Monday 13 February 2012

Public frustration at lack of answers at Brent Executive

Cllr Ann John lost her cool at tonight's Executive Meeting after residents who had made representations on Treetops Nursery and the proposed Willesden Library Centre had left the committee rooms at Brent Town Hall.

Cllr Ruth Moher had been reading, inaudibly, a report on Adult Social Care and procurement of a framework for short break for carers. Chairing the meeting Cllr John had told her that she did not need to read out  the recommendations as councillors could read them for themselves then broke off to say:  "But that's not to say that this isn't important. This, safeguarding and the budget  are important things but I don't see people coming to talk about them. We weren't political at all tonight. Maybe we should have been.  People come for the small things, trying to hang on to what they've got, but they don't care about these things which will affect more people.  The poor people of Brent will be a lot poorer because of this government.".

The meeting began with a representation about Treetops Nursery where the council will consider it being taken over by a private provider. This was followed by a series of presentations about the Willesden Green Cultural Centre project, the fate of the Willesden by library campaigners  to provide study space during the closure period at Preston library at little cost to the council.

Residents criticised the poor consultation over the Willesden Regeneration which only saw 12 people and the ward councillors involved in the first round.One speaker accused the council of being in hock to the developers and failing to represent the interests of local people as the client in the partnership. Suggesting it was a 'done deal' another said that there were a lot of angry people who wanted their voices hard and warned that at the next election these people could make a difference when voting turn-out was so low. A local GP described the information on the council website as 'platitudes and fluffy aspirations and called for detailed and substantive plans to be published. It appeared that the future of the community was being decided by developers and not the elected local council. Another resident criticised the haste involved and called for the signing of the developer agreement to be delayed so that local people could mull over the proposals and  have a calm consideration of the issues.

Cllr Paul Lorber speaking on the motion from Scrutiny echoed previous contributions, particularly those dealing with consultation and said that he had failed to get answers from officers on the cost of refurbishment of the present building.  He drew attention to the fact that the interim arrangements for the 18 month period of closure had a budget of £2.1m and opening the closed libraries for that period would be cheaper.

Ann John from the chair had commented on several of the speeches from residents and prompted Cllr Crane, lead member for Regeneration and Major Projects about questions he needed to address. Unfortunately Cllr Crane began to read sections of the Officers' Report rather than answer the questions raised by the public and heckling began as the audience became more frustrated. Ann John in turn got irate with the public and even cited me as a model of decorum!

Cllr Crane repeated previous statements bout the unfitmess of the current building, the impossibility of finding tenants for the cinema and the bar, the unaffordable cost of refurbishment. He said that the Willesden Bookshop was valued but 'at the end of the day it is a commercial entity' .  He said that the word 'consultation' was sometimes misused ("By you!" - public cry)and that the initial small group discussions a limited consultation' was only to get ideas to put to potential developers. He said that thorough consultation would start now and there would be a 3-4 month discussion with Galliford Try the developer partner. Andy Donald, the lead officer for the project, confirmed that the developer agreement had not yet been signed, and that there would be further consultation before the project went to planning committee in July. Neither mentioned the apparent fact that the exclusion of the bookshop from the Cultural Centre and demolition of the 1894 Victorian Willesden Library would not form part of these 'consultations'.

When Councillor Powney opined that the Bookshop would not want to be relocated twice, during rebuilding and then moving into the Cultural Centre, the public shouted "Have you asked them?" In fact supporters of the Bookshop said the owner said he would be happy with two moves if it meant getting located in the new Centre. Cllr Powney then said that it would be such a high quality development that retail space within it would be too expensive for the bookshop. Responding to my claim that there were no meeting rooms in the list of 'key components' the council wanted in the Cultural Centre, something essential for local democracy, he said that there were. It turned out that Andy Donald's developer language had run away with him and that the  'Three Creative Cluster Spaces which will be fitted out to facilitate an array of artist and cultural programming" were in  fact meeting rooms. I don't really think Cllr Powney can really blame me for not being able to translate that into plain English!

The Executive then voted to approve all the officers recommendations and Cllr John said that the council would now go ahead and sigh the developer agreement.

The budget and its 28 recommendations involving major cuts across services was approved following a three minute introduction by Muhammed Butt and councillors declining Ann John's invitation to ask questions. The budget including the damaging cuts itemised elsewhere on this blog will now go to Full Council on February 27th.. Other items including the closure of Harmony Nursery and increases in council rents were also approved.

1 comment:

Miki Berenyi said...

Funnily enough, I left a comment on James Powney's blog last night, where he says:

Martin Francis appears to have started a rumour that there were no community meeting spaces in the plans for a redeveloped Willesden Library Centre. In fact there are three. The largest has a capacity of about 100. the outrage is therefore misplaced.

I said:

Would help if you didn't refer to them as 'Creative Cluster Spaces that would be fitted out to facilitate an array of artist and cultural programming'.

and made the point that 'committee rooms' doesn't automatically follow from that description.

I also wrote on yesterday's posting where he says,

I suspect that the Brent Council Executive this evening will be lenghty. As well as the budget, we have an item on Willesden Green Library Centre and Charteris Sports Centre. There are also a lot of other items that will probably attract less attention, but are extremely important (like the report on helping victims of domestic violence).

I wrote:

I would love to have stayed to hear about the extremely important issues that probably attract less attention, but please believe that it is not that we don't care about them, but that some of us turned up with small children in tow and others had to make childcare arrangements simply to attend the meeting and speak about the plans for WGLC. I have since heard that Ann John made some disparaging comments about our exit, and I do understand that things got a bit heated, but you must understand that we are massively constrained in our involvement with your agenda as we all have full-time jobs and small children. I really don't think we deserve to be sneered at for any part-time Johnny-come-lately involvement, and in fact should be commended for having made a huge collective effort to even make it to the meeting.

Especially since the majority of our questions were either ignored or wilfully misinterpreted.

He hasn't OKed my comments for publication yet, although he seems to have had time to post a new entry of his own today.