Friday 30 June 2017

Gladstone Parade planning decision: This is NOT democracy

The Planning Committee in action

Guest blog by Alison Hopkins

This is a rant, and it’s long.

It’s about Gladstone Parade, the loss of our shops and the fact that the planning committee on Brent Council is a total waste of space. It never used to be like that: back in the day, the committee was impartial regardless of political composition and also had long serving members who actually understood planning matters, with an excellent Chair. Now, it changes membership constantly, and is, frankly dominated by the leader of the Council and his agenda. That agenda is the wholesale drive to build more and more flats all over Brent, just like Barnet. Now, this would not be so bad if any of those flats were real council housing, not the nonsense called affordable housing. It would also not be so bad if Brent’s Planning officers didn’t simply give in on all fronts to developers who then promptly advertise and sell said flats overseas. Fat lot of good that is to anyone here.

So, the Parade. Built with the houses in the 1920s. The grocer corner shop was there when I was a baby and long before. Hairdresser: fifty odd years. Chip shop – thirty, with a butcher before. Pub, a couple of decades. Two shops have been empty on and off for a while, and that, in my view, was deliberate. The freehold of the land has changed hands a fair bit, and the leases of the shops had lapsed.

The shopkeepers had of course been paying rent and ALL of them had been pushing hard for lease renewals for a long time. There have also been rumours flying of redevelopment for a fair while, but nothing concrete. The first real intimation was when the chip shop owner phoned me in February with the bad news that he’d had a notification letter from Brent Planning. He, and all the rest, had heard NOTHING from the freeholder of the Parade and knew nothing until the letter from Brent arrived. I’d had conversations with other shopkeepers before that and had been keeping an eye on planning applications on Brent’s website. I actually check those all the time for Dollis Hill anyway – I did it as a councillor and I think it’s good practice, as well as keeping one’s ear to the ground.

Having read the application I went and spoke to the shopkeepers, who were obviously devastated. My view from the outset, as someone who knows the area and who we are, was that this was a totally flawed application which seriously disadvantaged us. I tried contacting the developer, who was essentially – how can I put this – mendacious. I know how Brent’s consultation works. A letter to a very few neighbouring houses and a notice on a lamppost. So, I hand delivered about a thousand letters, emailed eight hundred people, and Facebooked this, and we also then went and door knocked.

In all that, I found ONE person in favour. Oh, and we put a petition in the chip shop.

We know what happened next. Lengthy detailed and well thought out objections on line. The petition in the fish shop, got over 650 signatures from all over Dollis Hill and beyond – there were more, but those were too late. A whole bunch more signatures from the hand delivered letters, which also resulted in more on line objections. There were, in the end, five pages of those! Other local people emailed and wrote in directly. Brent Planning, by the way, got those numbers wrong in the officer’s report.

On Monday, the leader of the council was supposed to come and visit the Parade to “listen to locals”, but didn’t – some kind of family emergency. This meeting was also not publicised anywhere, of course. The three councillors finally showed up, having been less than keen to be engaged up until literally the last minute. They have, as has been published here, finally replied to some emails but I am convinced their replies were not written by them. One of the councillors said they’d been talking to Planning “for some months” about the development – a shame they’d not talked to residents, isn’t it.

That same councillor also said that local people seemed less than keen on a CPZ, which may be because of Brent’s outrageous charges. One of the other councillors knew about the issues with bus drivers parking locally, but had no idea who the manager of the bus station is, or the steps they’ve taken to try and fix this. I know what those steps are, because I’ve MET the man. That councillor also claims people from the Hassop Road garages in Cricklewood are parking on our roads, but I doubt that – and I’ve had no complaints about it.


Wednesday was the Planning Committee meeting. The officer’s report had already recommended passing the application as did what’s called their supplementary report – that’s what gets written after they visited the site. That site visit was last Saturday and I went along. You aren’t supposed try to nobble the committee members but I did manage to point out some of the problems, as did the shopkeepers.

So, the meeting. Some fool had decided to hold it on the same night as 100,000 people were watching Adele at the Stadium. We also weren’t heard till almost ten, as there were two highly contentious other applications before us.

Despite that, all the shopkeepers and the pub owner showed up, as did many locals, who managed to sit it out. Two locals spoke in objection, including the fact that they have right of way and use of the garages – this may yet present a problem for the developer, I hope. I spoke – or rather, I ranted.

You’re only allowed two minutes which is absurd and hardly enough, but so be it. The presentation by the planning officers lied about discussion with the shop owners and presented the development in a manner that really showed how much this was already decided. The planning officer also said you could walk to Cricklewood Station in twelve minutes – has he actually TRIED that? It’s a good half hour. He made reference to the supposed new Brent Cross station which is imaginary and to a possible CPZ, also imaginary. The real bombshell was that Brent had been talking to the developers for over a YEAR. That’s BEFORE the freehold got sold to them! The leader of Brent Council would have known about this and so, I think, would the Dollis Hill councillors.

