Wednesday 12 August 2020

FULL REPORT: Planning Committee votes to demolish 'beautiful' Altamira (1 Morland Gardens) - Chair votes Against

1 Morland Gardens
The approved redevelopment
Brent Planning Committee tonight approved the Council's own development plans for 1 Morland Gardens despite pleas to respect it as one of only two heritage buildings in the area.  The Italianate Villa will be demolished and replaced by the building above.

There had been 48 initial objections to the plans with a further 15 when plans review, a 330-signature e-petition against and a 36-person written petition from Willesden Local History Society.

There were just 3 comments on the Planning Portal in support.

Chair of Brent Planning Committee Cllr James Denselow voted against mainly on grounds of confusion over the DMP7 policy on heritage and view shared by Cllr Maurice who also voted against and felt additionally that the Council as applicant could have done more work on the proposal.

 In his presentation to the Committee Roger Macklen said:

I have lived in Stonebridge since 1947, and as well as being a local resident, I’m a member of Willesden Local History Society.

Stonebridge has changed during my lifetime, much of it not for the better. Many of the newer buildings are tasteless and have nothing to please the eye.

1 Morland Gardens, or Altamira as I know it, is a beautiful landmark building that has been around since 1876.

It was part of the original Stonebridge Park, that gave its name to the area.

Please see the two photos we sent you - Altamira and its neighbour have been an impressive part of the scene by the main junction for more than a century.

They are the only buildings with this belvedere tower design left in Brent, and together they add so much to Stonebridge’s townscape.

Brent’s Heritage Officer said in April that Altamira: ‘should be considered an important local heritage asset of high significance.’ He was right.

Brent’s planning guidance says: ‘Brent’s heritage assets make a substantial contribution to the borough’s local character and distinctiveness. They are a unique and irreplaceable resource which justifies protection, conservation and enhancement.’

Brent’s new Historic Environment Strategy says: ‘Once a heritage asset is demolished it cannot be replaced. Its historic value is lost forever to the community and future generations and it cannot be used for regeneration and place-making purposes.’

This application wants to demolish Altamira, an irreplaceable building that’s part of Stonebridge’s character, and should be kept, for the long-term benefit of the community.
366 local residents have signed a petition asking the Council not to demolish it.

The applicants claim that 1 Morland Gardens is of ‘low significance ... and of local interest only.’ That’s wrong - and there’s plenty of evidence to prove it.

It’s shown to be wrong by the Council’s own Local List score of 8 out of 12, which the Heritage Officer has confirmed, and by objections from nearly 50 people who understand the history of the area and the value of this building.

And it’s shown to be wrong by objections from The Victorian Society, and from a Professor of Architecture, and expert on H.E. Kendall, who wrote:

1 Morland Gardens is not just any nineteenth-century villa, but a characteristic work by an architect of genuine and lasting significance. Its destruction would be a terrible loss, not only to the local environment, but also to the architectural heritage of Victorian Britain.' 

I strongly urge you to reject this application.

In his submission, local historian Philip Grant who contributes regularly to Wembley Matters said:

Brent’s policy DMP7 says: ‘Proposals for...heritage assets should...retain buildings, ...where their loss would cause harm.’

These proposals went wrong over that policy from the start – they didn’t show: ‘an understanding of the architectural or historic significance’ of this heritage building ...
... and instead of considering what viable use could be made of it, they started with a “wish-list” that made it impossible to retain.

The applicants’ “headline” public benefits sound good – but their plans have major faults, including on air quality, and on accessibility, which the Supplementary Report side-steps – I’d welcome your questions on those.

They tried to justify demolition by saying the villa has “low significance”, a false assessment, by a firm who knew that “low” was the result their client needed to support its application.
The Heritage Impact Assessment didn’t use the criteria for locally listed buildings approved by this Committee in July 2015 – please see the copy at page 4.

On your criteria, I believe this building scores 2 for authenticity, 3 for architecture, at least 2 for historic, and 3 for townscape – a total of 10 out of 12 - a “high significance”.

I’d be happy to justify those scores in answer to questions – please ask Brent’s Heritage Officer for his views as well.

Please look at page 3. The para. 4.29 guidance on policy DMP7 says: ‘The Council will resist significant harm to or loss of heritage assets.’

It also states that ‘a balanced judgement’ is required: ‘where the harm would be less than substantial’.

Brent’s Heritage Officer has said: ‘The demolition of the building, by its very nature, must be seen as substantial harm to the significance of the heritage asset.’

The DMP7 guidance gives a strong presumption that the substantial harm to this heritage asset over-rides any public benefits.

