Wednesday 8 August 2012

Lively consultation on Willesden Green leaves unanswered questions

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.


Ossian said...

Thanks for representing good sense against the slapdash approach of Brent council.

Anonymous said...

She is right, your campaign is not representative. I was at one of the consultations today and many of us there, chatting outside, agreed that the campaign has mostly been run by bolshy cranks who don't represent the larger community. Most of us don't care about the relic of the old library, which none of us ever use, and which serves no apparent purpose; we just want to live in a vibrant, thriving community and KWG are standing the way of progress in an area that desperately needs to move forward for their own self-serving agenda.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that a Green party candidate is defending keeping a car park and a hugely energy inefficient building. Doesn't sound very Green

Martin Francis said...

Thanks for your contributions. The point about being representative is hard to prove of course but the 100 plus people who attended public meetings of Keep Willesden Green have certainly covered the age spectrum and were not just white and middle class either. We do not have age/ethnicity data on the 5,000 or so local people who have signed petitions. Yesterday's 2pm meeting had highly critical contributions from people who I had never seen before.

Nothing in my report above defends keeping a car park, I merely list the concerns from consultees that Beth Kay listed. For the record I do think all those concerns should be debated. The 'hugely inefficient' building is clearly an issue and again we need to debate refurbishment to bring it up to standard that the Council put at £660,000 versus the c£10m cost (financed by giving away Council (our) land to a developer). Demolition, acquisition of new materials from scarce natural resources and building also have an environmental cost. Retrofitting is often more environmentally friendly than new build.

Anonymous said...

It strikes me that this has all been protesting for protesting's sake and the project has ended up costing us all much more than necessary while workable plans were sent back to the drawing board. People moan about the lack of consultation but the inarticulacy and incoherent arguments coming from some protestors yesterday suggested they were the last people anyone should consult. The talk of a town green is a nonsense and it is obvious to anyone who pays the least attention that that particular law does not work in the campaigners' favour. It's just a bunch of people who like to be heard, even when what they are saying is merely backward-looking and obstructive. As ever, the silent majority, who have no wish to embroil themselves in these affairs, go unrepresented.

Dollis Hill mum said...

So are you saying that because you don't agree with certain people's opinions, they should not be consulted on how their tax money is spent? That the council should simply be allowed to knock down and build on public buildings without any consultation? Interesting.
If you bothered to check through the history of this campaign, you would see that many people actually have quite different opinions regarding the car park, old library building, bookshop and 'town green', never mind the lack of affordable housing in the flats. The unifying issue that has outraged us all is that the whole thing has been carried out in a particularly sneaky manner. Even other local Labour and Lib Dem councillors who were not on the planning committee have admitted that consultation was poor.
The first I heard of the rebuild was when I visited the Willesden Bookshop in January after the Christmas holidays and was told that they were having to close because of the development. No one at my local primary school had any idea that this was happening, some of whom I know well who live on Balmoral, Staverton, Osborne and Chapter Roads (ie, immediate vicinity of the library). It was at this point that we as concerned parents got involved, not as Luddite opposers of any proposed scheme, but as parents of children who need and deserve a public library and who were having their asset of a local bookshop, which has also provided invaluable expertise in stocking our school library, taken away from them. Our anger only really stirred when we discovered that the rebuilt library would be smaller, was ill thought-out, had an unworkable design (yes, we checked with architects) and that the main impetus for the entire project was luxury housing and council offices. Far from being a bunch of cranks, the KWG group simply wants to ensure that the new library (and many of us do actually want a new library!) actually works. This is a huge project – a library and council contact that has to service the entire south of Brent borough. It deserves careful consideration and open, transparent consultation. And we have not had that.

Anonymous said...

