Friday 16 October 2015

HS2 and South Kilburn – stitched up by Brent, but fighting back

The leaflet distributed outside the school

Guest blog by Pete Firmin, chair, Alpha, Gorefield and Canterbury Tenants and Residents Association

On Monday 12th October, HS2 – the proposed London to Birmingham high speed rail link – deposited “additional provisions” with parliament with the proposed siting of a vent shaft at Canterbury Works in South Kilburn. LINK

Originally, HS2 proposed that this be on the car park next to Queens Park station, but under pressure from Brent Council it proposes to build on this new site. The  issues involved have previously been spelt out on Wembley Matters.

The Canterbury Works site is next to a junior school (St Mary's) and close to many homes.

Throughout this process neither HS2 or Brent Council has attempted to consult with those who would be most affected by the decision.

HS2 sent residents letters several years ago saying their property might be subject to a Compulsory Purchase Order, but this was only in relation to the fact that HS2 will go under or close to our flats. The only meeting HS2 has attended with residents was a “Brent Connect” forum several years ago when this issue was raised with them. They have never followed up on the inadequate response given at the time.

But all that was well before the issue of the moving of the proposed vent shaft arose. Since then, one letter from HS2 about an “information event” (see below), nothing else.

While HS2 has failed to consult in any way, Brent claims to have done so, although this does not stand up to serious scrutiny, and in fact stinks of hypocrisy and duplicity.

Unlike HS2, Brent has never sent information round to all residents in the area about HS2.

While Council Officers have held meetings with Councillors and the (Hampstead and Kilburn) MP, they have never held meetings with either representatives of local residents or parents of children at the school, let alone open meetings which all could attend.

On the contrary, they have put out misinformation implying there has been consultation where there has been none.

So Council Officers have circulated a letter which says that the headteacher of the school and the Diocese are not opposed to the siting of the vent shaft next to the school. Not surprisingly, this fails to mention that this (new) headteacher refuses to consult with parents on the issue. Under the previous head teacher (replaced over the summer) the board of governors were opposed, the head was opposed, and they worked with parents to show their opposition. All this is well known to Council Officers, but they choose to pretend it never happened. Conveniently for Brent Council the board of governors has been scrapped in favour of an Interim Executive Board. The new head says she is only interested in the education of the children and not what is happening around the school. Clearly the welfare of pupils is low on her agenda and that of the Diocese.

The South Kilburn Trust is also reported as being neutral on the issue. While the Trust is reported in many Council documents as “representing the interests of all South Kilburn residents”, the only contact it has with us is over use by residents of a school playing area. It has certainly never asked our views about the vent shaft.

In the same letter Council Officers say that Peter Jones, chair of the Tenants Steering Group, is not opposed to the siting of the vent shaft in South Kilburn. Those not in the know (like HS2 and most Brent Councillors) reading that will think it means local residents have been consulted. Far from it. The Tenants Steering Group is a forum for those tenants being rehoused under regeneration. That does not include most of those closest to the proposed vent shaft site (including in our 3 blocks). In fact when 2 members of our TRA found their way to a meeting of the Tenants Steering Group they were told the meeting was not for them but they could stay as long as they did not say anything! There is no pretence that the chair of this group (who does not live near to the proposed site) even consulted the forum he is chair of, let alone anyone living close to the vent shaft.

What is known to Council Officers is that our TRA passed a motion unanimously opposing this proposed siting of the vent shaft. Mysteriously, this information has not been passed on.

Worse, when Brent Council considered the issue of HS2 and the siting of the vent shaft at full Council in March 2014, our TRA was refused the right to address the Council on our concerns. We were told that these would be taken into account. They weren’t. And Brent has made no effort to inform residents of developments since, even though it has been pushing at every opportunity to change the proposed siting of the vent shaft.

Latest development – on Thursday 8th and Monday 12th October, Brent, together with HS2, held an `information event’ in South Kilburn studios. Such events have been likened to car salesrooms, at which you are given glossy leaflets and surrounded by people keen to sell your their wares. If this was meant as some kind of `consultation’, then it has to be asked why it was planned to submit the proposals to parliament on the Monday when this event was still going on. Clearly there was no intention to take the responses of residents into account.

To reassure us, we have been told there would be proper monitoring of vehicle movements to and from the site, times of working etc. By who? Brent Council, precisely the people who have failed to do anything about the abuses by developers on neighbouring sites for the last 4 years and a big reason why we are opposed to the siting of the vent shaft here. Very reassuring.