Even with a “balanced judgement”, those claimed benefits, with their unresolved flaws, do not outweigh the harm. This application should be rejected.

If you approve this application, contrary to Brent’s planning policies, you’ll not only condemn this valuable building, but set a precedent that undermines Brent’s entire historic environment strategy and puts every heritage asset in the borough “at risk”.
Questioned by councillors Philip Grant said that in 1994-95 Brent Council made alterations and extensions to the building in line with heritage policy. Design of them was subordinated to the main building and the view from Hillside preserved.  He said he was not opposed to change or alterations, not to housing and the college, if such changes were also subordinate to what should be a protected building.

He continued, 'That's not what they're planning to do - they want to knock it down.'

Stella Rodriguez came next, she introduced herself as a foreigner ('you can tell by my accent'), who had recently settled in the area and could not understand why anyone would want to demolish such a beautiful building.

Errol Donald then spoke in favour of the development, a charity worker in Harlesden for the last 3 years and with family still in the area, he said that the development was essential to reinvigorate the area.  He did not mention the Bridge Park controversy by name but talked about the local and national political context. He said the scheme was not a direct response to that context but did contribute. It would provide real hope and training (in the form of the new college building) for a resilient community that deserved a chance to have the same chance to grow and thrive as other areas in Brent.

He said that working with young people informed his views - history and heritage are ongoing and cannot be seen in isolation.  He'd had conversation about architecture but it was their personal history that was important to people.

Ala Uddin from the College quoted Malcolm X's views on the importance of education. He said the current building was dysfunctional and that the new building would provide fantastic learning spaces with high tech facilities. It would be an aspirational a building that would provide high quality education and motivation to learn.  Cllr Denselow asked if the college could do outstanding work in a dysfunctional building despite the problems. Uddin said ye, but it would be even better in a new building.

Answering a further question, he said that 92% of their students came from Brent with the majority from Harlesden, Stonebridge and Willesden Green.

There was a revealing exchange with Brent Council's agent and architect when Cllr Robert Johnson asked if they had looked at keeping the Altimira building.  The architect said they had looked at numerous reasons why a new building would be better.  The college spaces would be 50% bigger with demolition and 30% bigger if it was retained. A new building would not be constrained by the site's hilltop position Its quality would be greater if they did not have to work around constraints of keeping the building. Retention would reduce the number of housing units from 65 to 27. He admitted that early options did not go through a thorough planning process but said a crowded site with housing would have over-shadowed the present building.

Cllr Abdi Aden, speaking on behalf of the three Stonebridge councillors took a neutral stance.  He welcomed aspects of the proposal: housing, replacement building for the college, workplaces bur regretted the loss of the heritage building and said local people thought a 9-storey building on that site was out of character with the area and too high.  It had not been designated a site for high buildings. There were also concerns about traffic congestion and loss of light to neighbouring buildings.

Questioned by councillors, officers said that the proposal was not fully 'policy compliant' but this was not 'uncommon.' The loss of a heritage asset was important but officers did feel that there was a substantial public benefit - it was a 'tricky balancing act.'

Heritage Officer Mark Price said schemes were looked at on a case by case basis and asked by Cllr Johnson if the council were going against policy said 'a balanced judgement doesn’t go against our policy.  Officer David Glover said policy just mentions 'harm' and any loss of a building could be said to cause harm.  For the loss of a non-designated heritage aspect policy just refers to balance.

Their own recommendation and those of third parties said that heritage had value, but there was disagreement about the extent of the value.  It had to be weighed on a case by case basis.  Referring to Philip Grant's closing point that the precedent set by approval tonight would mean that every heritage asset in the borough would be at risk, he said tonight's decision did not not do that as decisions were made on a case by case basis.

Asked by Cllr Denselow if the loss of one of only two heritage buildings in the area meant that this constituted more than 'significant harm' for this part of the borough, Mark Price replied that this was one of the factors.  Asked about Philip Grant's 8/11 rating Mark Price said it could have been -9 taking into account the architect responsible for the design of 1 Morland Place, Philip Grant had been right on that.

Denselow suggested that even if the score had been 12/12, they could still be facing an application to remove.  An officer said details had not been decided but given the Council's objectives it was likely that all of the housing units would be affordable.

David Glover confirmed that plans retaining the building had only been 'developed to a certain level' and had not been presented tonight.

Three of the five councillors who voted for development took no part in the proceedings except for the final vote. Councillors Butt, Chappell and Sangani raised not a single question or even a comment. Had they already made up their minds?

