Wednesday 29 July 2020

Stonebridge 1981: 'Don't burn it down - let's build!' The Brent Council v Leonard Johnson hearing

The young campaigners at the disused Stonebridge bus garage
Paul Anderson, who worked with Leonard Johnson from the beginning of the project in 1981, was cross-examine don his witness statement by Ms Holland, Brent Council's Counsel.

He said he had attended a youth club on Stonebridge which put on lots of activities against the background of agitation and riots elsewhere in the country.

Anderson said that HPCC did have a written constitution, he had seen it and many activities were borne out of that constitution. 'We were young 20-22, and talented and worked with the CDA (Co-operative Development Agency). We couldn't have been part of Itec if we didn’t have a constitution.'

He could not give the exact date of the constitution but said it was produced around 1981-8.

Holland asked if it could have been the Steering Group constitution he was remembering. Anderson said, no, HPCC still had their own constitution. They had a General Meeting to elect people and had to put something together to say how they would operate. The constitution developed, 'We were active in stopping people destroying our community. We did it our way. Alice Holt (CDA) would have known what HPCC stood for, we were part of the Steering Group. We had so many activities that we had to have rules and regulations - we did it our way. We knew we had to have some sort of governance to the best of our understanding. As we developed, we got all sorts of professionals coming in to help is.'

He added, 'I'm passionate about this. It's an asset and they're trying to take it away.'

The Judge asked if there was any document that covered aims and objectives, financial controls, voting etc.

Paul Anderson said they did. They had to have a quorum and voted for chair, treasurer.  The contributed what they could. HPCC was on a learning curve - he was there.

Anderson was asked if he had the constitution with him. He said he hadn't brought it. He would have to look in the attic but they'd had a constitution to this this day.  He promised to try and get it for the court.

When he appeared to go off the point Ms Holland said sharply, 'Answer my questions. This isn't a street protest.'

Anderson said, 'I am a member of Bridge Park. I believe we own Bridge Park, we put a lot into it. Bridge Park belongs to the community.' He denied that there was any monetary in the case for him personally. He said he did not see himself reaping any financial benefit from the asset as it was for the community.

He continued, 'We had a vision to become self-sufficient. That's what we told the community: "Don't burn it down - let's build!" We campaigned to get the old bus garage, ran classes. When we got it, the message went out that this belongs to the community - not just to HPCC. We made the building what it is.'

Ms Holland asked about the vision, generation of revenue and aim for self-sufficiency within 5 years. She asked if Anderson was part of a project aiming to purchase the site.

Mr Anderson said the vision was making what the community wanted happen. A place for education, performance, training -'It was ours. People were inspired and helped to build the project.'

Holland said, 'You didn’t think you were owners. You could have sold it.'

Anderson said it hadn't crossed their minds that they could sell it.

Holland challenged, 'It didn't cross your minds because you didn't own it.'

Anderson: 'Nobody thought we'd sell it. It was the community's.'

The Judge intervened asking, 'You didn’t think the property was yours?'

Mr Anderson responded that they expected at one point they would get it. 'The message was that it was ours. We own it but we weren't going to sell it.'

Holland put it to him that they knew they didn't own the land but sometime in the future it could happen.

Anderson said he accepted that.

Holland continued, 'The anticipation was for the Community Co-operative, not HPCC.' Anderson replied that HPCC represented the community. Whatever mechanism allowed that to happen.'

Challenged by Counsel that only two mentions of his name could be found in documents and that he wasn’t involved in setting up Bridge Park, Anderson said there were many facets in the project and different roles. He was involved in the Itec and put his heart and soul into it: 'To see that taken away. Turned my back and it was gone. It was awful.'

He said he was not directly involved in meeting with the council [setting up Bridge Park] but involved in working with the DTI and council for the IT project.  He was not involved in setting up the HPCC but was a living witness of the campaign and getting the community behind the project. 'It was beautiful.'

Mr Cottle asked Anderson about a document written by representatives of the HPCC in July-October 1981 entitled, 'Realities of Life in Stonebridge' and another with the same title dated December 1981. Anderson said the two were slightly different.  The Stonebridge Bus Garage Steering Group document was more about what would be put in there, the other was a contextual report.

The next witness was former Labour councillor Bertha Joseph, who switched to the Conservatives in 2007.

Ms Joseph said that at a Labour Group meeting held when Merle Amory (now Abbott) was leader in 1986/87, Amory informed those present that HPCC was planning to buy the bus garage. Joseph had joined the council in 1986.

Holland pointed out that the garage had been bought by the council 4 years before - that didn’t make sense.  Joseph said she remembered Amory saying it at the time.

Holland suggested it was the Steering Group that could buy, not HPCC. Joseph said it was the HPCC that was around at the time. She had known about their work before becoming a councillor and the awful lot of work they did for young people at Bridge Park.  She was a 24-year-old councillor and had never heard that it belonged to the council. It was a community project. When the community heard that HPCC was buying the garage they were excited. The council didn’t have a connection with young people. She saw Leonard as the leader - the President.  The police had no control. There was no riot because of the project.

She added that taking it away now would be devastating for the community.

The next witness was Richard Gutch who had worked for the council but for a few years after he left continued to offer pro bono advice to the project when they requested it., and again more recently. He had met with the new project manager at the time and as an outside helped them assess contractors,

Gutch has asked to amend his witness statement because following Carolyn Downs' cross-examination he now knew the proposed development involved more than a swimming pool. He had thought it was a private development contrary to community use.

Ms Holland asked about the transfer of land to Brent Council from London Transport: 'Are you clear that Brent accepted the land?'

Gutch agreed but said HPCC were working very well as partners and when resources allowed would be legal owners. He understood that there was an expectation that they may be able to get a lease with an option to buy but that would be dependent on the project's sustainability. Brent were the legal owners.

Mr Gutch said that Johnson recognised that initially with help from funders Johnson recognised that that the land would be in the name of Brent. Gutch's advice was that it was great to have a vision but to take one step at a time.

Holland quoted a 1982 document with a factual statement that the council was purchasing the bus garage for this project. Gutch said, 'Yes but would be run and eventually purchased by HPCC.'

Ms Holland followed up stating it was always ultimately the council's property.  Gutch agreed and said as the council was making a contribution, they set out safeguards on how a potentially risk situation went.  Safeguarding ownership rested with Brent as was true of all Urban Projects.

Turning to the issue of Mr Watkins of Watts County Holland said that the significance of his meeting with him was about ownership.  Gutch said that Watkins had a number of facilities in Watts. He told HPCC that ownership enables you to do more things. It inspired Johnson and others to that aim.

Holland questioned Gutch again about ownership and the Urban Programme funds. Summing up she said that the asset was ultimately the council’s at the end of the day. Gutch agreed. She quoted GLC conditions, 'acquired for and controlled and run by the community.' Gutch agreed.

Gutch told Mr Cottle that he stood by his statement that it was 'not for the benefit of Brent [Council] in its own right.' The point was that it was being run by HPCC as a community-controlled project which had impressed funders who would not normally be politically sympathetic.

Both Counsels are preparing written submissions today and the hearing will continue tomorrow, (Thursday)

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