Sunday, 30 July 2017

Greens challenge tree felling in Gladstone Park


The Green Party's parliamentary candidate for Brent Central, Shaka Lish, has challenged Brent Council about the felling of trees in Gladstone Park.

Accusing Brent Council of an act of 'wilful vandalism' she asked, 'What is the point of cutting down our beautiful, healthy, ancient trees?' She asked if the Council had any plans to replace them.

At the recent Brent Clean Air meeting at the Civic Centre, Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt, extolled the benefits of trees to combat air pollution but a closer examination shows this may be no more than hot air.

A Freedom of Information request by Wembley Matters LINK established that Brent Council keeps no records of trees lost, felled and replaced in its parks and that none of the 62 trees removed on Brent Housing Partnership estates Jan 1st-Dec 31st 2016 had been replaced.

Parks maintenance is contracted  out to Veolia as part of the Public Realm contract and Gristwood and Toms is contracted to deal with trees over a specific height.

It's ironic given all the above that Brent Council has received a Forestry Commission London's Trees and Woodland Award LINK:

Borough Tree Award - Brent Council Tree Planting Project, Sudbury Town, Barn Hill, Harlesden and Kensal Green 
The Trees and Development Award: Wembley Park – Arena Square and Wembley Park Boulevard.  Market Square (meantime planting). Quintain, London Borough of Brent

St Raphael's Fun Day - Brent at its best!


Saturday, 29 July 2017

Widespread objections to Alperton high rise giant

Guest post by Andrew Linnie.  This issue was covered earlier on Wembley Matters LINK

R55’s Minavil House project in Alperton has been the subject of much debate and controversy for some time now. The tower, standing at 26 storeys, will bring a huge shift in the landscape of the area, and was described by various industry publications as the tallest building in the entire borough. This came as quite a surprise to residents both old and new, as the 2011 Alperton Masterplan adopted by Brent Council set out a vision for the area of buildings up to a maximum of 17 storeys. It would stand to reason that a building a full 9 storeys above the maximum height for the area would be a cause for debate, but Brent Council seemed uninterested in engaging with the discussion.


The proposal shown towering over twelve storeys above its nearest neighbour (Submitted application drawings).

At the planning committee meeting in May, I put forward the concerns of residents in the two minute speaking time allotted to a single objector. It is of note that the council allows three minutes to the developer to put forward their case. Those concerns included the loss of light and sky to surrounding dwellings, the spurious transport impact figures used, and the fact that the building directly contravened the supporting planning document (SPD) for the area. These issues were largely disregarded in the ensuing discussion among councillors and the scheme was approved. None of the three councillors for Alperton (Cllrs Allie, Chohan and Patel) attended the meeting.

At this point I wrote a petition which over 200 residents signed, and further problems with the development were noted. In its disregard for context the project’s density runs off the charts, featuring twice the number of housing units per hectare of neighbouring schemes. A conversation with an independent transport assessor involved with another development in the ward reinforced the assertion that the transport impact figures presented at the meeting – of just two additional passengers per train at peak times – were wildly underestimating the impact of a development this size. The issues of light and sky persisted, and concerns about access and the level of parking provided remain unanswered (there are 251 homes but only 35 parking spaces, most of which are for a Lidl on the ground floor). It also emerged that the architectural justifications for the project’s height from R55’s own online publication misrepresented the scale of neighbouring buildings and created an impression of the constructed landscape rising towards the Minavil site which, in reality, does not exist.



The architectural justification for the project, with the actual numbers of storeys added. It shows large leaps in height between buildings only three storeys apart, and a small step up from 14 to 26 storeys. The image also implies a rising contour between two 11 storey buildings of equal height (R55).

The petition was addressed to MP for Brent North Barry Gardiner, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the members of the GLA including our local assembly member Navin Shah, and the councillors for the ward of Alperton and Brent in general.

Mr Gardiner held a meeting in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy in which he addressed the issues of residents in high rise buildings. Present at the meeting were many locals, representatives of housing trusts, Brent Borough Fire Commander Mark Davis, and the Head of Planning for Brent. When pursued by Mr Gardiner on the point of whether such proposals are assessed for their fire risk, the Head of Planning admitted they are not. For a disproportionately tall building with a small footprint, on a site hemmed in by a canal, a bridge and an industrial estate, this added further grave concerns for neighbouring homes.

