|One creative alternative to Christmas lights|
I thought hard about adding a question mark to this entry’s heading. As the festive season gets into full swing, hundreds of Brent families remain officially homeless, while the sharp increase in possession claims continues throughout the Borough. The 92 luxury-flat gated community in Willesden Green is swiftly and mercilessly occupying our public space and skyline (no sign of the new Library last time I looked), and more -largely unaffordable- high-rise developments are in the pipeline at the Queensbury pub site, the Electric House building, and now the old Willesden Green police station. One of our popular local schools, Gladstone Park Primary is due to be privatised in April. And on top of that, we don’t even get High Street Christmas lights or decorations this year or the next. Hardly reasons to be cheerful.
Yet looking ahead into the new year, it turns out there are some glimmers of hope. People in Willesden Green and neighbouring wards have been mobilising to reverse the misery and pain designed by the ConDem coalition and delivered by our Labour-controlled Council. Brent Housing Action has established itself in a short time as the local campaign fighting racism, social cleansing and the victimisation of the most vulnerable residents in both the private and social housing sector of our Borough. The Save the Queensbury Campaign has finally –third time lucky – got Brent to recognise our community pub as an Asset of Community Value (that now makes two in the whole of the Borough). This status should count as a material consideration in the Council’s decision on planning permission, and residents’ objections to Fairview’s proposed scheme are piling up on the Planning application website. Separately, a working group issuing from the Willesden Green Town Team has recently been established to prepare a Neighbourhood Development Plan which, if supported by widespread participation, could offer residents some real power in designing our area’s built environment. Even in Gladstone Park Primary there seems to be some positive movement: six months after the Parent Action Group suggested ways to keep the school under local authority control, it seems Brent has finally listened – as of January the school will share an Executive Head with an outstanding Camden school, effectively forging a ‘soft’ federation across two local authorities.
None of this, of course, is to say these various campaigns are on a path to victory. There are all kinds of powerful obstacles in the way of making Willesden Green more democratic; in keeping our neighbourhood socially mixed, protecting and extending our public spaces and services, and defending the area from colonisation by developers. Some of these obstacles come in the shape of dismal representation from our local Councillors and the three mainstream parties. But we have an opportunity to change that at the local Council elections on 22 May 2014. Willesden Green residents will each get to vote for three candidates next year – with my own independent grassroots candidacy seeking to give electoral voice to these various local campaigns there will at least be a real alternative at the ballot box. However small, and in these times, that’s hopefully one reason to be cheerful.
If you wish to participate in building this alternative, there is a Make Willesden Green policy afternoon scheduled for Saturday 11 January 2014. Email me or sign up to our list for more details.