Thursday 30 April 2020

Former Brent Council Leader issues Official Complaint over lockdown Planning Committee decision making

The proposed buildings on Sudbury Town Station Car Park
The Brent Planning Committee on Wednesday May 6th (6pm) will be a virtual meeting. The Agenda on the Council website states:

Note: Please note the press and public will be welcome to attend this as an online virtual meeting. The link to attend and view proceedings will be available via the Live Stream page on the Democracy in Brent website. 
The Agenda does not state how members of the public may make representations at the meeting, a normal Planning Committee provision, which ensure the public's voice is heard.

However,in correspondence with former Council Leader and Liberal Democrat General Election Candidate, Paul Lorber, the Council has stated:
It is possible to speak at the Committee Meeting (online or via the telephone) subject to the restrictions set out in the Council's Standing Order. These provide for one objector and/or one supporter of the application to speak. The Chair has the discretion to increase this to two people from each side. In doing this, the Chair will give priority to occupiers nearest to the application site or representing a group of people. 

To address the committee you must speak to Democratic Services at least one clear day before the meeting. Please telephone the Democratic Services Officer, Mr Joe Kwateng, on 020 8937 1354 during office hours or email
Apart from the Sudbury Town Station proposal that Lorber was concerned about (see image above)  there are also applications for a mixed used development at the Abbey Manufacturing Estate/Edwards Yard site in Wembley  for 3-14 storey buildings, an 11 storey building on the site of Ujima House in Wembley High Road, and Peel Precinct and neighbouring sites  in South Kilburn for 7 buildings of 5-16 storeys.

A pretty heavy agenda by any measure and issues on which the public may well want to make representations.

Paul Lorber wrote to Brent Council CEO outlining his concerns over the absence of site meetings as well as the rights of residents witout internet access:
As you know I raised with you concerns about dealing with Planning Applications during this crisis. As in most cases applicants will not be able to pursue or implement any approved applications there seems no great urgency to rush applications through and deny members of the public an opportunity for a proper say.

It is normal for many residents to attend Planning Committee when they are concerned about an application. Determining applications on line denies them this opportunity. Any resident not on the internet or not familiar with the new technology faces an even greater disadvantage and unfairness.
It has been a long standing practice in Brent for many decades for planning applications which are either controversial or subject to great concern or opposition from residents to be subject to a site visit. Site visit were an important opportunity tfor members of the Planning Committee to better understand the concerns being raised and to see things on site. The reasons for this are obvious - explanations and information on paper only do not tell the full story.

The planning site meetings are also an opportunity for residents to point out the their concerns directly to Councillors.

I am concerned that going ahead with planning applications subject to Planning Committee Meetings, because of the nature of the application or the large level of opposition,in the way proposed undermines the normal Brent Council approach of meaning full public involvement and Brent Council's commitment to Open Government. All the advantage is handed over to the Applicants who have had the opportunity of direct access to Council Officers denied to the members of public. It is those officers who then advise Councillors in Planning pre meetings or in other ways outside of public scrutiny.

The lack of site meetings as a major change to the way planning meetings have been dealt with in the past which also undermines the whole process.

In my view Brent Council should suspend dealing with any applications which are subject to material number of objections and only deal with applications which fall into the category dealt with under delegated powers or those where no materail number of objections have been received.

Besides the risk of extra challenges to decisions were made there is a much more serious issue of public confidence in the whole planning process in Brent.

I trust that you will consider my concerns seriously and suspend the process of dealing with Planning Applications in the proposed way.
Lorber has now issued a formal complaint as a result of his dissatisfaction with the Council's response to his letter:
The Brent Council decision to proceed with planning applications in the way proposed in your letter has a number of implications:

1.     It denies members of the public (or even Councillors) to request a site meeting.
2.     It denies any member of the public without the internet or ability to join the online meeting of the right to participate.