Though Mr Shah’s office and Mr Gardiner were responsive to the petition, the scheme was passed back from the Mayor of London to Brent for approval with no intervention. Unless the Secretary of State for Planning (Alok Sharma) decides to intervene, the building work will commence, reportedly in November. At that point the debate will inevitably turn from one about this particular site to one about the wider area, and what kind of regeneration the local population want. When commitments are made to residents to lead a regeneration area in a certain direction and then entirely forgotten at the planning committee level, questions must be asked as to whether Brent Council are representing the interests of local people or the interests of developers.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Breathing London - Brent's Parks and Open Spaces (as you've never seen them before)

Guest post by Philip Grant

I have just heard about the "Breathing London" project organised by the Royal Photographic Society earlier this year, which aimed to capture the diversity of London's public green and open spaces. It produced a website with a large gallery of photographs, which you can visit and search by borough to see pictures of parks and open spaces, large and small, in your area.Link

One of the local photographers taking part was Gareth Davies from Kingsbury, who specialises in 360 degree panorama images. He photographed all 92 of the parks and open spaces listed by Brent Council as public spaces which they (or the City of London) maintain in the borough. His fascinating pictures are on the "Breathing London" website, but you can also view them as a slideshow on his own website. Link  
 
 There you will find local parks that you did not know existed, and some that you have never visited, but will know that you want to visit now. Why not go and explore some of them (perhaps with your children or grandchildren, in the school holidays) this summer?

Monday, 24 July 2017

Family workshops: African soldiers of World War 1


Summer nature activities at the Welsh Harp Centre


Strawberries and scones celebrate 80th anniversary of Titus Barham's gift to Wembley



From Friends of Barham Library

Saturday 8 July was the 80th Anniversary since Titus Barham "Wembley's Greatest Benefactor" donated his home and gardens in Sudbury which became Barham Park.

Friends of Barham Library held a Celebration 'Vintage' Tea Party in honour of Titus Barham as a Thank You for his generous gift. As the gift took place in 1937 thirty seven lucky people, whose names were drawn out of a hat, including 6 members of the Barham family, were served a traditional afternoon tea. The Tea Party was held inside the Community Library itself specially decorated for the occasion.

Gaynor Lloyd and Paul Lorber, two Trustees of Friends of Barham Library, and the waitresses dressed up in a traditional 1937 way, to serve and entertain the invited guests.

To make sure that no one missed out the following day Friends of Barham Library opened their doors to their Community Library in Barham Park and served strawberies and traditional scones with cream and jam to around 150 people who came to a picnic in Barham Park and watched a Kino Van showing films of how people lived in the 1930s.

Milk & More, a Muller Company which took over part of the former Express Dairy business, donated the cream, jam and many other items for the Party. All the work putting on the event was carried out by local Volunteers.

The Wembley Elm – why is it special?


Guest post by Philip Grant

I agree with Martin’s comment, in his blog about the Marriage Garden willow LINK, that trees are too often an undervalued part of our local heritage’. His article jogged my memory about an unresolved local history enquiry that I received last year about “the Wembley Elm”. I wonder whether “Wembley Matters” readers can help to solve the mystery around why this particular tree is special?




“The Wembley Elm”,
outside the former Greyhound pub,
at the junction of Oakington Manor Drive and Harrow Road.


Elm trees have been part of Wembley’s history for centuries, and have left their legacy in place names around our area. Hundred Elms Farm in Sudbury existed in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, and may even have belonged to the Archbishops of Canterbury before her father, King Henry VIII seized their local lands in the 1540’s. An avenue of elm trees is shown leading to the farm, across Sudbury Common, in a mid-18th century map, and Elms Lane still survives as a local street today, between the Harrow Road and Sudbury Court Road.



An extract from John Rocque’s  1746 map
 of London and environs,  showing
Hundred Elms Farm and the avenue of elm trees.

