The Wembley Park Station car park application is the 5 dark green blocks at the bottom right of the image. Planning Officers claimed that they were part of the overall Wembley Park high-rise area rather than the suburban area in which their own image shows they are clearly situated. The railway line, Bridge Road and Empire Way form a physical enclosure and boundary of the high rise area around the stadium.
Brent Planning Committee tonight approved the planning application for the Wembley Park Station car park which will see the construction of 5 tower blocks on Brook Avenue.
Philip Grant made a powerful presention on the Brook Avenue - Wembley Park station planning application this evening demonstrating how it breached Brent Council's own planning policies. Nevertheless the Planning Committee went ahead and approved the application with only one vote, that of Cllr Maurice, against.
This is what Philip said:
Paragraphs 44 to 52 of the Officers Report give a confused view of Brent’s planning policy on tall buildings for this site. I will explain those policies clearly, using the objectors’ document supplied to you.
The current policy, on page 1, is WEM 5, in the Wembley Area Action Plan, adopted by the Council in 2015. This says that ‘Tall buildings will be acceptable in a limited number of locations within the AAP area.’
At page 2, you can see the locations on the Tall Buildings Strategy map. The station car park is in the red area – ‘Sites inappropriate for Tall Buildings’.
There was a specific site called “Wembley Park Station Car Park” in that Action Plan. This was the site where Matthews Close was built, with blocks between 5 and 8 storeys high - a scale identified as suitable for this mainly residential area.
The Brent Design Guide, SPD1, adopted in November 2018, is another policy covering this application. Under Principle 3.1 it states: ‘Tall buildings will only be encouraged in areas identified as appropriate for tall buildings.’
The Officers Report says that you should be guided by Brent’s emerging Local Plan. The 2015 Wembley AAP policies still take precedence within that Plan, subject to any locally specific details.
The Station Car Park is a specific site, BCSA7, in that Local Plan. If you look at the copy provided on page 4, you’ll see that this application’s southern site has an indicative capacity for 300 homes, and that: ‘Up to ten storeys will be considered acceptable to the western side of the site, stepping up slightly directly adjacent to the station.’
Those are the planning policies on which you should decide this matter.
Committee members, please don’t allow yourselves to be fooled into accepting an application which doesn’t comply with the policies adopted by Brent Council, after consultation with its residents.
This application is a flagrant breach of those policies, and you can, and should, refuse it on those grounds.
Cllr Kennelly, councillor for the relevant ward, Preston, and soon to be on the Planning Committee himself, made a neutral presentation. He thought that the development wasn't in keeping with the local area, it fell outside the designated tall buildings area, the tallest was nearly three times as tall as the existing tallest building in the road, and that the attempt to make up deficiencies in amenity space meant provision of balconies facing each other that would impact on privacy. He welcomes the provision of affordable housing but said that shared ownership would not have been his choice. Answering a question from the Committee he said that a CPZ might alleviate parking issues but would be a long-term cost to local residents, even if initially funded by the developer.
Cllr Liz Dixon, a member of the Commitee said that Philip Grant's presentation had been well articulated but asked what he thought the damage would be to the area. He replsed that the height of the blocks would overshadow neighbouring properties and cut out the light of new homes that were only built a few years ago. It was over-development and breached policy that was the result of public consultation.
Cllr Kansagra said it was wrong that the Council spent so much time on the Wembley Area Action Plan only to ignore it. He said that the developer had bribed Brent Council with flats. He went on to complain more broadly that Brent Council had £126m of CIL and Section 106 money unspent in its coffers. Covid had taught us that space is important - the development was too dense with little amenity space.
Responding, an officer claim that the 'emerging local plan' anticipates that this is a site for tall buildings and that tall buildings should be built around transport hubs, which Wembley Park station on train and bus routes, demonstrably was. Furthermore, both sides of Brook Avenue, beyond its current surburban character, was designated as a site for tall buildings as was part of nearby Forty Avenue thatit leads to. (Forty Avenue is far bottom right - outside the image)
Planning Officer David Glover took me aback when he remarked, 'We are not saying that that 21 storeys is slightly above 10 storeys.' He went on to argue that there would be a loss of viability and thus of affordable homes, if the propsed blocks were lower in height.
