Friday, 6 June 2014

Kensal Rise Library application a baptism of fire for the new Planning Committee

The controversial planning application for the Kensal Rise Library development appears to be scheduled for the new Planning Committee on June 17th, despite the police not having yet reported on their investigation of fraudulent emails submitted on the previous application.

Planning officers are recommending that the committee grant consent 'subject to legal agreement'. What this means will become clearer when their full report is published a week before the meeting.

The new Planning Committee, which is supposed to operate independently of the Council and is not whipped, is chaired by newly elected Barnhill councillor, Sarah Marquis who is a lawyer.

This is the composition of the Committee which consists of 7 Labour and one Conservative councillor:
Sarah Marquis, Amer Agha, Shafique Choudhary, Lia Colacicco, Dan Filson, Orleen Hylton, Suresh Kansagra and Arshad Mahmood.
One issue that immediately strikes me is that the Standing Orders for the Committee LINK, approved as part of the constitutional changes adoped at Full Council, is whether a hearing on June 17th gives enough time for the training of new councillors on the Planning Committee that is now required. A good grounding would seem to be required in such a controversial and complex case.

The Declarations of Interest for new councillors have yet to be posted LINK

The full list of comments on the  planning application can be seen on the planning portal LINK

Meanwhile here are some of the comments which will give readers an idea of the issues involved.

Support: I despair that this historic library, opened by Mark Twain, funded by public subscription; with help from Andrew Carnegie, fought for by so many in the community, and now designated a community asset, is to be carved up into a residential development for private profit, with token space set aside for its original use. If the choice is between nothing and something, then of course I support the Planning Application 14/0846 and FKRL as tenants of the space. But the ethics of the closure remain far from clear to me.

Support: Support for planning application 14/0846 I give my support re Planning Application 14/0846: 1. For D1 community library and space 2. For FKRL to be tenants of the space in the belief that this is the best practical way to use the Kensal Rise library building as a community asset. I hope the planning committee has more relevant information than me, and can better judge these issues: * Is a community library a practical, sustainable activity in the space envisaged? * Would the community get sufficient benefit from a library in the space envisaged to respect the "asset of community value" status? * Does the committee believe that the community could get better value from the building (that was funded by public subscription) in another way; i.e. that it should it reject the planning application or defer a decision until after the end of May when further funding options can be discussed? I await the decision and your reasons with interest

Objection: I object to the planning application 14/0846: 1) The application conflicts with the building's Asset of Community Value ("ACV") listing: The whole building is listed as an ACV. The applicant's/develper's plan for flats occupying almost the entire space within the building (less about 185sqm on the ground floor) conflicts with the requirement of the building's ACV listing for future non-ancillary community use. Were the applicant to succeed, most of the building's potential use as a future community facility would be lost to us forever, and in its place we would have the applicant's provision of an ancillary "D1 community space"; this contravenes the ACV requirement that future use of the building for the community be non-ancillary. 2) The impact on local employment and skills: The applicant's plan will damage the employment prospects of local people. In converting almost the whole building to residential use, the applicant is denying the future use of that space to local companies and organisations which could offer the learning of diverse skills not only to those they employ but those who would use their services; in contrast, the small space offered by the applicant cannot offer the same sustainable and diverse business, education, skills and employment opportunities to local people - and such a loss always affects poorer people most. I note that the Friends of Kensal Rise Library (FKRL) is the developer's "preferred bidder" for the space, however its model for financial sustainability is weak because it relies almost exclusively on volunteer support - this is because there is little space for it to generate revenue to run a library in the D1 space offered by the developer in this application. 3) Not much more D1 space than in developer's first rejected application on the building in August 2013: The D1 space offered now is little more than what was offered in the developer's first planning application when it was rejected by the planning officers on the grounds of insufficient D1 space. At that time, the developer offered D1 space partly in a basement and partly on the ground floor; as a percentage of total floor space available, the D1 space offered now isn't much more than what was offered then - in fact it's probably less because there is now less basement space in the developer's current application. Therefore, if the planning officers rejected the first application after having concluded that it conceded insufficient D1 space, then it only makes sense for the sake of consistency to reject the current application as well. 4) The police's current fraud investigation potentially exposes planning officers and committee to civil proceedings against them: Has the council considered the legal consequences to it of assigning residential status to any part of the building - and therefore immediately enriching the applicant - while there is an on-going police investigation into email and identity fraud around the applicant's support for his first application in August 2013? While the financial implications of assigning residential status to a currently D1-only building are not a matter for the planning officers and committee, the consequences of doing so while an investigation, which could possibly result in criminal charges, might be. 5) The D1 space is unattractive, small, and will not generate a sustained level of interest from the community because the space is too limited in what it can offer; it is essentially a narrow corridor separating two relatively small rooms - which will be small once essential public facilites such as toilets, staff room, and circulation are factored in. The proposed entrance to the D1 area is in a chimney flue, leaving the better and larger entrance for the few flat owners.

