In this Guest Blog Meg Howarth tries to disentangle the various interpretations of the law involved in the Kensal Rise Library development planning process.
Last week, Brent's planning committee gave the go-ahead to Andrew Gillick's latest plans for the Kensal Rise Library building he now owns. Brent & Kilburn Times report HERE -
Regarding the still-unresolved fraudulent email affair surrounding the developer's original scheme - there's currently some speculation that matters might now be in the hands of the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service). This is unconfirmed, however, and shouldn't stop anyone from writing to their ward councillors to ensure that Brent police's investigation isn't quietly dropped on the back of last Wednesday's planning consent.
Last Wednesday's decision was made in the face of apparently contradictory advice from the council's lawyers about the relevance of ACV (Asset of Community Value) legislation to the application - the library building was listed as an ACV in December 2012. The committee's legal advisor told the committee that the Localism Act and ACV was 'separate legislation' and 'not under the consideration of this committee'. This is not only untrue, as Jodi Gramigni says on the following Wembley Matters' blog LINK
The advice appears also appears to contradict points 7 & 8 of the planning officer's report. These state unequivocally that 'in this case [KTR planning application] the fact that the building is listed as a Asset of Community value is...a material planning consideration' and 'is also relevant...as a partial change of use to residential is proposed' - link to report HERE
But the most glaring evidence of Brent legal's flip-flopping regarding ACV legislation comes in the statement from Andrew Gillick's spokesman on the eve of the planning committee: 'Further to advice provided by the LPA [Brent local planning authority] in respect of the Assets of Community Value Regulations 2012, I am pleased to advise that the applicant [the developer] has today confirmed that he is naming FKRL as the "actual" tenant, as opposed to his "preferred" tenant'.
So less than 24 hours before the Localism Act and ACV was declared 'separate legislation', it had been used by Brent's planners to enable a shift from 'preferred' to 'actual' tenant status for FKRL. Why, then, did committee members fail to probe these inconsistencies? Were they asleep on the job? The 2012 legislation either applied to the application or it didn't.
In the event, the shift to the much-heralded status of 'actual' tenant appears to have been little more than a PR move to encourage support for Mr Gillick's latest attempt to convert the library building into unaffordable residential flats. As his spokesman said: 'We trust this ['actual' over 'preferred' tenant status] goes some way to giving the Council, the FKRL and the local community the confidence to support this application'. But as Jodi Gramigni says: there's no 'legally binding requirement to reinstate a library [in the KRL building] or agree a lease with FKRL, confirmed by committee member, Cllr Kasangra, when he said clearly at the meeting that a lease is not part of the planning conditions.
Those with long memories will here recall the developer's apparent untrustworthiness when, in his original change-of-use application for the Mark Twain library - the one linked to the fake email support - he offered D1 space in the basement of the-then publicly funded building in breach of the legally binding contract he'd signed with then-owner All Souls College: 'none [of the D1 space shall be] in the basement of the Property)' (Option Agreement para 15.1). Jodi's appeal for 'vigilance' is surely spot on.
A further point regarding the Localism Act: if a property is listed as an Asset of Community Value before a sale is agreed, the property is subject to the Community Right to Bid - a 6-month period to enable community groups to prepare alternative sale proposals. Brent's legal counsel argued that the Option Agreement to purchase Kensal Rise Library from All Souls College, allegedly signed in November 2012, preceded the building's ACV-listing in December, and that the building was therefore exempt from the right-to-bid period. But the Option Agreement wasn't a sale contract. That wasn't signed until later, almost certainly in January 2013. So it's arguable that the 6-month bidding process should have started then, enabling FKRL to exercise a bid. For clarification of this alone and/or other aspects of Brent's handling of the application or the police investigation, it might be worth requesting the Secretary of State to call in the planning committee's decision for reconsideration advice on how to do so HERE