In view of this any consideration of this application should be deferred until such time as things return to normal, site meetings are possible and all memebers of the public are free to attend a normal Planning Committee Meeting in Brent.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

1 Morland Gardens should be considered 'an important local heritage asset of high significance' - Brent Heritage Officer

The proposals for the redevelopment of 1 Morland Gardens on a prominent corner site in Harlesden/Stonebridge have attracted much controversy over the loss of a well-loved landmark in the Italianate style villa presently occupying the site. LINK  There has been an argument about its relative heritage merit and whether alternative proposals should be considered which would preserve the villa. LINK

Brent Council have kindly supplied me with the advice of the Council's Principal Heritage Officer which I hope will be given due weight.

Application Number 20/0345

Consultee Details 

Name: Mr Mark Price Principal Heritage Officer
On Behalf Of: Principal Heritage Conservation Officer 


SIGNIFICANCE: 1 Morland Gardens is a Locally Listed Building [a non-designated heritage asset] but not in a conservation area nor a statutory listed building. The local list description (attached) confirms and sets out its significance. It has a significance score of 8 out of 12 and therefore it should be considered an important local heritage asset of high significance. 

The Heritage Statement submitted with the planning application [at 8.8] confirms the authenticity and the intactness of the building and therefore its relative significance and states that Externally, the Victorian house remains mostly intact and The houses south-facing façade still makes an impression on those passing along Hillside. However, although the report considers the history and use of the building, it does not put it into the immediate local context of Stonebridge nor as a building type within the Borough of Brent. It is therefore difficult to come to any judgement about its potential loss. Furthermore, it does not make a case for its demolition or give any comment on the merits of the replacement building. 

The NPPF at paragraph 8 states that an Analysis of relevant information can generate a clear understanding of the affected asset, the heritage interests represented in it, and their relative importance. It goes on to point out at paragraph 9 that Applicants are expected to describe in their application the significance of any heritage assets affected, including any contribution made by their setting (National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 189). In doing so, applicants should include analysis of the significance of the asset and its setting, and, where relevant, how this has informed the development of the proposals. 

Unfortunately, such information has not been provided. 

Brents DMP 7 [b] is quite clear that applicants should provide a detailed analysis and justification of the potential impact (including incremental and cumulative) of the development on the heritage asset and its context as well as any public benefit and [at c] argues to retain buildings where their loss would cause harm. With this in mind, the applicants should seek further advice from a heritage specialist to gather further evidence in support of this application. The specialist might offer different conclusions or mitigation measures for the Council to consider. 

I am aware that the D&A Statement at section 5.1, Heritage, alludes to the fact that the Design Team have carefully considered a wide range of development options for the application site, including options that retain the historic core of the building. Also that the proposed building is not without considerable design merit. However, the development options need to be carefully set out and argued as part of the planning application and form part of the heritage statement along with the architectural merits of the new design as well as the other public benefits [as defined by the NPPF] to countenance demolition. 

In my view, therefore, this additional information needs to be obtained before a proper assessment of the proposals can be determined.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Brent Council's Adult Social Care teams talk about how they're responding to coronavirus

Fryent Country Park extra! – The bunker on Gotfords Hill

I am pleased to publish this spin-off from Philip Grant's series on the history of Fryent Country Park

One of the encouraging things about sharing the local history I know is that other people sometimes add things that I didn’t know! This has happened through comments made in response to Part 3 of the Fryent Country Park Story.

One comment, from Wally, which began with memories triggered by an old photo of a gipsy camp, went on to say: ‘On top of “Mole Hill” in about the 60's an underground bunker was dug and buried and we saw its construction. Never found out what it was for or if it's still there.’ “Mole Hill” was actually Gotfords Hill, which today looks serene in its country landscape, but I had heard rumours about something “secret” which used to be there.

1. Looking across the Country Park fields, to Gotfords Hill, Kingsbury and beyond.
An anonymous comment followed, first saying: ‘I remember the bunker and what was inside,’ and later adding: ‘like a man hole cover in a concrete surround, a jacobs ladder leading down to a couple of rooms one with a early warning machine.’ There had obviously been something on that hilltop, but what was it?

The following day another comment arrived, which provided hope that we might soon have the answer. Brian wrote: ‘I have some photos of the bunker - not very good ones and I can't remember where I got them from, so I don't know who owns them.’ A day later, he had sent them to Martin, and we had our first glimpse of the Gotfords Hill bunker.

