why did you use the Lords name in vain?"

Sister Mary replied "Because I missed the F**king put Mother Superior"

Have a great weekend. 

Thursday 24 June 2021

Barnet Labour Party seeking election organiser for £33,000 a year for Barnet

 A press release on the Barnet Labour website caught my eye yesterday. Labour are seeking an election organiser for next years local council elections. The salary will be £33,000. A few things sprung to mind. I had been under the impression the Labour party was strapped for cash. As there are 32 London Boroughs, should each local party have a paid organiser, then that would be well over a million pounds. Of course, it is up to the Labour party how they spend their money, I'm not a member, but I was genuinely surprised. I then wondered if it was a new post, or it's just replacing someone who has been doing it for years. 

It seems that the brief of the role is to put the Labour party in a position where they could actually win in Barnet. I could tell the, for absolutely free what needs to be done. If Labour, The Lib Dems and The Greens were to agree a progressive alliance, then the maths supports the argument that all would gain seats and the Tories would lose control of the Council. 

This would simply take the form of the three parties agreeing to run less than three candidates in seats where the Conservatives are the incumbant party. So in Mill Hill, you could have one Labour, one, Lib Dem and one Green candidate. This would still give people the choice of voting for their preferred candidate. It would also give them the opportunity to vote tactically. In seats where Labour are close, they could run two candidates and the Lib Dems/Greens divvy the third seat between them. There are tens of thousands of Green voters with no representation in Barnet. Lib Dems only have two out of 63 councillors, which in no way reflects their vote. 

I get the feeling that Labour have analysed the polling from the Mayor of London elections and have concluded that Barnet is winnable. I am not quite sure whether they factored into their math that Labour put their best possible candidate up in Anne Clarke, whereas the Tories put their worst one with Roberto Weedon-Sanz. Anne has done a lot of work and has managed to reach out beyond the normal Labour support base. My gut feeling was that Robert just about managed to get the Tory faithful out. Council elections are a bit different. 

Labour look as if have decided to throw the kitchen sink at it. Whilst £33,000 seems like a lot of cash for the job, looking at the job spec, I am not sure it's really enough to get a top notch candidate with the skills they need. It seems that they want a social media expert, with a strong background in Graphic design. A quick search of Jobserve tells me that you'd probably have to pay £55-70K per annum to get a really effective person for the role, with the right skill set. It may sound like a lot of money, but unless you get someone who can really hit the ground running and has the experience to get to grips with the issues that have fuelled Labours election failure in Council elections since 1998, it is all money down the loo. Personally, I'd have a clear out of the party's local executive before I appointed anyone, as I think you will end up with a nodding donkey, who simply ensure's that the failure is better managed. The current exec have an awful track record of failure in Council elections since 1998. Each defeat has had its own unique set of excuses, none of which come down to the fact that the local Labour bigwigs have not engaged with the reality of Barnet politics or taken into account the local issues that might swing the 2-300 votes in needed to win the marginals. Prior to that, they had Alan Williams as Leader, who was the last Labour politician who really understood what you need to do to win locally and did it ruthlessly, winning 2 elections against all of the odds, mainly by doing side deals with the Lib Dems in key seats. The template is there, but no one has had the guts to use it since. In 2010, these 'side deals' imploded spectacularly, with Labour canvassing in Mill Hill and upsetting hundreds of Lib Dem voters, who had previously voted Labour in General elections. Andrew Dismore lost his seat by 105 votes. The Lib Dems lost in the Council and the Tories retained control. 

Barnet is a bit of a strange Borough and a bit of an outlier. As London has gone more to Labour, it has stayed Conservative, with the Tories massively increasing their number of Councillors at the last election. Of course having professional support will always improve a parties performance, I will be fascinated to see if there is a change of tack when the person is in post. From talking to local people, many of whom have voted Labour in the past, I am struck by the lack of enthusiasm for the party beyond committed believers. As the role is for a die hard Labour stalwart,according to the job spec, I do wonder if they will have the right mindset. If Labour locally simply do more of the same, then I can see no way that they will ever oust the Tories. 

If you are a Labour member with a strong history of organising campaigns and are looking for a job, this may well be the opportunity of a life time. I wish whoever gets the job the best of luck. I did wonder what I would do if someone told me the Lib Dems had £33,000 to try and win the election and it was up to me to decide how to spend it. I'd use the cash to support existing work by activists and to offer proper training to those who felt they could contribute more. I'd spend a bit on a more responsive website and a bit on better quality leaflets.  I'd probably employ a co-ordinator part time a day a week, just to ensure things get done. But hey ho, what do I know.

Here are the full details if you are interested.

------------------------------------------------------------

Job Title: Borough Organiser
Working For: Barnet Labour Group
Location: Barnet, London
Salary: £33,000
Length of Contract: Fixed-term until 6 June 2022

Job Details:

Barnet Labour Group seeks a borough organiser to help with campaigning, communicating our message to Barnet’s citizens, and planning for an historic Labour victory in 2022’s borough election.

Barnet is on the front line in the battle between Labour and the Tories in London. The past two borough elections have been extremely close. This is an opportunity to play a leading role and make a real difference in a high-profile, fast paced and exciting campaign to win Barnet for Labour.

Barnet Labour is a fun, dynamic and committed group of elected councillors and local Party members who campaign all year round on innovative policies to reduce inequality, respond to the climate emergency, build more affordable housing and support Barnet’s vibrant communities.

