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Asian Voice: The Swaminarayan Museum, Amdavad

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In the last ten days from dreadful weather in London to pleasant pre-summer break in Mumbai and Amdavad has been very refreshing for me. The added bonus to this and my prime purpose of the current visit to India this time is to attend opening of a Swaminarayan Museum in my hometown of Amdavad. At the time of putting together this column the Museum has not opened formally but due to open today (Tuesday 8th March). I’ve just returned from the Museum this morning after Narendrabhai Modi the Chief Minister’s visit prior to the formal celebratory cultural programmes this evening.

 

Las week I’ve had the privilege of conversations with both Mota Maharajshri (Bapji Tejendraprasadji) and Acharya Maharajshri Koshalendraprasadji Pande. In advance of the formal opening when I was also afforded an opportunity to do some photography of the Museum. I will be compiling a further report of the museum with photographs shortly but in the meantime here are glimpses of what I’ve seen and learnt:

 

The museum has collection of the old antiques and memorabilia associated with the Swaminarayan Sampraday. It was the vision of the Mota Maharajshri to have a ‘central  collection and display place’ for a range of historic memorabilia / old historic items currently scattered throughout Gujarat and other areas of India, often neglected and requiring restoration and lacking in access to community. The concept for this Museum was first thought of by Mota Maharajshri about 7 to 8 year ago around the time when he came across a handwritten document on one rupee stamp paper dated 20th March 1825 witnessed by Sahjanand Swami himself giving power of attorney to Kuberdas. This historic document gradually started the process gradually collecting important historic items belonging to Swami Sahjanand Maharaj and other significant people plus marking key historic and important events. Acquisition of collection itself then started the process of authentification and restoration of articles. Restoration issue being a big problem it was felt at the very early stage that the Museum should have its own dedicated restoration laboratory.  

 

One might consider the process of collection of articles for Museum a mere mechanical / technical exercise but for Mota Maharajshri every article in the Museum is a ‘Prasadi’ (a divine offering) to be shared by everyone. The Museum according to Acharyashri is evolved with the idea of bringing awareness to the masses. He does not want the religion itself to be ‘cocooned’; he wants the Museum to be a focal point for humanity and be inclusive attracting the wider community. The Museum is also evolved as a ‘green project’ including measures such as rainwater-harvesting, solar energy and energy from wind turbines.

 

A brief site visit accompanied by Karsanbhai of Laxcon Construction (Builders of the project) gave the following account of the facilities and key displays:

  • Seven Halls comprising the Main Hall, an Auditorium seating 100 people, Space for Projects/Events allowing use by outside organisations and  Exhibition Halls for displays.
  • Laboratory for Restoration work.
  •  The main hall – central feature of the museum has the 5 most significant displays of items belonging to Sahjanand Swami e.g. a tooth, hair and nails.

 

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The key motto of the Museum is ‘Preserve PLUS’ which sums up the ethos behind this innovative project aimed at being inclusive and reaching out to the wider section of the community.

You can find out more about the new museum here.

Asian Voice: Multiculturalism = Harmony & Respect

 

A wide range of views have been expressed in the Asian Voice addings to the debate on multiculturalism and I’m happy to add my voice. The debate has found some strange beldfellows like the Prime Minister and Trevor Phillips portraying multicultrasim as some form of evil which in view and experience is at the best dangerous distortion of what multicultural values actually stand for. I firmly believe multicultural values and ethos have strengthened our nation by bringing closer different cultures and religions and made a valuable contribution by instilling harmony and respect. Britain has benifitteded from multicultarism and put it on the map as an example for other nations by championing the cause of diversity and cohesion. This I say as a proud British for the last 35 years.

 

I welcome the debate but find it wholly wrong and very disturbing when the Prmime Minister talking on multiculturalism links it with terrorism as though it has aided terrorism. Such comments and attitudes divide and offend the community rather than helping cohesive. No Mr Prime Minsister, the so called ‘state doctrine of multicultarism’ has not ‘encouraged different cultures to live sperate lives’. On the contrary multiculturaism has over the years nourished the diverse values and made a vital contribution in gradually establishing different communties. Trevor Phillip’s assertion that multicultural values somehow breeds ‘seperateness’ is complete nonsense becuase multicultrasim has meant integration of differrent ethnic and religious groups and developed our own brand of community that has seen us living in a spirit of harmony and respect for all. Often America, which has longer history of ‘immigrant’ community settling in the USA, is portrayed as a great example of integration. But when analysed closley all is not well on this front in America. One only needs to examine ‘ghettoes’ in America and the no go areas in places like New York and Washington to see how bad the issues of discrimination and divisions in the community  are. Lord Dolar Popat is way off the mark in his assessment when he describes multcultarism advocating division in the British Society. In my view it is the very multicultural approach which has provided a platform for assimilation and our brand of identity which I believe is very positive and unique.

 

Sadiq Khan MP has added an interesting dimension to this debate recently through the launch of a new campaign "One Society, Many Cultures” with leading politicians religious leaders, trade unionists and anti-racist campaigners pledging to stand up against division and hatred and defend the right to freedom of thought, religion and culture. Ken Livingstone, who’s been a genuine supporter of the great multicultural nation that we are, has made a passionate plea on this matter saying "The launch of One Society Many Cultures could not be more timely. Britain's history is riddled with examples of communities being vilified, from the Jewish refugees of the early 20th century being accused of bringing diseases here, to the "No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs" signs that were common place in the 1960s. We have made huge progress but there is always a backlash. All communities make a choice about the way they live their lives; that is why cities like London are socially, culturally and economically competitive on the world stage. This is a template for the future of humanity. The British identity is the biggest mixing bowl in human history. This is what makes it successful”.

Having lived in Brent and Harrow all my ‘UK life’ I say that we in these Boroughs have shining demonstration of multicultural communities cherishing our diversity and living together shoulder to shoulder, There are undeniable issues about terrorism and much work is needed to tackle this but let’s not knock multicultural values.

