Sunday 8 January 2012

Willesden Green redevelopment - what do you think?

Willesden Old Library - scheduled for demolition
 Following my posting on the proposed Willesden Green redevelopment several people have asked me what the new building will look like and what type of housing is proposed.  The answer is that we don't know as Brent Council has 'cascaded' these matters to the developer Galliford Try. The very tight timetable that envisages work starting in September has the planning application down for April 2012 and consultation obviously has to take place before then.

People have also asked what the Cultural Centre will contain. Again there is little detail but the Equality Impact Assessment LINK states:
At a minimum the new cultural centre will incorporate a library, extensive study space, IT provision, customer contact centre, museum, archive, archive store, entrance foyer, three creative cluster spaces (which will facilitate an array of programmed creative events), café, conference room, office space, staff toilet & shower, public toilets, data centre, hygiene areas, multi faith contemplation room, delivery and distribution area, public realm and a maximum of 8 designated car parking spaces.
Following the recent High Court action there is a long section of the report devoted to the Equalities duties of councillors. The initial Impact Assessment Completion Form is brief LINK but there is documentation in the Appendices LINK

There is a useful but not very legible mapping of  Willesden Green library users HERE

Talking to local residents at the Library yesterday another issue that came up several times was 'Why are we doing away with a comparatively new building?'

Several arguments are contained in the report going before the Executive.
  • The building has failed to realise its potential as a truly local cultural destination and is 'essentially not fit for purpose'.
  • Areas within the existing buiulding feel unsafe an this intesifies at night when small, dark areas attrract vandalism and anti social behaviour. This discourages 'people from Brent's diverse communities to explore or congregate wihin the WGLC especially after dark'.
  • The site is a second tier building (in the jargon 'major customer facing offering') in the south which would complement the new Civic Centre in the north. This recognises that 'a large proportion of our high need customers reside in the south'.
  • The physical condition of the WGLC is extremely poor and repairs would require an initial investment of £657,000.
  • The redevelopment hs the potential to act as a catalyst for wider regeneration of the area
The report makes it clear that the project can only go ahead if it is self-financing, delivered at zero net capital costs to the Council and that the Council retains the freehold of the new Cultural Centre.

Some residents argued yesterday that the building had been deliberately run down and that there had been a failure of leadership in running it with enthusiasm, imagination and flair. They pointed to the recent success of an arts project in the old cafe area. Theye were against developemnt and instead wanted new management and marketing strategy.

Opinions were also expressed that the project handed too much power over to the developer and questions over whether the Council could be both a de facto partner of the developer and also make an independent decision on the developer's planning application.

A major issue that arose was the loss of study space with students scoffing at the inadequacy of the alternative provision offered in the report. Brent SOS Libraries are expected to continue to push for the reopening of the Cricklewood and Kensal Rise libraries at least during the rebuilding phase to provide study and lending facilities, although that option is rejected in the report.

Some passers-by and long-term residents were aghast when they realised that the locally listed old library building would be demolished in the new development and there was anger when it was realised that the Willesden Bookshop would go.Locally listed building don't have legal protection but existing Brent Council policy (LINK) states:

The special character of buildings on the local list will be protected and enhanced. Proposals for the demolition or unsympathetic alteration of locally listed buildings (including parts of buildings) will be discouraged unless alternative use of the building is unviable or the planning benefits for the community substantially outweigh the loss resulting from demolition.
Presumably the Council will be arguing the latter case although how that stands against the preservation of the facade of the nearby Spotted Dog is a matter for conjecture. There's some interesting historical background on the area, including the library and the Spotted Dog, HERE

I would welcome comments on the issues raised by the redevelopment proposals.


keepwillesdengree said...

The current Brent Library Centre may not be one of the most attractive buildings, but it has provided residents from across Brent with a place to study, work and play for well over 20 years. Its a place to just sit and read a good book. It is highly accessible for both young and old and for those with disabilty issues. Over the years it has attracted a number of celebrity writers who have come along and inspire would be writers. It has hosted a number of cultural events/music festivals, the French market etc. It has attracted educators and community speakers. Local artist dislay their work. Would be local entrepeneurs test the waters there. The children's library and various creative activities all offer much needed space for many families who live in overcrowded or otherwise inadequate homes. The wonderful Willesden Bookshop brought something unique to the area, and is well used by Brentites and schools. I am privileged to be the mother of the internationally aclaimed novelist Zadie Smith.Zadie and her brothers are all university graduates who have persued careers in the arts. A major inspiration for all of them was the fact they had access to local libraries, the Kilburn Bookshop in the first instance and then to all our joy, our very own Willesden Bookshop. Steve the owner of the book shop has always been happy to have the youngest of child thumb through the books. 25 years later and my gorgeous grandaughters are enjoying the same privilege. Please do not futher reduce opportunities for Brent children to be inspired. Communities all over our towns and cities are becoming less and less cohesive. We want Willesden Green to keep its sense of community as far as is possible. Our Library Centre is a major way of encouraging this. It is the heart of our community bringing as it does people from across all ethnic, religious and class groups. It is a warm and safe place for people to spend time. Rebuild by all means. But do not leave us with less than we had. And surely a special plea for our locally listed beautiful little library building not to be demolished. How can the architects say it cannot be incorporated! They are architects. They usually do what they are commissioned to do, don't they?

Martin Francis said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I have cross-posted this on I hope that is okay.

Anonymous said...

You can see what the proposed building will look like here:

Martin Francis said...

Strangely enough you could at 10am this morning but now it has been made subscriber only content

Anonymous said...

I like chicken