2. Royal Observer Corps volunteers at Gotfords Hill, 1968.

3. ROC men around the open trap door to the bunker.

The photograph above gives a clear picture of five of the men, four of them wearing the uniform of the Royal Observer Corps (“ROC”), a volunteer organisation linked with the RAF. Do you recognise any of these men, or are you one of them, who could tell us more? Once
the uniform was clear, it led me to an excellent website run by the
Royal Observer Corps Association, which has helped provide the following information.

The Observer Corps was set up in the 1920s, to help the RAF in keeping track of enemy aircraft that might attack this country during any future war. I had heard that Gotfords Hill was the site of an observation post during the Second World War, and that would explain its later use by the ROC. 

Although the RAF had radar around the coast, to help spot approaching formations of German bombers during that war, it relied on a network of observation posts to help track their movements once they were over Britain. The post on Gotfords Hill probably reported directly to Fighter Command HQ at Bentley Priory, on the type and number of planes they could see, and the direction they were flying. Because of their vital work during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, King George VI awarded the Observer Corps its Royal title in 1941.

4. A World War 2 Observer Corps observation post. (Still from a British Pathé newsreel film in 1941.)

After 1945, the nature of any future conflict changed, with faster jet aircraft and the development of nuclear weapons. The role of the ROC also changed, and from 1957 it was brought under the control of the new United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation (“UKWMO”). Between then and 1963, around 1500 underground ROC posts were built, in a network across the whole country. Many reused old ROC locations, such as Gotfords Hill.

Wally’s comment was right, when he said that an underground bunker was dug and buried there in the 1960s. The bunker had reinforced concrete walls, one foot thick, and could only be reached by ladder down a 14-foot concrete shaft from the surface. The Gotfords Hill bunker opened in 1961, and was named ROC Post Colindale (which has led to at least one website saying it was in the London Borough of Barnet!). It was reached via a footpath across the field from Valley Drive, and through a locked gate in the high wire fence surrounding the site.

5. ROC members around the top of the bunker, with Valley Drive in the background.

The bunker consisted of two rooms, a monitoring room and a storeroom (with a chemical toilet in it). The Cold War was at its height in the early 1960s, and in time of an emergency the job of these ROC posts would be to report where nuclear bombs had exploded, and to monitor the spread and toxicity of the radioactive fallout. Two or three observers would be expected to seal themselves into the bunker, and stay there, potentially for many weeks!

6. Inside the monitoring room in the Gotfords Hill bunker.
The radioactivity readings, from equipment linked to the surface, would have been used alongside reports from neighbouring posts (Acton, Northolt, Chorleywood, Kings Langley and Bowes Park/Haringay) and data from the Met. Office to predict where the nuclear fallout would spread to, and alert people there of danger coming their way. If you are interested, there is a public information film [“The Hole in the Ground” (1962)] on YouTube, all about these methods:

I remember those times, as my grandfather was an active member of the Civil Defence Corps then. Aged 11 to 13, I was “volunteered” to help, as a casualty, with a number of their training exercises. For one big exercise there was no gory make-up, just dozens of us delivered to a mock casualty clearing station in a local school. We each had a card listing the symptoms we had to describe to the first aiders, whose task it was to decide what to do with us. My “condition” was radiation sickness, and the symptoms were awful! Since then, I’ve been convinced that nuclear weapons should never be used again.

As the threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union diminished, half of the underground ROC bunkers were closed in 1968, and Gotfords Hill was one of them. The photographs that Brian shared with us are dated 1968, and may have been taken as the ROC members paid a last visit to their post (if whoever took them would like to get in touch, we would be happy to give a proper acknowledgement). Although the hatch and its surround have gone, the sealed-off bunker underneath must still be there!

7. Closing the hatch to the bunker in 1968, with the fields of the future Country Park beyond.

The final photo shared with us shows the metal hatch being closed; but the pictures have also “lifted the lid” on the mystery of the Gotfords Hill bunker. It is now part of the Fryent Country Park Story!