The Read family were tenant farmers in Wembley from Tudor times, and Brent Archives holds some of the family’s farm and personal records from the mid-18th century onwards. At various times they farmed land at Wembley Hill and around East Lane, but one of the main family homes was at Elm Tree Farm, in Blind Lane near its junction with Wembley Hill Road. Just before the First World War, part of the land they rented was sold off to Wembley Urban District Council, to create King Edward VII Park, with Blind Lane renamed Park Lane. When the rest of their farmland was earmarked for housing development, the Reads sold off their livestock and machinery in 1922, and emigrated to Australia.



  
Elm Tree Farm, Park Lane, in the 1920’s.
 
[A painting by Norah Parker, in the Wembley
History Society Collection at Brent Museum]

A hundred years ago the elm was a common sight around Wembley, often growing as tall individual trees in hedgerows. During the First World War a local architect, Ernest Trobridge, studied the properties of its timber, which was soft and easy to work when first cut, but really solid within two months when it had seasoned. He developed the compressed green wood construction system, using the abundant supplies of elm wood (many hedgerows were being removed to widen roads for motor traffic) to build cheap and comfortable “homes for heroes” from 1920 onwards. His Elmwood Estate in Kingsbury was one such development, and although Elmwood Crescent still exists, only four of the original elm-built houses from it survive in Stag Lane. If you would like to discover more about Ernest Trobridge and his work, Brent Archives has an online local history article about him LINK.





Rose Cottage in Stag Lane, Kingsbury, one of the surviving Ernest Trobridge houses from the Elmwood Estate, built 1922-1924.

The English Elm (Ulmus procera) was still a widespread feature of the landscape until the 1970’s, when millions of its trees were wiped out by Dutch Elm disease (caused by a fungus spread by elm bark beetles). You can still find young elm saplings in Fryent Country Park, growing through suckering from the roots of old trees, but the disease kills off the trees before they can reach maturity. That may be one reason why the mature “Wembley Elm” is special, and the man who wrote with the enquiry about it has said it is an unusual species of elm (Ulmus laevis) - the European white elm - which is rare in this country. However, the main reason for the query is the plaque set into the paving beside it:-





“The Wembley Elm” plaque.

The plaque, put here by the London Tree Forum (if it still exists, I can’t find it on the internet), states: ‘The Wembley Elm, one of the great trees of London, has been a focal meeting point since 1900.’ What I am trying to find out is when this particular tree was first known as “the Wembley Elm”, why it was considered so important and why it became ‘a focal meeting point.’

In 1900, the tree, if it existed, would have been near the edge of a farmer’s field. After the Great Central Railway opened a branch line through Wembley Hill in 1906 (with a station now known as Wembley Stadium), these fields were to become the Wembley Hill Garden Suburb. Planned in 1913, its first roads and houses appeared in 1914/15, but the rest of the homes on this estate were built between the early 1920's and mid-1930's.



A 1914 advertisement for homes in
the Wembley Hill Garden Suburb
(surrounded by beautiful country /
 12 minutes from Marylebone)

From the size of “the Wembley Elm”, it is thought to be at least 80 years old, but it seems unlikely that it was a significant tree as early as 1900. As it is a rare elm species in England, it may have been planted to mark a special occasion, perhaps the opening of Oakington Manor Drive (the first main street laid out in the garden suburb, although the varieties planted along it were mainly lime and white beam trees), which it stands at the entrance to.

As the tree is outside “The Greyhound”, it might have been part of the landscaping for this landmark pub, which opened in 1929. The licence for the pub was transferred from “The Greyhound” in High Street on Wembley Hill, which began life as a beer shop in 1810, but was too small for the crowds who came to events at Wembley Stadium, and was demolished when the new pub opened. Perhaps it was for F.A. Cup final crowds that “the Wembley Elm” became ‘a focal meeting point’!


Crowds outside the old “Greyhound”
in High Street, for the first Wembley
F.A. Cup Final in April 1923.

If you have any information which might throw some light on the history of “the Wembley Elm” and why it is special, please include this in a comment below. Thank you.

Philip Grant

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Murky figures at HS2 as public money goes down the drain

The figures associated with the HS2 project are so vast that they are hard to grasp. The world's most expensive railways at £400,000,000 per mile LINK with experts predicting a doubling of total cost to £104bn suggest the project is a high speed white elephant, particularly as the government has quietly ditched plans to improve current rail routes.

