Friday 24 July 2020

FULL REPORT - Day 4: Judge warns Bridge Park Counsel over 'difficulties' in his case. Kathleen Fraser Jackson speaks about the black community's pride in the project

Judge Michael Green QC, at the end of today's hearing warned Mr Cottle, Counsel for Leonard Johnson and Bridge Park, that he would face difficulties in running his case after representations from Ms Holland, Brent Council's Counsel and Cottle's earlier warning that he might wish to amend the basis of the defendant's case.

The judge said there were issues over inconsistencies in the case, confusion over the various entities referred to and the establishment of a case for the defendant's interest in the land.  Cottle was facing considerable dificulties and he, as the judge, would need a lot of persuasion.

He told Cottle he needed to work out what his case is. Cottle said that there had been inconsistencies there from the beginning and the judge responded that if he thought that he should have ironed them out.

Judge Green warned Cottle that if he applied for amendments he might refuse them if he felt they were wholly misconceived.

The first witness was yet another former Brent Chief Executive. Lord Bichard went on to head the Benefits Agency, was a non-Executive Director of the National Audit Office, chaired an inquiry into the Soham murders and was most recently in the news for advocating a form of compulsory voluntary service for pensioners to reduce their 'burden on the state'.

Bichard said that the purchase of the bus depot site at Stonebridge had been an achievement and the HPCC was an important part of that achievement.  The outcome may have been different if they were not involved.  It was always clear that the community were involved in the development and management of the project and the DoE and GLC wanted to provide funding for a project on Stonebridge.

The project was for the community and not for a particular group.  He agreed that he had a good relationship with Leonard Johnson, Merle Amory and others.

Bichard said his memory was less precise because this was 38 years ago but there was a concern after the Brixton riots and many felt that Brent was vulnerable to a similar situation. There was no question that Harlesen Peoples Community Cooperative played a very positive role. He recalled his first meeting was at the bus depot with members of the community. In the Summer of 1981 there was an important meeting with Johnson and others and he returned to the council to speak about a possoble project at the garage.

At a meeting at the council on 13th October 1981 with HPCC representatives Chief Inpsecor Carey supported HPCC efforts to create a better life in Stonebridge and its campaign to purchase the garage.

There has been unanimous support at the highest level and London Transport was asked not to dispose of the depot and hold off the sale. A lead officer worked on a feasibility study involving the council and the community. Sir George Young MP visited the Hill Top Club and had a good relationship with Johnson. He was keen to see the project succeed.

Bichard said that the long-term aim was for the project to be self-financing and an aspiration some time in the future  for HPCC to acquire the freehold. It was not the main issues at the time though a commendable aspiration.

HPCC had members on the Bus Station Steering Group along with other members of the community. The council wanted community ownership of the initiative and greater community involvement in the leisure centre than was normal.

Bichard agreed that Johnson played a key role and there was high level support.  Urban Aid was paid to the council not to the project. The council was behind the project and acted as guarantor. The council was not merely a 'postman' for the project. The government would not have given money directly to a new project.

Counsel suggested that the community understood that Urban Aid was for the purchase of the depot which later they might acquire. Bichard said that Johnson in particular had a sophisticated understanding of the negotiations but couldn't say what was in his mind.

There was a late separate Industrial and Commercial Urban Aid application that Bichard said was for  of setting up an IT facility, not acquisition of the site itself, but for a two storey building for workshops.

Questioned further Bichard said that the community co-operative would have been able to apply for charitable status to achieve a reduction in rates and Counsel challenged whther the council had looked into that.

Bichard said he had no recollection of any discussion on an option to buy the freehold. He was just an officer who produced reports. It was not his role to persuade the council to do anything.  The aspiration to buy the freehold was commendable but there had been no conversations about that and it never happened because the project never became sustainable. If the project became self-financing that could be discussed but that was different from saying that there was an option to buy. He said there wasn't a shared understanding that it would be bought by the project.

Counsel quoted a GLC report that he thought suggested that they understood the purchase of the freehold was the co-operatives' long term aim. Bichard said it was not his report and he couldn't remember seeing it but there was no difference in his view. The report doesn't say the aim was shared by the council.  Counsel quoted Bichard's successor Charles Wood as saying that the council had no objection in principle to acquisition if the project was sustainable in the long term and certain conditions met. Counsel suggested that the community understood the long-term aims was to purchase.  Bichard replied that it was not raised at the time as a significant item.

Counsel asked Bichard to look at the Deeds. Bichard could not remember seeing it but agreed that the facilities outlined were what was intended when they bought the property for the community project. The money was for Brent to acquire the land so that the community could manage the  project on the site.

Counsel quoted a report from the Property Board of the GLC that interest had been expressed by other organisation to acquire the bus depot. Bichard said he was aware  but the council argued for sale to them because of the nature of the project and the sensitivity of the area.  There was some juggling between different organisations. HPCC was an important part of the community but not the only part of the community.

