Thursday 10 August 2017

Uproar over Brent's Alperton high rise approval, despite application “failing to meet requirements in 13 different matters”

Guest post by Alperton resident Andrew Linnie

Once again questions are being raised regarding the scrutiny under which Brent Council Planning Committee examines applications in the Alperton growth area, after the approval on August 9th of a development at 245-253 Ealing Road. 

The site is formed of two small plots separated by a private laneway, one section a disused HSBC bank and the other formerly a pub called the Plough. As was the case with Minavil House in May, I was speaking on behalf of locals in opposition to the proposal. Neighbouring residents objected for a wide variety of reasons, and the planners at Brent Council conceded that the plans for the development, which will feature 92 flats in two towers over 9 and 10 stories, failed to meet a large number of planning regulations and considerations.
144 neighbouring windows failed light assessments, yet were deemed acceptable anyway. Some homes, between this scheme and the impact of 255 Ealing Road, are losing almost all of their direct sunlight. It was asked at the meeting of August 9th what the point of such assessments is, if even the worst affected windows are to be deemed “acceptable given the context”. The effect of the buildings’ imposing height is exacerbated by the fact that their positioning fails to meet standards – none of the nearby existing buildings is 20m away as recommended by the London Plan, and one building, the currently-under-construction 255 Ealing Road, is less than 10m away from the proposed towers, failing to even meet the less stringent 10m separation guideline required elsewhere.
Residents also raised concerns over the legality of access through private land to the new development. According to the submitted plans, the emergency exit at the rear of Block A of the building opens directly into garden beds owned and maintained by residents of the 243 Ealing Road development, though the plans incorrectly show this as being paved. The residential and commercial refuse stores on the side of the same block open facing a privately owned laneway connecting Hatton and Ealing Roads. The access to these stores along the side of the building is less than 100cm wide at its narrowest point, narrower than Brent Council’s 1100 litre bins. 

Planners recommended in a supplementary report that access should be added into the refuse stores from the private laneway bisecting the site, ignoring the fact that it is privately owned and maintained by residents of the development next door. This was just one of many design flaws in the plan, including a wheelchair accessible unit included on the ninth floor of a building with just one lift, and the fact that, although obscured windows are planned for the rear of block A to avoid encroaching on privacy in neighbouring Braunston House, there are still balconies looking directly into nearby homes.

The mix of housing was another concern which failed tests. Just 16% of units are family sized, well short of the 25% requirement, and the affordable housing provision fails to meet expectations by some distance, at 26%. The density of surrounding schemes is 260 housing units/hectare, the maximum recommended in the London Plan. The scheme approved this week is 800 units/hectare. Planners said this is mitigated by the community space provided, a community space which less than a quarter of respondents in the public consultation said they wanted, and which is only 166sqm.

The current non-residential space provided on the site is 832sqm, so this “mitigation” actually represents a loss of over 80% plus added demand, while Alperton still has under half the open space of an average London ward. Saying that the density is similar to nearby developments ignores the fact that those developments included a significant provision of open space and retail units, which are still unused due to a lack of access.

This, like other developments nearby, is described as ‘car-free’ and provides 10 disabled spaces for accessible units, but no parking for the other 82 homes. The impact of this is estimated to be 66 additional cars parking in neighbouring streets, leading to an extension of the Controlled Parking Zone. There is a large provision for cycle parking, however the roads nearby are all marked red in the lowest category for cycle safety by TFL, and the only segregated cycle lane in the ward of Alperton, along the canal, is unlit and dangerous at night. 

While the buildings are close to Alperton Station, TFL say Alperton ward has one of the lowest average PTAL (Public Transport Access) scores in all of Brent. Hundreds of new homes have been approved in the area without any plan for improved services, notably the 251 units in the controversial 26 storey Minavil House tower, approved in May despite widespread opposition and a limit of 17 storeys in the area’s Masterplan. According to an independent transport assessor the figures presented at the council for the transport impact of Minavil House nearby were out by a factor of 8. Once again, there was much debate at planning committee level regarding the quality of transport services in the area, particularly with regard to the accessibility of Alperton Station and the lack of night services. The state of medical services in the area, already severely stretched, was also raised.
The Plough Pub, which has been closed for over a year, was open until developers purchased the site. Cllr Mary Daly pursued the planning officers on the issue of the pub’s upkeep, and the fact that it was not advertised for lease for the statutory 24 months after closure. The building has been allowed to decay since its closure, according to residents. 

Cllr Michael Maurice at one point of the meeting counted off 13 matters in which the proposal failed to meet guidelines and requirements.

The developers of the scheme failed to take into consideration the views put forward in the initial consultation. The design is seen by many as inappropriate for the site and lacks context, to the point that the area will become a patchwork of clashing styles. There are five unrelated styles of high rise architecture already approved or constructed, this adding yet another. The developer made no effort to gather views from residents until the week in the run up to the planning meeting, at which point it was much too late to make a difference. 42 addresses objected to the scheme, none responded in favour. Many also raised concerns as to the safety of residents during the construction phase, as the buildings occupy the entire site and will necessitate external building space, impacting on the ability of emergency services to access neighbouring homes.

 "Are our councillors and planners here to enforce the laws and guidelines for local people, 
or to make excuses and exceptions for private developers?”

When speaking at the meeting on behalf of objecting residents, I concluded by asking our representatives what their duty in the process is, in the their opinion: “This scheme fails light, massing, density, air, noise, access and other tests, yet is recommended for approval. Are our councillors and planners here to enforce the laws and guidelines for local people, or to make excuses and exceptions for private developers?”