At the same time Carillion, one of the main contractors appointed by the government, is facing its own financial crisis and has lost its Chief Executive in the process. LINK

Fears about the reliability of HS2's figures have not been helped by the National Audit Office's recent findings about unauthorised payments by the company.  They spent £2.76m on pay-offs in 2016 of which only £1m was authorised.  The redundancy payments were prompted by a head office move and reorganisation and were made above the civil service cap of £95,000 despite advice from the Department of Transport.

The Guardian LINK reports that HS2 circumvented the cap by placing highly paid staff on gardening leave and continuing to pay them for several months despite the fact that they were no longer working and adding the maximum payout.  67 staff were made compulsorily redundant at a total costs of up to £916.000 when statutory compensation would have totalled between £55,000-£115,00. A further 27 staff were given voluntary redundancy packages worth £1.84m with 8 people on a salary of more than £150,000 receiving up to £200,000  each.

This is of course public money.

The HS2 Director of Financial Operations is Clive Heaphy, former Director of Finance and Corporate Services at Brent Council. Previously he was Interim Director of Finance at Ofsted under Christine Gilbert, later CEO of Brent Council.

Heaphy left Brent Council after negotiating an exit payout of £145,508. LINK

Friday, 21 July 2017

The demise of one of Wembley's wonderful willows


Trees are too often an undervalued part of our local heritage and personal histories. The willow above, in the Marriage Garden at Brent (formerly Wembley) Town Hall, probably appears in thousands of wedding albums across generations.

According to the Lycee security officer I spoke to the tree came down in the recent storm.

After the Town Hall was sold-off by Brent Council to the Lycee International des Londres Winston Churchill it became part of the children's playground and doubtless figured large in their creative play and exploration.


The storm occurred after the school broke up for the summer holiday so children will return to find a large gap in their playground. This was the scene today.


Wembley is well endowed with mature willows with local doctors' surgeries and playcentres named after them.

There is a magnificent specimen, in need of a trim, just behind the Lycee in Greenhill Way:


If you would like one of your pictures of the Marriage Garden willow published please send in jpeg or png format to me at martintinrfrancis@virginmedia.com

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Saturday July 22nd Heart of Wembley Fesival, Wembley High Road



From 'Wembley Futures'

On Saturday, 22 July 2017 Wembley Futures will be hosting the second annual Heart of Wembley Festival. This exciting community event will take place from 1pm-6pm on Wembley High Road, from the Park Lane junction with the High Road towards the Wembley Triangle.

The Festival is one of the activities by Wembley Futures, one of 150 recipient groups across the UK to be awarded funding by The Big Local. A long-term innovative programme that aims to achieve lasting change, The Big Local provides a mixture of funding, finance and support. The Big Local is an opportunity for residents in Wembley Central to make a massive and lasting positive difference to their area. In addition to celebrating the Big Local success, the Festival aims to enthuse residents, businesses and partner organisations about the possibilities that Wembley Futures and Wembley Central present.

The Heart of Wembley Festival will celebrate the communities in Wembley Central through a mix of both local and professional music and dance. Among the musicians playing onstage will be Dhol2Dhol, outstanding performers and instructors of the vibrant Dhol drum, who have played major events such as the closing of the 2012 Paralympic Games and the London Marathon 2017; The London Belles, a chic vintage music trio playing favourites from the 1940s and beyond; rock band Harripaul, and singer-songwriter Doriane Woo. Move and sway to the headline act, Marta and Emiliano jazz band with a Latin American feel. The stage will also showcase the DJ talents of MC Nino, sounds of Ebony steel band, and a spoken word performance by festival MC, Bries. Dance groups representing the art form from across the world include street dancers from Elan Arts, South Asian Kathak dancers from the Encee Academy, Nepalese dancers from the British Gurka Nepalese Association, and Salsa dance from Wembley-based, Mambo City.

Shaun Wallace, one of the ‘chasers’ on the ITV quiz show The Chase, will be attending the Heart of Wembley Festival as the celebrity guest. The quiz show pits four contestants against the Chaser, a ruthless quiz genius determined to stop them winning the cash prize. Wallace, who won Mastermind in 2004, is a barrister and also known by the names ‘The Legal Eagle’ and ‘The Dark Destroyer’.