Thankfully, the bunker never had to be used for the purpose it was built to serve, but history can teach us things, if we are willing to learn. In the 1950s, the government perceived a danger which threatened the life of everyone in the country. They planned for what would be required to deal with that threat, put in the resources necessary, and trained the staff and volunteers who would be involved. Even though that threat passed, without becoming a reality, the country was prepared.

Philip Grant.




Monday 27 April 2020

Daniel’s Den Snipathon Launch - Linda's epic haircut! They deserve a donation

From Daniel's Den

Daniel’s Den Snipathon is our major fundraising event of the year! 26 days of snipping activities all raising money for Daniel’s Den! It was launched on Sunday April 26th 2020 by Linda and her daughter Shauna! This is the video of Linda having 26 inches cut off her hair - it was an epic community event!

Lots of neighbours came to cheer her on (social distancing rules in place! Follow the link to donate!

About Daniels Den Snipathon

The 2.6 Challenge has inspired us to run a 26-day fundraising campaign called Daniels Den Snipathon. Everyday someone or something will be snipped! 

It will kick off on Sunday April 26th 2020 (the day the London Marathon should have been run) when one of our volunteers Linda will cut off her hair all 26 inches of it!! 

Here is her story
'What I love about Daniels Den is that its not just a job or volunteering opportunity - its family. 

It is not just a session, set up, run, pack away and done its so much more. It reaches further - building links with other organisations, developing relationships with the children and families, with the other volunteers, with the people who run the venues where our sessions are held and the wider community. 

The staff and volunteers offer a non-judgemental ear and share suggestions and advice. Its a huge support network. 

I remember when my daughter started full time school and she asked me why I was still volunteering at Daniels Den as she wasnt there anymore. I said "if there were no volunteers when you started going to DD it would not have been such a good place would it? No one to do the craft, no one to make the juice and fruit, no one to do singing time etc". It took her a while to get her head around it, but finally did. 

I'm the volunteer fundraising events coordinator and this idea has been floating around in my head for a few months - but the time seems right now. People need to be part of something at this time, to give them something to be involved in as we cant meet them at the moment.' 
So everyday someone in Daniel's Den is going to do a snipping challenge. Photos and videos will be shared. Here are just some of the challenges taking place 

Cuthbert the Caterpillar is going to have his 'hair' trimmed
Titch and Roxy, Lindas dogs are going to have the hair in their toenails clipped
Danielle will snip baby Hallies fingernails
Our children will make a collage of their favourite things 

The money raised will help our fundraising targets for the year and enable us to reach more families. 

We have decided to donate 26% of what we raise to two charities close to our heart - St Luke's Hospice and our local women's refuge! And the hair that Linda snips will be donated to the Little Princess Trust to make wigs for children that have lost their hair due to cancer treatment. 

The motto of our charity is TEAM Together Everyone Achieves More and all donations are welcome. 

Thank you!

Remembrance silence for bus workers who have lost their lives to Covid19 - Willesden bus garage tomorrow

TUC issues safety demands before any return to work after lockdown

From the TUC

The TUC is today calling on government to introduce tough new measures to ensure that before lockdown restrictions are eased, all employers assess the risks of their staff team returning to work outside the home.

In a new report, the TUC outlines what government and employers need to do to keep workers safe at work after lockdown is eased, and to give staff the confidence they need:

Risk assessments in every workplace 

The union body is demanding that every employer in the UK be required to carry out a specific Covid-19 risk assessment, developed in consultation with unions and workers. 
The assessment must:
  • Identify what risks exist in the workplace and set out specific steps to mitigate them, including through social distancing.
  • Be agreed with the staff trade union, where there is one. 
  • Be signed off by one of the UK’s 100,000 trade union health and safety reps, or by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector, to make sure that it is robust.
  • Be completed and communicated to workers before they are expected to return to their normal place of work, which means that employers should start work on their assessments now.
Employers who fail to complete their risk assessments or put the appropriate safety measures in place should face serious penalties, including prosecution.