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22nd February 2011

Asian Voice Column: Boris' Christmas Present: Fare Hikes

 

Since Sunday 2nd January London’s commuters have been hit with huge increase in fares demonstrating yet again Mayor Boris Johnson’s lack of concern for ordinary working Londoners.

 

The Mayor is consistent when it comes to fares increases. Three years running he’s burdened London’s commuters with fare rises unprecedented since the creation of Transport for London (TfL). The rises in bus, underground and over-ground trains were described as “unacceptable” by passenger watchdog for London ‘TravelWatch’ two years ago and is true for this year too. 

 

Following last year’s 20% fare rise, single bus fares have risen by yet another ten pence to £1.30 for a pay-as-you-go journey. A weekly bus pass has gone up from £16.60 to £17.80.  Single one zone tube fares including zone 1 now costs an extra ten pence, at £1.90.

 

Once again, it’s bus passengers who are feeling the pinch of these increases. When Boris Johnson became Mayor, it cost 90p for a single pay-as-you-go Oyster bus journey – it now costs £1.30 – that’s an increase of 44%. At the same time, we know that Transport for London are reducing bus subsidy and even cutting the miles that our bus services will cover – we are quite simply paying more and getting less. TfL and the Mayor say these latest inflation-busting increases are necessary given budget pressures, but the Mayor has just scrapped the Western extension of the congestion charge zone, which was bringing in £7million a year. Instead some of London’s lowest paid workers – who tend to rely on the bus as the most affordable form of transport will be footing the bill instead – and getting a worse service for it!

 

Rail commuters will also feel the pinch this year, as the Chancellor recently announced rail fare increases of three per cent above inflation. It all adds up to a not very happy new year present from the Mayor to Londoners. The Mayor of London is hitting Londoners hard just as they are being told their services will be cut and jobs will be lost. These are the people the Mayor should be protecting - people who have to use public transport every day. Instead we have a Mayor who defends the bankers and has put bus fares up a massive forty-four per cent since he was elected.

 

Londoner’s misery is compounded by the Mayor’s decision to close a large number of ticket offices or drastically reduce opening hours and reduce staffing by at least 800 who are managing these stations. Mayor Johnson’s U turn is deplorable as this goes against his own election pledges and makes many of our stations, particularly ones in the Outer London areas, inconvenient and unsafe. For those who use Jubilee and Metropolitan lines know the misery from never ending weekend closures and often faulty trains during weekdays.  Whilst London’s commuters pay the hugely inflated fares for its poor public transport service the Mayor has also shelved projects to make stations fully accessible for families, older and disabled in our community. Key examples my constituency are Harrow On the Hill station which is a major public transport hub also a prime candidate for regeneration of the town centre and Stanmore station linked with world renown Royal National Orthopedic Hospital and Aspire.

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10th January 2011

Asian Voice Column - January 2011

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By Navin Shah AM

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Beauty of living in London, a multicultural – multi-faith world city, is the privilege of being able to celebrate a wide range of festivals and religious days. In this sense autumn period (October to December) is very special to us when great holy days, interwoven with cultural/social events originating from many religions such as Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Jewish and Christian are upon us. This is the period when we have opportunity to remember and respect the great values different faiths offer. Bearing this in mind – I hope all Asian Readers have enjoyable and restful Christmas period and gear up for the many challenges in the coming year. Merry Xmas and warm wishes for a happy and peaceful New Year.    

BETRAYAL OF STUDENTS

Shame that the Christmas present for students, from the Tory and LibDem government, is £9,000 Tuition fees. Whilst I’m happy to have debate about the merits or demerits of tuition fees  – I find the shear treachery and hypocrisy on this issue on the part of the LibDems disgusting. During the general election campaign Nick Clegg signed the NUS Petition against tuition fees, but after becoming Deputy Prime Minister he lent and lead his support to the Tory proposals to levy huge financial burden on aspiring University students. How appropriate Ed Miliband called Nick Clegg a ‘crypto Tory’.

Brent Central’s LibDem MP Sarah Teather has followed her Leader’s route of betrayal. Worth reminding the readers that before the last election she vowed to vote against tuition fees and in her maiden speech in 2003 Ms Teather stated “Top-up and tuition fees are serious issues of concern to my constituents. All the evidence suggests that fear of debt will deter those from lower income families and ethnic minority communities. This is particularly the case for Muslims - a large community in my constituency - where attitudes to debt are very different. Fundamentally, I believe that this is about whether we want to encourage a world class education system, or a class based education system where students choose universities according to their ability to pay, and universities are judged on the level of their fees.” The level of hypocrisy of Sarah Teather is staggering. This ‘politician of principle’ when push came to shove betrayed the students and put her party and her own career before ideals. Brent is one of the most deprived local authorities in the country and we should be actively encouraging our young people to go to university – not put them off by pricing them out. Its clear Sarah Teather cannot be trusted on the issue of both principle and her election pledges.

In the same class is the Tory MP Bob Blackman. During the election campaign, I witnessed at a Hustings at Westminster University Campus in Harrow, Bob Blackman promising to vote against any hike in tuition fees. I am astounded but not surprised that having got elected now - he too has done a complete U-Turn on this issue. You’d think that signing the NUS pledge must prove embarrassing for Bob Blackman. But, his recent comments suggest that he has no shame even after so disgracefully letting students down. It’s blatantly obvious that Mr Blackman’s pledge was motivated for election success and not driven by ideology. 

Boris Johnson: extending no 18 bus to Northwick Park Hospital not 'good value for money'

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By Jack Royston

EXTENDING a bus route from Sudbury to a Harrow hospital would not be “good value for money”, according to the London Mayor.

Boris Johnson was asked by Navin Shah, London Assembly member for Brent and Harrow, about the possibility of running the number 18 as far as Northwick Park Hospital, in Watford Road.

