Monday, 8 August 2011

Babylon is Burning.

Ok: Babylon is burning, after all: update below 11pm

Apologies to the many people who have landed on this blog this afternoon and evening, looking for tales of looting and pillage in our beloved borough. Yes, riot police are standing by in Chipping Barnet, all the shops are shut and barricaded, rumours abound on twitter - but there you go. Bit of a let down, sorry.

It only goes to show, though, that Mrs Angry was completely wrong: (most unusual) - how timely was Brian Coleman's £400,000 gift, last week, from Boris to tart up Chipping's high street?

Actually: did he know something we didn't, citizens? Or is he some sort of double agent anarchist agent provocateur? (Oops, did it again: more visits from NETCU for Mrs Angry ... ) Yes, indeed, our man Brian has even been seen in Barnet this evening, no, not dressed in a balaclava, peering hopefully into the window of Poundland (sorry, reusing jokes from twitter again) but standing by the church, no doubt offering spirital guidance and words of encouragement to the disaffected youth of Broken Barnet. A Nobel Peace prize nomination in the bag, Brian, I'd say. Let's hope the great man doesn't over do things, though, in his missionary zeal: as Wesley, the father of Methodism, once remarked:

'Catch on fire with enthusiasm, and people will come for miles to watch you burn ...'

Mrs Angry is sure that the local firefighters will be pleased to see Councillor Coleman, should their assistance be needed this evening.

Back in the real world, it has been a busy and interesting day for local news stories.

Labour GLA candidate Andrew Dismore issued another press release in regard to the MetPro scandal, and the wider implications for the future of One Barnet:

Dismore launches Metpro inquiry e-campaign

Andrew Dismore. Labour candidate for the London Assembly for Barnet and Camden, has today launched a new online campaign to fight for an inquiry into Barnet council’s contracting procedures, with particular reference to MetPro. The campaign can be accessed at and is directed at Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP.

Mr Dismore said:

“As Barnet is now planning the wholesale privatisation of Council services, it is vital that there are proper contracting and compliance arrangements in place to protect the Council’s taxpayers.

Under the watch of the MPs for Finchley and for Hendon when they were Barnet Councillors, due to poor contracting the Council lost tens of millions in failed Iceland investments and through the Aerodrome Road overspend. Now we have the MetPro scandal and concerns over some care services providers.

Whilst the appointed external auditor is monitoring in private the Council’s processes, this is not good enough.

We need to restore public confidence in the Council’s ability to protect residents from scams, dodgy companies, profiteering and overspends, an ability the Council has so far failed to demonstrate under the present Conservative administration.

It is now up to Eric Pickles MP, the Secretary of State to clean out Barnet’s Augean Stables by setting ip a public inquiry into what has been going on and to learn lessons for the future.

I am sure many people share this view, and this online campaign now gives Barnet residents and even those from further afield who are concerned about standards in local government, to back my call for an inquiry”.

For further information call Andrew Dismore 07957 625 813

(and if Mrs Angry was giving Mr Dismore a performance appraisal, he would score an extra five marks for the reference to the Augean Stables, which sadly will float right over the empty heads of our culturally challenged Tory councillors, but is indeed a fitting metaphor for the state of things here in Broken Barnet.)

Also in the news, another press release from a Mr Dennis Pepper in relation to a worrying threat to the Dollis Valley Greenwalk:


"The Friends of Windsor Open Space today condemned Barnet Council’s move to turn a five mile section of the Dollis Valley Greenwalk from a footpath to a footpath and cycleway combined.

The award winning Dollis Valley Greenwalk, which stretches some 10 miles fromMoat Mount to Hampstead Heath extension, was created nearly 20 years ago bthe London Borough of Barnet. It has always been a dedicated walk although there is a separate cycle track through the Brook Farm section.

In 2008 the DVGW was one of 46 projects shortlisted for a £400,000 grant in Mayor Boris Johnson’s priority parks scheme. Only the ten most popular schemes would secure a grant.

Jenny Warren, Barnet’s Greenspaces Service Manager, turned to Friends of Windsor Open Space to secure the necessary votes. After ensuring that the proposal would indeed improve the walk and did not include a cycle route, FoWOS put its considerable weight behind a month-long campaign to bring in the votes.

And the DVGW secured a grant.

The Greenspaces Manager then entered into an arrangement with TfL to turn most of the walk into a joint walk/cycle path. “As TfL came waving a cheque for £250.000 it’s easy to see the temptation”, says FoWOS chairman Dennis Pepper, “but not the decision to renege on voters. It is quite clear what people voted for and it wasn’t to have cyclists on the walk.”

FoWOS approached Pam Wharfe, Interim Director of Environment, who came up with the ingenious solution that it is all right if cycling is permitted so long as it’s not promoted. Not as far as walkers are concerned it isn’t.

Brian Coleman, Barnet’s controversial councillor for the Environment, signed off the agreement with the GLA even though it incorporated cycling alongside walking. But then it would. It was compiled by Greenspace officers.

Dennis Pepper points out that Cllr Coleman will be asking for votes if he stands for re-election to the London Assembly next year. “Will he expect to take his place if he secures the most votes, or will he be happy for officers to arrange for someone else to do so if they think this would benefit more residents?”

FoWOS also approached Cllr Cornelius, newly elected council leader. He at least was willing to meet and talk and appeared to understand that there was a serious matter of principle involved. But he said he thought it ‘sensible to use funds to the maximum advantage for pedestrians and cyclists.’ Apparently he could not see that the funding to improve the walk for pedestrians did not include cyclists, for whom there are already alternative routes.

“That”, adds Dennis Pepper, “was six weeks ago. Since then – silence.”

The deception continues in the current issue of barnetfirst. Here we are told that phase one of the footpath improvements has been completed and that phase two is about to start. Not a whisper about introducing cyclists. If this is what people read they will think they are still getting what they voted for."

Mrs Angry has every sympathy with Dennis Pepper and his objections. Apart from the point of principle here, where the agreement with residents has been compromised, this sneaky imposition of a cycle lane on the footpath is completely inappropriate. Mrs Angry suspects that neither Cabinet Member Brian Coleman nor his trusty little helper, 'interim' Director of Environment Pam Wharfe, have fully considered the access and health and safety implications for the impact on walkers, especially the elderly, those with young children, and the disabled. This footpath was intended for walkers to enjoy, and the safety and suitability of the footpath for their needs should be paramount. But then, for these matters to be appreciated would require a real understanding of the process of consultation, and a sense of respect for the residents that our Tory councillors are theoretically supposed to represent.

And that is not how we do things here, in Broken Barnet, is it, citizens?

*Update 11pm:

Broken Barnet may not be rioting yet, but locations all around us are reported to be affected by trouble, from Kilburn to Camden Town, Chalk Farm, Harrow, and who knows where else. Who knows what to believe? Chipping Barnet appears to have stayed calm, having taken pre emptive action, as did Friern Retail Park just along from here. Certainly we haven't heard the perpertual sirens wailing like we did last night, rusing up to Enfield. On the other hand, there is a rumour of a torched car in Finchley, and Tescos has shut up: unheard of. There are rumours of trouble in Edgware. Not so far away in other boroughs, the BBC is just telling us, parts of London are a no-go area. Just extraordinary.

Surely these events prove beyond all doubt the necessity of supporting our emergency services and reviewing in particular the Mayor's threatened cuts to policing levels in London? While our Coalition politicians are away enjoying their lovely holidays, back here, right here, right now, Babylon really is burning.

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