Tuesday 18 September 2018

Northwick Park development. The question they didn't want you to hear.

Brent Council is involved in several multi-million regeneration and development projects with wide repercussions for the community. When it comes to making representations about them to Planning Committee they are limited to just a few minutes to speak on extremely complex issues while the Planning Officers involved have plenty of time to sing the praises of applications that they are backing.  The only way a representation can be extended is by the councillors on the committee asking questions of the person making representations to enable them to elaborate on their case. In my experience this seldom happens.

Last night at Full Council Gaynor Lloyd was informed without prior notice that she had just one minute to ask a supplementary question about the One Public Estate regeneration of Northwick Park. Despite her request for more time (she had rehearsed her question and got it down to 2 minutes) she was told she had just one minute and was not able to ask her full question. You can see the exchange HERE.

In the interests of local democracy and the public interest I publish below Gaynor's full question that she was unable to complete:

I am grateful for the opportunity to ask a supplemental question on the Council’s response to my original question. It may assist the Deputy Leader if I outline some further background, as my question relates to public consultation on the OPE proposals, in particular, the access road and Metropolitan Open Land swap – and when it will take place and on what basis?

I have just received a response to my FOI request to which  Councillor Butt kindly directed me at the August Cabinet meeting . 

I have seen some illuminating emails and sections of reports – even though at least half of over 1400 pages has been blacked out. Firstly, I saw that, when approving a press release for the February Cabinet on OPE, Ms Downs asked whether it had to “mention all green land, including play golf? Can’t we just say it is protected and any plans will fully take this into account?” To which the lead officer responded, “I agree with Carolyn, keep the statement brief and positive. I would be inclined not to mention MOL at all. It is opening us up to further question. 

I also learned that the 4 current partners in the OPE project (Brent Council, Network Housing, London North West University Healthcare Trust and University of Westminster) employed GVA, the consultants who (I believe) are the lead advisers on the OPE project to prepare professional representations on behalf of  those 4 partners for the Council’s  first consultation on the Local Plan. This Consultations and Options Paper was published in February 2018, for response by all residents and others by March 2018.

As lead adviser, GVA was fully briefed on all the proposals including the proposed reallocation of Northwick Park for “regeneration”; potential sites for the access road across the Ducker, or through the  golf course; the alterations to Watford Road to make right turns into the Hospital; and Metropolitan open land swap. By contrast, the public were in complete ignorance. No mention was made in either the papers put out for Local Plan public consultation to residents, or at the Northwick Park ward Local Plan public “consultation” meeting. There was  no reference to Northwick Park in any document, apart from its propensity to flooding. Northwick Park was, however, apparently consulted on in something called a Developer’s Forum. According to the Consultation outcomes document (1.17), it is in a list of sites about where housing should be put and whether at high or low density. 

As to the access road, and MOL swap, discussions have been going on since at least  early 2017. Roads through the Ducker Pool and the golf course are suggested but , amongst the emails about eventual consultation, a lead officer mentions putting 3 options in relation to the access road so that residents would “feel genuinely consulted”.  The Council met the GLA re  swapping the pavilion (which is on MOL anyway)  for the triangle by the tube station  on 15 March 2017. 

The Council paid public money to their own professional advisers to put in representations to the first Local Plan consultation to prepare the way for a “regeneration” allocation. It briefed a “Developers Forum” about developing on Northwick Park - but those living next to the Park were kept in the dark  for their Local Plan consultation. When the Consultation results were published, there is no mention at all of the GVA representations on behalf of the Council & its partners. When the Cabinet agreed the grant application for £9.9 million - and all the work that will need to be done by Council officers,  there was no public mention of what the grant is for: to widen Watford Road to allow for a right turn into the Hospital and provide other access across Northwick Park - to improve the PTAL rating and justify “reallocating” Northwick park for high density development as a “regeneration” area. Even a Cabinet press release had to be sanitised to minimise reference to green land.

Cllor McLennan is fortunately a Ward member from Northwick Park and knows both the Park and her residents (as mature and sensible a group of people as you would ever wish to meet) . My question is when is all this going to be shared with us residents - who will be most immediately affected - and consulted on? 

1 comment:

Philip Grant said...

The rules for speaking at Council meetings are set out in Standing Orders, which form part of Brent Council's Constitution. Standing Order 33 deals with "Questions from Members of the Public" at Full Council meetings.

Para. 33 (c) says that: 'The time set aside for questions shall be 15 minutes.' That is the total amount of time which this item on the agenda for the meeting can take.

Standing Order 33 says this about supplementary questions:

'(j) A person asking a question under para (a) may ask one oral supplementary
question, without notice, of the member who supplied the written answer. The
supplementary question must arise directly out of the original question or the
(k) Replies to supplementary questions shall not exceed 2 minutes.'

There is NO time limit given in Standing Order 33 for how much time the 'person asking the question' under 33 (j) should be allowed.

Usually, you would not expect a question to take very long to ask, but if any time limit were to be imposed, by the Mayor as chair of the meeting, that limit should surely be the normal 2 minutes, as Gaynor clearly expected it to be.

Watching the screened record of the meeting, the Mayor was clearly ready to give just one minute. He must have been prepared for this in advance. It makes you wonder whether this was on advice from the Chief Legal Officer, or whether he had been asked to do so by the Leader or Deputy Leader?