Mr Shah told the Mayor's Question Time meeting how residents had contacted him to say they found changing buses “difficult” and were in “desperate need of a solution”.

But Mr Johnson, who chairs the board of Transport for London (TfL), said the £1.3m annual price tag would be too high.

He said: “There is an existing high-frequency service on route 182 and convenient interchange between routes 18 and 182, at the same stop in many cases.

“Therefore, extending route 18 to the hospital would not represent good value for money.”

Mr Shah said: “I understand that previously this has been dismissed because route 182 already serves the Hospital.

“However, the interchange between route 18 and 182 is difficult and patients and visitors to the hospital are in desperate need of a simpler solution.

“They would like the Mayor to extend route 18 to Northwick Park Hospital.”

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26th December 2010

LU claim ticket office sales continue to fall

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By Martin Hoscik

With RMT union members expected to demonstrate outside City Hall this morning over planned ticket office closures, London Underground bosses have published new figures suggesting ticket office sales have fallen by 15 per cent during the last year.

The unions and LU are currently in dispute over plans to close ticket offices with transport bosses insisting rising levels of Oyster use mean fewer ticket office transactions are taking place.

Plans to close ticket offices were first announced by former-Mayor Ken Livingstone in June 2007. During 2008′s Mayoral election, Boris Johnson opposed the plans, signing a petition against the closures and making a manifesto pledge to stop them.

During the election Mayor Johnson wrote: “Ken Livingstone plans to close a large number of ticket offices at Tube stations, predominantly in outer London because he claims that the increase in Oyster use has made them surplus to requirements. However, what he has not taken into account is that local people feel it is important there is a manned ticket office at their station, as often there are not enough Oyster outlets in the local area.”

However earlier this year Transport for London unveiled similar plans to those previously condemned by the Mayor, leading to unions and political opponents accusing him of breaking his promise to Londoners.

Questioned over his u-turn by Labour Assembly Member Navin Shah at Mayor’s Question Time in March this year, Mayor Johnson claimed to have “no idea what the position of the previous Mayor was on this” and defended the closures.

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Hear Navin interviewed about the RMT Tube Workers' protest outside City Hall on 15 December here.

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15th December 2010

Mayor to face AMs and RMT at December Mayor’s Questions

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By Martin Hoscik

 

Mayor of London Boris Johnson will appear before the London Assembly on Wednesday morning for the final Mayor’s Question Time of 2010.  

Despite the closeness of Christmas, there’s little sign of festive goodwill in the listed questions with Green Party AM Darren Johnson wanting to know whether the Mayor will sack Fire Authority Chair Brian Coleman and AMs from all parties set to ask about the Government’s cuts to Mayor’s budget.

Labour’s Navin Shah wants an undertaking “that there will be no cuts to fire appliance provision in the current financial year, nor in the financial year 2011/2012″ while Conservative AM Tony Arbour is set to ask for an update “on negotiations with Government regarding the funding for economic development work in London” following reductions in the London Development Agency’s budget.

Still on the issue of the LDA and funding, Labour’s Murad Qureshi will ask how the Mayor will “see to it” that London retains its strengths in the low carbon economy without the LDA’s money, while LibDem Mike Tuffrey wants to know how he plans to “prioritise front line services and cut wasteful expenditure” in his forthcoming GLA budget.

Recent student demos will also be raised with Brian Coleman inviting the Mayor to agree that “there is no place for violence” in any protest. Expect AMs to seek Boris’s view on the reported possible use of water cannon to quell future unrest.

Before AMs ask their questions, the members of the RMT union will be staging a demonstration outside City Hall in protest at plans to close ticket offices on the Tube and job reductions.

Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary, said: “Over 900 days into his leadership of this City he has failed to have a single meeting with the tube unions and on Wednesday we will be taking our message to stop the cuts right to Boris Johnson’s doorstep.”

Hear Navin interviewed about the RMT Tube Workers' protest outside City Hall on 15 December here.

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13th December 2010

ColArt 'welcomes' council efforts to find Harrow home after Winsor and Newton factory closes

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By Jack Royston

AN art company due to close its Wealdstone factory has “welcomed” efforts by Harrow Council to find a home in the borough for its headquarters.

Colart will make 190 people redundant when it shuts Winsor and Newton, in Whitefriars Avenue, but says it will base its headquarters, museum and research and development facilities in Britain.

The council is hoping to keep the company in the borough, preventing 80 jobs from going elsewhere, and there is a possibility artist studios and a gallery will be set up.

Neil Robson, managing director of ColArt, said: “We welcome the continued support of Harrow Council to find a suitable location for our head office group and look forward to continued discussions with them on this.”

Councillor Bill Stephenson, leader of the council, said: “While we are disappointed that Colart has decided to move its manufacturing operations, the company is retaining up to 80 staff in its headquarters and we believe there is an excellent case for those jobs to stay in Harrow.

“We are offering the company all the help available to find new premises in the borough, and we will, of course, continue to support those staff facing redundancy.”

The factory, which has been open since 1937, supplies Prince Charles' household and Winsor and Newton was given a royal warrant by Queen Victoria in 1841.

But the site will close by the end of 2011, with phased reductions in staff starting in January.

ColArt says Wealdstone is too residential an area to allow it to expand its operation and is therefore moving manufacturing to Le Mans, in France.

Cllr Stephenson, Councillor Phil O'Dell, Navin Shah, London Assembly member for Brent and Harrow, and Mark Billington, head of the council's economic unit, met the company on Thursday.

AND

Navin Shah says:

I had previously met with trade union representatives at ColArt to discuss the future of the business and the job security of their members. Whilst disappointed that ColArt has decided to move production to France, I am pleased to see that the staff currently working in the headquarters will not be losing their jobs.

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22nd November 2010

Brian Coleman to be questioned over freebie dinners with strike-breaking firm

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By Ross Lydall

Fun and games are expected at Thursday's meeting of the London fire authority.