Workers have been failed 

These are demanding measures, which represent a step-change in the UK’s approach to health and safety at work, says the union body.

But the TUC believes that too many workers have already been put at unnecessary risk during the pandemic, including through lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and inadequate social distancing procedures.  

Safety concerns

New TUC polling, also published today, shows that 2 in 5 (40%) workers surveyed, along with those who have recently become unemployed, are worried about returning to the normal place of work, including half (49%) of women.

Asked about their specific concerns:
  • 2 in 5 (39%) are concerned about not being able to socially distance from colleagues when back at work, and over a quarter (28%) are concerned about not being able to socially distance from customers or clients.
  • Over a third (34%) are concerned about exposing others in their household to greater risk.
  • Nearly 1 in 6 (17%) workers across the economy are concerned about not having access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) at work.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: 

Many employers have struck sensible deals with unions to protect workers’ health, safety and wellbeing. But too often decent employers are let down by those who play fast and loose with safety. 

We need tough new measures from government to reassure working people that their health and safety is a priority. Too many workers have already been forced to put their health on the line during this pandemic.

We all want everyone to get back to work and start rebuilding Britain. But workers need confidence that they won’t have to put themselves or their families at unnecessary risk.

Government must ensure that every employer performs a comprehensive risk assessment before asking staff to return to work. And bosses who don’t take steps to protect workers should be prosecuted.

If workers are asked to work in conditions they think are unsafe, they can refuse. And they should know that their unions will have their back.

Saturday 25 April 2020

The Fryent Country Park Story - Part 5

The fifth is a series by local historian Philip Grant

The Fryent Country Park Story – Part 5

So far, our journey has brought us from Saxon times up to the late 1930s, when the land which is now our country park was first protected as “open space”. If you missed Part 4, you can find it here.
1. An autumn field in Fryent Country Park.

When war broke out in 1939, it was clear that the country needed to produce more of its own food. By the following year, at least one field behind Slough Lane had been turned into allotment gardens, but most of the meadows were still grazed by sheep belonging to a farmer from Edgware. Then, in 1942, Middlesex’s Food Production Committee had 56 acres of the old hay meadows on their Regional Open Space ploughed up, to grow wheat.
2. Threshing the wheat at Little Cherrylands field in 1942. (Brent Archives – Wembley History Society Colln.)
One long-time Kingsbury resident, who was a schoolboy at the time, remembers stacking sheaves of wheat in Richards Field East, to help with the harvest, as a number of local people did. He also remembered that there was a military observation post at the top of Gotfords Hill. There is rumoured to be a bunker underneath the hill, reached through a trap door, but that was supposed to be top secret! (Recent comments suggest it was 1960s Cold War, not WW2.)*

3. Muriel Jefferies helping with the harvest at Bush Farm in 1942. (Photo courtesy of Martin Francis)
In July 1944, a V1 flying bomb exploded in Salmon Street, killing a lady in a house there. One of the five others injured was blown from the top of a stack of straw, at nearby Little Bush Farm. By that time, the end of the war was in sight, and the government was beginning to look ahead to post-war problems, such as the urgent need for new housing.

Wembley Council had said that it wanted 400 of the temporary factory-made bungalows, which the government planned to produce. By November 1944, land near the southern end of Fryent Way had been identified as one possible site for these “prefab” homes. Middlesex C.C. refused permission, as this was part of its Regional Open Space. However, in 1946, after Wembley had used up all its sites at the edge of parks and sports grounds, the County Council relented, on the promise that the land would be returned to open space after the 10-15 years these prefabs were due to last.