Another Planning Officer made my jaw drop when responding to the issue of Covid in high density developments, he said Covid would be gone by the summer and we don't have to worry about it.
There was a very long discussion led by Cllr Maurice on the amount of car parking available in the road that he claimed was already over-parked and would be hit by many of the up to 900 additional residents in a supposedly car-free development seeking a parking space. In addition the 80 or so people who used the station car park would be looking for parking space in the nearby streets. There will some disabled parking in the development and spaces for transport personnel who drive in before the trains start running and drive home after the last trains. There was debate over the extent to which a CPZ would just displace competition for parking to streets further afield. Residents on Twitter testified to how in normal times the station car park was full by 8am, contrary to planners claim that it was underused.
The Planning Committee is not supposed to be political but the only dissent when it came to the vote was the single Conservative councillor, Cllr Maurice. Aside from parking his objection was based on the density of the development in what he considered a suburban area and clear breaches of specific and current Brent policies. He was used to breaches of guidelines but policy was a different matter.
I believe that the only point made by planning officers which carried any weight against the case I put forward of the breach of Brent's tall buildings policies was this:-
The Development Management Manager said there was a benefit from allowing a taller building, because it would provide more affordable housing, by making the scheme more viable.
Basically, the more homes a developer can squeeze onto a site, the more profit it makes. For developments of more than ten homes, the developer has to provide some affordable housing (unless you do a deal with the Council like Willesden Green Library, where if you build a new library on 30% of the site the Council has given you [FREE!], you can build 94 flats on the other 70%, with none of them affordable).
If you allow the developer to build more homes, you get more affordable homes in return, although only 33% of the extra flats they will make a profit on.
On the plans approved yesterday evening, out of the 454 homes Barratt London can build, there will be 73 for affordable rent - 22 x 1 bedroom, 25 x 2 bedroom and 26 x 3 bedroom.
That is probably only 25 to 30 more affordable rented homes than you would have got if the Council and its planning officers had insisted on Barratts sticking to the 300 homes target for this site, no more than ten storeys high, except for a slight stepping up (to, say, 12 storeys) next to the station, which the detailed site allocation analysis in the emerging Local Plan had identified.
And even if the rents for these "social" homes are affordable, there will also be service charges to pay, over which there is no control. That will also apply to the 79 "shared ownership" flats, which are the other part of the "affordable housing" in this scheme.
So that is the "benefit" from approving this application, but what about the downsides that the seven Labour members of the committee were persuaded to overlook?
The overshadowing, loss of daylight and sunlight, loss of privacy, effect on the character of the area and other damage to the quality of life of existing residents.
The increased pressure on the existing open spaces, in an area already badly deficient in open space, which these 450+ homes (50% more than the already intensive site allocation in the draft Local Plan) will cause.
The increased parking problems, which despite the glib Brent Council planners approach that everything can be solved with a CPZ, will be a practical reality.
And although the development should put another nearly £10m into the CIL pot, what about providing things like a GP surgery as part of the development, as it is at such a good transport hub?
Finally, the mention of Forty Avenue as an area for tall buildings. That was misleading, because in the draft Local Plan (approved by Full Council in February 2020, and likely to come into force early next year) Forty Avenue is simply one of a number of main traffic routes identified as zones suitable for more intensive development, UP TO 5 STOREYS HIGH.
But perhaps, following the logic of their approach over the Wembley Park Station car park application, they would recommend developments over ten storeys high in Forty Avenue, and elsewhere in Brent where the adopted planning policy, arrived at after extensive public consultation, says that five storeys is the limit!
All 7 Labour members ignored objectors and planning policy
Labour source says councillors for planning committee "have been carefully picked"
What does that tell you about Bent Council???
