Monday 16 December 2013

Brent Council should work with the community on Barham Park Library

Guest blog by Philip Grant following the Barham Park Planning Committee decision and the Freinds of Barham Library's statement that they would challenge any appeal by the Trustees of Barham Park Trust

As at 3pm on 16 December, Brent's Planning Department had not been notified of any appeal by the Planning Inspectorate (to whom any appeal by the Barham Park Trust, or by a Brent Council Officer in Regeneration's Property and Asset Management section on their behalf) would be made. However, as I doubt whether the "Friends" would put out this Statement without firm evidence of the facts, I will comment on the basis that an appeal has been made.

A blog item on the original Planning Committee decision can be found at:
I am convinced that Brent's Planning Committee made the right decision, and that the Planning Officer's recommendation to give consent to the change of use was wrong because it relied on a document which was dishonest. 

At the Civic Centre on the evening of the meeting I spoke with people from both sides of the argument. Although she has been criticised for supporting the application, Cllr. Mary Daly did so only because she saw the Trustees deal with ACAVA as the only way to get the Barham Park buildings back into use quickly. She, like me and others, is concerned that the longer the buildings remain empty, the more chance there is that they will fall into disrepair, and suffer the fate of Titus Barham's mansion in the park, which was demolished in the 1950's after years of neglect by Wembley Council, to whom it had been gifted for the benefit of local people, along with the park and remaining buildings in it, in 1937.

I did not think that letting all of the space to ACAVA for artists' studios was the only answer, and after speaking to representatives of Pivot Point and FoBPL, I wrote to all of the Barham Park Trustees on 15 November. I suggested to them that they should invite ACAVA to join them in an attempt to find a solution, by sitting down with the two local community groups who also wished to use part of the buildings, on a "without prejudice" basis, to see whether they could agree a workable way in which they could all share the facilities currently allocated solely to ACAVA. If they could agree how they would share the buildings, Council Officers should be instructed to draw up the necessary agreements to allow this to happen as soon as possible.

There may be some people within Brent Council who regard my efforts to get involved and give advice (on matters where I feel I have the knowledge or experience to make sensible suggestions) as "troublemaking", but here I was definitely trying to help as a "troubleshooter". I genuinely thought that 'given goodwill on all sides, this could be the way to get the buildings back into use, for ACAVA and for the local community, producing rental income to contribute to the refurbishment costs and help pay for the future maintenance of the buildings and to bring life back into the park.'

I have not heard back from any of the five Trustees (Cllrs Crane, Denselow, Hirani, Mashari and Ruth Moher), or from anyone at the Council on their behalf. If they have taken up my suggestion, I have not heard any word of it. I had said in my email to them: 'I realise that you may wish to take advice from Council Officers on my suggestions, but please remember that you are the Trustees, and the decisions are yours.' Despite this, it looks as if the Council Officers have got the upper hand (with the support or acquiescence of our elected Councillors, with their Trustee hats on). Their plans have been thwarted, quite rightly, by Brent’s Planning Committee, but they are determined that at whatever cost in (Council Taxpayers') money, and whatever the delay, and potential consequences in terms of the future of the Barham Park buildings, their will must prevail. 

Sadly, it makes the final comment in my email to the Barham Park Trustees of 15 November seem prophetic: 'I believe that the time of Officers would be better spent in working on a solution to the problem, rather than in searching for reasons to try to justify a scheme which is not a solution to it, and will only prolong the discord between Council and local community, rather than healing it.' 

Can anyone, please, explain why Brent Council makes it so difficult for Councillors, Council Officers and local people to work together for the mutual benefit of our community?

Philip Grant. 


francis said...

Phil, nothing new it has been a white wash from day one, cllr mashari was the only one that actually looked ashamed of the decision which appears to have been forced upon them.
and a further 10K down the drain of the charities money

Anonymous said...

Dear Francis,

Thank you for this information. I wrote to Ruth Moher, Chair of the Barham Park Trustees, a couple of days ago, to let her know about this "guest blog" and provide a link so that she and her colleagues could read it, saying:
'I would invite you to exercise your "right of reply", and to submit a "guest blog" to Martin Francis at "Wembley Matters", explaining why the Barham Park Trustees (or Brent Council on their behalf) are appealing against the Planning Committee decision, what they see as the best way to get the former library building back into community use, and when this is likely to happen.'
I hope that she, or one of her fellow Trustees, will reply as I believe that local people are entitled to an explanation. If there is no satisfactory explanation, then the Trustees should withdraw their appeal without delay.