Purpose of the post:

The post holder will run the Barnet Labour borough wide campaign, with the prime objective of gaining control of the council at the local elections in 2022.

Responsible to: London Regional Labour Party

Location: Barnet

The successful candidate will have experience of:

  • being employed or working as an election organiser for the Labour Party
  • organising campaign events and motivating volunteers
  • designing graphics and writing copy for campaign leaflets
  • using social media to run effective campaigns
  • managing and developing volunteers
  • working on their own initiative; able to take decisions themselves, seeking sign-off where appropriate.

Job Description

  • To work with the Labour Group to develop and run the Barnet Labour campaign to win the council at the 2022 local elections.
  • To work with CLPs, branches, the London Assembly Member, and London Region towards this aim.
  • To act as Barnet Labour election agent if required to, with responsibility for adhering to campaign budget limits.
  • To produce campaign literature, deliver digital and social media campaigning, assist with communications where necessary and keep the Barnet Labour website up to date with news articles.
  • To lead and organise campaigning activity, coordinating with the Labour Group, Barnet’s three CLPs and their campaign co-ordinators.
  • To attend meetings of the Labour Group, CLPs and Local Government Committee as required.
  • To help build closer links with local communities, including public engagement visits and events.
  • To provide training to members on election techniques, production of newsletters, voter i/d (doorstep and telephone), registration and postal votes.
  • To identify campaign leaders and provide training and support to campaign leaders and members on organising and campaigning.
  • To work with the Labour Group, candidates, elected representatives and local parties to identify, develop, motivate and organise members and supporters.
  • To help build up membership, membership capacity and activity in the Borough in line with the Party’s aims and objectives.
  • To work with the Labour Group and LGC to develop local fundraising and fundraising schemes.
  • Other duties: This is not intended as a fully comprehensive list of duties and the post-holder may be required to undertake any other duties as reasonably required in the context and level of responsibility outlined in the overall objectives for the post.

5 days (33.75 hrs) per week, including some evening/weekend work.

Closing Date: 7 July 2021

Interview/Start Dates

Interviews for shortlisted candidates will be held in Barnet (in person, though we can accommodate remote interviews if needed) week beginning 12th July 2021.

Ideal start date: 19th July 2021.

Application Details

Applications should consist of a CV with a covering letter explaining why you are suitable for the role. Please send this to office@barnetlabour.org.uk

We welcome applications from people of all backgrounds, particularly from those in traditionally under-represented groups, and do not discriminate on the basis of any protected characteristics.

Tuesday 22 June 2021

Post covid London isn't as broken as I'd feared


Rejoice, rejoice! (To quote a rather well known lady who was the MP for Finchley, who's name I won't mention here). I've actually been living what almost equates to a normal life over the last few days. On Friday, I had a curry with friends and then went to the Mill Hill Services Club to watch England play. Which is pretty much what I'd have done any year you may care to name. Saturday, we had a quiet night in, mostly as I had an early start for Rock School Exams on Sunday at the Studio. We had some football, films and telly to catch up on, which was quite nice. I quite enjoy cooking, so it was quite pleasant to have a lazy day and some nice food. Sadly, the weather was not that conducive to doing much else. 

Sunday I opened up for Rock School exams, then adjourned to Bar Italia and Ronnie Scotts in Frith St for some lunch time Jazz with Ray Gelato. After the band, we headed down to The Golden Lion for a couple of pints and to watch the Wales vs Italy game. I was delighted to see how Soho had been pedestrianised. Gazebo's for revellers were everywhere and they were packed. The Old Compton St area was certainly buzzing. A casual observer wouldn't know we were still in the grip of a pandemic, except for the lack of tourists. We had planned to have a beer in The French House, but it was full. It was just nice to have a stroll and see people enjoying themselves. I also picked up some of my favourite treat, a box of custard tarts from Cafe De Nata. They really are rather good! After the footie, we headed home and had a fairly respectable early night.

Yesterday, after work, I hopped on Thameslink from Mill Hill to London Bridge. I was meeting up with one of my best friends, who I've not seen since February last year. We met at The Rake in Borough Market, had a couple of proper pints of ale, then a curry at Est India on Union St. I also had a little walk along the South Bank, something I've not done for well over  a year. Seeing St Pauls, the Shard and the Bridges through the drizzle nearly bought a tear to my eye. Chatting to the staff at The Rake, it seems that the weekends are as busy as ever. Many places are not open, however things have been better than they expected.



One of my studio staff also works for Everyman Cinemas. He was saying that the cinemas are doing well. As it is one of the few nights out that people can go to, there is quite a demand. My friend had come up from Croydon. It was the first time he'd been into the City since last March. He has a senior role at one of Londons Premiere financial institutions. He has been working from home for a the period. He feels that the limitations of working from home have been exposed. You can't get call a huddle, get people in an office and thrash things out over Zoom in the same way. It is easier for the less committed staff to hide and underperform. His feeling is that the death of the office has been much oversold.

So what conclusions have I drawn from all of this? Well it seems that people want to enjoy themselves. There clearly will be a lot of collateral damage from the pandemic, but the best and strongest venues, pubs and restaurants such as  Ronnies, The Rake, Est India etc will survive. The tubes and trains are still deathly quiet, but this will change as we start to filter back to the offices. 

