Sunday 14 October 2012

Is Donald's the right development road for Brent?

In December 2011, long before the Brent Council leadership coup, I posted an article on 'Brent Council: Who's in charge?' about the relationship between the then leader Ann John and Gareth Daniel LINK which commented on Garth Daniel's increasingly political comments.

Now the same question is being asked about Brent's Regeneration and Major Projects department and the relationship between the Director, Andy Donald and lead member, Cllr George Crane. I have commented before on the domination of the council by Major Projects and the delegating of many powers to Andy Donald by the Executive.

In March 2010 Jackie Sadek on EstatesGazette,com gushed with enthusiasm about the then assistant Director and the lead  member:
Councillor John Detre (lead member for regeneration for Brent) and Andy Donald (his AD Regeneration) are a formidable team and I congratulate them. They are clearly on a roll.  We are taking a number of jv opportunities from Brent out to MIPIM in just a few days; developers and investors would be very silly not to take Brent very seriously over the next five years. In a time of uncertain political futures, the stability of this London borough coupled with its glorious asset base (my emphasis) and its serious intent to develop and regenerate, make it fertile territory indeed. And they're green: sustainability is key. They are showing the way.
In July 2010 the Money List put Brent Council at No.9 in its list of the Top 100 Public Sector Investors in the UK, just below the then London Development  Agency:
Top 100 projects 2010 £115m
Key contact Andy Donald, assistant director for regeneration, 020 8937 1049

The north-west London borough is in the top 10 due to its commitments to two of London's biggest regeneration projects. First, there is the council's establishment of a £100 million civic centre near Wembley Stadium that is intended to act as a catalyst for the £3.8 billion Wembley City project. Brent is also lead developer for the £772 million housing estate renewal project in south Kilburn, where it has so far spent £15 million on planning, demolition and buying out leaseholders.

"Local authorities should take more direct responsibility for the delivery of regeneration when there is market failure," says assistant director for regeneration Andy Donald. "In South Kilburn we want to stay in control of the quality and timescale of delivery. Looking forward we are likely to continue with that approach in order to make the most of our land and assets."
'Making the most of our land and assets' has become Andy Donald's crusade under the current administration.  The promise of  new buildings and redevelopment at  'nil cost'  to the Council is clearly attractive to them at a time of reduced budgets. However 'our land' is not just the council's - it is OUR land - the people of Brent. That is where the battles over regeneration get nasty, as in the case of Willesden Green Library Centre. The council has given 'our land' and the profits they will get from 92 housing units to developers Galliford Try in exchange for a Cultural Centre. During Margaret Thatcher's period in office and the selling off of public assets to the private sector there was much talk of 'selling the family silver'. Brent Council now appears to be in the same business.

Andy Donald was appointed Director on Major Projects and Regeneration in October 2010. The Brent Council website states:
Andy Donald, Director of Regeneration and Major Projects
Andy’s responsibilities include the delivery of the council’s ambitious regeneration and housing agenda, and he currently leads on major projects such as South Kilburn, Wembley, the new Civic Centre, Willesden Green, and the council’s programme for new and improved schools. Service responsibilities include housing, planning, building control, property and asset management, education assets, regeneration, employment and economic Development. Andy also has responsibility for overseeing the Council’s Housing Management delivery vehicle, Brent Housing Partnership.
The department employs some 450 people, including four assistant directors.He is responsible for a significant revenue budget, including the housing revenue account, and for overseeing a large proportion of the council’s capital programme – currently to a value of £100 million.
Andy is a founding board member of the Future of London, and an active
member of the Smart Urbanism group.
The emphasis on planning and regeneration is mine and reflects my  concern about a possible conflict the between the two. Brent Planning Committee  is advised by council planning officers but has a statutorily independent role,  However councillors usually follow officers' advice and increasing numbers of decisions are made by officers following planning guidelines, rather than the committee.

In the MIPIM Round Table discussion in Cannes in April 2010, referred to by Jackie Sadek, Andy Donald revealed some of his thinking, which perhaps demonstrates a rather cavalier approach to his brief.

This contribution from Donald reinforces my concern over possible conflict between planning and regeneration functions:
What I’ve learned is, when times are good, the big scale projects work well, but when times are not so good, it is best to try and present projects to politicians in a more chunked-up way, where they can generate momentum. Once things have started and momentum builds up it is really difficult to stop it, for funders to walk away. So as local authorities we try and take more responsibility to get things started, which might mean acting as a developer, to take things through planning ourselves, which builds confidence
The council acting as developer and taking things through planning themselves, successfully marginalises the local community. In the Willesden Green Cultural Centre case the council formed a partnership with Galliford Try and initially it appeared that the planning application would be made in both names. This was changed so it became a Galliford Try/Linden Homes application with a Brent Council Planning Officer, a PR company, and latterly Library Labs all involved in the much criticised consultation process.

The question is, has the project got so much momentum that it cannot be stopped? The campaigners have had some success in slowly things down. The question for councillors, who are accountable to the public and the electorate is: Is this how things should be done if we want to retain the public's confidence?

Andy Donald went on to say:

As local authorities we’ve got to start realising and recommending to politicians. The focus should be on doing some delivery, generating the market for delivery, rather than diverting activity around producing big masterplans, often on big areas we don’t own, and trying to tell the market they must deliver this across this area over the next thirty years. Starting small and generating momentum seems to me to be the way to do it.