I've just checked Wembley Park Station on the internet, and one of the first sites it came up with was the station car park, run by NCP.
This has 82 spaces, and NCP charge £6 a day, or £28.80 a week to use it. The website has live details of spaces available:
'Availability - 37 available as of 3:22 PM'
So that's 45 car parking spaces currently in use = 45 cars that would be displaced under the plans approved last night.
The car park isn't full, on a Friday afternoon in late November, but that is not the low level of usage suggested by the Barratt "sales rep." and at least one Council officer at the meeting.
This line says it all - Labour source says councillors for planning committee "have been carefully picked"
Another shameful night in Brent
It must be time for the Welsh Harp Planning Application is resubmitted, but this time with some really tall blocks (perhaps 30-40 stories) as the Barnet examples across the Harp would allow this, wouldn't they?
Don't worry, they can all go to school somewhere in Brent as there are loads of excess primary school places available just a few miles away. Also, as part of the next Active Travel Initiative they could travel to school by canoe on the canal.
Since the meeting, a Matthews Close resident has been in touch with me to ask whether it is true, as a planning officer and the Barratt London speaker at Planning Committee seemed to say, that both sides of Brook Avenue were designated for tall buildings under the emerging Local Plan.
The information given to committee members on this point was "economical with the truth". This is my reply to the query:-
'The tall buildings strategy for the area will not change much when the new Local Plan comes in next year.
There is a site allocation proposal (BCSA3 - Brook Avenue) at pages 56/57 of the draft Local Plan:
This site is in two parts, the Premier Inn and the houses on the south side of Brook Avenue, opposite Matthews Close. It is identified for a possible 450 new homes over the next twenty years, with most of them not expected until 10+ years time.
Most of this would only be possible if a developer was able to buy up the individual family homes, or groups of them. The plan's site details identify this as a "risk" that it might not be possible to deliver the number of new homes it would like to see:
'Site is in fragmented private ownership which is a barrier to comprehensive redevelopment.'
The aim of the site specific plan is to have more intensive housing, moved closer to Brook Avenue, so that there is a strip of at least 8 metres wide alongside Wealdstone Brook which could provide a public open space corridor.'
Some interesting information in the "Inside Housing" article (or 'public relations blurb', as he described it) which Martin tweeted a link to.
When TfL first announced their joint venture with Barratt London to redevelop the Wembley Park Station car park, in December 2019, they said that it would have 50% affordable housing, which matches the Mayor of London's target.
In their press release, "TfL gets green light for 450-home Wembley Scheme", they say that it has 40% of affordable homes.
However, the 40% is based on habitable rooms (as there are some 3-bed homes in the affordable category, and a higher proportion of studio and 1-bed homes among those for private sale).
The actual percentage of affordable homes, by number of homes, out of the 454 in the scheme, is 33.5%.
The people of Brent are getting what they voted for. We discussed Planning Policies when I led Brent Council between 2006 and 2010. We inherited the Wembley Stadium area which already had outline planning permission for tower locks as high as 28 storeys. There is nothing we could do once detailed planning applications were submitted.
Neighbourhoods outside of the Wembley Stadium area were a different story. Our policy was to set an upper limit of up to 10/12 storey buildings in suitable areas - NOT 26 stroey mosters that are springing up everywhere. We specifically opposed the plan for 26 stroey building on the former Copland School site and others - and dug our heels in despite officer advice.
All that changed when Labour regained control of the Council in 2010. Massive Tower blocks are permitted because the Labour Council leadership sees it as a money spinner. The question the Council never answers is - who are all those private homes for? They are clearly NOT for Brent residents as most are not affordable. Majority are snapped up by foreign buy to let investors - many from tax havens - to provide housing for the whole of London and around. It is of course Brent residents who pay the price for all this excessive over-development with environmental problems (including air pollution form all the builders lorries), greater congestion, parking problems, lack of access to GPs, Dentists and local schools. It is time for Brent Council to come and clean and show how all these tall monsters are benefiting Brent residents.