I had worried that the carnage would be far worse.  No one should pretend things are great and the music sector has had one hell of a kicking, but everything I've seen tells me that we will recover and we will recover faster than most people expect. It is pretty clear to me that work patterns for many will change, but I am hopeful that this will be a good thing rather than a bad thing. Londons transport systems have always been geared around a huge swell in the rush hour. 

I suspect that this will not be quite the same in future, however I suspect that in a couple of years, there will be as much demand for public transport as there is now. Locally it seems that the roads are busier than ever. More people seem to be walking and cycling. 

The one thing no one can currently predict is what will happen to London's tourist industry. With the paranoia of covid variants, I suspect this may be the last sector to recover. I personally would like to see the international community require full vaccination and temperature checks before foreign travel for the foreseeable future. This is the best way to suppress corss border transmission of  disease. For all those screaming that this is an imposition on their human rights, look what we've been through? As of yesterday, 43 million people in the UK have had at least one dose of vaccine. Some have been vaccinated over six months ago. If there were serious and dangerous long term side effects, we'd be starting to see them by now. I am all for upholding people's freedoms and rights, but when people make decisions not based on scientific fact and reality, then they should not be able to put the rest of us at risk. Whatever your views of the pandemic, it started in the UK because of cross border travel. If the govt can stop that, it can keep us safe, once we get to grips with the virus. 

It certainly appears that the vaccine works. The death rate is lower than any time since last August. Of course this lags the infection rate by 3-4 weeks, but it clear that we are in a better place than in December when the last wave kicked in. In short, London isn't as broken as I feared


Monday 21 June 2021

Ray Gelato at Ronnie Scotts - Lunchtime set 20 June 2021

Yesterday was a special day for me. Since I was fourteen years old, I've been spending every spare bit of time and cash going to watch live music. In a bad month, I'll see one band and in a good band I'll see eight (maybe with a show by my own band The False Dots somewhere in there). And then lockdown hit. On March 4th 2020 I went to see Judy Collins at the Union Chapel. I didn't really give it too much thought at the time. She was a legend and I love her work. It simply didn't occur to me that it would be the last gig I saw for 15 months (other than a couple of duo's at restaurants in Madeira last September).

We booked tickets for Ronnie Scotts last June, when they were due to open. I booked as soon as I possibly could. Sadly I got Boris'd. The opening date was put back. I told the club to keep the money on account. They needed it more than me. I have to admit, it made me cautious. We have tickets for eight shows that have been continually re-arranged, including Gregory Porter, The Damned and The Specials. Much as it hurt, I took the sad decision to buy no more tickets until I knew we could go. 

Ray Gelato back on home turf

So when we learned Ronnies was opening up, I scanned the programme looking for something suitable. As yesterday was the official start of my wife Clare's birthday week, I fancied a bit of Ronnie Scott action and was delighted to see that Ray Gelato and the Giants was playing a lunchtime set. I love a Sunday Jazz lunch at Ronnies and knew that Ray would be the perfect first gig back. We have discussed putting Ray on a number of times as a Jazz headline at The Mill Hill Music Festival. Our Jazz promoter, Brian Peerless was a long standing fan of Ray and had Brian not passed away in 2019 and we not had a Pandemic, he'd most likely be doing a show this Thursday on our keynote Jazz night. Sadly there is no festival this year. It did give us a chance to see if Brian was right and Ray would be a good night for the festival.

I have a ritual when I go to Ronnies. I always have a Peroni and a custard tart in Bar Italia before the gig. I used to work near Frith St and always nipped in for a beer or an Espresso and a snack. Now it is only when I visit Ronnies that I tend to go. To my delight, Ray also has a similar routine and nipped in for a coffee before. 



Having had a suitable sharpener, we made our way in. Ronnie's used to have the reputation for the worst food in London. Now the food is amazing. The Sunday lunch is fantastic, generous portions and well cooked. It is the perfect Jazz lunch. We shared a bottle of wine to boot. The club is operating at 50% capacity, but you wouldn't know from the reception.

I knew Ray was a decent crooner. He can sing and I knew he'd be entertaining. The only thing I wasn't too sure about was whether he'd be ring rusty. The gigs at Ronnies were his first since last September. I hadn't appreciated that he's a damn fine sax player as well and a half decent song writer to boot. The band were superb. I particularly liked the sax duet of 'La Rosita'.

Ray is well known for putting on an entertaining and lively show, but this was performed with great tenderness and sounded delightful. Of course we had the classic jazz standards such as Mack the Knife, but there were also a few tracks from Ray's new album. I was quite partial to his song about Meatballs.

After the show, we had a little chat with Ray. Like all musicians, the last year has been almost impossible  for Ray. You can't keep a good man down, but the whole music industry has received one hell of a kicking. Running a studio, I've seen the coalface of how bad it has been. Not being able to earn a living for fifteen months is not something anyone should have to deal with. I believe that society genuinely doesn't appreciate the work you have to put in to become a decent performer and put a live act together.  To become a Lawyer or an architect, you go to Uni for three or four years. To be a musician, from the moment you start playing, you never stop learning, it is a lifetime mission. 

To maintain a basic level of playing, I need to practise 30 minutes a day, to improve it's 2-3 hours a day, God knows how many years all of us have had sat in the bedroom, just getting competent and staying at that level. To keep the band 'match fit' we need to get together regularly and rehearse and play gigs. The effort Ray and his musical director have put in to refine their show would leave just about any other profession in the shade. You are never really not working. Evey time you hear a new lick you like or a new influence, it is logged, to be properly explored the first time an instrument is to hand. 

