Wednesday, 19 February 2020

UPDATE: Cuts of £7m and Council Tax rise of 3.99% approved by Brent Council

UPDATE: Budget and Council Tax rise approved with 4 against and 2 abstentions

In the early days of austerity and government cuts to local authorities there were protests at Brent Town Hall and later at the £100m Civic Centre.  These days 'savings' (which are often direct cuts in services or reconfiguration of existing services to save money) go through with little protest.

Tonight £7m will be wiped off the budget with Community and Wellbeing facing 'savings' of £4.2m  and Children and Young People £1.6m).  The latter includes £1.5m saved by closing some Children's Centre and creating hubs instead.  Savings are to be made in Adult Social Care and Day Care commissioning although there are questions over whether this can be delivered without providers withdrawing from the market.

Council Tax will be raised by 3.99%.

The Council Tax Setting and Budget Setting meeting started at 6pm and is live-streamed

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

South Kilburn and Queens Walk planning applications approved by Brent Planning Committee

Despite articulate and reasoned objections and often hazy responses from planning officers, both the Queens Walk planning application and the huge South Kilburn scheme were passed at Brent Planning Committee tonight.

The South Kilburn decision was unanimous while only Cllr Maurice opposed the Queens Walk scheme on the grounds that the proposed building was too bulky.

Interestingly Alice Lester, Operational Director for Regeneration, (supposed to be non-political) weighed into a discussion of the decision of the Planning Committee, which is of course supposed to be free of political interference:

I'm afraid you're wrong, Councillor Denselow

In a preamble to tonight's meeting Cllr Denselow referred to complaints on social media the some reports were not available to the public. He denied that this was the case and suggested that the complainants may have been using 'dead links'.

This is not the case. I screen-grabbed evidence that the agenda had not been available at the weekend and it was only corrected after I complained on social media.

The so-called deadlinks were the Council's own webpage links that when clicked did not lead to the documents in question.  If the Council provides links then they should work.

In addition the Viability Report for the South Kilburn development, accessed on the Planning Portal rather than the Committee page, worked at one stage and then when reaccessed using the same link (copied and pasted) returned a page not found message.

I was in email contact with other members of the public who reported similar difficulties.

Cllr Denselow reported that the Legal Department had confirmed that the documents were available as required. 

I would like to see the evidence that this was based on and I will be taking the issue further as this raises important issues of accountability.

The Deloitte/Strutt and Parker reports on South Kilburn in full

The Deloitte Report on the South Kilburn development NWCC, which is a mixture of social and private housing, is available again on the Brent Planning Portal.  It is a long document on the financial viability of the scheme but also contains (from p94) the controversial marketing assumptions by Strutt and Parker. Note some of the report has been redacted by Brent Council.

As it is somewhat buried on the Brent site I have made it available below - although it may be slow to load. Click bottom right for full page version.

The planning application goes to Brent Planning Committee this evening. Civic Centre 6pm.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Is there a case to defer the South Kilburn application at Planning Committee application after reports muddle?

I have been having a frustrating time tonight trying to write about the major South Kilburn development, worth millions of pounds, that is coming up at Planning Committee tomorrow.

First of all the Council website had no agenda for tomorrow's meeting (there was one earlier in the week):

After I tweeted Cllr Denselow, Chair of the Planning Committee, it was reinstated.  Then a document on which I had been working, including details of the vital viability assessment for the scheme, became unavailable: (It should be HERE)

 I had screengrabbed a couple of pieces from  the report before it disappeared. This extract was significant because it appears to justify a 'poor doors' policy in the private block that under the revised scheme will now have some social housing. It comes from the same Strutt & Parker Report that I quoted in my piece on South Kilburn gentrification. LINK

This extract gives the values attached to the private development:

I don't now have the report to refer to but Type eg 1B2P refers to the number of bedrooms and people i.e. 1 Bedroom 2 persons etc. GDV perhaps Gross Development Value of that type of property. Then presumably the average price per property and the average sale value per square foot.

Referring back to the now published agenda I found that the Supplementary Report for this development (18/4920) was not actually on the agenda. Instead it had the Supplementary Report for 18/4919 attached:

When I eventually found the relevant Supplementary Report I noticed this:

Basically the Major Adverse [Impact on Daylight] figures had been copied from Moderate Adverse. After correction the impact was much worse in George House, Swift House and Carlton House than first stated but officers were still able to say that a major adverse impact on a quarter of the rooms was 'not so significant that it would outweigh the benefits of the proposals.'