Bichard said the Goverment, GLC and Brussels would have expected the council to own the property. Counsel suggested that Johnson didn't know that.  Bichard said he would be surpised if Johnson was not aware that they would have reservations about putting money into an untried group.

A 1984 report by a Mr Cowley claimed the DoE had funding reservations.  HPCC compiled a report aimed at addressing Cowley's concerns and Brent Council responded to the DoE showing that they supported the project. The visit by Prince Charles to open the project was an important statement of support.

The Judge asked Lord Bichard how the project was to become self-financing. Bichard said there would be income from tenants of the building and the cafe and bar would generate income. There was a question of whether that would be sufficient to buy the site. In order to get a mortgage the bank would have to be satisfied that there was enough income to maintain payments. The council was committed to the project and would consider subsidising to some degree or other.

When the court resumed after lunch there was a discussion involving both Counsels about possible amendments changing  the grounds of the Bridge Park case over the basis of their interest in the land. Counsel for Bridge Park said he wanted to see how the case went before making a commitment. The Judge drily told Brent Council's Counsel that she now knew what the case wasn't but not what it is. They decided to carry on with the next witness.

Kathleen Fraser Jackson had been on the steering group of the project before becoming a councillor in 1988 and became a director of the Stonebridge Bus Depot Steering Group Limited.  She  was a member of most committees on the council and Chair of Youth and Community.  She was concerned about the community gaining tax payer funding and then losing it. She said the whole community was involved in the acquisition of the site and her heart was involved in the project.

Although not directly involved in the acquisition of the land everyone knew about it from the newspapers. She was inspired by the group. She responded to a remark by Brent Council's Counsel assertively saying that she understood the paper work, She'd had unduction when she joined the Board so she could contribute properly and the same with council committees.

She said it was the HPCC that acquired the property - the council came in as guarantor as HPCC had not track record.  The council had come in to give it a sense of order. She was a volunteer with the steering group at the time.  They had acquired the land and needed to get the community behind them to build the compex.

Asked about as 1982 legal document that showed ownership of the asset she said she distinctly remembered being told about how it was worded and that HPCC were worried.  She didn't know then but realised now, why they were worried.

When Counsel asked Fraser Jackson how she was involved in 1982 she replied that first she was a volunteer for HPCC in the community link department, then a Director, before being nominated by the council.  She said she had not been involved in the acquisition of the land and asked Counsel, 'Are you getting me confused with someone else?'

She said that Brent Council wanted a lease and HPCC felt that the council was going to take the asset 'away from them, short change or diddle them out of the land.'  There was always that threat they wanted to take it away and do something else with it.  It had happened at Central Middlesex Hospital when they sold the land off.

Counsel commented, 'You couldn't seriously think that HPCC after acquisition would want to sell it?' Fraser Jackson replied that they wouldn't want to as they wanted to run the project.  It would be self-sufficient and there for the future to train up young people to get proper jobs.

She continued that in her mind the land was virtually given to HPCC as it was below markert price. Civil unrest was down to the community not owning anything.  Counsel suggsted that it was bought for the community, not HPCC, not part of the community.

Fired up,  Fraser Jackson told Counsel, 'If that's your argument, that's really sad as a lot of people put  a lot into it. It's not worth looking at because you're saying we're not worth it. We read about it in news reports. What HPCC did was newsworthy - you watched the news. It was an achievement - there weren't many black people on the news at the time.'

The GLC had put money into the land for the HPCC project. The GLC funded a mini-bus on a neighbouring estate - we thought it was our own. There was always the caveat that if the organisation stopped  existing ownership would revert to the funder. Same for Bridge Park, if the project stopped existing, money would have to go back to the DoE and GLC.  There was always this matter of whether we could completely trust the council.

When the GLC gave money to HPCC it was in the news.  At the time it was a big thing for black people of my age - in the news for doing something good and constructive!

Counsel put it to Fraser Jackson that it was the project you wanted to own - not the land.  She responded with the example of the Learie Constantine Centre that was always held up as somewhere black people ran. She thought Bridge Park would be the same: sports hall (national standard), training, social centre, business centre - all the opportunities people need.  Hundreds came and volunteered.  We had to get money to build the structure, we were told it would last 120 years.

Counsel asked if Fraser Jackson had read the consultation document about the council's development proposal.  She replied that it only went to Stonebridge, if it had gone wider, she hadn't seen it. Asked what she thought it proposed she replied, 'If it's anything like Chalkhill I wouldn't think much of it. We had three community centes, now only one that we have to pay for.'

The Judge asked Fraser Jackson if she had mistrusted the council's intentions, had she raised these concerns when she became a councillor. She replied that she had done initially as she didnt know why there was mistrust. I was almost told, 'Don't worry about the wording. That's the way reports are written. I was assured that the council had the community's interests at heart.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Martin, thank you for these detailed accounts of the proceedings