4. A row of prefab homes at Pilgrims Way, c.1950. (Photo from Brent Archives)
Work had hardly begun on the 114-home estate when the severe winter of 1946/47 intervened. It was too cold for the German prisoner-of-war labourers to lay the concrete roadway. By April, work was underway again, and the first aluminium bungalows began arriving on site in October. All of the new homes were occupied by July 1948, and the Council had named the estate Pilgrims Way. This was because the ancient footpath (“Eldestrete”), which ran across it, was thought to have been used by pilgrims visiting the shrine of Our Lady of Willesdon, in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

One of my best sources for what the area was like in the 1950s and 1960s are the memories of children who grew up on the Pilgrims Way estate, collected as part of a “Prefabs Project” ten years ago. Maureen said: ‘it was an amazing place in which to spend the long summer hours of our childhood. A huge area of rolling hills, trees, woods and fields.  Many of the fields with cows in them. At the top of Barn Hill there was a pond that was the focal point, which as a child l thought was massive. Wally me and the other kids would spend hours fishing in this pond for ‘red throats’ and other tiddlers using a jam jar with string tied around the top.’
5. Barn Hill pond, c.1950. (Photograph by Ian Stokes, courtesy of Barn Hill Conservation Group)

Paul remembered the woods and fields as ‘a child’s paradise to play in’, and not just in summer. ‘When it snowed we’d sledge at great speed down a very long steep hill next to Barn Hill pond, stopping only when the barbed wire fence of the cow’s field at the very bottom loomed into sight.’ Sheila’s summer days included: ‘just playing in the fields, making endless daisy chains, looking for grass hoppers, climbing trees, walking amongst the cows, never feeling unsafe only popping home for a slice of bread and jam then out again.’

6. Cattle grazing in a field on Barn Hill, c.1960s. (Source unknown!)

The cows belonged to a farmer from Edgware, as all of the active farmsteads along Salmon Street had gone. The farmhouse at Bush Farm was demolished around 1939, Little Bush Farm after its V1 damage in 1944, and Hill Farm to make way for housing in the 1950s. In the 1960s, the farmer began ploughing up some of the old meadows to plant crops. When he started to cut down some of the centuries-old hedges, the recently formed Brent Council put a stop to this, and ended his tenancy.

7. The Pilgrims Way prefab estate, and fields at the southern end of Fryent Way, mid-1960s.
                         (Brent Archives – aerial photographs collection)

Brent had inherited the Pilgrims Way estate when Wembley joined with Willesden to form the new London Borough in 1965. Although only meant to be temporary, the last of the prefabs there remained in use until 1972. All of the land was supposed to be returned to open space, but the Council persuaded the Greater London Council (which had taken overall responsibility for this “Green Belt” land when Middlesex C.C. was abolished in 1965) to let them retain three acres for housing. A new Pilgrims Way was built, with two Closes off of it, called after old local field names, Saltcroft and Summers.


8. The “Pilgrims Way” footpath in 2019, and the old estate entrance at the top of the hill in Fryent Way.

The rest of the former prefab estate was allowed to become woodland, with its old entrance still just visible. But what should the Council do with the land they had taken back from the farmer? One group of Labour councillors, mainly from the Willesden wards, said that Council housing should be built on it. Another group, of Conservatives, thought that it should be turned into a municipal golf course. In 1973, however, Brent Council decided to retain the fields as meadowland, that would be open for the public to use.

There was one more threat to our future enjoyment of this open space that had to be overcome – the Olympic Games! Fryent Way had been part of the course for the marathon at the 1948 Games (British athlete, Tom Richards, won the silver medal, after a Korean runner ahead of him dropped out on the long climb up the hill from Kingsbury, in the final stages of the race back to Wembley Stadium). In 1980, London wanted to bid for the 1988 Games, and the fields at Fryent Way were the only suitable site for the athletes’ village that would be needed. Luckily, the government decided to back a bid from Birmingham instead (which was unsuccessful).

9. A cutting from the "Wembley Observer" about the Olympic Village site, February 1980. (Brent Archives)
I apologise for the poor quality of the picture above, but hope that, as well as its caption, it shows the sorry state the hedges were in then. Something needed to be done to improve this area of ancient Middlesex landscape. Please join me next weekend, for the final part of The Fryent Country Park Story to discover what that was (there’s a clue in the title!).

As before, please add any information, memories or questions you have in the comments section below.

Philip Grant

* Comments by readers of Part 3 have provided information about, and photos of, the
bunker at Gotfords Hill, referred to above. An “extra” article about the bunker will
be published in the next few days.