A guest Post by Philip Grant
I was delighted to see, earlier this month, that the York House car park site could be used for a new youth centre, rather than a primary school. When I read the report to Brent’s Cabinet meeting, alarm bells started ringing. The Department for Education may have cancelled the ill-conceived Ark Somerville Primary Free School project, but the Wembley Park redevelopment area will still need a new primary school, by 2028 on the latest projections. Where would that be built?
NOT the Wembley Park Primary School, but hopefully something like it! (Image from the internet)
It has been known since the early 2000s that the large number of homes Quintain planned to build at Wembley Park meant that a new primary school would be required to serve the area. Brent agreed that the early stages of the development, around the Arena, should be mainly smaller homes, with the majority of the family-sized accommodation provided to the east of Olympic Way in the later phases.
Brent’s land use policy for the North East Lands. (Wembley Masterplan, 2009)
When the Council adopted its Wembley Masterplan in 2009, the “North East Lands” area (ringed in red on the map above) was identified as a primary school location (or one of them, if two smaller primary schools were to be built to meet growing demand for places during the course of the next 20 years, to 2030). This would put the school close to the main residential area, and next to a new park which was to be provided as part of the development.
That choice of location was carried forward into the Wembley Area Action Plan (“WAAP” – yes, that again!), adopted by the Council in 2015, which is still the current planning policy document for this area. The WAAP’s policy on school places emphasised the importance of securing sites for new schools, where large developments meant an increase in population. It also said that primary schools ‘need to be located directly within the area of population growth’, and that ‘nursery facilities … could be combined with other new … primary school facilities.’
The WAAP policy WEM 29, on Community Facilities, stated that ‘the council will … secure at least four forms of entry at primary level, to be secured on development sites within the Wembley area’. It also noted the ‘provision of one site in site proposal W 18.’ This site proposal covered the 4.9 hectare Wembley Retail Park, also known as the North East Lands, and said that ‘a new primary school will be provided’ on that site.
All very good - so what changed? At the end of 2015, Quintain submitted a huge “hybrid” planning application. It included detailed plans for a multi-storey car and coach park to the east of Wembley Stadium, and outline proposals for most of the rest of the land at Wembley Park which it had still to develop. Application 15/5550 has been called the Wembley Park Masterplan, but it was Quintain’s masterplan, not Brent’s.
The application (over 300 documents and plans) was one of a number considered at a Planning Committee meeting on 11 May 2016, just two days after the previous meeting. Most of the objections and discussions were about the car and coach park. The meeting went on for over four hours, and two of the committee members had gone home before it was approved by 4 votes to 1, with one abstention!
Among the outline proposals approved (with little or no discussion) was that the primary school site should be moved to the York House car park. Two sentences from the report by Planning Officers to the committee sum up how this was allowed to happen, despite it going against Brent’s adopted policy for the school’s location:
‘This plot has been identified by the applicant as an appropriate location for a 3 form of entry primary school and nursery.’
‘The proposal delivers the same strategic objective (the provision of nursery and primary school places) and is considered to be acceptable in principle.’
A cynic might suggest that the applicant, Quintain, had identified the York House car park site for commercial reasons, not valid planning reasons, so that it could build tall blocks of flats on the North East plot(s) which would otherwise be used for a primary school site.
But it was only an outline planning consent for the York House site, wasn’t it? When the detailed planning application for the school went before the Committee on 6 June 2018, members were given strict instructions by a Planning Officer. They were not allowed to consider whether the new school to serve the Wembley Park redevelopment should be sited elsewhere, the Officer Report saying:
‘the parameters material submitted with the application [15/5550] specifically identified the subject site (known as Development Zone YH1) for a 3FE Primary School and associated Nursery.’ and:
‘This reserved matters application is considered to be in material compliance with the parameters and principles established under the outline consent.’
Only one committee member voted against the application (here’s a reminder, if you don’t remember what happened to him!). Air pollution had been raised as a major problem with this site for a primary school, with dangerously high NO2 levels along Wembley Hill Road admitted in the application’s Air Quality Assessment. No account was taken of the effect on young children who would be walking to the school. In respect of the school building itself, Officers said that mitigation measures would be included in the conditions for the planning consent. These were having no opening windows on that side of the school below a height of 4.5 metres, and that the air intakes for artificial air circulation must be situated above that height.
Following that decision, the York House car park site was bought from Quintain by the DfE’s Education Funding Agency, for provision of the Ark primary school. Because of the number of increased primary places provided by Brent at other existing schools, and a slight (temporary?) fall in demand for places, the DfE have now dropped the York House school project. Which brings me back to my opening question – where will the Wembley Park primary school that Brent will need, within the next 5 to 10 years, be built?
After the 2016 “Wembley Park Masterplan” decision, Brent’s planning policy, in its emerging Local Plan, has depended on the York House school site. The North East Lands are currently the subject of Quintain’s detailed planning application, 20/2844, which would see tall blocks of flats built around three sides of the northern section of the new park.
Something had to be done, so I have started the ball rolling! I researched the labyrinth of planning application details and planning policy documents involved, and have submitted detailed objection comments on application 20/2844. These set out why the application, which is listed as a variation of conditions under the 15/5550 application, can and should be amended to provide a reserved site for a 3-form entry primary school, and nursery (and should be refused if it does not make that change). I am hoping that Martin can add a copy of my comments document at the end of this article, so that anyone who is interested can read them.
As well as sending my document to Brent’s Planning Officers, I have also sent it with covering emails to the Lead Members and Strategic Directors for Regeneration and for Schools, and to the councillors for Tokyngton Ward, to ensure that Brent is fully aware of its risk of having no site for the new primary school it has a duty to provide by 2028. And as this is a matter which would best be settled by agreement between Brent Council and Quintain, I have also sent a copy to the developer’s Head of Masterplanning and Design, and Head of Planning.
I have done what I can, but this is a matter of concern which present and potential future residents of Brent, and Wembley Park in particular, and those with an interest in education in the borough, need to be aware of. Action needs to be taken on this issue now, but I am just one “voice” (or laptop keyboard, during lockdown). If you agree with me, please make your views known by objecting to planning application 20/2844, or contacting an appropriate councillor or Council Officer. Thank you.
Philip's comments - click bottow right corner for full page version