Support: This supporting comment is being submitted on behalf of the Kensal Triangle Residents Association. While,like everyone else, we deeply regret that the whole building is not to be saved for community use, as it was originally gifted to the local community, we consider that the FKRL who have worked tirelessly for the last four years have arrived at the best outcome which still retains a library on the site. We wish for the Friends of Kensal Rise Library to be the tenants of the space and to run the Library. Commenting on purely physical details, we agree with many others that the proposed entrance (through the existing chimney flue) creates a cramped space with poor flow, which will not help with optimisation of the space available: surely some way can be found of creating secure entrances to the flats and the Library through the existing main door.

Support: Time to Win the Peace? We have been involved in campaigns for Kensal Rise Library library since 1988, when the people occupied the building. Now is the turning point. Do we support the developer¿s planning application with the proviso that there be a rent-free space for community use on the ground floor whose preferred tenants are the Friends of Kensal Rise Library? For us the answer is a ¿Yes¿. We know and trust the Friends of Kensal Rise Library, who have fought so hard to save this building and who kept the Pop-up Library running in all weathers, a hard and unglamorous task. Thanks to their tireless negotiations with the developer and All Souls, the space offered has been increased to around two-thirds of the original space the library took up. No war ever achieves all its objectives. Ideally we would all like to keep the whole building for community use. But a moral victory is useless if there is no library at the end of it. The Friends and Trustees of Kensal Rise Library have taken the very difficult decision to support the planning application. After years of saying 'No' to an Oxford College, a Council and a developer, it is hard to say ¿Yes¿. But what were we fighting for? A library. Not an embattled plastic tent, brilliant as it was, but a warm, dry space where books, company and computers are free. A space where parents can bring young children, where older school children can do their home-work. The end-game was always a peace, not a war. My husband, the writer Nicholas Rankin, and I believe it is time to win the peace. It is an act of faith. But every library is an act of faith that when people work together, good things can happen that are not just about profit or advantage. We want Kensal Rise to have a real library back and we think the best chance of it now is to support the planning application.



Toby Chambers said...

For what is now worth, since I was not elected, it is my humble opinion planning application should be refused, until such time as all the matters surrounding this planning application have been considered. Those now being :

1. Training for new planning committee
2. Potential bias from any member of the planning committee.
3. Current investigation into alleged fake emails, commonly now refered to as EmailGate.
4. Asset of Community Value, powers and relevance.
5. Approx 80% loss D1 space without developer adequately compensating the community.
6. Community representation on the planning committee.
7. Compulsory repurchase at peppercorn rate if planning application is refused, given that developer highly likely to land bank until planning committee accept the application.

If the planning committee approve the application without due consideration of the above points would this constitute the ability of the local community under the 2009 Town and Country Planning consultation direction, to notify Secretary of State as a "Departure Application" ?
Can better solutions be found for the site benefitting the commumity rather than a developer ?

Toby Chambers said...

On Friday I attended a preview that Has been put together in response to proposed redevolopment of Peckham Station.

The principals underwould the objectionss to Peckham Station would be highly relevant to Kensal Rise library redevelopment and many other current and proposed redevelopments.

Southwark Council following May elections has accepted the need to appoint an organization to engage with the community in reviewing what the community want for Peckham redevelopment.

Brent would also be well advised to review community engagement of these important community buildings and facilities that are being sold to developers.

Toby Chambers said...

Link to Southwark Council announcement 5 June of appointment of organization to engage with community re Peckham Station and redevelopment.

If Southwark Council admit the need for better community engagement in reaching final decisions, so should Brent.

We shall waiting and see, but not that optimistic Brent Council will follow the lead set by Southwark in reviewing decisions.

Meg Howarth said...