First, a delegation of women firefighters will protest outside the 2pm meeting to demand the reinstatement of Sian Griffiths, who has been suspended on an alleged charge of bullying a strike-breaking woman colleague.

Ms Griffiths, 50, right, described by the brigade as a "trailblazer", was escorted off the premises just two days after receiving the Queen's Fire Service Medal at Buckingham Palace. She has received more than 600 messages of support since I broke the story last week.

The meeting itself could prove awkward for the authority's Tory chairman, Brian Coleman. Darren Johnson, a Green member of the London Assembly, is demanding an investigation into two notorious incidents of firefighters being injured on the picket line during the two recent FBU walk-outs.

(i) Question 257 from Councillor Darren Johnson AM (Green Party):
Will the Chairman request the Commissioner undertakes a formal investigation, including an independent element, of the following reported incidents during industrial action on 1 November: 1 of 3
a) firefighter hit by a car at Croydon Fire Station, and withholding of first aid equipment; b) FBU London representative and firefighter hit by fire engines at Southwark Fire Station
And will the Chairman ensure that the findings of such an investigation are published?

UPDATE Nov 19: At yesterday's meeting Mr Coleman answered: "No." Darren Johnson accused him of "pouring oil on the flames" of the unresolved fire dispute by suggesting axeing 27 engines, describing the proposal as "just plain barking mad". He told Mr Coleman: "You have become so addicted to conflict it's become your way of life... it's become a drug for you."

In addition, Labour's Navin Shah is asking a potentially embarrassing question about the (declared) hospitality received by Mr Coleman from Asset Co, the private firm that won a £12 million deal to provide emergency fire cover and whose contractors stood in for striking firefighters.

The dinners, at Shepherd's restaurant in Westminster, a favourite hang-out of MPs, were all from Asset Co chief exec John Shannon (left). In January this year the pair changed venues - opting instead for Green's restaurant in Duke Street, Mayfair.

It could of course be argued that it made sense for the pair to meet regularly in advance of signing a contract using such vast sums of public money. What's more, the sums are modest - more than can be said of the bill racked up by former FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist at the Cinnamon Club. I also expect Mr Coleman, right, to have worked out with lawyers in advance how to rule the question out of order. Here's Navin's question:

Councillor Navin Shah AM (Leader, Labour Group):
The recent press coverage concerning the hospitality outlined below which was received by you from Asset Co prior to the award of a contract:
· Lunch to a value of £25 on 30 October 2007
· Dinner to a value of £50 on 23 July 2008
· A Harvey Nichols hamper to a value of £350 on 24 December 2008
· Dinner to a value of £40 on 19 January 2009
has been highly critical. Do you now accept that these actions reflect poor judgement and a lack of sensitivity on your part and will you now assure Londoners that such damaging conduct will not be repeated in the future?

UPDATE Nov 19: Mr Coleman replied: "I would have thought that the Member would have used the Chairman's Questions opportunity to raise important issues of Authority policy." He added: "My entirely proper relationship with AssetCo will continue."

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16th November 2010

Labour rival calls for Mayor Boris Johnson to sack Barnet's Brian Coleman as head of the London Fire Authority

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By Alex Hayes

THE leading Labour representative on the London Fire Authority has called on Boris Johnson to “reconsider” Brian Coleman's position as chairman.

Navin Shah, the Brent and Harrow London Assembly member, welcomed firefighters calling off today's planned 47-hour walkout after a dispute about hours.

The Fire Brigade Union and LFA will now sit down for talks later this month, with hopes of a resolution to the problem.

Mr Shah said: ““Mayor Boris Johnson and his confrontational and aggressive fire authority Chairman have massively hindered the negotiation process.

“The Mayor should take control of this situation and re-consider Brian Coleman’s position.

“The longer he is in place the less likely it is an agreement will be reached to bring this dispute to an end.”

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5th November 2010

Firefighters call off Bonfire Night and Diwali strikes

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By James Cracknell

HARROW and Brent have been spared a potentially dangerous clash of Diwali, Bonfire Night and a strike by firefighters as union bosses called off the industrial action over fears for public safety.

The Fire Brigade's Union (FBU) and the LFB have now agreed to sit down to try and resolve their differences at an independently chaired meeting on November 16.

Union leader Matt Wrack said the strike was called off amid growing concerns over private contractor AssetCo's ability to cope and fears for public safety,

He said: "We have listened to the concerns about public safety and we have watched the work of the private contractors who are supposed to protect Londoners with mounting concern."

London fire commissioner Ron Dobson said: "My intention has always been to reach an agreement on proposals that will make Londoners safer and firefighters safer.

"Going to an independently-chaired body to help us seek a way forward is a step in the right direction."

LFB issued a notice to 5,500 London fireifighters in August explaining that their existing contracts would be terminated in November, with new shift patterns and working conditions issued instead.

The brigade had earlier won a High Court injunction placing restrictions on FBU picket lines, to allow stand-in crews from AssetCo to access fire stations unobstructed.

Reacting on Friday (5), Labour’s leader on the London Fire Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) said he welcomed the FBU’s decision.

Kenton East councillor Navin Shah, also London Assembly member for Harrow and Brent, said: “This is excellent news.

"I very much welcome the positive and responsible approach by the FBU in agreeing to the mediation meeting on 16 November.

"I have been urging all parties to get round the table and talk as nothing short of a negotiated settlement will do.”

Mr Shah had ealrier slammed fire brigade bosses for their treatment of firefighters.

“Mayor Boris Johnson and his confrontational and aggressive fire authority chairman have massively hindered the negotiation process.

"The mayor should take control of this situation and reconsider Brian Coleman’s position.

"The longer he is in place the less likely it is an agreement will be reached to bring this dispute to an end.”