It's not just playing, a decent musician is always listening to new material, seeking new influences. As a fellow musician, I can only say that I take my hat off to Ray and all of the other stalwarts of the London music scene who will bring us back. Non musicians have a job to do too. It is a very pleasant one. All you need to do is turn up and have a great time. Here's the link!

https://www.ronniescotts.co.uk/

Sunday 20 June 2021

The tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 20th June 2021

 Have you had a good week? It's been a bit up and down for me, been enjoying Euro 2020 apart from Englands performance against Scotland. I'm off to Ronnie Scotts for my first dose of live music since Lockdown at lunchtime, preceded by a swift lager and a custard tart in Bar Italia. Well that's my week, here's what our lovely local Tweeters have been up to.

1. This tweet brought me unbridled happiness. They look delciious


2. I remember the Bald Faced Stagg well from the 1980's when my band had a residency there. It was actually a really good laugh!


3. Loved standing on the terraces here. My dad's business was a sponsor in the 1960's and a couple of players worked for him at Mac Metals in Mill Hill


4. Who thought Cricklewood Train depot at night could look so fetching with a crescent moon!


5. In memory of Horace


6. We love a good proverb here. This is a pretty good one from Finchley tutors


7. If you follow Ian McGreevy you will learn something everyweek


8. We are big fans of Colindale foodbank and they need your support morer than ever in these times


9. Great picture of the Welsh Harp from The Mill Hill Historical Society


10. If like me, you love a bit of Reggae and Ska, then check this out



Have a great one!

Saturday 19 June 2021

The Saturday List #311 - My top ten support act performances

 I was thinking of the great support bands that I've seen over the years. It's funny because the first gig I went to was to see Wings on the Red Rose Speedway tour. I went with my Sister Val, a bit of a hippy, who told me that she never bothered with support bands, because usually they were rubbish. We caught a bit of Brinsley Schwarz, I don't remember too much about them, which is a shame because there were some great musicians in the band who went on to better things. When punk hit the scene, often it was the support bands that really made it worth going. I realised that dodging support bands was not a good move. The first punk band I went to see was the Ramones at the Roundhouse. The support bands were The Talking Heads and The Saints. Both were OK, but the Ramones were so completely mindblowing, I didn't really walk away with any strong image of them. Perhaps the next gig I went to at the Roundhouse was the one which completely sold me on support bands.


1 . 999  supporting The Vibrators at The Roundhouse. The Vibrators were my favourite band, I'd been waiting to see them since the day I got the punk rock bug. The Roundhouse on a Sunday had replaced church on a Sunday for me. This was the one. The Radiators from Space were a decent band, but 999 were awesome. Nick Cash climbed up on the PA stacks, nearly toppling them on the crowd. There was so much energy and aggression in the music, that you couldn't help but be transfixed. 999 instantly became one of my favourite bands. To this day they are amazing. 



2 The Lurkers supporting Generation X at the Roundhouse. My sister Caroline got tickets for this gig from a guy called Chris at Generation X's label. I was quite pleased to see the Saints again, who were always good value for money, but the band that really made an impression were the Lurkers. I thought they were Fulhams answer to The Ramones. The music was fast and furious, just how I liked it. The band looked like a bunch of blokes from the bus stop and to me epitomised what punk rock was all about. I was desperate to get their album, but I have to admit, when I bought Fulham Fallout it made me realise that some bands were better live than on record.

3. The Rezillos supporting The Ramones at The Rainbow. This was how I ended 1977. The Ramones  performance was recorded and filmed. They were amazing as ever. But the Rezillos, a  Scottish new wave band made a huge impression. Their lead singer Faye Fife was a brilliant front person. The band were quirky and played brilliant pop songs. Their albums are well worth a listen.



4. Squeeze supporting Eddie and The Hot Rods at The Lyceum. I loved Eddie and The Hot Rods.  I knew Squeeze from 'Take me I'm yours' which had made the lower reaches of the charts. It wasn't until I saw them I realised that there was far more to them than that. They are brilliant songsmiths. I've seen them dozens of times since, but I have great memories of them from that night. An interesting footnote  was that there was real bad blood between them and The Radio Stars. During their set, The Radio Stars made repeated quips about the lack of success Squeeze were having. As I recall they even performed a song about how rubbish Squeeze were. Funny how things turned out. 



5. The Specials supporting the Damned at The Lyceum. I love The Damned. They are always one of the best live bands you will see. At the bottom of the bill, somewhat incongruously beneath The UK Subs were the Specials. There was a bit of a buzz about them, but until this point it had passed me by. As a kid, I'd loved Ska music, but it had disappeared and I'd sort of forgotten it. The Specials came on stage. There were more of them, more instruments than any band I'd seen in a long time. They were multi racial, whereas just about every punk band was white. From the first notes of the first song, I knew that they were something Special (pardon the pun). They reignited my interest in Ska music at that point. 

6. Misty in Roots supporting The Vibrators at Rock Against Racism festival in Stonebridge Park. This event seemed to pass everyone by. We turned up expecting tens of thousands of people. There were about 500. Our mates, The Ruts were playing their first gig. We'd got to know guitarist Foxy from 999, where he did a bit of Roadie work. Misty in Roots, were the main support. I quite liked Reggae and had seen a few bands, but the performance by Misty was amazing. I was absolutely transfixed. They were far more political than most Lovers Rock bands. I really liked their powerful delivery and their uncompromising stance. I couldn't find a single image of this anywhere. It was almost the Gig that time forgot. I bumped into a mate from Finchley Catholic, who had been slung out for throwing a meat cleaver at the Archery Teacher. I had also left the school and we compared notes on how unfairly we'd been treated. His gripe was that he'd missed when he threw the meat cleaver. We both sat transfixed watching Misty in Roots. He told me after that it was the moment he got reggae, which in the long run made him a lot more chilled out. 