The Planning Committee was split three votes to three, with Cllr Daly abstaining despite raising many concerns. At that point the chair, Cllr Agha, cast a deciding vote in favour of the development proceeding, and in doing so gave me an answer to my question. One wonders at this point just how many guidelines and regulations a developer would have to ignore for Brent Council Planning Committee to refuse them permission.


wembleyite said...

Disgraceful disregard for the community yet again .....

wembleyite said...

Just go and look at Grand Union Heights in the car park of Sainsburys Alperton ... built about 7 years ago....and now falling apart....the 'bicycling stations' out the front have never been used...and are a dumping ground for rubbish...then the massive development of high rises at 243...built without any additional infrastructure support...not affordable for local people, and still many empty retail units...theres no planning....just massive increases in cramped high rise dwellings which we once said were not suitable for families, but now seem intent on throwing out all over the Borough

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that this is complete and utter madness.
The traffic in this area is already often completely static. The queues of people trying to get onto the trains at Alperton station will soon mirror this in rush hours and the energy services will probably have to resort to helicopters to access and deal with emergencies. Let alone the water and gas mains and sewers. Oh boy can I see major problems developing soon here. Glad I am no longer living in the area.

Philip Grant said...

I often have to refer, in my comments, to Brent Council's Constitution, the rules which it has adopted, and which are meant to govern the way in which both Council Officers and Councillors carry out their responsibilities.

Part 7 of the Constitution includes the Planning Code of Practice, which begins by setting out the purpose of the Code. This may seem boring, but it is worth reading in full:-

'The Planning Code of Practice has been adopted by Brent Council to regulate the performance of its planning function. Its major objectives are to guide members and officers of the Council in dealing with planning related matters and to inform potential developers and the public generally of the standards adopted by the Council in the exercise of its planning powers. The Planning Code of Practice is, in addition to the
Brent Members’ Code of Conduct, adopted by the Council under the provisions of the Localism Act 2011. Members should follow the requirements of the Brent Members’ Code and apply this Code in light of the Members’ Code. The purpose of this Code is to provide more detailed guidance on the standards to be applied specifically in relation to
planning matters.

The Code seeks to ensure that officers and members consider and decide planning matters in a fair impartial and transparent manner. The provisions of this code are designed to ensure that planning decisions are taken on proper planning grounds, are applied in a consistent and open manner and that members of the Planning Committee making such decisions are, and are perceived as being, accountable for those decisions. The Code is also designed to assist members of the Council in dealing with and recording approaches from developers and objectors and is intended to ensure that the integrity of the decision-making process is preserved.

If a member does not abide by this Code the member may put the Council at risk of proceedings on the legality or maladministration of the related decision; and the member may be at risk of either being named in a report to the Standards Committee or Council; or if the failure to abide by the Code is also likely to be a breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct, of a complaint being made to the Monitoring Officer.'

Anyone who feels that the Planning Code has been breached, particularly if there have been multiple breaches allowing sub-standard developments, can complain about it, either to the Council or via their M.P. to the Ombudsman.

If you feel that a member of the Planning Committee has breached this Code, and therefore the Members' Code of Conduct, you can make a "Standards" complaint to the Council's Monitoring Officer (Debra Norman at: )

Here are some of the specific requirements set out in Para. 1 of the Planning Code of Practice:
'Members of the Planning Committee shall determine applications in accordance with the Unitary Development Plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.'
'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.'

You might ask:
"Were there any 'material considerations' which justified Planning Committee NOT following the standards set out in the Council's own planning rules (the UDP)?"
"Was the decision taken 'in the public interest'?"
"Did the decision 'take account only of material planning considerations'?"


Anonymous said...

Does anyone in Brent Labour Party think that anyone from 243 (especially from the blocks affected by this development) will be voting for the Labour candidates in next May's Council elections? Really????

Unknown said...

Clearly the planning system needs a complete overhaul especially in Brent. Councillor Maurice is by far the most sensible and actually listens to what is being said and votes accordingly. What is the point of having guidelines and regulations if they are not being adhered to. All the lessons learnt when they developed Chalkhill and Stonebridge now count for nothing. I cannot get my head around why Brent are wanting to cram and squash people into high rise buildings, on every tiny available piece of land, and let these unscrupulous developers have their way on everything.

Anonymous said...

Well, well. Brent Planning Committee at it again. Members incapable of making decisions so abstain. What is the point of this Committee? Let's disband the Planning Committee, get rid of the lot and put their salaries to better use. It is disgraceful that inspite of 13 matters that didn't meet guidelines the Planning was passed. It would be interesting to know if members have any links with the Developers!!! Something greatly amiss and rotten in this Committee.

anonymous too said...

...or Mo Butt(or his cronies or somebody he "owes one" etc.
This has been passing through the mind of several people since the decision. Perhaps between us we can find out the owners of the site (Land Registry) who the developers and their agents and their addresses and other details (planning application forms via Brent Council's website and any other details that can be dug up. We can then get to work on it.

Anonymous said...

I see John Warrens been reading WM. Hes on the bandwaggon, but at least this storys in the Kilburn Times now.

Alison Hopkins said...

A very well informed source told me that when the current Chair made his pitch to the assembled Labour members, he said the committee needed to be politicised, with the objective of building more "homes", regardless of anything else.

Having attended a number of Planning meetings I don't doubt this. The undue influence is so apparent.

Philip Grant said...

Was Cllr. Agha following Brent's Planning Code of Practice when he did this? Or was he breaching it, and inciting his fellow Labour members on the Planning Committee to do the same?

See my comment of 11 August above. If you feel strongly enough that Brent's planners and/or Planning Committee members have breached Brent's own planning rules, in this case or in a number of recent cases, then there are ways in which you can raise your concerns.

Be prepared to put in a lot of effort, to try and overcome the obstacles that will be put in your path, but I wish you the best of luck if you are prepared to stand up for our rights as citizens of this borough.