The Heart of Wembley Festival is a free event and will be a family-friendly environment, with children’s rides, a fascinating bubble show from bubbleologist Graham Maxwell, street theatre, community and information stalls, and stalls offering tantalising world food, fashion, gifts and jewellery.

Francis Henry, Chair of Wembley Futures, said: “I hope to see both new and familiar faces at the Festival in July. We are building on the success of last year’s Festival and look forward to a great day out with friends and neighbours, making the most of our local community.”

For more information please contact Osita Udenson on 07875 588 107 or udenson@btinternet.com.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

More light thrown on potential primary school place surplus

Most primary schools in Brent will have broken up by the time that the Cabinet disucuss a report on future school places on Monday. However, the report will have implications for future stability and potential surplus of places in some schools over the next few years.   The report signals the end of the recent expansion of Brent primary schools.

I have questioned the need for a new 630 pupil Ark primary school at York House in an earlier article LINK and plans may now be affectd by the government's decisions on education spending where monies may be taken from the free school budget to supplement school budgets.

Brent policy is to have 5% surplus spaces in primary schools to aid parent choice. It is currently about 4% but likely to rise - it will not be uniform across a complex borough and some schools will experience higher surplus capacity which has budget implications as funding is per pupil.



Without taking into account the new primary free schools of Ark Somerville (York House) and Floreat (Colindale)  we are looking at a surplus equivalent of more than a two form entry primary in 2018-2022. With the two free schools it is equivalent to a 3 form entry school.

The report states:
Table 4 shows the latest GLA forecasts and available primary places and Table 5 shows forecast demand for Reception places from 2017. The places available includes expanded provision at Byron Court, Elsley, Leopold and Uxendon Manor schools, which became permanent during the 2015/16 or 2016/17 academic years. 

The ESFA proposes to open 2 new primary free schools in Brent. The ESFA is reluctant to open new free schools on temporary sites until a permanent site has been identified. Floreat Colindale Primary, which will provide 420 places (2FE), was due to open in temporary accommodation in 2016 and move to a permanent site from 2018. However, latest plans are for the school to open in 2019 on the school’s permanent site at Oriental City. Ark Somerville Primary School  630 places (3FE) was originally approved to open in 2017 in the Alperton region of Planning Area 3. It is now earmarked for the York House site, Wembley Central which is adjacent to the other growth area in Planning Area 3. The final column of Table 5 indicates the impact these schools would have on Reception capacity if both opened in 2019. 

We are forecasting a reduction in demand for Reception places for September 2017, evidenced by fewer on time applications than at the same point in time in previous years. 

The latest pupil forecasts suggest that Reception cohorts will continue to fall for a further three years before beginning to increase again (in 2020/21). As a result there will be a temporary increase in spare capacity across the borough. Neighbouring authorities are reporting similar patterns.
We are currently working with schools to manage any changes in demand. Brent schools experience a high degree of pupil mobility due to families moving in and out of the Borough and families moving within the Borough. Overall forecasts indicate that year groups are expected fluctuate in size as they move through the system. There is a forecast deficit of primary places in Year 3 in Planning Area 1 and Planning Area 3 for September 2017. We anticipate that spare capacity in other planning areas will be sufficient to meet this need.
The full report including predictions of the need for two new secondary schools in the borough in the near future, can be found HERE



Specialist to visit each Brent tower block between now and September to establish fire safety works needed

Monday's July 24th Cabinet Meeting will set things moving on the £10m extra agreed to enhance fire safety measures in Brent's high rise blocks.

The report states:


Council agreed that the Chief Executive should write to the Government as a matter of urgency to request that the Government provide direct financial support to meet the costs that will be incurred. The letter has been sent to the Government requesting financial support, as well as requesting that the Government urgently consider revocation of the permitted development rights for office to residential conversions; that the Government review the building control laws which allow the use of building control teams from both the private sector and other local authorities to inspect buildings which can mean a total lack of oversight by local authority inspectors of the fire risk level in some privately owned high rise blocks and that the Government address whether licensing laws for landlords in the private sector are stringent enough to ensure that all dwellings are fit for human habitation.
Actions to develop the detailed work programme for enhanced fire measures in High-rise blocks
A specification is in the process of being developed, which will outline the enhanced fire detection equipment that could be installed, over and above the required standard. In order to establish the exact works required, a suitably qualified specialist will carry out a survey of each building, and specify the schedule of works. This will be specific to each block, but may include detection systems localised alarms in communal areas and/or dwellings, fire suppression systems such as sprinklers, or smoke extraction systems.
The appropriate procurement framework will be accessed in order to appoint the relevant specialists required in order to complete this preparatory work.
Surveyors will visit all blocks between now and September in order to carry out these surveys, which will inform the detailed plan which will be brought back for consideration by Cabinet in October 2017.
It will be important to keep residents informed and reassured throughout this process. A letter has been sent to all tenants and leaseholders to advise them of the outcome of the Full Council discussion, attached at Annex 3, and a programme of communication will continue throughout this process.