There were other corrections and clarifications in the Supplementary Report for 18/4920 that was uploaded very late to  an agenda which is supposed to be available a week before the meeting.

I have suggested to Cllr Denselow  that these problems mean the public are not able to scrutinise the application properly (and probably councillors too) so the application should be deferred.

'Blot on suburbia' planning application comes up at tomorrow's Brent Planning Committee

Proposed building
Existing house to be demolished in the distance (from Queens Walk)
Existing house to be demolished (behind the hoardings) from Salmon Street
I wrote about plans for the demolition of an existing house in Queens Walk, Kingsbury, in October last year ands questioned whether it matched the surrounding suburban housing. Queens Walk consists of 1930a terraced and semti-detached houses of a fairly uniform design, nearly all painted in a consistent white and black mock Tudor style on the relevant side of the road.

The house to be demolished is the 'lead house' into Queens Walk, which has been empty for some time and has not been in great condition for a long while. However, neighbours are not all all happy with its replacement, which they see as a blot on the landscape. There will at least one speaker against the proposal at tomorrow's Planning Committee.

Plans have been to appeal once and planning officers are recommending acceptance of the modified plans. The officers' report is not currently available on the Planning Committee agenda page (see story below) so I have posted it for readers here:

Responding to criticism that the propsoed building is an 'eyesore'. planning officers respond:

The building does not have a 1930s appearance but does respond appropriately to the neighbouring developments in terms of scale. The corner plot presents an opportunity for a building of a differing architectural style and slightly greater prominence to sit comfortably without detracting from the character along either of the streets it adjoins.

UPDATE - NOW AVAILABLE Agenda for tomorrow's Planning Committee disappears from Brent Council website

Council Committee agendas are supposed to be available to the public  a week before the meeting. Simple democracy.

Unfortunately when I tried to check an agenda item today for the Brent Planning Committee no agenda was displayed.  I have emailed the Council and CEO to see if this meeting can go ahead, particularly as planning is a quasi-judicial process.

15.30 UPDATE Chair of Planning Commitee, Cllr James Denselow, has now advised the agenda is available HERE

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Clarity needed on Adult Day Care 'savings' and the impact on providers and users

The proposed Council Budget includes 'savings' (rather than 'cuts') in Adult Day Care which as usual are said to have no impact on users.

The reported approved by Brent Cabinet that will go to the Full Council Budget Seeting Meeting states LINK:
Proposed savings

Current externally commissioned day care in Brent is commissioned according to an old fashioned and out of date model. The majority of provision is expensive, building based and does not offer choice and control to service users. Additionally, there is an over provision of traditional day care in Brent, meaning that providers are not transforming their services, and often wish to increase their costs to the Council to make up for low take up of their services.

The commissioning service are working with providers to redesign the service into a new model, that supports more choice and control and promotes less building based provision. Public Health outcomes will be built into the recommissioned service.

How would this affect users of this service?

The proposal is not to cut services or to reduce the amount of provision that individuals receive, but rather to transform the existing provision so that it is more efficient and cost effective. Users may be impacted through having to move to a different service provider, or adapting to a different form of non-building based provision, but the overall level of service individuals receive should stay the same in most cases. Although some people may find that transition challenging, a more innovative approach to day service should deliver better outcomes.
John Healy of Brent Advocacy Concerns, thought that this would lead to some existing Day Care Centres having to close but on Friday evening was told by a Council officer that 'there are no plans to close any Day Centres.'

John had emailed Brent officers and Cllr Neal Nerva earlier to request further information and having had at the time no reply contacted Wembley Matters:
I have been emailing the officer in charge of Commissioning and Cllr. Nerva, who chairs The Disability Forum for more information about this new model but neither of them have replied..

Maybe you could ask the council Martin about the plans for this new model, as this affects hundreds of the most vulnerable Brent residents.  The council say the big risk is not to current users but to the market providers, as they may not wish to deliver services away from the current building based model, or to continue to deliver services with £1M. less than current contracts give them, while at the same time having to meet the extra costs of paying the London Living wage to their workforce in any new contract.

So what might the council do if no providers come forward, as they set out a tender last year but no one expressed interest and now this is a re-commissioning of services. The previous contract was to save £1.5M. over 2 years (£750K in 2019/20 & £750K in 2020/21).