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5th November 2010

Brent Cross Cricklewood : £4.5 billion regen project signed off

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By Glenn McMahon

 

A £4.5 billion regeneration project was given the go-ahead after a council agreed the finer details to an additional £1 billion worth of investment by the developer.

Barnet Council’s approval comes after a decade of meetings, reports and negotiations that have raised fierce opposition across several north London boroughs to aspects of the Brent Cross Cricklewood development.

The Coalition for a Sustainable BCC Plan (CSBCCP) have continually criticised elements of the plans including: a waste handling facility or incinerator, that will burn waste next to a Brent primary school; pollution, caused by an additional 29,000 car journeys made to the area and the negative impact on local businesses.

The developer, which disputes the Coalition’s findings, says the project will create thousands of jobs and homes in an area in desperate need of investment.

Lia Colacicco, co-ordinator of the CSBCCP, said: “This controversial scheme is based on last century assumptions about housing, transport and mega shopping centres. With capacity for additional retail space in London already under intense scrutiny, why double the Brent Cross shopping centre causing further devastation of local high streets across north and west London.”

While outline permission has been agreed, each building must still go before planning committees for approval where opposition groups say they will fight them individually.

Ms Colacicco said: “This is a sad day for local democracy, but people still have the chance to fight this development building by building - starting with the incinerator.”

The additional investment secured by Barnet Council, called S106 agreements, includes £515.5 for new transport infrastructure and the Waste Handling facility.

The Coalition says the money will encourage more car usage and the opportunity to build a light railway system that would improve links across north London and help reduce pollution and traffic has been missed.

Navin Shah, Labour party Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow, said: “The planning process has been a complete shambles from start to finish. Every single authority responsible for the assessment of the planning application has abjectly failed.

“My constituents are now left facing the prospect of hugely increased traffic and congestion, and an incinerator with a 140m high chimney, equivalent to a 50-storey tower block on their doorsteps.”

A further £189 million will be spent on ‘environmental measures’, £112m on ground clean-up and waste disposal, £109m on community and social infrastructure and £38.5m on public open and green space.

Jonathan Joseph, spokesman for the Brent Cross Cricklewood Development Partners, said: “Now that we have secured planning approval we can start to address key conditions of the Section 106 Agreement in addition to other detailed work necessary to facilitate a start on site in around four years time. A vital part of our work moving forward will be engagement with local people and the wider community to ensure that everyone is fully involved with and informed of our plans.”

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1st November 2010

Striking firefighters in Hendon and Finchley welcome support during eight hour walk out

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By Kevin Bradford

FIREFIGHTERS at picket lines today welcomed the public's support towards their strike and urged Brigade bosses to hold further talks in a bid to avert future action.

Crews across the borough stood outside their fire stations in a show of solidarity against the London Fire Brigade's (LFB) plans to change shift patterns under the threat of redundancies.

Dozens of staff turned out this morning at each station for a peaceful protest after 11th hour talks between the LFB and the union collapsed.

Steve Renny, Fire Brigade Union (FBU) representative for Finchley station, said: “We are all disappointed we didn't reach an agreement yesterday.

“We don't want to be out on strike today or on November 5, but if that is what it takes to hold on to our jobs.

“We are hoping the public will be behind us and realise this isn't about money, it is purely about our start and finish times and getting a good time for our members and their families.

“We will talk to them but without the threat of the sack. Remove that, and we would call off the strikes immediately.”

Fire brigade union bosses said yesterday the London Fire Brigade (LFB) “point blank refused” to lift the threat to sack 5,500 firefighters.

Crews from Hendon Fire Station set up a stool outside their station in The Burroughs, and were receiving beeps and waves of support from passers by.

Shaun Powell, the station's union representative, said: “The response from the public has been very good. People have been supportive of us.

“We are always disappointed we have to strike. If it was avoidable then we would do it. We are all prepared to change, but we don't want change for change sake.

“We all accept changes to shift patterns are going to happen, but that negotiation should not be done with a gun to our heads.”

Cover throughout the day was provided by private firm AssetCo, and crews were located at Tottenham and Wembley to respond to 999 calls in the north London area.

But Mr Renny said if AssetCo staff had been drafted into his station, there would have been no displays of aggression.

He said: “If they had come here, we would have let them know what they're doing and politely asked them not to cross the picket line.

“We just wanted to explain that our jobs are at risk.”

A statement from the LFB confirmed the contingency plans were rolled out this morning and that all 162 contract staff providing fire and rescue service across London were available or waiting to be deployed by 11am, an hour after the strike started.

A total of 27 fully crewed appliances were operating and responding to 999 calls across the city until 6pm when the strike ends.

Navin Shah AM, Labour Leader on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, today urged the union to re-think their strike, planned for bonfire night, and called for Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to replace the authority's chair, Barnet Councillor Brian Coleman.

Mr Shah said: “The confrontational, unnecessarily aggressive approach of Brian Coleman has been matched by the absence of Boris Johnson. It’s been a complete shambles. Relations with the union should never have reached this dire state.

“The best way to diffuse the current situation would be for the Mayor to install new leadership at the Fire Authority and engage with the FBU.”

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1st November 2010

Plea to end fire brigade dispute

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By James Cracknell

A HARROW councillor has called on London mayor Boris Johnson to end the 'deplorable' stand-off between firefighters and their bosses.

While Harrow and Brent escaped unscathed from Saturday's strike, another is due to begin on Monday and a contentious third has been pencilled in for Bonfire Night weekend, one of the busiest of the year.

If the increasingly fractious negotiations between the London FireBrigade (LFB) and the Fire Brigade's Union (FBU) come to no resolution before November 26, 5,500 firefighters face being sacked.

Councillor Navin Shah (Kenton East) sits on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority board, opposite its Conservative chairman Brian Coleman.

He told the Observer this week: "There has been a complete vacuum at the political level, including the mayor of London.

"I have been demanding all along that the chairman and the mayor open adialogue with the FBU."