The blog written by Martin Francis, may have given people the impression that I voted against it, because I'm a Conservative.
That is certainly NOT the case. I voted against it because as far as I'm concerned:
The development is far too big, too tall and far too dense.
The development is outside the Wembley Stadium Growth Area
The development conflicts with Planning Policy.
The car park was, pre Covid' usually very full. The development takes away a vital station car park and more importantly has step free access to the platforms.
The provision of a CPZ will not solve the parking issues, the residents and commuters will just park further away. I live a 15 minute walk from a station and from 7.30 in the morning, our road is full up with commuters. John Fletcher's assertion that people will not walk more than 5 minutes to their car is totally wrong. You would have to extend the CPZ to around a Kilometre of the development to have any effect. Why should other residents around the area have to pay for permits when they didn't want the development in the first place.
Finally, nobody looks at all these dwellings placing a huge burden on the infrastructure. Quintain were as part of the agreement, supposed to be building a GP Surgery and a park, but they haven't done it yet and they are at the bottom of Quintain's list.
Finally, it has been mentioned that Labour members of the committee have been 'carefully picked'. Picked for what exactly? The Chair states at the beggining of the meeting that the Planning Committee is a Quasi Judicial committee, in other words apolitical. I'll let you ponder the validity of that statement.
Cllr Maurice, your last paragraph answers your first statement about the impression I may have given. It is not so much your being a Conservative as that you are not subject to the same indirect pressure that in the past has led to Labour councilors losing their places on the Planning Committee.
I have said before that we should let Brent's councillors and Council Officers know when there is a problem which we think they need to address. I have sent an email today to the Strategic Director for Regeneration (whose department includes planning) and the Lead Member for Regeneration, with the heading "Brent's planning policies and practice."
My email highlights the problems shown by this Wembley Park Station car park example:
'I am writing to draw your attention to a problem that needs to be fixed!
The gap between what the Council's planning policies say, and what is happening in Brent in practice over development and regeneration, is becoming wider and more obvious. The situation either needs to be corrected, or Brent Council needs to explain why there is a mismatch between the two, and the justification for it.'
I have copied the email to, among others, Brent's Chief Executive, Council Leader and Monitoring Officer (who is the legal officer responsible for ensuring that the Council, its members and officers, obey the law and its Constitution).
My email raises questions about whether the Planning Code of Practice was complied with in the Wembley Park Station car park case. I will share below the extracts from that Code which I included as a note at the end of my email.
When I receive the Council's reply to my email, I will share it with "Wembley Matters" readers, as I know that I am not the only person in the borough who has concerns about the difference between planning policy and practice!
Extracts from Brent's Planning Code of Practice:
1.2. The Code seeks to ensure that officers and members consider and decide planning matters in a fair, impartial and transparent manner. The provisions of this code are designed to ensure that planning decisions are taken on proper planning grounds, are applied in a consistent and open manner and that members of the Planning Committee making such decisions are, and are perceived as being, accountable for those decisions.
2.1. Members of the Planning Committee shall determine applications in accordance with the relevant planning national, strategic, local and neighbourhood policy framework, unless material considerations indicate [otherwise]. ... Members of the Planning Committee must take decisions in the public interest and take account only of material planning considerations. They should not allow themselves to be influenced by members of the public and applicants, agents or third parties who might approach them and they should not be directed by party politics.
The decisions made leave Brent Council wide open for legal action to be taken against it.
I am reporting them to the Local Government Ombudsman. Once I have submitted that report tonight I will publish the body of it here.
Anyone who has had their neighbourhood adversely affected by Brent Planning decisions should file a formal complaint with the Local Government Ombudsman. The more complaints there are the more likely it is that Brent Council's Planning department will be investigated. One would hope that at that point heads will roll.
I will also compile a case which I will send to the Minster of State for Housing and Planning.