To repeat: it’s supposed to be councillors who run things, but this whole sad sorry mess makes it clear that it’s officers, the head of so called Regeneration and the Leader who hold the power. There are a handful of councillors who dare fight back and they get both abused and side-lined.

Another local made an excellent speech about the poor living quality of the flats, the air pollution on the Edgware Road, their unsuitability for families and the parking issues. He was speaking on behalf of a statutory consultee, the Dollis Hill Residents Association, who had also NOT been properly consulted.

Anyhow, I raised two of the many issues, namely, the loss of the shops and the parking and traffic issues. The committee ignored the latter. In his summing up after, the Planning Officer blithely said that yes, he agreed the Brent Cross station would be delayed but that didn’t matter, as the transport assessment was based on what is there now. He also, equally blithely, said that the solution would be to effectively impose controlled parking in our roads. Whether that’s an answer or not, it ignores the real issues around the flats, namely high density and access. I am convinced Brent wants to impose controlled parking all over the borough: it’s a great money spinner for them. I also ranted about the flats across the road being marketed to China, and that there’s no guarantee the affordable housing level will be maintained, or that the flats won’t lie empty.

I was questioned by some of the committee members. One stated that all the shops were run down and shut, that they’d not been there long and that Lidl had taken business from them. Given that they’re open and doing well, and that Lidl has been there for what, ten years? – this is nonsense. I had pushed for regeneration, and another councillor asked which companies might do that, so I quoted several. Another asked about the petition and looked through the fish shop one. But it was all rather half hearted.

Cllr Dixon spoke. The three of them seemed, on MONDAY, to have finally got off the fence, but it all felt very half-hearted to me. They had still lodged not one objection on line. She didn’t address planning issues, which is actually what you need to do when addressing the committee, but rather talked about the community round the Parade. The gist of it was that she had only discovered in the past few weeks how strong the community is and had been unaware of how thriving. She did pick up on the low level of affordable housing, but didn’t seem aware of the difference between that and social housing – that’s council housing, to you and me. She also said that she’d been backing the plans up until she became aware of this strength of community. She did query the lack of consultation: in my view, one of the functions of a councillor is to tell people what’s going on, and they had all known about this for many months, supposedly.

The Planning Officer summed up. He again claimed the shop keepers were in discussion with the developers, to which they shouted back that they were not. He claimed consultation had been adequate: a few letters, the newspaper notice, the notice on the lamppost. He said that this was proven by the volume of objections, to which I shouted back that hand delivering a thousand letters was probably more of a reason. He acknowledged my remark about Brent Cross and the station, and called it irrelevant, then stated AGAIN that it’s only a twelve minute walk to Cricklewood Station.

This was roundly jeered at. He talked about how important it is for Brent to hit housing targets and that the developers would have to give £400,000 to Brent for “local projects”. There is, by the way, no guarantee at all that Dollis Hill will see a penny of that.

They voted and passed it, with one exception a councillor who lives in Brent North, and seemed to understand far more than the rest. The hairdresser was in tears, the pub owner is furious and the chip shop and Londis owners, stunned and bewildered.

This is not democracy in any way. This is a failure to listen to local people, yet again. It’s also not how you represent local people: the campaign against this has been grass roots, with no help at all from elected representatives. I’ve both fought and supported planning applications in the past and managed to get real improvements in them. You can’t win every objection but as a councillor, you really should fight.

So, let’s just sum that up. Over a THOUSAND written objections ignored, which represents far more.
Just remember that next May, hm?


Anonymous said...

If what you describe is representative of the involvement, knowledge and intelligence of the councillors, then it's no surprise the officers run things; who else would have the competence? That the officers pursue their own 'regenerating' bean-counter agendas above all else is not surprising either, given the nature of the beast.
Four Kensington and Chelsea councillors and officers have so far resigned, and look what it required for THEM to show any shame.
Relying on the ballot box to supply quality is expecting a lot and officers' incompetence usually leads to promotion and reward as past cases in Brent make clear.
It's a desperate situation but you sound like you're as up to it as anyone.
Good luck!

Mike Hine

Alison Hopkins said...

Thanks Mike. I think what bugs me most of all about this, and so many other issues, is that so few of the current councillors are willing to display any sign of thinking for themselves. Or if they do rebel, they keep it remarkably silent. It wsa not always like that by any means.

And yes, I'll keep on fighting. Perhaps this was always going to get approved in some form, but it could have been so much better and so less harmful. Given how much money the developers will make, pressure could have been applied to ensure tenure and provide compensation. That isn't a planning issue, but it sure as heck could have been a campaign fighting issue.