Let's look at the facts. The land at the back of the car park is Publicly owned. In this age of increasing urban population and congestion, a site at the heart of a community should be retained for infrastructure to support the housing developments that are springing up all over Brent.
There is a need for housing and there are many sites in Brent that have been designated for this purpose. We also need good space and facilities to support the new growing communities.
The library currently has a foot fall of 400,000. It is predicted to have an annual footfall of 1,000,000. Where will the newly arrived residents go to study, read, exchange ideas, learn, meet, etc. if the numbers are doubled and the footprint of the library is halved? Is a mugger's strip at the back of the library really going to give us an outdoor space, market place and meeting point that we all value so highly. Will the "pavement interventions" scattered amongst lorry access routes and busy pedestrian highways be a reasonable alternative to a decent playground? Should a Cultural Centre turn it's back on the High Road and face a shiny new housing development?
Is it really right that there is no affordable housing offered on the site? The National guidance for new developments is 20% Social Housing, this will not be included within the housing because the developers are concerned they will not make enough profit. Is it forward looking to sell off Public land so that property developers can maximise their profit and then zip back to their spacious houses in the home counties leaving us congested without heritage, space and vital facilities. The Keep Willesden Greeen Campaign is not a campaign launched by a bunch of backward looking campaigners, it is the local voice of common sense and reason standing up against the greed of non- residents.

Anonymous said...

The following can be backed up in Council reports:
Three Developers were offered a large site with an inadequately uconsulted Planning brief/Master plan and they were invited to offer a scheme that would return a Cultural Centre with Council offices on top.
3 valid tenders were returned offering different schemes. Galliford Try's was selected, not because of it's design merits, but because of "financial benefit", probably enhanced by greatest number of houses squeezed on to the site.
Hands were shaken on the basis of "financial benefit" (who the benefit is to is not clear) and the site was handed over for design development for Planning.
It appears that at this point the Council signed up to a 94 unit housing development. This commitment is a done deal.
I am amazed that Brent Council can behave so undemocratically. They have elected to sell off our amenity and heritage without any Consultation to a private property developer for luxury flats. How can this be justified. I cannot believe that there is a silent majority who would support this kind of behavior from a Council.

They say that they are working within the HCA framework. I would say that their actions are not within the guidance of the HCA.
1) The plans on which the deal was struck were not accurate. (Misleading plan, the protected Plane tree location not correct, scale inaccurate). Councillors were duped into agreeing to the scheme by a set of plans that were quite scandalously inaccurate.
2) There was no Public Consultation on demolition in Conservation Area. Simply Councilor's own desire to do away with the Old Library.
3) The rise in the ground from High Road (front) to car park (back) is significant and was ignored by Galliford Try when they submitted their tender winning entry.
How could the Council's design review panel give approval to such a flawed scheme?
The Council say that they have been guided by independent experts. Who are these experts? We need more clarity on all of this.

Ossian said...

We need space. The craze for brown field development is completely misguided. The green belt needs to be abolished and then we can start to have pleasant housing in a decent environment, instead of cramming people into what are little better than dog kennels in dormitory zones denuded of all cultural features. There is nothing wrong with car parks. The trend is for cars to be less and less polluting and car parks will always be required. The same cannot be said of high density flats. People love their cars. Get over it. A car park is a space. A small building with turrets is a cultural feature. The space around it is the heart space, the pumping chamber of the neighbourhood. We do not need any more flats. What we need are space and houses. We are not ants. We don't want to become ants. Stop treating us like ants.

Martin (I am not a Robot) said...

Hello Anonymous on 8th August. Just to let you know that I had never heard of KWG until I realised that the old library was to be demolished. Then I contacted one of the members and I discovered that she also did not know of their existence before joining. Then I went to a meetin and realised that everybody thee had not heard of the KWG group before getting involved. Yes, you've guessed it, KWG has grown enormously from a few initial people who realise the value of retaining community space and also have no other voice as individuals agains the corporate tactics of Brent Council and their appointed private developers. Why don't you join in and find out how you have been duped by the presentation on 8th August? When its gone...its gone!