The industrial dispute centres on a bid by the LFB to terminate existing contracts and re-issue firefighters with new shift patterns and working conditions.

Mr Shah said he blamed the mayor for conspiring with Mr Coleman, the Conservative fire chairman Mr Johnson appointed in 2008, on the termination of contracts.

He continued: "This is deplorable. It is the third biggest fire brigade in the world, you would have thought they wouldn't want a major confrontation.

"It doesn't help with the kind of language the chairman is using: 'either you sign up or your contract will be scrapped'.

"The change to shifts does need to happen, there isn't a disagreement about that, but it is how you go about it.

"My fear is that both the mayor and the chairman have been spoiling for a fight."

But Mr Coleman has denied that the decision to sack firefighters was about making job losses. "The FBU have placed firefighters in a terrible position," he said.

"We asked for a meeting with national negotiators on November 5, and the union has responded with a strike.

"There are no cuts, no job losses, this is about reducing a 15-hour night shift, adding those hours to the day shift and doing more community safety work and firefighter training."

Mr Shah himself admitted the choice of date for a 47-hour strike was inappropriate. He added: "It is unfortunate they have gone for November 5, which also happens to be Diwali, when Hindus celebrate with fireworks.

"I understand they want the strike to bite but I think they have miscalculated it."

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28th October 2010

Firework displays jeopardised over strike

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By Glenn McMahon

FIREWORK displays across London could be jeopardised after firemen announced plans to strike over bonfire weekend.

FIREWORK displays across London could be jeopardised or forced to scale down after firemen announced plans to strike over bonfire weekend.

Brent Council’s safety officers ruled the annual event in Roundwood Park could go ahead without a bonfire.

A spokesman for Brent Council said it would consider hiring a private fire-company as cover depending on the cost.

London’s 5,600 firemen will also walk-out on Monday, November 1, as the dispute over working conditions continues.

Strike action was voted for after employers, the London Fire Brigade, sent out formal notices, in August, stating contracts would be terminated if negotiations were not completed within three months.

Firemen would then have to reapply for their jobs under new contracts.

The LFB says it has been trying to agree changes to shift patterns and ‘outdated’ allowances to make more time for community safety work and training.

The Fire Brigade Union says talks were progressing but were forced to take action over the shock move.

The Government announced a 25 per cent cut from fire and rescue service budgets last week over the next four years but said this figure could be reduced if flexible working arrangements, pay restraint and recruitment freezes were implemented.

On Saturday, London fire-crews picketing stations were replaced by 27 fire-engines and 162 contracted firemen.

However, London Fire Commissioner, Ron Dobson, accused strikers of harassment, intimidation and violence towards the contractors.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said the accusations were unfounded.

A decision on whether to allow the termination of contracts or to extend negotiations will be taken by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, made up of 17 London Councillors and two mayoral appointees, at a meeting on November 18.

Navin Shah, London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow and leader of the Labour group on the LFEPA, said: “The problem is a lack of political leadership. They have been spoiling for a fight; London doesn’t need it. We should be looking at how we can diffuse the situation and then see what the best way forward is.”

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26th October 2010

Asian Voice Column - October 2010

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By Navin Shah AM

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT BETRAYAL

Before lecturing Labour Party on its commitment to change and fairness LibDems ought to look at their own record of betrayal of voters. In the coalition government it hasn’t taken much long for LibDems to ditch their flagship pledges and policies.  Ed Miliband has been absolutely right in calling Nick Clegg a “crypto Tory” for selling out to Tories.

Since the election we have seen U-turns after U-turns from Liberal Democrats. A select list of their brain-melting volte-face include : Supporting deep and fast cuts in public services when they claimed they supported Labour’s commitment to spending in the first year after the election to boost economic growth rather than axing public services; Scrapping longstanding commitment to tuition fees – a pledge which they claimed had been ‘fully costed’; increase in VAT to 20% which they claimed  they had no plans for;; Supporting non-workable controversial Tory plan to cap non-EU immigration when they claimed they opposed this and supported Labour’s Australian style points based system and Dropping their opposition to Trident Nuclear missiles.

In the post-election period I expressed my fear that the core values held by the LibDems would be ‘watered down or even totally lost’ to enable them to hang on to power. LibDems should be concerned about how they’ve totally wrecked public trust rather than lecturing Ed Miliband and the Labour Party. 

FIRE BRIGADE STRIKE

LACK OF POLITICAL LEADERSHIP

Nearly 6000 fire-fighters of the London Fire Brigade were balloted by the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) for a strike action. On Thursday 14th October 76% firefighters returned the ballot papers and of these 76% fire-fighters have voted for a strike. At the time of dispatching this column FBU have not announced date of the strike but it can commence towards the end of this week.  

The impending strike action has resulted from the controversy about shift patterns changes of fire-fighters.  I have consistently argued that the London Fire Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) must look at a range of options for shift changes in conjunction with the FBU and both make genuine attempts to negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement. However, the biggest obstacle and the cause for rapidly deteriorating industrial relations since the start of the consultation has been the attitude and approach of the LFEPA’s Chairman and his group on the Authority. To date the Chairman has dismissed my appeal to engage with FBU. The Mayor of London too has failed to show leadership on this by failing to intervene to avert the strike. I lay blame for strike ballot on a lack of political leadership at the top. Strike action by fire-fighters is extremely bad news for Londoners and could have been averted with better leadership. No one wants this strike, least of all Londoners. It is because of the aggressive, confrontational way the Conservatives have gone about trying to force through these changes that we find ourselves in a situation that could have been avoided. Mayor Johnson and his Chairman of the Fire Authority have been spoiling for a fight with the union, rather than showing the leadership and fostering the good relations that would have best served Londoners.   

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22nd October 2010

Harrow Mayor Asad Omar's Pakistan flood appeal needs a miracle!

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By Jack Royston

 

TIME is running out on a campaign to build houses for 10 families left homeless by the Pakistan floods.