Previous recent blogs on the Kensal Rise Library issue produced 56 and 86 comments respectively on 6 and 16 April -;

Most were made anonymously.

In marked contrast, only Toby Chambers - himself the victim of anonymous vitriol - has had the guts to post on this blog so far. Respect to him for doing so. It would be extremely worrying if those who would like to express their views - freedom of speech - feel too intimidated to do so.

On the substantive points - as someone who gave information to Brent Council regarding the fake emails, I believe that the council's delay in forwarding to the police all the evidence it received requires further investigation. Were senior officers more concerned with salvaging the council's reputation than in tracking down those responsible for the apparent attempt to sway last September's original planning committee through false testimony - itself a criminal offence?

Martin has raised a further crucial point - has enough time elapsed for the training of the new councillors on the Planning Committee that is now required under the post-election constitutional changes adopted at last week's full council before such a controversial planning application is hears? Who is to give this training and what precisely it entails are important supplementary questions that surely require answers before the new planning committee meets. How else can anyone have confidence in the new training?

A previous Anonymous commentator sneered: 'debate' on Wembley Matters, that also is a matter of opinion' ('Robust local press...' 3 June). Perhaps s/he would like now to contribute to the accountable discussion that Martin Francis has enabled?

Meg Howarth said...

Afterthought: Has Brent's Audit and Investigation Unit (A&IU) been advised of next week's planning committee hearing? When was the A&IU - which 'periodically ha[s] contact with the police' - last updated on the state of the investigation?

To date, only the official mantra that 'the Council has a responsibility and obligation to consider any valid planning application that is put forward from any individual(s). It must consider each on its merits in accordance with its statutory obligations' has been put forward to justify what to many seems like putting the planning cart before the police horse.

Anonymous said...

Martin be worth drawing to attention proposed site visit on 14 June

A coach is leaving 9:30 am and visits 3 sites within the hour arriving at Kensal Rise at 10:30 for 4th site visit. It does not say how long visit will stay at Kensal Rise, but judging from the schedule it seems like coach would just drive around without stopping at each destination as even to simply drive around from Civic Centre to Preston first stop to Queensbury second and 3 rd stop and to be at Kensal Rise 4 th stop could take about 1 hour!

Jodi Gramigni said...

Thank you Wembley Matters for giving a platform to an important community issue.

As a local resident, and longtime campaigner for SKRL, I am heartbroken that this is where we are today. I cannot forget that the council closed Kensal Rise and Cricklewood libraries, handing our public assets to a wealthy Oxford College, without giving local residents a chance to retain them. And that now, many years later, the same council is promoting themselves as helping to 'save' these closed libraries, by supporting a deal for minimal community space within high-end residential developments.

Yet, regardless of all the PR & politics, the uncomfortable fact remains that there isn't a legally binding agreement for the Friends of Kensal Rise Library to become tenants of the proposed community space - a distinction that should stop Brent Council cold in their tracks. And, while I am personally opposed to Change of Use (for many of the reasons explained in the Wembley Matters blog above), I wholeheartedly want the reinstatement of a community library run by FKRL.

The fact that FKRL do not have a legal agreement for this space is entirely at the developers discretion, and Brent must insist that a LEGALLY BINDING AGREEMENT with FKRL is in place PRIOR to any decision. No one benefits from negotiations after planning, except of course, the developer. Once planning is granted, he will be sitting on a gold mine; with the legal right to proceed WITHOUT a lease for FKRL - regardless of what the community wants.

And, it must be noted that most of the comments of support were given on the CONDITION that FKRL are tenants of the community space. As this is currently NOT GUARANTEED by the developer or by Brent, the 'real' support for his application vanishes. What we are left with is the many hopes and dreams of a determined community resting on the promise of a possibility from those who have repeatedly spurned us thus far.

Surely Brent Councillors are sensitive these facts and want to secure equity for our community after all the damage they have sown by shutting it's doors? If Change of Use for flats is approved, and the deal for FKRL never materialises, residents will remember that it was Brent Council who got us into this mess in the first place - that we were sold out by our own representatives and left with a building empty of books.

Ultimately, planning approval without a legally binding deal for FKRL is a risk that shouldn't be tested - the stakes are too great. And, if Brent Council fails to secure a community library run by FKRL it will never be forgiven. I sincerely hope that the Planning Committee - at the very minimum - will make sure that a binding legal deal is in hand before any irreversible decisions are made.