7. Big Audio Dynamite supporting Simple Minds at Milton Keynes Bowl. I nearly didn't go to this gig at all. It was on the day England played Argentina in the World Cup, and Maradona scored the famous hand of God goal. I'd bought tickets months before. It was only because they were so expensive that I went. Clare accompanied me along with a Welsh and a Greek mate. I was vaguely aware of Mick Jones and Big Audio Dynamite, but hadn't really bothered to check them out. I'd mistakenly assumed it would be a sub Clash rehash. It was anything but. BAD became my favourite band of the 1980's. I will go as far as to say, I prefer them to The Clash. They really are the sound of West London. Hearing E=MC2 echoing out over the park was a sublime moment. It almost made up for the disappointment of losing.


8. Joe Cocker Supporting The Stevre Miller Band, Concorde, California. We are now in 2008. I was on holiday with the family and my Mum passed away unexpectedly. I'd arranged the hioliday around this gig, we'd planned it for ages, but I was devastated. The gig was they day after she passed away. I was all over the place. I've long been a fan of the Steve Miller Band. They are always brilliant, but Joe Cocker was a revealation. A wonderful night that lifted my spirits at a point when I was at my most down.

9. Kate Nash supporting The False Dots at Mill Hill Sports Club. Kate is the daughter of one of my mates. She started putting some songs together and getting a bit of interest. I suggested that she support my band, The False Dots at The Mill Hill Sports Club for a gig for MacMillan Cancer relief that I was organising. Kate's mum had had a brush with cancer and she was really keen to do it. Then she got signed and her management told her she couldn't play the gig because she had a showcase coming up and they didn't want potential fans going to a little local gig instead. Kate told them to get stuffed and brought all her family, old aunties, etc. What we saw was the star quality that would propell her to a top ten career. I admired her gutsy approach. She wanted to do the gig so she did. Six weeks after the gig, she was in the charts and on TV.

10. The Lightning Seeds supporting Madness at Sheffield. A couple of years ago I was chatting to Lee Thompson of Madness at the studios and mentioned that a friend had lost her mother recently and was very down in the dumps. Lee said that he'd put them on the guest list if I liked. As they live in Sheffield, we made our way up. The Lightning Seeds were the support. They were not a band on my radar, but  I thought they were excellent. When we got back, my friend asked me to tell Lee that it had really lifted her and it was the first time she'd had any fun for a year. Both bands were great. I've seen the Lightning Seeds a couple of times since.

Tomorrow I'm going to Ronnie Scotts to see the first gig since Last March, I can't wait, have a great weekend. 


Friday 18 June 2021

Chesham and Amersham by election shows that people desperately want change

 Last night we saw a truly outstanding by election result for the Lib Dems in Chesham and Amersham


I don't believe that anyone outside of the Lib Dems really saw this coming. Many Lib Dem activists from the Borough of Barnet helped out and put in some hard lifting in the constituency.  The activists Whatsapp groups were buzzing for the last two weeks, there was a real sense that there could be an upset, tempered by a natural reluctance to build hopes up too high, just to end up deflated and dejected.

Early this morning it became clear that what had been said on the doorsteps was true. The people of Chesham and Amersham were sick of being taken for granted by the Government. Perhaps the biggest issues in the constituency were related to planning and development. The governments plans to reform planning have rightly alarmed many. The feeling is that these will simply make it even easier for developers to ride roughshod over local people. Of course HS2 was a major issue in the constituency. One of the reasons I did not help out in the constituency, is that I am a strong supporter of the project. I believe the UK needs a modern and reliable transport system, which HS2 will play a big part in. I do however 100% acknowledge that the project has been mismanaged from start to finish and far more efforts should have been made to mitigate the damage on ancient woodlands and residents. As someone who has a motorway and mainline railway at the bottom of my garden, I am fully aware of the problems such things cause. But by the same token, I love the fact that there is a Thameslink service at the end of the road, that will deliver me to Central London in 16 minutes. I think the issue for areas like Chesham and Amersham is that they have all of the downside and no upside, as there will be no new fast train to Euston. When we start putting such large projects together, we do need to take more account of local communities. We need to ensure people feel that their input counts. 

This lack of respect for local communities is not just something affecting Chesham and Amersham. Here in Barnet, we've seen huge developments where the local community have been rode roughshod over. You only have to look at the impact of the Barratts development at the NIMR to see this. All sorts of conditions were put on Barratts, such as washing the wheels of vehicles to stop the spreading of dust, but this has been ignored. Barnet Council do not even bother responding anymore when these concerns are raised.


It is getting worse. Earlier this week, we detailed how our comments to the proposed development strategy for Edgware were completely dismissed and ignored. There was not even a nod to the points we raised. The Conservative adminstration in Barnet believe they are untouchable and unaccountable. They believe that they only need to pin on a blue rosette on election day and they will win. 

The truth is that they thought this in Chesham and Amersham. The pollsters never even bothered with their usual predictions. They expected the Conservatives to have a handsome majority. But hard work on the ground proved that you can make a difference.

