Wednesday 6 April 2016

Just 4 councillors allow TwinTowers to change the face of Wembley Central

Impression from Park Lane Methodist Church/Park Lane Primary
The 26/21 storey Twin Towers block at the junction of Park Lane and Wembley High Road was given the go ahead by the Planning Committee on Wednesday evening. There were 4 votes for the the proposal, 2 against and 2 abstentions.  Sarah Marquis, Chair of Planning Committee, voted against the application.

Afterwards residents were aghast that two councillors abstained on such a major issue. If there is any committee where councillors are expected to make a decision it is planning. If you don't have enough information to make a decision you should keep on asking questions until you do.

If the vote had tied 4/4 I presume Marquis would have exercised a casting vote against the application.

Denise Cheong with just 2 minutes to represent hundred of local residents made a presentation on the impact of the high density high rise blocks on the local area, the impact on current over-crowded roads and public transport and the fact that the development did not comply with established GLA and Brent standards.

Cllr Sam Stopp (Labour, Wembley Central) appeared to have been so impressed by the developer's consultation procedures and his openness that this had persuaded him to support the development despite recognising that the building was not perfect. He would like to have seen it less high but its height was based on what officers had told the developer was possible. He thought the building's orientation was not ideal.

Stopp went to to list the positives: The excellent consultation by the developer, quality of the building design, provision of community space.

He went on to contrast the developer's consultation with that by the Council. Local residents seemed to have found out about the proposal late in the day with a rush of contacts comparatively recently. The Council needed to adopt a more open and transparent approach to consultation. As in Islington, we need members' panels which are accessible to the public so they can question developers and councillors.

David Glover, the planning officer,was faced with the task of explaining why officers were supporting the application despite it not complying with policies on density, carbon emissions, living space,  open space, play space and the proportion of affordable housing.

He claimed that although the building did not meet the standards that it could be approved by reference to the  guidelines that interpreted policy.  He echoed Cllr Stopp in praising the quality of the finish of the building and the flats.  He said that the restricted nature of the site justified the developer in building at greater height and density than set out in the local plan.  The 28% affordable hosing (rather than the recommended 50%)  had been subject to independent viability assessments. Initially the developer offered a higher proportion of affordable housing but this was limited to a 7 year period after which it would move to market rents.  Officers had negotiated a lower proportion of affordable housing but for perpetuity.

Some of the most  incisive qustioning came from Sarah Marquis, chair of the committee, who pointed out that the density was double that recommended for town centre locations and doubted that it complied with the requirement that not meeting those standards could only be supported if it was 'clearly and robustly justified by local circumstances.'  The density was that which applied to international city locations rather than a local town centre.

She went on to query the planners' claim that the development was allowed because the local plan allowed 'tall building' in the  Wembley Central vicinity. She pointed out that local tall buldings were much lower and that the previous application in the sites had been for 17 storeys. It was a big leap from the 30metre definition of tall to the 85metres of this development.

In the course of the discussion the developer confirmed that they were also seeking to purchase the green space on the embankment behind Chesterfield house and their aim would be to build residential properties there. This was not followed up by the Committee but would obviosuly add to the issues around local infrastructure including traffic density and school places. The negotiations had not got very far  and purchase of the garage space behind Chesterfield House to provide disabled parking for the new development has not been completed.

The extent of this additional land which is now subject to acquisition and development can be seen in this illustration:

Click to enlarge

There was a group of young people in the public gallery who applauded when the planning application was approved. Apparently in the wake of the closure of the Wembley Youth Centre LINK they thought they would be able to carry on their activities in the ground floor community space provided by the developer.  It is of course by no means certain that they would be chosen to occupy the space and we know from other applications that this could be a fraught process.  It feels sometimes that we grasp crumbs from the rich man's (developer's) table.

The actual process of building on a site surrounded by traffic congestion with difficult access and parking sounds as if it will be a two year nightmare for local residents not to mention the impact when crowds travel to the stadium and arena.