At the Thursday of this event, one residents’ representative asked why no Brent Councillors were present to justify their decision, rather than leaving it entirely to Brent and HS2 employees. Subsequently, all Brent Labour Councillors were written to, asking them to attend. Only 5 of the 50 even bothered to reply. Whether this shows an unwillingness to justify something they voted for, or a total ignorance of the issues, I will leave readers of Wembley Matters to decided. It does rather reinforce the view that it is senior Council officers who make the decisions, not Councillors.

When leafleting residents and parents of the children at the school against the proposal we have yet to find anyone who thinks it a good idea. Though the headteacher did come out and shout at us about “lies” in our leaflet, an allegation which she was not able to sustain. Incidentally, the head is so acquainted with the area that she had to be told where SK studios is, even though it is less than 3 minutes walk from the school gates.

A Council officer has now apparently said he will organise a meeting with school parents, though he seems to think he can do this through the school head who is totally uninterested. If such a meeting should take pace, it will be to report a fait accompli rather than take the views of parents into consideration.

It will be reported that not many residents (around 100 in total) visited the `information event’. Could this be because they feel the decision has been taken and there is not a lot they can do about it?

Residents and parents of children at the school have until 13th November to petition parliament against this proposal, and we will be out trying to get as much support as possible. I’m pleased to say we have the support of our 2 active Kilburn Councillors in this, and our MP, Tulip Siddiq, has raised our concerns in parliament.


Anonymous said...

The vast majority of residents want this to happen.The select few who oppose it are shouting loudly.Such a shame that people have nothing better to do with their time,this chap opposing is unkown to locals in reality.

Pete Firmin said...

What a weird comment. Those of us who live opposite the proposed site have yet to find anyone in favour. I do not claim to be widely known, but I do chair the TRA for the 3 blocks opposite the site. Nor do I comment anonymously.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr.Firmin,whilst I completley respect the fact that you stand up for the residents on your estate,don't think that you are representing the wider community on this issue.You do not represent the majority, only a very small minority. As admirable an action as your opposing this vent shaft is,you should in my opinion,accept that you are not right about everything you say.I will happily meet with you to discuss this further Sir, and don't be childish about anonymity, this business is your whole life,so you put your name to it all proudly.For now I don't because this is not my life.But I may do in the future and then we'll see. Dont be rude to people you don't know.Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I live on the estate and completely sympathise with those living near the school that oppose this. There hasn't been a lot of information about it until recently but I can see from Brent's perspective that they are in a difficult position here. The vent has to go somewhere, Brent have no choice over that because Government have already decided HS2 is going to happen and what the route is. The vent either goes at Queens Park station or at Canterbury works. I am also sick of all the building work everywhere (not just here but all over London, I seem to spend my life being around building work) But, now that opposing HS2 seems to be no longer an option, trying to be objective the Canterbury works in the long term is (in my opinion) the 'better' of the 2 locations. I say this because I do believe Brent when they say that developing the station area as housing will generate money to continue improving the estate. Of course, if you are opposed to the ongoing development then having the vent at the station is a no brainer. I am however, concerned about all the lorries and materials travelling round the estate, especially as the timing might clash with the Peel Precinct development. But I expect that, consulting on that detail will come later. At the moment, the issue is simply about which of the 2 sites will be used.

Pete Firmin said...

Probably the attitude of quite a few in terms of wanting an improvement in the area. But in the end it comes down to which is more important - the welfare of residents and schoolchildren or the Council's finances. The Council has shown it is willing to totally ignore the concerns of those directly affected. If the Council had made the slightest attempt to convince people they might accept it even if not happy. As it is, the Council has not engaged at all, meaning people are alienated.
As regards the regeneration, it would be necessary for the Council to explain why the Queens Park development is needed to replace some of the worst housing in South Kilburn, whereas priority was given to knocking down architecturally sound blocks instead. They have to explain why, when regeneration was sold on the basis of doing away with tower blocks, there are already two new tower blocks in Albert Road and they hope to build an even larger one on the Queens park site. Brent and the property developers have created these problems, but they want to solve them at the expense of local residents.
As regards further development, bitter experience tells us not to hold our breath that brent will take any notice of our concerns. It is extremely likely that the redevelopment of Peel precinct will go ahead at the same time as the construction of the HS2 vent shaft, with all the resultant disruption that will cause. Just look at the fact that Brent trumpeted the development of a small park on Albert Road at the same time as they have pushed for the HS2 vent shaft to be sited where it will mean 80 heavy lorries a day passing this `park' for up to 6 years.