The reason the Lib Dems won was because people wanted to be heard and they realised the Lib Dems offered the best hope of sending the government a message. In Barnet, the Labour Party has failed to listen to voters since 1998. They have run dull campaigns that have not engaged with local people. They have been quite happy to sit in safe seats, claiming their £10K allowances, whilst the Borough falls apart. They have not fought ridiculous outsourcing projects such as One Barnet. They have not done the work in the marginal seats, where you have to do the donkey work. Of course they have delivered rain forests worth of leaflets, but most of these go straight in the bin. In Mill Hill in 2014, the Lib Dems averaged 550 votes, as they didn't really bother to campaign. In 2018, we made an effort and more than doubled our vote to 1,200. Sadly we didn't have the number of activists to get around the whole ward effectively. We got to about 25% of households. I firmly believe that if we start now and we get your help, we can knock on all of the doors, several times. I believe that we can win in Mill Hill and we can win in other wards neglected by the Conservatives and Labour. 

All we need is for you to take a chance, offer to help and join us. When lockdown is done, I will be arranging a social evening at The Three Hammers pub for anyone who wants to try and make a change in Mill Hill. If you want to join us, please join the Lib Dems and watch this space. Chesham and Amersham shows that we don't need to accept the status quo and we don't need to believe the pollsters.





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Wednesday 16 June 2021

My thoughts on the new GB News channel

 As we have a new news channel, set up by the likes of ex BBC presenter and Murdoch ally Andrew Neil and twitter has been afire with views, I thought I'd share mine.

Q. Does it bother me?

A. No, I think that so long as it tries to do it's job professionally it isn't a problem. I don't expect it to present 'alternative truth' etc. It may just have an editorial spin that is to the right of my taste. 

Q. Will I watch it?

A. Probably not. This is nothing to do with it's editorial line. It is because it won't have the resources of Sky News, BBC News, CNN or Al Jazeera, which I tend to watch as they have people on the ground so can give the best perspective. I'm not overly interested in punditry, which is what I suspect we'll get a lot of.

Q. Do I thik companies like Koppaberg are right to boycott the station?

A. They are commercial organisations and clearly believe the station is not right for their band. My studios have used radio advertising on XFM over the years. This is because it fits our demographic. A company like LBC would do so less, so we wouldn't advertise with them. I think the decisions are taken for sound commercial reasons and are sensible.

Q. Do I dislike Andrew Neill?

A. No, I used to enjoy him on This Week with Michael Portillo and Dianne Abbott. He's not a bad presenter, but I doubt that what he's curating will have the content that would tempt me away from my preferred channels. I may well have a gander at some point, if I am bored. If I am wrong and find it fascinating I will say so.

Q. Do I hope it fails?

A. I really don't care either way. The question is like asking me if  I'd like a pea canning plant in Herefordshire to fail. I wouldn't want to see people lose their job, but it would not be something I'd lose sleep over and if it does, I would assume it was because homework wasn't done by investors. If they make a shedload of money, good for them taking the chance.

Tuesday 15 June 2021

Barnet Council Edgware Growth strategy consulatation - Update for June revision of document

I orginally published this blog on 25th Jan. It has been updated. I have updated the blog to reflect this (changes from original blog in red and underlined).

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Barnet Council have published a 'growth strategy' for Edgware Town centre. The Barnet Eye submitted comments in January

You can read it if you click here. If you are wondering what the purpose of this is, the original strategy  consultation document stated

Why we are consulting?

Once adopted, the SPD will provide a material consideration for the determination of planning applications within the SPD boundary.

Barnet and Harrow Councils are undertaking joint consultation on this draft SPD and welcome your input. We want to hear the views of local residents, visitors, businesses and stakeholders. It is important that residents and other interested parties have their say on the emerging plan.

Due to Covid-19 and the continuing requirements for social distancing and the limitations on groups gathering indoors, all consultation sessions will be held online.

Clearly for residents and businesses based in Edgware this is a key document as it will define the shape of your community for the future. It will have a major impact on your quality of life, your transport options and many other aspects of life in the locality. The document has several annexes, a Town centre economic strategy, a transport strategy as well as equality and sustainability appraisals. 

Personally, my view is that this whole process should be put on the backburner until the Covid 19 crisis is out of the way. There are two reasons for this. The first is that no one can really be sure what the fallout from covid means for our town centres, transport, working arrangements or living arrangements. Working from home has become the norm for office workers. Retail has seen a massive shift towards online sales. Restaurants, cinemas, pubs, live music venues etc have been shut for the best part of a year. Many thriving businesses that may have been looking to expand a year ago, are in survival mode.  For example the strategy says

1.22 To secure its status as a major town centre Edgware needs a sustainable response to a changing world. There must be compelling reasons for people to choose to visit and stay in the town centre, generating a positive and selfsustaining circle of renewal. Edgware can draw on its unique character and features while seeking new offerings to enhance the town centre’s appeal and support its businesses. Edgware has an enormous opportunity to significantly improve its leisure and cultural experience to draw more people to the town centre during the day and evening. This could mean more entertainment such as a cinema, increased eating out options, and leisure such as sports activities.