I am left puzzled by how the committee members who voted for the development could have felt persuaded despite all the arguments above. Does a community space and 'quality finish' really outweigh the disadvantages?

The voting details are below. A further puzzle was how Cllr Colacioco asked all the right questions, got extremely unsatisfactory answers, and then voted for the application!

Voting on the application was as follows:

FOR 4                           Cllrs Agha, Choudhary, Colacicco and Mahmood
AGAINST  2                Cllrs Marquis (Chair) and Cllr  Maurice
ABSTENTION  2         Cllrs Ezeajughi and Cllr Patel

Denise Cheong's speech on behalf of residents can be found HERE


Anonymous said...

Scrap the idea of naming the 2 towers after Butt and Davani. Give them the names of the 2 dim-witted abstainers.

Anonymous said...

This is appalling. Planning decisions are major issues that have huge implications and yet Planning Committee members abstain. How can this be allowed? Keep asking questions until you have formed a decision. Members shouldn't be on such a Committee if they can't make a decision one way or the other. This happened with the recent Byron Court School expansion decision.

Alison Hopkins said...

I do begin to wonder about Planning decisions of late. The committee rightly rejected an application last January, then promptly passed it in October, with none of the issues addressed. It happened to be for new BHP housing. Pressure from outside?

Anonymous said...

"I am left puzzled by how the committee members who voted for the development could have felt persuaded despite all the arguments above. Does a community space and 'quality finish' really outweigh the disadvantages?"

Let me explain. Mo Butt. Mo Butt. Mo Butt.

Repeat until understood.

Martin Francis said...

Yes, but surely that would only work if Mo Butt illegally influenced the independent Planning Committee, and then what would be his motive? Genuinely convinced that this is good for Brent and part of his legacy when he goes off to City Hall to work for Sadiq or something else?

Anonymous said...

Ok. This is how I reckon it works. I may be totally wrong, but I don't think I am.

Butt has four members on that committee who always do his bidding. I will let you work out who they are.

There is an AGM coming up, which means that planning applications are being treated like political footballs.

I am not sure the lay member speakers last night were aware of this because, knowing who they are, they might have been politically motivated to make different recommendations and to kick some Butt.

Anonymous said...

As for his motive, it is always vanity. Simple as that.

Jaine Lunn said...

As a resident of Wembley Central for over 30 years, and very much interested and part of my local community, I strongly support this planning application. I have witnessed lots of misplaced promises and poor developments which has contributed to the decline of the High Road which is evident today. For far too long we have been the poor relation to Wembley Park with Quintain's development and the LDO, which has had a huge impact in the decline of Wembley Town Centre with little or no benefit to the existing local community. So much so, it was selected as one of the 150 areas in need of support and regeneration by Local Trust and Big Lottery for £1 million investment, to benefit the local residents and community, of which Wembley Futures is head of the partnership.

I commend Hub on its well thought out consultations and engagements with residents, and can confirm they have listened to us by attending many community meetings and events.

Wembley Town Centre and its residents deserve a landmark development by a world renown award winning Architect Maccreanor Lavington (winner of Stirling Prize for Architecture 2008). The new public square, Community Centre, Shops and Homes which are a dramatic improvement on what is currently being built both in size and design.

Yes,its tall, but as the new Twin Towers of Wembley it will put the Town Centre on the map, and to visitors arriving from Wembley Central Station be a stand out point of reference that they have arrived in Wembley, it represents the start of an exciting future for regeneration of this long forgotten area of Wembley Central, and I hope the Planning Committee and Planning Offices make the right decision to approve and not relegate Wembley Central to another 20 years languishing in the doldrums of the the planning system.

Jaine Lunn said...

I know that many of my friends and blogger's on this site maybe surprised at my support but I genuinely believe this is a good thing for Wembley Central. The community space is long overdue in light of recent decisions by Brent council in closing the Wembley Youth Centre and their projects. It is without a doubt Brent Council will not fulfil their obligations in refurbishing King Edward VII Park without outside help, as they have failed miserably on sorting out the problems thus far, despite claiming they have ring fenced money of £300K. Watch this space, as with everything Brent do these days its all in the small print at the bottom of the page

Jaine Lunn said...

