Yesterday former Brent Liberal Democrat councillor, Alison Hopkins, published a thread of intruiging tweets on the goings on around Prospect House in Brent - a conversion from offices to accommodation.
Recently Brent Council has adopted a policy of opposition to such conversions as the resulting accommodation is often of poor quality and low space standards.
Alison has kindly given me permission to publish her the thread as a guest post on Wembley Matters.
It reminds me of a children's book I used to use in class: 'Why are there more questions than answers, Grandad?'
On the curious case of Prospect House, NW10 7GH. How flagship Brent Council/Shepherds Bush Housing Association housing project seems to end with evictions and very strange finances.
It starts with a story about nurse being evicted from social housing in Prospect House. Brent Council refuses to comment. ALL tenants to be kicked out by 23 May 2021. She's scared of temporary housing. I get that. But why the mass evictions by Brent? So, I dig. I like digging.
Find this, back in 2016. Shepherds Bush Housing Association & Brent Council proudly proclaim Prospect House converted to social housing paid for with lotsa cash from the Councils Empty Property Grants LINK Leader and Mayor are there. It's FAB they say.
Link to publicity puff LINK
Apparently, office block owner Ashok Kumar Vohra contacted Brent. (This is all public domain stuff, btw.) He runs Sonal Trading who seem to refurbish ink cartridges. (!). LINK. Seems to dabble in property development on the side.
Anyhow, perhaps this is all spiffy. But perhaps not: yes, this is Socialist Worker, talking about HEY, Prospect House! LINK
All seems not well, despite the vast amount presumably spent on converting the offices to housing.
Now, we then look back at Sonal Trading & find it is a teeny company making not a lot of money, but yet had significant ownership by a Dubai based washing machine sales company from at least 2012. I do love Companies House.
In June 2020, the washing machine sales company seem to relinquish their holding and a new chap takes over 75 percent. Jagan Nath, who also seems to be Dubai based.This may all be irrelevant, but it's damn interesting if you've a mind like mine.
So, what happens next. By 2020, of course, the owners have had substantial rents. Let's say, oh, four years at £300 a week for 17 flats. Over a million? That empty property grant is, by the way, supposed to mean commitment of FIVE years social renting. Remember, December 2016.
The plot thickens. Still with me? Five years from Dec 2016 would be December 2021, yet the tenants are being evicted in MAY 2021. Hm. My suspicious evil mind kicks in again. Might there be a planning application.....?
Well, whoopie doo. Guess what happens in FEBRUARY 2017. Yup, three months after the presumed start of that FIVE YEAR commitment! This:
A planning application to add 4 storeys & redevelop Prospect House into 28 flats! It gets approved Oct 2018, DESPITE multiple breaches of policy. Yup, you guessed it: minimal affordable and minimal family accommodation. This is Brent, isn't it. Bear with me, I'm still going.
The officers report at para 15 makes cursory mention of the tenant decant costs, the cost of breaking five year lease & "repaying grants". That's the excuse used to justify not sticking with policy on affordable & family units.
There's also a throwaway about SBHA using units for "homeless" people. Yet, the existing tenants are being evicted, so will be homeless. Hm. The CIL amount is pretty low: £750K .
Oh and that CIL amount is BEFORE any reliefs for affordable units. The planning application was made by a company called Planning Co-operative in Ealing. Run by the former Brent head of New Investment & Policy & Projects.
Anyhow. The original conversion from offices to flats would now probably not get consent. I do know of other applications for the empty property grant related to offices which got bounced, too. Oddly, I can't find the original planning application.
So. We've tenants evicted from what seems to have become an unpleasant block rather fast. By a housing association. I can't find decant plans either.
We've a tiny company who had significant grants from Brent to convert offices to housing & lots of rental income. How much was the grant? Has it been paid back?
Why is Brent being so coy about commenting on Prospect House? How much due diligence was done? Why was there a redevelopment planning application almost as soon as the place was occupied? When did the pre application discussions happen?
Found the address, the place changed name & postcode. NW10 7SH. A chequered history: tried to convert to a college, then hotel. But the original successful application from offices to housing isn't there, so no financial details like CIL.
Now, there may be good reasons and explanations for evictions. I'd love to hear them. Transparency=good governance. The more I dig this, more convoluted it gets. I've my opinions on how planning is now manipulated.