We want to try and remove some of the technical aspects of the process. If you ask planners what they want to do, it will be to draw a masterplan. But a masterplan won’t make the Thames Gateway happen or make a scheme the size of Wembley happen. More local authorities are realising this, realising we should instead be starting from the site upwards, or the plot upwards.
Donald's enthusiasm and confidence glows as bright as the sunshine in the south of France, but is it a vision shared by Brent Council?

The attitude to local people is revealed again in this interchange in the round table discussion:

Peter Finch The difference between the French and the British is that while Paris was busy delivering the Charles de Gaulle airport, it took the same time for us to get the public inquiry for Terminal 5. Mitterrand was asked how this could be. He gave a very witty response. He said: ‘Very simple. In France, when we wish to drain the pond, we get rid of the frogs first’.

There is a sense that Britain is neither brutal nor generous enough. When we finally get CPOs (Compulsory Purchase Orders), we’re never generous enough and we always make it nasty. We’re not brutal enough to say, we just don’t care, here’s twenty times worth the value, now just go away. Or we’ll arrest you!

Andrew DonaldBut we never know if we actually do want to drain the pond. And that’s the big issue. It comes back to leadership. It doesn’t matter what scale you’re working on. There are very few people I come across in the public sector who will nail their colours to mast and say: ‘This is what we want to see happening now’. To be confident enough to know that over the 30-year lifespan of that scheme it is going to involve, there should be more confidence to say: “This is what we want now, but in five years time, if we change our minds, it is okay, as long as we’ve done something in those five years”. That is critical.
Roger Zogolovitch later in the discussions says:
Rather than getting rid of the frogs before draining the pond we’re giving authority to the frogs!
The Civic Centre opens in 2013 and its cost will be paid back over 25 years. Will the council change their minds in 2018?

Donald, despite Brent's 'green development' image, seems impatient with such demands:

I would take out in one fell swoop all the requirements around environmental requirements and transport requirements. I think that their original purpose was quite worthy but now, frankly, it is a pile this big for even tiny application. Replace that with something to the point about what this development is going to make to local area, written in plain English. The decision makers are never going to read all that text. There is a massive disconnect between the decision makers and the officers. To release the development from the upfront cost of these, maybe we can be more collaborative here in saying what a scheme is going to bring to an area in terms of improvement, from the people side and commercial side as well. What does a scheme bring to a place? It is much more about whether a scheme makes a place better or not.
Donald's  idea of  'starting small and generating momentum'  rather than having a Masterplan, seems to be behind the Meanwhile Project reviewed here in an earlier posting LINK  

The proposal greed by the Executive gives Donald the delegated power to buy up unused premises and let them out on fixed term contracts with no tenant right to renewal. His report states:
The term “meanwhile” is used to describe the use of vacant premises or land while it is not being used – it is the pause in the development process between the old and the new. This pause can be a few months or a number of years.
In other words those trendy spaces let out to 'pop up' shops or businesses could eventually become the pieces of a development jigsaw that all fall into place at a later date. Again, are councillors happy with this approach and won't the public be presented, in time, with a development  fait accompli? 

 The council's Corporate Risk Register builds the relationship with developers into the risk management strategy. It addresses the risk of lack of  investment in the borough thus:
De-risking by assisting with planning permissions etc on behalf of developers. Maintaining dialogue with investors/developers. Reviewing other sources of capital finance.
In April of this year Andrew Donald was shorlisted for the Alan Cherry Award:
A shortlist of nine eminent ‘placemakers’ has been announced for the Alan Cherry Award for Placemaking.  The annual award is presented in recognition of the significant contribution made to the quality of placemaking in their communities by a leading figure in the public sector.
Alan Cherry was the founder of Countryside Properties. Countryside Properties was Brent Council's development partner for the Barham Park Estate.

Elsewhere Andy Donald has been named as a 'Rising Star' and a mentor for young people involved in regeneration. He clearly has commitment and energy. The question arises as to whether this is taking Brent Council in the right direction.

1 comment:

Trevor said...

I cannot Hide my lack of faith in this council.
This talk of Regeneration is as empty as the promise that things would only get better under The former Labour government.
Having grown up in Brent since the late 60s I can say from Bitter experience That Brent council is only Good at Doing a bad job.
ants and bees do a far better job @ building homes for themselves.
Brent will always be a Haven of Torment no matter what the so call council do to change it.
take the former Chalk hill Estate, when it was built it was talked up Like it was something special and now it is gone.
only to be replaced by a smaller estate that is full of the same old flaws clearly showing that although the council has ears, They clearly don't listen to what people say about their estates.
the estate on Chalk hill road now run by metropolitan housing is no better than the old estate that was built by and run by Brent council.
When it it comes to building Homes for people they are no good.
that is why I would advise everyone to look elsewhere because you will NEVER BE ABLE TO LIVE IN PEACE IN BRENT ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIVE IN A TOWER BLOCK NO MATTER WHETHER IT IS OLD OR NEW.
I turn my back on Brent Council because they are a let down...their only good at taking money from us and give us rubbish in return.
I bet that once the new so called homes are built They will be the same old trash that Brent is known for building.
It's a pity the regeneration does not start with the council because the long suffering public deserve so much better and yet we will never get better just more empty promises and I think we have had enough of those by now.
If I could I would pack my things and leave this dirty haven of torment aka wembley (Brent)