Had they not voted for this application it would have gone to appeal costing us the Council tax payers a lot of money defending a case Brent Council know that they would have ultimately lost in the end.

Anonymous said...

'it will put the Town Centre on the map, and to visitors arriving from Wembley Central Station be a stand out point of reference that they have arrived in Wembley, it represents the start of an exciting future for regeneration of this long forgotten area'

But exactly the same could be said for the post-war Elephant and Castle development, Boris Johnson's 'Garden Bridge or a 300 ft high inflatable penis/model of Mohammed Butt.

Anonymous said...

As the population grows, we need more improve and modern housing in London and also in Wembley area. And we need more green spaces for the local community to use. Is all about creative ideas and innovation.

Nan. said...

Some interesting comments including from Jaine.

I agree Wembley Central has been sadly neglected. We the public have also been appallingly let down by the quality of the Central Square development - remember all the promises to make it a wonderful public space?

The difficulty is really that there appears to be no real plan of what Wembley Central is meant to be or become (apart from improving some shop fronts). So we end up with whatever the next profit-making developer wants to put up and we must be grateful for whatever it is we end up with - both buildings and problems arising.

Of course, it is possible that the rush to erect as many dwellings as possible as quickly as possible, is linked in some way to Wembley having been designated a housing zone, howevever I admit to knowing nothing about the intricacies (machinations?)of this.

Has someone actually made a promise that the youth centre will be able to use the community space in the new building?
Who will be held to account if the promise is not kept?
Who will 'control' the community space? Not much good to the community if say, it is too costly to hire.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Is this a parody?

Jaine Lunn said...

Nan, I believe that the Community Space with be there in perpetuity along with the social housing and affordable flats approx 70 in total. It will be for the developer to decide when built who they will sign over the lease to. This then will be tendered out to the find the best charity or community organsation who can deliver sustainablity and the best use for the residents of Wembley Central

Alison Hopkins said...

They're sure as hell not listening to residents. One here spoke in FAVOUR of an application that residents vehemently opposed and had spoken against. Despite having promised to listen and do what they wanted.

Philip Grant said...

For those of us who did not attend the Planning Committee meeting(s), but would be interested to know the answer, can anyone please tell us who the four councillors were who voted in favour of this development, and who were the two who abstained?

Also, for the Byron Court School expansion: who were the four councillors who voted to approve it, and who was the councillor who abstained?

Is there a pattern? And if so, are there "links" to the Leader of the Council, as one comment above suggests?


Anonymous said...

The building is ugly.

Martin Francis said...

Thanks Philip. Article now contains the Twin Towers information. I will check re Byron Court.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see if it is those same Councillors who approved Uxendon Manor expansion on the same evening as Byron Court!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes. They are exactly the same.

Herrverre said...

Yes, the lunatics really have taken over the asylum! I was at the meeting on Wednesday and it was a very depressing affair and demonstrated how undemocratic and pointless it all is. Thanks to Councillor Stopp for his incitefull comments - umm, err, developer's a nice guy, um, err, its a bit big but what can you do? How about getting them to scale it down to something that's vaguely reasonable for the location so that those of us who are going to have to look at it every day don't feel like topping ourselves!?! This was clearly politically and financially motivated so the result was a forgone conclusion and existing residents are once again sidelined in favour of political ambition and big business. Community space? As someone said, crumbs from the table. The only person who came out of the meeting with any credibility was the chair who did her best to point out the flaws in the application but the rest were too stupid or blinkered to listen. And how anyone can not have an opinion and abstain on such a major development beggars belief - get off the panel and make way for someone who can do the job properly.
I've lived in Wembley for over 20 years and for me this is the last straw. If the Wembley Central, Elm road and Wembley Triangle blocks were nails in the coffin then this is a stake through the heart and I won't be sticking around to see Wembley taken any further down the road to an outer London slum. Let's face it when you create buildings that are as ugly and soulless as these, people have nothing invested in them and community dies. It happened with the 50/60s tower blocks that became the 70/80s slums but it seems nothing has been learnt. Someone asked what the vision of Wembley is? I went to a planning meeting at Copeland school a few years ago where there were mockups of their "vision" - basically tower blocks all the way up the high street on both sides from Park Lane up to the triangle - it looked like Hell...

