Guest post by Gaynor Lloyd
If you live in Northwick Park area - or South Kilburn for that matter - it’s worth having a quick look at the Cabinet papers about Brent’s “Regeneration Zones”. LINK
Yes, some of us lucky residents of leafy Northwick Park were just a bit startled to see ourselves in a “Regeneration Zone”. Some of us weren’t too shocked, however - though still very , very upset. This is just the latest stage in the story of the plans for what we residents call “the Park”. A fantastic piece of Brent open space, including formal much used sports and playing fields, a nature conservation area and a golf course.
And it seems the Leader of the Council is in charge of this; South Kilburn get the Cabinet Member for Regeneration. I expect we should be flattered.
This is all about one element of the One Public Estate (OPE) scheme which has come home to roost in Northwick Park. [More about OPE for those interested at the bottom of this piece **- and see also the linked news stories in Brent & Kilburn Times LINK
and my letter on Page 13 on the earlier story LINK
The scheme involves Network Housing, Northwick Park Hospital, Brent Council, University of Westminster and potentially TfL. It’s quite hard to get the detail but the idea is that there will be 3700 homes by 2035 somewhere on the margins of the Park. Tower blocks will be built on the land near to the Tube station - a “landmark residential development”.
Sure, as some papers have emerged, there have been references to key worker housing, and affordable homes - gosh, do we need key worker housing, and social housing - truly affordable homes - but these proposals are all very vague. I’ve been trying for more transparency - a couple of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests over the last 2 years - but not much joy.
Even though Brent got a grant of £530k to do viability research on all this. Including transport research, my current huge concern - and the reason for asking Martin to post this blog.
My latest FOI request of Brent from last December has been so sat on for a very long time - despite numerous charming assurances that the sifting process of 100’s of emails was being done and that the release of all or some would be opined on “soon” by Brent’s Legal Team . Well, after a last chance given to Brent by the Information Commissioner just to reply at all, it’s now been accepted by her as a complaint . I await hearing if the Information Commissioner accepts my argument that the plans should be out in the public domain.
I was particularly incensed by the secrecy for the transportation reports/ surveys, and the plans being hatched for “infrastructure works” . Principally an access road for this huge re-development. Our very own Regeneration Zone.
Clearly the access road can’t go across the railway/Tube lines. OK, University of Westminster might be decamping for pastures new; maybe it could go that way. But the University’s plans seem to be a more recent possible development.
So where could this road possibly go? And where might it be considered for going - a location of such commercial confidentiality and sensitivity that Brent can’t possibly release any professional transport reports or plans on it into the public domain?
Oh, let me think...
Could it be an access road across our Park - designated as Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) - put simplistically, the London equivalent of Green Belt? (The Mayor recently refused an application by Harrow School for a major long planned sports centre on its MOL land just cross the road from Northwick Park - because it was inappropriate development on MOL)
It’s not “just” the effect on the environment, or the open air sports facilities; it’s the madness of adding to the roads here, which also serve Northwick Park hospital - a major hospital with (as we all know) a busy A&E.
But hang on - to finance all this - Brent has a £9.9 million grant from HM Government from the Marginal Viability Fund bit of its Housing Infrastructure Fund. To get this “marginal viability funding”, according to the HMG website , there is supposed to be “market failure”, and “extensive local consultation” and “alignment with the Local plan”. Well, these are a bit news to me but obviously I don’t know everything.
So another reason for my FOI request - which sought evidence of any of those factors. So far all I have got is a bit of alleged consultation. Sudbury Court Residents’ Association AGM in April 2017, to which Brent officers did come after a bit of persuading. They brought a very rum set of slides, including one of rather a scruffy park bench by Northwick Park Tube station, mentioning litter. The officers did do a bit of question answering by local residents - and promised to revert on some stuff (but didn’t).
If that was consultation, it seems odd the FOI officer says they have to ask the Chair of the SCRA for her notes of the meeting! Anyway, it wasn’t “consultation” in any normal sense of the word.(NO comments please on Brent’s consultations)
Oh - and that aligning with Local Plan point. Well, maybe that can be retrospective. The Cabinet paper says “ members may be aware that Brent’s planning department is engaged in consultation on the local plan for which Northwick Park has an allocation “. I’d hope all members (especially on the Cabinet) would be aware we’ve had a bit of Local plan consultation in Brent.
However, speaking as a local resident (and married to a Ward Councillor) and having gone to a local meeting on this Local Plan business - though I admit I am getting on a bit , so I might have forgotten - I was completely unaware of any Planning Officer referring to Northwick Park at all. Let alone in terms of revising Northwick Park’s Local Plan “allocation” or Northwick Park becoming a “Regeneration Zone”.
It seems that the Local Plan “Preferred Options” will be out in November - when “it is proposed to run public consultation specific to Northwick Park in parallel”.
I hope we residents will be having a little pre-consultation consultation amongst ourselves rather more quickly than that. I also hope others in the Borough interested in open space, the environment, good use of NHS land, pollution, key worker housing and good social housing provision will join us. WATCH THIS SPACE.
[**NOTE on OPE if you’ve got this far!
HM Government OPE is a plan to dispose of “surplus public land”. A particularly infamous issue is the disposal of NHS land in London - based on a couple of reports by Sir Robert Naylor. Generally Sir Robert in his openly available Report says to NHS bodies “Identify your surplus land” (that can include unused/empty space like corridors and open walkways, by the way). If your percentages of unused/empty or underused space to your overall site are too high, oh dear, inefficiency - using a carrot & stick approach - the message is “sell, sell, sell”. Sir Robert’s second, confidential report - “Naylor 2” - identifies some prime value London NHS sites for disposal and is so sensitive NHS England has been fighting a Freedom of Information request I have in on it for around 2 years.
So clearly a sensitive area generally. Naylor’s reports IS useful in one respect though; Deloittes accountants did a background research report for him - which said sensibly that we ought to be looking strategically at the need for land for NHS use, in light of London’s growing population - and reminding of high land values here if we need to reprovide. Gosh how sensible - how ignored! ]