|Demonstration outside the school|
Guest blog by Pete Firmin, South Kilburn resident
On Friday 22nd May, pupils, parents teachers and local residents held a protest at the gates of St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School in South Kilburn against the proposal from Brent Council that the `ventilation shaft’ for HS2 be sited right next to the school and close to flats.
Apparently such ventilation shafts are necessary at certain distances along the line in order to get rid of the air pushed in front of the speeding trains, otherwise they would slow the trains down. Such vent shafts are not a small thing, being usually about 25 m by 25 m and 2 storeys high – the size of a small block of flats. Such an enterprise is calculated to take up to 6 years building work, involving movement of over a hundred lorries a day to and from the affected area at peak times, with the association noise, disruption and dust..
HS2’s current proposal is that this be sited close to Queen’s Park station, but Brent Council is pressing that it be on the Canterbury Works site next to St Mary’s school instead. Some studies suggest a ventilation shaft is not essential at either site.
Brent Council’s proposal ignores the pleas from local residents and school staff and users and is putting its regeneration scheme above any concern for the health and wellbeing of students and residents. They have the support of Queens Park residents in this, who feel the vent shaft would be a “blight” on their community, despite the disruption and siting being much further from their homes and schools than is proposed for South Kilburn. As so often, South Kilburn is seen as the dumping ground for things that Brent and its middle classes regard as `undesirable’.
The issue of Brent and HS2 has a background. The local Tenants and Residents Association has been asking Brent Council about HS2 and how it will affect us for years, ever since we discovered it is due to run underneath (or very close to) our flats. Unfortunately, unlike Camden, Brent Council didn’t seem to be looking at this at all, its only comments being that HS2 offered great `business opportunities’ for Old Oak Common. Even when we got letters from HS2 saying they may want to Compulsorily Purchase our properties we got no support from Brent. We’ve all had at least 2 such letters now, and, despite our urging, Brent Council appears to have done nothing to get proper answers from HS2 on this. Some people have been told verbally that this is just something that HS2 has to do and they will not be wanting to CPO our properties, but we have never had such a commitment from HS2 in writing.
Then, despite us asking for years that Brent take up our concerns and nothing happening, we discovered from a third party that a report on HS2 was due to go to Brent Council in March last year. This was the first we knew about proposals about the siting of the vent shaft, when the report argued for its siting in South Kilburn rather than next to Queens Park station. We asked that we be allowed to address the Council when it discussed the report, but this was refused. Instead we were given a commitment that our concerns would be taken on board. Given our concerns included opposition to the Council’s push for the vent shaft site to be adjacent to the school and our flats, this was clearly not the case.
Then this year we saw by chance an email from a Council officer to one of our Councillors which said “HS2, we continue to lobby for this to be relocated from the Council owned site at Salusbury Road car park to the rear of Canterbury Works. Various professional studies have been commissioned which support this Full Council approved stance and have been recently submitted to HS2 for their consideration.”
Around the same time the headteacher of St Mary's school came away from a meeting with HS2 and Council officers convinced the vent shaft was going to be put next to the school. Soon after leaflets were put through our doors campaigning against the vent shaft being sited there. This came from people associated with the school, and since then they have had a meeting for all parents, produced petitions and initiated the protest outside the school.
Local residents support the opposition from school users to the siting of the shaft here, but there is an added complication. The leaflets put through every door and the drive behind the school campaign come from a PR company employed by the property developers building luxury flats (no social housing) at Canterbury House (also next to the school and a block of flats) and property developers hoping to build a ten-storey block of flats on the Canterbury Works site (currently a vehicle repair site, and the site where Brent wants the vent shaft site to be).
Many of us are opposed to both the siting of the vent shaft next to the school and our flats and ANY further development of the site. We think that having been living on the middle of a regeneration building site for the last 3 years (with the myriad of complaints that has involved, about which Brent has done nothing), we should have respite from any further development and the disruption, noise and dirt involved. Added to which, the Canterbury House development is luxury flats only (advertised as in Queens Park, even though in the middle of South Kilburn), and development on the Canterbury Works would probably be similar, or at the very least the low proportion of social housing we are now seeing in SK `regeneration’), this would only add to what we have called the `social cleansing’ taking place with regeneration. SK is also already one of the most densely populated parts of Brent. We have lost some our little green space through regeneration, we would like to get some back rather than further development. So, as well as opposing the siting of the vent shaft here, we would oppose planning permission for further flats on the site too. Some of us joined the protest outside the school with placards opposing both the HS2 vent shaft and the property developers.
Just to be clear, the PR company’s employee working with the school put on the “No to HS2 at Canterbury Works” Facebook page “We do not want to see a ventilation shaft at Canterbury Works, we are protecting the interests of Canterbury House and a ventilation shaft would be detrimental to this development and to its future residents who will be part of the South Kilburn community.” Protecting the interests of Canterbury House means the property developers, it couldn’t be more explicit. Future residents seem to take precedence over current ones too. When they started work on Canterbury House (the building has been empty for years, even though planning permission was obtained some time ago), they knew that HS2 was going through the area and people had been served with potential CPO orders. Our belief was that they were hoping for maximum compensation (unlike us!) and that was why they pressed ahead.
We are hoping we can have one united campaign involving both school and local residents against the siting of the vent shaft here. There does seem to be an attempt to keep us at arms length from the school campaign, given our critical stance.
As so often, Brent Council has spent years ignoring the concerns of local residents and is now intent on pressing HS2 to trample on the interests of both school pupils and residents.