Alison Hopkins said...

Brent are going the same way as Barnet, who have a bunch of rubber stampers led by developers and officers.

It used to be that Brent's Planning Committee members had real expertise and experience, espeically as some had served on it for a great many years. I'd cite Ketan Sheth and Mark Cummins, for example, but there were others of all parties.

Now, the membership seems to change every year, meaning there's no chance for continuity or gaining knowledge. The chair is very good, albeit she does seem to have been got at, of late. The rest seem to do as they're told.

Friends of King Eddie's said...

Herrverre - Would you like to join Friends of King Eddie's Park?

Anonymous said...

The people will only take so much of this disregard for personal political gain that has been suggested is the case in Brent. We exist and Brent Council will have to live with the discontent it has created. We are not alone. There are many of us and we are not happy. Are Brent Council happy with themselves? They have failed the people.

Philip Grant said...

For ease of reference, I am copying a comment I made on another "twin towers" blog article here:-

It appears that it is not just Anonymous on 14 April at 07:27 who is losing hope in politics and democracy. In a story on the "Kilburn Times" website at:

Wembley Central councillor Sam Stopp has raised doubts about the "twin towers" planning decision. He is quoted as saying:

“There are questions to be made about who is making decisions about which planning application goes ahead. What causes the decision made at planning to be made? Is it just on the merits of the scheme or are there political angles there as well? That’s something I'm investigating more.”

In the interests of openness and transparency, I hope that he shares the findings of his investigation with the people of Brent.


Anonymous said...

Is this the same councillor who spoke so favourably of the developer, Hub group's consultation with the community. Do you think Hub group and this councillor will share the list of addresses of the community groups they consulted?
Wonder how many of them actually live adjacent to or indeed within the vicinity of Chesterfield House.
Wonder how many community groups Hub offered the ground floor community space to? What will they do?Each have it for one day a week? Or a few hours a day? How will all those who want this space actually get to use it in reality?

One of the planning committee asked if a Doctors surgery could operate from the premises. The Council appear to already have in their minds what they want to see for their Twin Towers. We will not get what we want. If Sam Stopp is correct and there is foul play, we community will not get to use the space how we want. We can not convince or change a decision that has been already made by the decision makers behind a door we never even knew existed.

Anonymous said...

Is that really possible?

Philip Grant said...

FOR INFORMATION: This is a comment that I have just posted on another blog (councillors pledging to fight austerity) which I am copying here because it is relevant to this matter as well:-

In reply to Anonymous (20 April at 10:02):

Brent Council has a Constitution, which sets out the rules that should be followed in conducting the Council's activities. This includes (in Part 7, "Codes and Protocols") a Planning Code of Practice, which is supposed to govern the Council's 'approach to planning'.

The first part of the principles that Code sets out includes the following wording:

'Members of the Planning Committee shall determine applications in accordance with the Unitary Development Plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The Brent Members’ Code of Conduct ... must be complied with throughout the decision making process. Decisions should not be influenced by the interests of Councillors or
because of pressure exerted by applicants, agents or third parties. Members of the Planning Committee must take decisions in the public interest and take account only of material planning considerations. They should not allow themselves to be influenced by members of the public and applicants, agents or third parties who
might approach them and they should not be influenced by party politics.'

I know that I have often gone on about Brent's Constitution, and "Standards", but as these are rules which the Council itself has adopted - in order (it would claim) to ensure that it conducts itself honestly, fairly and openly - then Brent residents have the right to expect that those rules will be followed. If any councillors are bringing party politics into the planning process, and allowing it to influence planning decisions, then they are breaching the Council's Code, and action should be taken against them.