Harrow's mayor Councillor Asad Omar's launched a bid in late October to raise £50,000 to help some of those worst affected by the disaster, which killed around 1,600 people and left 20m homeless.

The campaign has so far raised £32,000 of a £50,000 target and organisers have been out to the country to decide who in the Kohistan region of Pakistan will benefit from the money.

But snow is starting to fall in parts of Pakistan and if the outer shells of the houses are not completed before November when the bitterly cold winter starts to sets in, construction may have to shut down.

Mohammed Rahman, an organiser of the campaign, said: “In terms of the funds coming in its levelled off.

“Regardless of that we've started the work because we didn't want to hang around. Winter is on its way now and the snow is starting to creep in.

“We should be able to get to £40,000 within the next month but to get to £50,000 by the end of 2010 will be difficult unless something miraculous happens.”

There will be an Autumn fair on Sunday at North Harrow Assembly Halls from 11am to 3pm, featuring martial arts displays, a raffle, a bouncy castle and a barbeque, to raise money.

Navin Shah, London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow, is promoting another event to highlight young talent in Harrow on Friday, October 29.

Sham D will headline the event at arenas one and two of Harrow Leisure Centre, in Christchurch Avenue, Wealdstone, and will be supported by Tasha Tah and Romy Shay.

All volunteers will pay their own expenses, including to fly out to the country to help, meaning 100 per cent of the money raised will go to helping those in need.

Anyone wishing to donate can make out a check to the Mayor of Harrow's Pakistan Flood Appeal and send it to the Mayor's Parlour, Harrow Civic Centre, Station Road, Harrow.

Alternatively visit www.harrowfloodappeal.org.uk for other ways to give money.

 

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18th October 2010

London Firefighters announce strike dates

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By Martin Hoscik

 

London firefighters are to stage two eight-hour strikes in a row over new employment contracts which would see changes to the lengths of their shifts.

 The Fire Brigades Union announced on Thursday that members in the capital had voted by 3,482 to 943 to take strike action unless Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson “withdraws his letter of 11 August which began the legal process of sacking the capital’s 5557 uniformed and 41 non-operational firefighters.”

The union has now confirmed its members will strike from 10am on October 23rd and November 1st. Speaking earlier this week FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said “Firefighters hate going on strike – but they hate being bullied even more.”

Ahead of the ballot result the London Fire Brigade announced it had “withdrawn” 27 fire engines from stations across the capital “to prepare for the introduction of a contingency fire service” in the event of a strike.

Responding to the announcement of the strike dates. Cllr Coleman said: “Firefighters are going to be striking over plans to reduce a 15 hour night shift by three hours, and add those three hours to a 9 hour day shift. That is all these proposals seek to do, no station closures, no increase in hours and no change to the four day rest period between shifts. This is about making more time in the day for vital training and fire prevention work.

“We’ve been discussing this for five years and have offered to compromise, so it’s time for the FBU to stop blocking these changes.”

Navin Shah, London Assembly member and Labour’s leader on the Fire Authority said the strike was “bad news for Londoners” and claimed it could have been averted with better leadership.

Shah called on Cllr Coleman and Mayor of London Boris Johnson to “get round the table now and avoid a strike that nobody wants.”

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15th October 2010

Asian Voice Column - 1 October 2010

 

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By Navin Shah AM 

 

A BIG BLOW TO THE NATIONAL HEALTH SRVICE

The coalition government’s white paper Equity and excellence - Liberating the NHS’

published in July on alleged ‘health reform’ proposes the biggest shake up of the NHS London with its proposal to abolish the strategic health authority and London’s 32 primary care trusts.

Like many of the coalition government proposals this is yet another half baked initiative. The radical shake up was not in the Tory manifesto and the flagship concept of GP Consortia replacing PCT is a crude attempt to privatise NHS through the backdoor. At a recent consultation meeting in Brent one of the panel members suggested that eventually GP consortia may look like PCT in years to come! How true. Surely the proposals are about replacing public quangos (PCT) by privatised quangos (GP consortia). If I had to choose between the two I’d opt for PCTs with a good level of accountability than the privatised commercial GP Consortia, controlling public funds worth billions,   driven by commercial interests rather than patient care and accountability. The Financial Times commenting on the proposal said ‘The HHS faces its most radical shift of power and accountability and the largest structural upheaval in its 60 year history.’

Health and Public Services Committee of the London Assembly conducted a discussion with Ruth Carnell Chief Exec NHS London on the white paper with a focus on its impact on London.  Key aims of the meeting were how NHS London will be affected by changes  - with a particular attention on

  • Reconfiguration of community and acute services
  • Changes to commissioning and management structures (GP Consorita)
  • Achieving efficiency savings
  • Londonwide working and potential role of the GLA / Mayor.

In summary the discussion highlighted

  • The changes would affect every part of the system.
  • Given the changes how do we hang on to a significant level of improvements / achievements made in London when 54% reduction in management cost is sought through financial controls. Is this practically possible without affecting patient care?
  • With the abolition of NHS London where will the current functions go?
  • Ms Carnell expressed strong views about impact / issues related to London.

-          The strategic importance of London, the leadership it provides and significant role London plays that needs protection.

-          Research and development including training. 

-          Wide range of special services and expertise London provides which require protecting.

-          Unique diversity related health issues in London.

Mayor’s Role:

-          Extended scrutiny role.

-          Issues related to public health and Councils responsibilities. How will this fit in with Mayor’s strategic role.

-          How will local Councils work with GP Consortia?

-          Should the current status of London Ambulance Service remain unaltered?

GP Consortia:

-          Current PCTs to provide active support.

-          Accountability: Proposals for National Commissioning Board but no mention of regional monitoring regime.

-          What are the risks and how big Consortia should be? If small: they’ll require support services from elsewhere. If big inherent problems of bureaucracy.

