Saturday 4 August 2018

OK, it's August -Silly Season - time to see what Brent Council's Cabinet is tabling for their get together on the 13th

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! ]


claremounties said...

Not to mention any additional pollution due to more local traffic. Just what recovering patients need; extra carbon monoxide every time a ward window is opened!

Anonymous said...

Brent Parks and RA Forum - Here to support, Scra et al.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for enlightening us Gaynor, but isn't this is just another disgusting example of a green land grab by Brent Council...I can't believe how much damage they (Mohammed Butt and his cronies) have done, and are still doing to our Borough. These people (Mohammed Butt and his cronies) are here today and gone tomorrow...but are doing irreparable damage to our communities, and neighbourhoods. Look at Wembley Park! Ridiculously over infrastructure to support the huge influx of fact we have seen the closure of the very kinds of support that communities need. ...hospitals, youth clubs, adventure playgrounds. There is something insidiously wrong with Brent Council and the decisions that it has been making. So many new residents...rubbish collection only once every 2 weeks, fly tipping everywhere...traffic jams ( especially when there are regular weekly matches) become unbelievable...bottom line is this administration is totally incompetent...probably the best solution for our family is to move elsewhere

Anonymous said...

How typical of Brent Council. When presented with claimed Government directives to provide new “affordable” homes, homes for essential workers, or to regenerate little used areas of land which they somehow classify as brownfield sites, how does our Council react?
Well, Brent has been preaching to us all about the dangerous and increasing levels of pollution throughout the Borough, the traffic congestion, the deterioration of our roads, loss of playing fields and open spaces which children need to avoid becoming obese but then...... react by :
1. Building on school playing fields using the very suspect claim of extreme shortage of school places.
2. They expand primary schools onto their playing fields in areas where there isn’t a shortage of school places, thereby forcing parents to travel by car from one side of the Borough to the other. Parents would never make it in time using public transport especially if they had several children at different schools.
3. This creates additional traffic at commuting times, traffic holdups and of course increased levels of pollution.
4. Hospital A & E department closures at many locations after spending a fortune upgrading them, thus diverting even more traffic to Northwick Park Hospital via the already heavily congested roads which also serve all major motorways in this part of London.
5. Brent sets great store by their Ecological and Environmental Credentials especially when the Leader and his team of followers can grandstand themselves to the press. They then go on to sacrifice any area of land they decide to designate as brownfield for development. To hell with the wildlife and ecological heritage these wild areas provide within this concrete jungle of a Borough.
6. The housing developments they promote and give planning approvals for are high rise blocks, the very type which resulted in so many problems on the Chalkhill and Stonebridge estates. Where do children play, at the base of a 25 storey tower block in amongst the traffic and pollution? Certainly not in parks or green open spaces, because they will have been covered by even more high rise tower blocks if Brent and the Government have their way.
7. The “affordable” homes will be for rich investors who will be the only ones who will find them affordable; so much so they may even decide to purchase two and let them out at highly lucrative rates.
8. Brent used to have its parks with trees, well maintained flower beds, open air swimming pools, sports pitches and refreshment facilities, all free for family use; such facilities now few and disappearing rapidly.
It appears that as soon as Brent receives claimed Government directives, which they haven’t a hope of complying with, they roll over and forget their principled views. Their preaching to Brent residents forgotten. It is then they proceed to invent excuses in an attempt to overcome their problems and try to suppress information until the very last minute. We shouldn’t need to submit Freedom of Information requests; we should be consulted about their plans to “sell us down the river”.
Now they target Northwick Park with OPE proposals and the additional threat of another school to replace the Neasden Swaminarayan School which is due to close.
It has to stop. The Government certainly won’t complain so long as Brent complies with their wishes. The Developers won’t complain so long as they increase turnover and profit for their investors. We as residents will certainly complain but who at Brent listens to us any more?

Philip Grant said...

Thank you, Gaynor, for a clear and well reasoned outline of what is going on over Northwick Park.