A Labour councillors, not on the committee, said after the decision, 'I am more ashamed than ever.'

The meeting has been archived. Watch on this link:


claremounties said...

Yet more cultural vandalism executed during the London borough of Culture. Seems as if LBOC is just a superficial, Philisinian, narcassistic, vanity exercise, devoid of any genuine integrity. Just another characterless nail in the Borough's future aspect.

Philip Grant said...

As well as one Labour councillor writing of the decision: 'I am more ashamed than ever', another Labour councillor, and former Planning Committee member, has written to me to say: 'Such a shame about the planning permission. I’m really saddened...'

I am sure that they are not the only Brent councillors who believe that this Council Officer devised scheme, involving the demolition of a locally listed heritage building in direct contravention of Brent's own adopted planning policies, is a mistake.

I will comment further on that later, but just because planning permission has been approved, it does not mean that the Council actually has to go ahead with this scheme.

Cllr. Aden, speaking on behalf of the three Stonebridge Ward councillors, said that he felt there should be further discussions, to see whether there is a better way of providing the new college that the Council Officer speaking as applicant saw as the main reason for the scheme.

There is another way, and I hope that interested councillors will press for that to be explored, before any further steps are taken on this ill-conceived scheme.

Anonymous said...

Great news that this new building has been approved, for the benefit of Stonebridge.

Anonymous said...

Can somebody please advise if any Cllrs for the ward of Willesden Green voted in favour? If yes, I will not vote for them at next year's local elections. If somebody could publish a list of names, wards and how they voted, that would be great. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

So ... 366 people petitioned against this and 3 in support?!! Surely this should not have been decided by a Planning Committee of 8 members (ie local Councillors elected by local residents who they have clearly disconnected from & disrespect the views of aforesaid petitioners) and some of whom clearly haven't done their homework, obviously have no idea about heritage & don't seem to realise that integrating historic buildings within urban/housing regeneration schemes can create succesful characterful areas where people actually enjoy living, working, studying and visiting if designed properly and sympathetically to the building in question.
Check out Historic England's excellent publication
'Heritage Works: The use of historic buildings in regeneration'. All Planning Committee members should have read this beforehand - it might have given them food for thought - that whilst yes, we do need the housing, we can have an aesthetically pleasing development (given the right architect) rather than the bland eyesore being proposed.

We are lucky to have these two Italianate Villas in Brent given that H E Kendall employed such a variety of architectural styles in buildings such as St. John the Evangelist (Kensal Green), Christ Church - Cockfosters, Pope's Villa - Richmond, Shuckburgh Hall - Northants & the remodelling of Knebworth House to name but a few.

I despair of Brent Council, I really do. If Westminster Abbey were located in Brent, it would be a drive through MacDonalds by now. Enough said.
BIG mistake to demolish Altamira House in my view. Brent Planning Committee should take a look at the old Harrow cottage hospital on Roxeth Hill which was wonderfully restored and incorporated into the new housing development. Michael Maurice is right when he talks of retaining 'the shell of the Altamira building'. Lloyds of London retained the original facade of their old building and made it part of the current modern one. There are lots of other examples in London and up & down the country. Sure, there have been some fails - but it can be achieved. However we need the RIGHT people with the RIGHT vision to take it forward and come up with something that doesn't warrant more objections and petitions and just makes everyone happy. Something to be proud of. Not much of that right now in Brent (in my view of course!)

As for those Councillors who didn't speak during the meeting and then voted in favour of the proposal, well should they really be on that Committee & are they knowledgeable enough re historical heritage & qualified to be voting on important decisions which will affect that environment and well being of residents in years to come & not giving their reasons for doing so?

Rant over!

Unknown said...

This surely is a listed building . how many listed buildings have been demolished i.e. Orange Tree Coach and horses

Concerned said...

Terrible lost of history!

Anonymous said...

What an absolute disgrace!!!!!

Any decent and ethically mined developer and their appointed architects would have been determined to include the existing and beautiful Altamira building in the new development, they would have made a feature of it - why are Brent determined to give approval of this demolish all historic buildings in the borough???

Another sterile boring tower block will be built and further character will be lost.

Residents deserve more:
- they deserve a real say in planning issues,
- they they to have elected councillors who will stand up and be counted
- they deserve a Council that values historic buildings.

Jamie said...

You want to knock it down to build shitty and overpriced flats, which will bring more people into an high crime neighbourhood causing crime to rise more. You council are destroying everything and robbing us. Increasing our council tax yet you do nothing to improve the area plus renovation work is done to a cheap and poor standard. How can you charge £1,500 pm for a 1 bedroom flat in a high crime neighbourhood? Do not destroy that landmark.