-          How the transition will from PCT to GP commissioning will work and how much will it cost to implement the change.

NHS Finances:

-   Concerns expressed by London Assembly Members as to how PCTs and NHS         would produce major management cost savings and at the same time oversee the structural changes proposed in the white paper.

I remain wholly unconvinced about the white paper proposals and I support the legal action by Unison against the Secretary of State for Health, challenging his refusal to consult the public on proposals in his White Paper.  The union has argued that no steps should be taken to implement the changes in any way, until the public have had the opportunity to consider and comment on them.

 

 

Asian Voice Column - 17 September 2010

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By Navin Shah AM

The Right 'Choice' of meals for pupils

The issue itself about halal meat served in schools and the lack of choice (in some schools) of other non vegetarian meals is an important one and deserves consideration by schools and local authorities. I entirely agree that there is full choice of meals available so that NO community feels discriminated.  But, I strongly condemn unhelpful, strong, insensitive and even disgusting headlines and propaganda seen in the media. Request for information (under ‘Freedom of Information Act 2000) has been received by Brent and Harrow Councils seeking information about ‘how many schools ……. . serve Halal prepared meat. This would be the cases of institutions where all meat is Halal (meaning children eating meat do not have a choice)”. 

I’ve been actively lobbied on this issue by a range of people / organisations including leaders of the Sikh and Hindu religions with their complaints. Consideration of the issue deserves objective and honest approach – firstly to assess the facts and then see how the situation could be remedied provided that the choice of meals offered to pupils is inappropriate. I’m happy to share my initial findings based on my meetings with the senior politicians and officers in the two Local Authority areas, namely Brent and Harrow, I represent on the London Assembly.

As a starting point the fact I’d like everyone to recognise is that the schools, regardless of which borough they are in, are autonomous institutions and it is the governing bodies of schools who decide catering policies and award contracts for school meals. The Council’s role at the best is to advice and guide schools but the Councils cannot impose or dictate school meal policies on Schools. Schools have their own budgets and final decision on this issue rests with schools.

Brent:  I can confirm that Brent Council itself has not been involved in catering contracts for school meals in Brent Schools. The current situation being that it is up to the individual school to determine the range of meals it serves to its pupils. However, Brent Council is totally committed to promoting a full choice of meals in schools to its diverse school community and to this end the I would ask Brent Council to consider issuing a clear and firm advice to all its schools that meals served in schools are healthy, nutritional and give a full choice to cater for religious needs and practices.

Harrow: The funding for school meals in Harrow is delegated to schools and they are free to set their policies for school meals and choose their own provider for meals. This is neither a new policy nor one that Harrow Council can make let alone impose. The contract in Harrow’s high schools, in place for two years, and the decision to provide halal meat was based on a wide range of advice and in the interests of serving the diversity of dietary requirements within the Borough. Harrow Council’s only direct involvement in school meals has been linked to the development of the hub kitchens and the development of the serveries in primary schools. Recently issues have been raised in relation to the provision of hot meals to primary schools and Council has been consulting with primary schools to ascertain if they wish to provide hot schools meals and if so, whether they want these provided from one of Council’s hub kitchens. This consultation has raised a number of issues and further discussions are planned in the Autumn to see how Council should proceed. I urge Harrow Council to take into account the current concerns and put in place choice of meals available to the pupils from Sikh and all other communities of diverse religious beliefs.    

I will be undertaking further examination of school meal provision in both Brent and Harrow Councils. In the meantime I urge all sections of our diverse communities to ensure that any criticism they have on this issue is balanced and take into account very clear roles and responsibilities the Councils and Schools have with regard to school meals.

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17th September 2010

Asian Voice Column - 3 September 2010

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By Navin Shah AM

9/11 MEMORIAL

REDEVELOPMENT OF GROUND ZERO SITE

There seems to be no end to the debate about the proposals for an Islamic Centre about two blocks away from the Ground Zero Site. With President Obama somewhat back-tracking on his original support for the proposals and the Senate elections in November the controversy will become ugly and politically motivated than a rational and logical considerations about “American Values” as President Obama puts it and the core issues of religious equality and fairness.  

Since my last contribution on this hot topic I’ve visited the Ground Zero site and a nearby ‘Preview Site’ which houses an exhibition of the proposals called the ‘National September 11 Memorial and Museum’ for the Ground Zero Site itself. The following two paragraphs are quoted from display panels of the exhibition which sum up the concept of the project.

Panel 1: ‘The Memorial will remember and honour the people killed in the attacks of September 11 2001, in New York at the Pentagon in Arlington Virginia and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania and February 26 1993, WTC bombing. The Memorial design was selected through an international design competition that included more than 5200 entries from 63 Countries’.

Panel 2: Together with Memorial the Museum will complete the twin missions of commemoration and education, and will be an authorative source of both the history of 9/11 and understanding its meaning and implications in the context of world history. The Museum’s core exhibition will be located at the base of WTC site, incorporating the archaeological remnants of the original WTC and the Twins Towers.’  

As the photograph below shows the former World Trade Centre site still remains heavily guarded and fenced up but the construction work is rapidly progressing for the project which will in the main comprise a Memorial Space and a Memorial Museum. 

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The Memorial space will be dominated by massive pools, featuring 30 foot waterfalls cascading down their sides, situated within the footprints of the original Twin Towers. Around the edges of the waterfalls the names of the nearly 3000 innocent victims of September 11 attack on this site and also February 1993 World Trade Centre bombing. The area will be landscaped with groves of trees creating a special place of remembrance.  A new World Trade Centre planned to be the tallest building in the United States is also proposed on this site.

The Museum will offer visitors the opportunity to deepen their experience at the site. It will house monumental artefacts from September 11 events and tell the story of loss, compassion reckoning and recovery. And, as the literature for the proposal states the Museum will demonstrate  “the consequences of terrorism….. and affirm a commitment to the fundamental values of human life.  

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3rd September 2010