It is not "my patch", but it is good to know that there are residents willing to battle for their parts of the borough, against a Council that seems increasingly out of touch with the wishes of the people it is supposed to represent and serve.

The Information Commissioner's Office has online guidance for public bodies about the Freedom of Information Act, and how it should be applied. Here are some extracts from that guidance, which Brent Council SHOULD take note of:-

'Public authorities spend money collected from taxpayers, and make decisions that can significantly affect many people’s lives. Access to information helps the public make public authorities accountable for their actions and allows public debate to be better informed and more productive. [It then quotes from the White Paper which led to the FoI Act in 2000] "Unnecessary secrecy in government leads to arrogance in governance and defective decision-making."'

'The main principle behind freedom of information legislation is that people have a right to know about the activities of public authorities, unless there is a good reason for them not to. This is sometimes described as a presumption or assumption in favour of disclosure.... This means that: everybody has a right to access official information. Disclosure of information should be the default – in other words, information should be kept private only when there is a good reason and it is permitted by the Act.'

I could go on, but what Gaynor has found, and what I am finding in a current FoI request of my own, is that Brent Council's attitude to Freedom of Information is the opposite of what it should be.

I did get a response within the time limit, but the main paragraph (of four) in my request had been totally ignored; not mentioned, no information provided and no reason given as to why this was the case.

The response ended with the statement that my FoI request was now closed. Well, it isn't, because I have put in a request for an internal review, pointing out why Brent's response was deficient!

Will the Council change its ways? Or will Brent's unnecessary secrecy, and arrogance in governance, continue to result in defective decision-making?

Gaynor Lloyd said...

I am not sure can lay all blame on the Council.thpugh they don't help themselvrs by fighting to keep all secret. It's very much a government initiative. Both land disposal IF that's what it is and the ludicrous housing targets. You should see the reaction of government minister James brokenshire to the Mayor's pretty government required high London targets. "Must try harder." And green belt isn't sacrosanct. We ordinary people have to make it clear we are not having it. Always hopeful and if we do nothing it's certain it'll happen.

Philip Grant said...

Since when has Northwick Park been a "Regeneration Zone"?

Brent has a published Regeneration Strategy covering 2010 to 2030 (online at: ).

The areas selected for Regeneration were the most deprived parts of the Borough. The key to the strategy was:

'To reduce deprivation levels within the borough’s six priority neighbourhoods of Harlesden, Stonebridge, St Raphaels, Church End, Chalkhill and South Kilburn.'

'This priority retains the council’s local approach to regeneration, focusing activity and intervention on specific areas of need.'

Northwick Park DOES get a mention, but only by comparison with one of the deprived areas:
'There is an 11 year gap in life expectancy between people living in Harlesden and those in Northwick Park.'

Is the Council aiming to close the gap by reducing the average life expectancy of people in Northwick Park? I doubt it, but by trying to hide what they ARE planning to do, until it's a "done deal" and too late for local people's views to change anything, Brent's Leader and senior officers are treating its residents with contempt.

Anonymous said...

I agree many of these directives are generated by the Government but the very disappointing thing about it all is Brent's cloak and dagger reactions. They keep plans secret and instead of openly challenging these directives, with the backing of Brent residents, they go into a huddle and concoct reasons to imply they are workable, in their eyes at least. That's why Brent residents are so sick of their hypocrisy. I am not absolutely convinced that Brent Council are always opposed to some of these directives anyway, from some of the solutions they arrive at. Are numerous 20 storey plus blocks really called for by Government?

Gaynor Lloyd said...

Oh, I forgot. Thanks, Philip! Being a "Regeneration Zone" means you can build higher. Or "increase the density". But I expect everyone knew that..

Helen Backhouse said...

I have enjoyed walking across that park this summer and watching kestrels fledge at the university. Yet people need homes. Harrow is rich in green space, Brent has little. I have no objections to the Golf Course being build on though it would change the beautiful views from Harrow on the Hill.