Much as you would like to, I'm pretty sure that you can't complain direct to the Local Government Ombudsman.
You need to complain to the local government organisation, Brent Council, first. Usually in a planning complaint case your complaint would go to the Head of Planning, Gerry Ansell - email: email@example.com .
If you are not happy with his response to your complaint, you can tell the Council why you're not happy, and the normal process is that the complaint is then passed up to a more senior Council Officer as a "Stage 2" complaint.
The more senior officer would probably be either the Strategic Director, Regeneration, Alan Lunt (email: firstname.lastname@example.org ), or the Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs - email: email@example.com .
You could try "going to the top" with your complaint from the start - that is up to you
Only if you are dissatisfied with the response to your complaint to Brent Council after that stage can you ask the Local Government Ombudsman to get involved. Check out the LGO website for more details: https://www.lgo.org.uk/make-a-complaint .
It can be a long-winded and frustrating process, but if you feel strongly enough to pursue that route, go for it! And good luck!
I will do this, but I think we all know that it is a foregone conclusion that Brent will dismiss my complaint and continue to ignore its own policies and grant planning permission as they are in the pocket of the developers.
Perhaps this would stop overnight if every resident in the borough decides that if Brent does not feel obliged to play by the rules then we are under no obligation to pay council tax.
Something needs to change in Brent. Wembley is already a very bad example of urban planning. I left a few years ago however I still return on occasions and I'm shocked to see how it has changed.
I'm all for affordable housing but I don't see how any of this is sustainable, putting up blocks anywhere you find space. Where does it end and why can't they see how they'll strain local infrastructure by doing so?
I think the residents of wembley should show some real resistance to this latest plan and tell Brent council that enough is enough. In some parts of Wembley (the conservation area) you cannot even build a porch or replace your windows and front door as you'd like to, but a 21 storey tower is acceptable? With no provisions for the local infrastructure?
Wembley residents should unite with protests and legal challenges. Someone needs to slow the engine down.
Thank you for your comment.
I agree wholeheartedly that 'something needs to change in Brent'. The people with the power to make that change are Brent's elected councillors (especially the Leader and Cabinet) and its Senior Officers. They are the ones who need to be persuaded to change things.
Local residents who want change can either wait until May 2022, and hope that the local elections will bring about a major change in the massive Labour majority on Brent Council, or they can let those at the top know NOW what they think, and how they believe things should be changed.
I try to do that, and to encourage others to contact the Council to express their views. The more people who do that, the better the hope (but no guarantee!) that those in power will take notice.
I mentioned in a comment above that I had sent an email to the Strategic Director for Regeneration (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Lead Member for Regeneration (email@example.com). This was copied to Brent's Chief Executive (firstname.lastname@example.org), and to Cllr. Butt, the Council Leader (Leader@brent.gov.uk).
If you, and others, feel strongly about this issue, you might like to email them, too, so that they know local residents are concerned about what is going on. Here is a sample of what I wrote in my email of 30 November, but you should say in your own words, politely but firmly, what you think:-
'If this planning decision, and others like it, which breach Brent's planning policies, are being taken because of housing targets, the desire for more homes to generate funds from increased Council Tax receipts, or to raise income from Community Infrastructure Levy, then the Council should be open and honest about it. Please tell us why Planning Officers are promoting, and our Planning Committee is approving, applications that the borough's citizens can see are plainly wrong.
If these are not the reasons, or the "material considerations", why Brent's planning policies are being ignored, or undervalued, what are the reasons, please?
And if you still maintain that Brent does respect and uphold its planning policies, adopted by the Council after extensive public consultation, Planning Officers need to be told that they should uphold them, right from the pre-application stage.
That would mean that developers would know where they stand, and Brent's planners would not have to be "economical with the truth" when they present their recommendations to Planning Committee.'
I have been informed by the Director of Planning and Regeneration that Quintain are in the process of building a GP surgery in the Wembley Stadium area. I apologise for any confusion caused.
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