 In normal times, this paragraph would make perfect sense, but the businesses and capital required to make this happen may well not materialise. I would love to see a cinema return to Edgware, but the better chains such as the Everyman will have a lot on their plate just rebuilding their existing business and balance sheet, let alone looking at new cinemas. My view of these sort of schemes is that they are often simply designed to attract developers to build luxury flats. The 'add ons' such as cinemas, leisure space etc are often the first thing to go one developers get planning permission. You only have to look at all of the so called 'minor changes' to the Barratts NIMR scheme in Mill Hill, to see what happens in the real world once developers get their hands on a site. 

If things such as cinemas are really desired, potential operators should be invited as partners, so that a purpose built space can be provided, rather than just giving them a large chunk of space and saying 'there you go'. Through my work in music, I was a consultee on the original 'Millenium Dome' development. I stated that they should engage a world class partner like Disney to ensure it worked. They ignored my advice and the whole thing was a flop. Designed by committees, politicians and civil servants, it was dire. It then sat idle for years. Eventually a dynamic entertainment company took on the space and it is now one of the most profitable and well used venues in the world. 

Another example of wishful thinking, that has been proven to be a pipe dream is this paragraph.

1.27. Developers will be expected to support wider infrastructure investment for improved community facilities, for example in terms of schools, health and well-being and GPs surgeries. This is also the case with improving the public realm, for example with a network of cycle and pedestrian links, new public open spaces, squares, performance and event space that can provide places for pop-ups artists, community activities and leisure.

If you look at the Millbrook Park development in Mill Hill east, started ten years ago, a GP clinic was part of the scheme. That has still not been delivered, although far more flats are now being put on the site than was originally planned. There was also meant to be all sorts of other community space, virtually none of which was delivered.


The document states the following

3.10. Vacancy rates have increased significantly in recent years to 6% of all units, matching the London-wide position, but below the national average of 12%. There is a significant amount of non-retail uses within Edgware Town Centre, with extensive office space providing opportunities for professional services and business to locate there. Leisure uses are present, for example a fitness gym is located on Station Road. Diverse community uses such as community organisations, education, healthcare, religious uses, and a library, all add to the range of activities which jointly underpin the functioning and attraction of the town centre.

I doubt anyone expects this paragraph to accurately reflect the post covid world in Edgware. Non food retail businesses are going to be especially hard hit.

The document states the following in section 4.6

Provide a significant new cultural and leisure offering with attractions that make Edgware a destination location during both the daytime and evening. Potential options include a new cinema, swimming pool and a diverse range of eating-out options that reflect the multiple and distinctive cultures that thrive around Edgware. Other uses will be considered where they support the creation of a town centre fit for the future; providing a suitable variety of uses and able to adapt to future challenges. Activities, exhibitions and performances by local community and artistic groups should be encouraged to bring people together and foster a sense of pride and inclusion.

It seems to me that whenever our local planners want to sell something to locals, they mention cinemas and swimming pools. If they are serious about getting a cinema, as stated before, they should make an organisation such as Everyman a strategic partner and listen to their ideas as to what make a cinema work. I am rather bemused by their ideas that a Swimming Pool would be a good addition to Edgware Town centre. This would be far better placed by other existing sports facilities, many of which are run down and neglected in the Borough of Barnet. One of the best developments in the Borough of Barnet in recent years is the Asian food hall at Bang Bang Oriental. Despite this being a huge success, our planners do not seem to recognise that this is a great concept. It could work really well in Edgware, maybe with a Mediterreaneian theme. It is encouraging that they have at least recognised a role for the local community in the new revision.

This section also says

Retain local town centre users while seeking to draw in visitors from a wide area of North London and South Hertfordshire.

For this to be feasable, there will need to be better parking in the Town Centre. There is no tube line from South Hertfordshire. The type of people who use fancy restaurants are not usually bus users.

The section on housing is also informative

4.21. To meet the housing needs development at Edgware will: 

• Encourage residential development - the core of the centre could accommodate a substantial number of new market and affordable homes (subject to planning permission). 

• Provide for a mix of unit sizes and tenures, including affordable housing, in line with Local Plan policies. The varied requirements of both individuals and families should be accommodated where these are appropriate to create a varied and sustainable community. 

• Optimise sites to provide high quality housing in suitable locations. 

• Barnet’s emerging new Local Plan will establish a future housing capacity for the town centre.

With the massive increase in working from home, it is very likely that areas like Edgware will need a different mix of housing to the one which has emerged in the Borough over the last few years. Far fewer people will need commuter pads and more will need homes with decent work spaces. This has not been mentioned, which implies that post covid planning has not been addressed in this document.

Buried away in the section on community facilities, there is a rather ominous note that, to me at least, gives the game away, as to what the council and their development partners really want.

4.41. For the appropriate provision of community infrastructure in Edgware: 

• The need for community facilities must be assessed to ensure sufficient, suitable space for uses including education, health and community groups, with a likely increase in provision to support redevelopment of the town centre. 

• Seek opportunities for relocation to better serve the community and offer more appropriate accommodation.

• Consider the need and provision for indoor and outdoor sports facilities.  

• Ensure the community facilities support the needs, health and wellbeing of Edgware’s diverse community.

I've highlighted the giveaways. In the first bullet point, I note the use of the word 'likely' rather than 'required'. 

As to the second bullet point, this implys that community facilities will be moved to 'more appropriate accomodation. My experience of this, from the experience of Watling Boys club, was that new accomodation is offered, then once the council got its hands on the space, the offer was withdrawn.