Philip Grant said...

While I agree with the sentiment of many of the comments so far, can I just make a couple of points that some of the above have missed.

1) This was not an application by a private developer, this application was by Brent Council itself (the same Council that published a Historic Environment Place-making Strategy document last May including the "Valuing Brent's Heritage" statement pictured in Martin's blog above).

2) Under the Council's proposals, all of the 65 homes would be for affordable rent, not for sale.

The Stonebridge Ward councillor who spoke at the meeting said that there should be further discussions, to see whether a better way than these (now approved) proposals can be found, that would allow the Victorian villa to be retained.

I suggested possible better ways more than five months ago. If the existing building cannot be redesigned to provide a suitable "state of the art" new college facility, why not plan for a new college as part of another brown-field site redevelopment project locally, such as the Uni-Sys site?

The staff at Brent Start may have to wait a couple of years longer for the college they desire, but it would save the cost of moving the college out of 1 Morland Gardens, into temporary accommodation for at least 2 years, and then back again. That cost is currently estimated at £1.5 million.

Under my suggestion, once the college had been moved out to its new home, still in Stonebridge, and local for many of its students, there could be a sympathetic redevelopment of the Victorian villa (similar to the one at 2 Morland Gardens in the early 2000s, which produced 18 homes).

The number of new homes that "the Altamira" could provide would depend on the size of the units, more family homes, fewer total number of units. Or it could be a mixed development of some homes and some community facilities - let local people and local councillors help to decide on what it should be.

Think again Brent Council - the heritage building and local community deserve better than the misguided (but originally well-intended?) scheme that Council Officers have served up and pushed through.

If you agree with me, and you live in Brent, please email your local councillors and say so. They are the ones who can make a difference now.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous who asked whether any Willesden Green councillors voted in favour.

Yes - Elliot Chappell - the person Mo Butt put on this committee when he kicked off Cllr Abdi in 2018 for voting against applications that didn't comply with planning policies.

Anonymous said...

Appears to be the same planning committee members that approved in March the planning application (again submittted by Brent) for 250 flats on Wembley High Rd and Cecil Avenue (application 19/2891 and see

While I am all for redevelopment and more affordable homes for locals, these have to be achieved and balanced with quality of life factors and thought for the local architecture and environment. The scale of the Wembley building, which is essentially a mass slab of bricks facing the High Road, will blight the area for many years to come. This is not development nor progress. Have these committee members had any proper training to make such important decisions? Clearly not.

Philip Grant said...

Unknown (13 August at 15:30) said 'Surely this is a listed building.'

It is a "locally listed" building, rather than a building on Historic England's list.

Stonebridge has two Grade II listed buildings, the former Stonebridge Park Hotel (now Bridge Park public house), also designed by H.E. Kendall as part of his Stonebridge Park development in the 1870s, and Stonebridge School (late 1890s).

You were right that it has lost two other buildings, the Coach & Horses and the Orange Tree, that either were, or should have been, on Brent's local list.

"Locally listed" buildings do not have the extra protection given to them by national planning laws, but they do deserve the protection of the planning policies adopted by local councils for heritage assets in their area, such as Brent's policy DMP7.

Apart from "Altamira" (the original name for 1 Morland Gardens), the only other locally listed building in Stonebridge Ward is the Canal Cottage in Twyford Abbey Road.

Anonymous said...

More heritage buildings deleted from history. Why?

Anonymous said...

This decision is a disgrace. While many others have been torn down,it has always been decided to keep and maintain this building. Why suddenly now does it have nothing to offer the community and neighbourhood,

Anyone who thinks 65 bland flats would be better for Brent is a total idiot in my book.

50,000 people a day getting a glimpse of our history and a few seconds to think about it cannot be underestimated.

Philip Grant said...

An answer to 'More heritage buildings deleted from history. Why?'

Because Brent Council and its top Planning Officers have no respect for the Heritage Assets planning policy that was adopted by our elected councillors in November 2016, after extensive public consultation on its Development Management Plan.

hilary said...

Are you crazy. This is a building which is part of our heritage. More ugly cheap flats built which will probably be demolished in 30 years

Anonymous said...

I spoke to Stonebridge Councilors regards 1 Moreland Gardens they told me that they are not happy with the Planning committee decision.
I agree the height of proposal building is out of the character.

Tristán White said...

Fast forward to minute 22 of the latest Love Your London out this week, in which they talk about the Altamira and the shocking decision to demolish it.