Friday 15 March 2013

More Wembley history takes a knock on eve of anniversary

The Planning Committee this week discussed two Wembley issues which local people have expressed concern about:

Agenda item 7, for 4 blocks of flats (3 x 8-storey and 1 x 5-storey with total of 109 flats) and one pair of 3-storey semi-detached family houses on the former station car park at Brook Avenue, Wembley, was brought forward. It was explained that during the site visit on 9 March it had been pointed out that several people who had commented on the application within the time limit had not been notified of the visit or committee date. 

Investigations had shown that those not notified included two Ward Councillors and the Chairperson of the Barn Hill Residents Association. The committee’s Legal Advisor had recommended that, in these circumstances, consideration of the application should be deferred to the next meeting of Planning Committee. The proposal to defer was put to the committee, and accepted unanimously.

The Chairman, Cllr. Ketan Sheth, told the members of the public present, including around half-a-dozen local residents who had come for this application (two of whom had been given speaking “slots” at the meeting as objectors) that the item 7 application would not now be heard at the meeting. He thanked those who had come for that item for attending, and said that he hoped they would come again to the meeting when it would be considered.

Plan with part retention of Palace of Industry walls
 Agenda item 4, for 1,350 temporary car parking spaces on the former Palace of Arts and Palace of Industry site at Engineers Way, Wembley, was the first application actually considered. Planning Officer Neil McLennan gave some further information on points from the Supplementary Report handed out at the start of the meeting, and said that the recommendation was now to give consent for temporary car parking for five years, rather than three, but with a reduction from 1,350 to a maximum of 510 spaces after three years, unless otherwise agreed by the Council. This would save the applicant from having to make a further application at the end of three years.

Philip Grant, a member of Wembley History Society, was invited to speak by the Chairman. He handed over some illustrations for the committee, and told them that since the application was made at the end of 2012 he had been trying to persuade the applicant, Quintain Estates, to retain at least some of the external walls of the Palace of Industry building until at least the end of 2014. 

That year would see the 90th anniversary of the British Empire Exhibition, an event which would be of far more than local interest. The Palace of Industry was the last remaining building from the Exhibition, and it was important that visitors for celebration events in 2014 should be able to see the scale and architectural style of one of the original 1924 buildings, and the innovative construction method used for the Exhibition, which was also known as the World’s First City of Concrete.

Mr Grant said that he had been told by Quintain that none of the walls could be left free-standing for reasons of safety. He said that he had asked several times since 18 January for sight of any report showing this to be the case. He had made clear that he would withdraw his objection to the demolition of the walls if he could be satisfied on this point, but had been given no evidence to back up Quintain’s claim. He said that he had recently written to Quintain’s Chief Executive with proposals for just a small section of the walls to be retained, rather than all of the northern and eastern external walls, and referred members to the illustrations he had given them which showed details, and that his proposals would not interfere with the planned parking spaces. 

He asked the committee, if it could not make keeping part of the walls a condition of granting consent, to make a strong request to Quintain to retain the small section of the external walls now suggested.

Anne Clements, Quintain’s Senior Planning Manager, addressed the committee next. She said that temporary car parking on the site was essential to her company’s Wembley City regeneration project, which had been approved by Brent in 2000. The extra parking was needed to meet its commitments to Wembley Stadium, and had to be available before they demolished an existing multi-storey car park as part of the next phase of the project. The latest phase, the London Designer Outlet, would be ready later in 2013, and was already over 50% pre-let, with Marks & Spencer as the lead tenant. This would provide 1,500 new jobs, and steps were being taken to try to ensure that most of these went to local people. The Wembley City regeneration was of major economic importance to Brent, and the Council should continue to give it their full support.

Ms Clements said that Quintain were mindful of the site’s British Empire Exhibition heritage. Several mosaics had been carefully removed when they demolished the last section of the Palace of Arts some years ago, and the lion’s head corbels from the building currently under demolition would be preserved, with some given to Brent. She said that they needed to clear the whole site for car parking, and that, for safety reasons, they were not prepared to accept the risk of leaving any of the walls standing. When asked by one of the members whether there was any survey or report which showed that it would be unsafe to leave the walls standing, Ms Clements said that Quintain’s demolition contractor had said that the concrete was deteriorating and that the whole building should be knocked down.

Several members of Planning Committee then gave their views. Cllr. Ann John said that she must start by saying that, although she had no personal interest in the application, she had known and had many discussions with Ms Clements and other members of the Quintain team about the Wembley City regeneration during her years as Leader of the Council. She stressed the importance of the scheme, and said that she fully supported the application. While she did not blame Mr Grant for trying to keep a part of Wembley’s history, it was a similar situation to when some people wanted to retain the twin towers of the old Wembley Stadium. That would have cost £30-40 million, and would have meant that Brent did not have the new Wembley Stadium.

Cllr. Mark Cummins said that what Mr Grant was now suggesting looked very reasonable, and he hoped that Quintain would try to accommodate his suggestion to retain a small section of the Palace of Industry walls. The British Empire Exhibition was an important part of Wembley’s history, and it should be possible to allow part of its last surviving building to remain standing for the anniversary in 2014. Cllr. Mary Daly, Vice-Chair of the committee, supported this view, and asked Ms Clements to take the feelings of members, on retaining the small section of the walls now proposed, back to her company. Cllr. Sami Hashmi said that he agreed with the comments of Cllrs. Cummins and Daly. 

Making final comments from the Planning Officers, Stephen Weeks said that there was no legal bar to Quintain demolishing the Palace of Industry building, and no condition over keeping part of the walls could be imposed as part of this planning consent. Neil McLennan clarified the wording of the amended conditions to the consent which the Officers recommended. The committee voted unanimously to grant consent, as amended.

The amended recommendations to the conditions on which consent would be granted for temporary car parking spaces on the Palace of Industry / Palace of Arts site, which were approved by Planning Committee were:
Condition 1: Period for which consent given: 5 years (rather than 3 years in original recommendation);
Condition 7: Maximum number of parking spaces: 1,350 spaces for the first three years from first use, and 510 spaces for the following two years unless otherwise agreed by the Council (rather than 1,350 spaces in the original recommendation).

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