I started out feeling sorry for Beth Kay from the Brent Council Regeneration Team today as she was once again the council's 'messenger' under fire from many quarters at the latest Willesden Green redevelopment 'consultation'. .This sympathy was reduced somewhat when I heard the presentation and some of her answers to questions.. The Q&A would have gone much better if there had been a neutral chair to keep order and make sure that full answers were provided.
The main feature was the exhibition showing a possible scheme incorporating the 1894 Library. More pictures (above) - more on the Keep Willesden Green blog HERE However Beth gave mixed messages about this. At one stage she had been talkling about dialogue with the community being frustrated by the issue of the the Victorian library and said, "Now the Old Library has been saved we can have conversations about what we want in the new library". However later she said that the retention of the Old Library compromised the scheme, presented challenges and made her nervous in planning terms.
In presenting the results of the top consultation concerns (Loss of Old Library 45%, Loss of Wiilesden Bookshop 22%, Inadequate parking 18%, Renovation rather than redevelopment 17%, Dislike of design 16%, Insufficient consultation 16%, New building too small 14%, Loss of public space at front of building 14%) she referred to three petitions. However for the 'Retaining Bookshop' petition and the 'Pause, Listen and Reflect' here presentation only gave the figures for the e-petition, rather than the much larger (sometimes 10 times larger) paper petitions. For the 'Oppose Demolition of the Old Library' petition the presentation gave both the e-petition and paper petition figures.
I protested that this seriously misrepresented the number of people supporting the first two petitions and she undertook to amend the presentation.
Another conflict arose over the Willesden Bookshop. Beth claimed once again that the bookshop's rent had been subsidised (despite the owner Steve's denial on this blog) and that all bookshops were in crisis. She further claimed that the Bookshop itself had admitted it was not viable. However she said that (yet another) consultant had been appointed to look into the viability of a combined cafe/bookshop.
When it was pointed out that the Willesden Bookshop had now closed despite her presentation stating that the Council was trying to continue non-core services in the interim, she said that the Council was trying to find them premises on the High Road.
Challenged by another member of the audience on the total amount of money that had been spent on consultants she was unable to provide an answer but implied that Galliford Try was footing the bill.
Questioned about why the planning application had been pulled Beth said this was due to the widespread opposition to the demolition of the Old Library. She did not mention that GLA planners had raised concerns that the proposals did not meet London Heritage policies in meetings with Brent Council officers. With a straight face she stated, "By withdrawing the planning application we have shown it is not a 'done deal' ".
During discussion about why refurbishment of the 1989 hadn't been considered, and when the audience laughed when someone asked 'Who built it if it's no good?" and was answered, to laughter "Brent Council!", Beth claimed that the Chalkhill Estate had been rebuilt and that was the same age as the current library. In fact the old Chalkhill Estate was built in several phases between 1966-70, 20 years earlier than the library.
I did not receive a satisfactory answer to a question about possible conflict over Brent Council's role as instigator of the project, joint partner with the developer, conductor of post partnership public consultation, and decision maker on the planning application. I pointed out that our objections were not just limited to the retention of the Old Library but also concerned the loss of open space, the fact that the housing was unaffordable, loss of bookshop and the provision of council offices, none of which were to be consulted on. Keep Willesden Green had wanted the Council to start again from scratch and involve local people from the start. Beth angrily stated that the provision of council offices was a matter for the council and nothing to do the public, only the Council knew what they needed.
In the light of the above I asked that Keep Willesden Green be given the space to make their case to the public in the interests of openness and democracy. To rumbles of disagreement she said that she did not think KWG was representative but added that it had been added to the list of special interest groups to be consulted in September. She responded more positively to a suggestion that there should be an ongoing group to work on the proposals, possibly as part of the Willesden Town Team, or as a separate group.