Saturday Funday on St Raph's - July 22nd


Normal service will be restored as soon as possible

Regular readerswill have noticed a lack of postings in the last week or so.  This is not because  there are not Brent issues to be publicised and discussed.  I have been unwell for some time culminating in hospitalisation last week.  I am back at home and hope to resume postings but my energy levels are much less than usual.

I am happy to supplement Wembley Matters with any appropriate guest postings that readers may with to submit.

Martin Francis

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Figures put need for new Ark primary academy in doubt

Consultation takes place Thursday morning and evening at Ark Wembley on their plans for a new 630 pupil primary school at the junction of Empire Way and the Royal Route LINK

New light is thrown on the proposal by figures obtained by FoI request for the number of vacancies in Reception for September 2017.

The figures show that some of the recently expanded schools are not filling up. A number of these expansions have involved controversy including Stonebridge (closure of the adventure playground) and Byron Court (vociferous opposition from residents).

The figures in the final waiting list column represent children who will have a school place in Septepmber but not their parents' first choice. Parents will waiting for a vacancy to arise to place them in the school of their choice, perhaps to join siblings or because it is more convenient for transport. Children can be on several waiting lists so the figures are of limited value.

When a school has vacant spaces and no waiting list the parents of children moving into the borough between now and September will be offered places there, which may involve a journey across the borough.

When children settle into a school, albeit not their first choice, make friends and settle into the routine, the parents desire for transfer is sometimes reduced: 'She is doing well, I dont think I want to move her now'

The 'churn' of pupils moving between schools creates instability and affects progress and achievement.  A new school could have a destabilising effect on other esrtablished local schools.

A considerable amount of money has been invested in the expansion of schools. If they are not filling up the additional places then there is a question of value for money.

School places planning and school expansion seems a ripe topic for s Scrutiny Committeee investigation.



Monday, 10 July 2017

Brent Council to borrow to invest £10m for firesafety

Brent Full Council will be asked to vote for a plan to raise £10m to address fire safety concerns in the borough.

The officers' recommendation states:


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1.     Full Council to agree a £10m increase to the 2017/18 Capital Programme to meet the cost of enhancing the fire safety measures in the Council’s housing stock, to be financed initially by additional borrowing. 


2.     Full Council asks the Chief Executive to write to the Government as a matter of urgency:

.        2.1  If recommendation 1 is agreed to request that Government provide direct financial support to meet the costs incurred. 


.        2.2  If recommendation 1 is agreed, and if government does not agree to fund the works directly to request an increase to the housing revenue account borrowing cap to enable Brent Council to retain its existing headroom as well as undertaking the urgent retrofitting work required on existing housing stock to bring them up to best practice fire safety standards. 


.        2.3  To request that the government urgently consider revocation of the permitted development rights for office to residential conversions to ensure that such proposals go through the proper planning process to enable full consideration of all relevant planning considerations. 


3.     Full Council to note that a report proposing an outline programme of works will be taken to the Cabinet meeting on 24 July, with a full itemised and costed programme of work being prepared for Cabinet consideration and approval by October 2017 and its implementation monitored by the Housing Scrutiny Committee. 


4.     Full Council to ask the Director of Community Wellbeing to write to Registered Providers in the borough to request that they keep the Council updated as to the status of their Fire Risk Assessments for high rise blocks that they are responsible for within the borough. 


The full report (item 15 on a 17 item agenda, how is that for PR?) is below:

It is clear that some parts of the report ar weaker than others.

The meeting starts at 7pm and can be viewed LIVE HERE