It is good that there is a recognition that indoor and ourdoor sports facilities are required. This is a welcome addition

On the subject of local employment, the strategy states

4.43. Opportunities should be sought for new business in emerging growth sectors, for example digital, creative industries, and ICT. 

4.44. Economic dynamism and the retention of more local spending within Edgware will help to boost the town centre and support a sustainable, thriving community. More employment opportunities in the local area will mean fewer people travelling out to places of work, reducing pressure on the transport network, particularly at peak hours.

There is no mention of the major effect of covid, ie homeworking. For people working in digital and creative industries, homeworking is now the norm.

4.48 While evidence suggests that unemployment levels in Edgware have been relatively low in recent years, the long-term impact of the Coronovirus pandemic is yet to be fully assessed. The long-standing need to increase the level of skills and training for some parts of the working age population is likely to be supplemented by a requirement to assist the workforce where jobs have been lost due to Coronovirus. Young people in particular need job opportunities, both for full time roles and part-time work that fits around studying commitments.
This is the only real mention of Covid in relation to employment. As I mentioned at the start, how can you have a strategy, when the effects of a generational step change such as covid has not been assessed?

It is good to see that the needs of young people are addressed. 

There is a mention of car parking in section 7 (was previously in section 5). This demonstrates that the aspiration of attracting wealthy customers for businesses from South Hertfordshire is likely to fail. They have still failed to describe how they square the aspiration of attracting these people with reduced care parking. 

• There should be retention of some car parking for town centre users, and potentially commuters, depending on assessed need. Car parking provision must be efficient, utilising approaches such as multi-storey, basement or podium parking. The well-connected nature of the area will reduce the need for cars, particularly in new residential developments.

This clearly implies a net reduction in parking spaces.

One of our key issues is The Railway Hotel. The strategy mentions this saying

5.28. New developments must be supportive of the existing frontages on the A5/ High Street and Station Road to complement the existing Town Centre. This includes supporting the restoration of the Railway Hotel and its frontage area of hardstanding which has great potential to benefit this part of Station Road, for example through outdoor seating for a cafรฉ, restaurant or bar.

I believe there is huge potential for the space. It used to be the venue of choice for wedding parties and other family events. It is clear that for a 'Big Pub' to work, innovation is needed. We'd like to see the council enter a partnership with the owners to encourage a MicroBrewery to take over the space, using the upstairs space for community space and wedding venue usage. If Edgware had its own microbrewery, we believe this would put the area on the map for night time and leisure. The proximity of Barnet FC would make this a popular stop off point. Real Ale drinkers are well behaved and travel to try good beers. For this to work, the council will need to be far more proactive with regards to engagements with owners of such sites. The owners have clearly bought the site to redevelop. As the site is grade II listed, it must be made clear to them that this will not happen and if anything happens to the building, they will need to rebuild it in its current form. That will encourage them to do the right thing.

There are some interesting comments regarding signage in section 6.4. 

6.5 Shop signage is often too large and ill-matched with adjacent shops, visually dominating the frontages, giving an overall disjointed appearance and covering architectural features that would otherwise add character.

I agree that this is something that needs to be addressed. The Mill Hill Neighbourhood Forum tried to address this in Salcombe Gardens securing a grant for new signage. Sadly, they did not engage anyone who understoof good design and by making all the signage the same colour and design, the parade looks drably reminiscent of an East German suburb. Good signage is diverse and tasteful. Planning guidelines need to be agreed and enforced, that dictate scale and size, but are not too prescriptive.

Another section that does not reflect the new reality is section seven. This is especially true on the section about the tube.

7.6. Edgware tube station operates as an integrated interchange with the adjacent bus station with one third of tube station users arriving by bus during the morning peak. Whilst busy at peak times, and despite recent growth in entry/exit flows, the station currently operates within capacity. The trains, however, are highly congested during peak hours towards/ from central London. The station forecourt prioritises vehicles, but this does not prevent congestion and queuing onto Station Road during the peak period.
Again, we have no idea whether any of this will be true post lockdown, as we see how many people return to their former London offices.

I agree with the Council that we need a plan. I agree that there are many issues that need addressing. I agree that we need to see modal change. I agree with many of the aspirations here. But I think the council should pause this process until we can ascertain the post covid landscape. That does not mean allowing assets like the Railway Hotel to deteriorate further. These should be addressed. But how can a council have proper engagement on such an issue with Zoom meetings?  We doubt that this is properly inclusive. Many residents will not have the ability to join these. Proper public meetings are required for such important subjects, with online access for those who can't attend in person. We believe the council will leave itself open to Judicial Review if they proceed at this time in this manner.

The council response to my comments is documented in the responses - Response 10.  You can read all responses if you CLICK HERE

The Council has continued to progress planning document during the Covid-19 restrictions. The impact of Covid-19 on the town centre is acknowledged in the SPD and approaches to recovery are included. The need for Edgware to provide a much-improved leisure and cultural offer is vital to renewal of the Town Centre, along with high-quality community facilities. The Railway Hotel is a distinctive local landmark building that the SPD fully supports bringing back into a sustainably use that is beneficial to the community. A mix of housing sizes and tenures will support a diverse and family-friendly town centre. The councils carried out extensive public consultation on the SPD. Online Zoom sessions were well attended, with high levels of feedback. 

I do wonder why I bother sometimes. You spend hours drafting valid comments and they don't even seem to bother reading them.

Local Resident Mark Amies made a video detailing why this consultation is needed last January. Much has changed since then. We want this job done, but it must be done properly with full community involvement