Wednesday 10 February 2021

Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals – a “dodgy deal” behind the scenes?

 Guest blog, by Philip Grant in a personal capacity:

A year ago, I wrote a guest blog which urged readers to go and see three tile mural scenes at Olympic Way in Wembley Park while they still had the opportunity. This also highlighted the possibility, mentioned in an email I had received from Quintain, that the “footballers” mural scene in the subway might still be covered up on occasions.


The “footballers” mural last week (on my way to get 

 first Covid-19 jab!)


I raised that question in an email to Brent’s Chief Executive and Council Leader on 16 February 2020, saying:


This "footballers" mural was meant to have been put back on permanent public display last autumn. The prospect of it being covered over with adverts again, particularly when England are playing at Wembley Stadium during the UEFA 2020 tournament, should be unthinkable!


I hope that Brent Council will do all within its power to ensure that the "footballers" mural, which includes the plaque unveiled by Bobby Moore's widow in September 1993, remains uncovered, particularly during England's UEFA 2020 matches at the Stadium this summer.’



A letter from Carolyn Downs on 2 March told me that 'the lease does provide Wembley Park with the scope to cover the footballers mural with advertisement dressing at certain points during the year, should a commercial opportunity arise.' I responded by telling her that although the lease might say that, the 2019 advertising consent did not allow the footballers mural to be covered. 


Ms Downs passed my reply to the Council’s Operational Director (Regeneration, Growth and Employment) to deal with. I explained in detail to this officer why the various planning and advertisement consent decisions did not allow adverts over the footballers mural. Her response was curt:


‘We have already set out our position on this. We disagree. I do not therefore intend to continue this dialogue.’


By that stage (23 March 2020) the country had just gone into its first Covid-19 pandemic “lockdown”. I decided not to raise a formal complaint, as Brent’s Chief Executive had more important things to deal with. I put this issue “on hold”, saying: 


'I will not pursue the point in this correspondence now, but may return to it once we are through the current emergency.'


One of the reasons why I have been campaigning, with fellow Wembley History Society members and others, to get all of the Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals put back on permanent public display is this. They are a colourful celebration of Wembley’s sporting and entertainment heritage, specially installed in 1993 as a work of public art welcoming visitors to Wembley Park. 


2023 will mark the centenary of Wembley Stadium, and the 75th anniversary of the 1948 London Olympic Games, for which Olympic Way was constructed. What better way to mark those milestones than to let residents and visitors enjoy those murals again? After all, the Council had (finally!) recognised the importance of ‘the heritage tiles at Wembley Park’s Bobby Moore Bridge’ at the start of Brent’s year as London Borough of Culture 2020, saying:


‘The tiles, which show scenes from famous sports and entertainment events at Wembley Stadium and the SSE Arena, Wembley, are part of Brent’s rich heritage and date back to September 1993 when they were originally dedicated to the legendary footballer.’ 


Cllr. Butt, the Mayor and other guests at the LBOC 2020 tile murals reveal, 18 January 2020.
[Photo by Francis Waddington]


I was hoping to persuade Brent’s Cabinet, when the Bobby Moore Bridge advertising lease came up for renewal later this year, to consider the option of only allowing advertising on the large display panels on the bridge parapets. This would give the opportunity to remove the light boxes currently covering most of the mural scenes in the subway, possibly using some of the CIL funds which the Council is sitting on to fund that work.


I wrote to Brent’s Chief Executive on 4 January, setting out my suggestions for how the Council could go about this, so that Cabinet members could be given a choice of options when the lease came up for renewal in 2021. You can imagine my surprise, and disappointment, when I received the this reply from Ms Downs the following day:


The lease for Bobby Moore Bridge was recommended for a three year extension from 30 August 2021 and expires on 30 August 2024.  This was completed in November 2019 after market appraisal was carried out by an independent advertising consultant who recommended the lease extension on the basis of market conditions at the time and the leaseholder’s ambitions to refurbish the area and upgrade the panels to digital screens.’


It didn’t appear that the Cabinet had approved this, so how did it come about, who authorised the lease extension, and what authority did they have to do so? I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, and while I have yet to receive all the items I asked for, I have received redacted copies of three documents. 


One document is a “Delegated Authority Report”, prepared by Brent’s Property Services team. Addressed to the Operational Director (Property and Assets), it includes the claim:


‘The Borough Solicitor has confirmed that pursuant to the Council’s New Constitution Part 4, paragraph 4.3 you have the delegated authority to approve of this letting.’


[The Borough Solicitor? – Were they using a very old template?] I have yet to receive the supporting evidence for that claim, so cannot comment yet on whether the approval of the lease extension was valid. I would mention, however, that the section of Brent’s Constitution included in the Report to justify that authority begins with the words: ‘Only the Strategic Director Resources may acquire or dispose of an interest in land or buildings’!


The Deed of Variation itself raised the biggest concern, particularly one new clause which it added to the terms of the original lease. I apologise for the poor quality of this copy of it, but this is the best I could prepare from the document supplied to me:


The new clause 10.3 in the Bobby Moore Bridge advertising lease.


The “Tile Mural” that this clause applies to is ‘the 9.4 metre tile football mural on the east side of the walls under the Bridge’. In other words, the “footballers” mural that was supposed to be put back on permanent public display in 2019! Yet here in an agreement entered into by Brent Council they are saying that ‘the Tenant’ (Quintain’s Wembley Park Ltd subsidiary) is entitled to cover it up, on many “event days” during the year, up until August 2024.


I have written to Carolyn Downs, and Brent’s Chief Legal Officer, to tell them that this clause in the lease is unlawful.


‘It purports to entitle the Tenant to cover 'the Tile Mural' on a substantial number of days of each year. 


However, on 28 November 2019, when the Deed was signed, it was already the case that the Tenant's advertising consent did not include consent to cover that "Footballers" mural scene with advertisements. That clause is therefore invalid or void, because it purports to give an entitlement which at the time was, and still is, unlawful. 



Alternatively, if that clause is considered valid, it is inoperable, because the Tenant does not have the Necessary Consent, required by the lease, to cover that mural with advertisements.



This is a legal matter which needs to be resolved now, before the resumption of events at Wembley Stadium which may lead Quintain / Wembley Park Ltd to unlawfully arrange for advertising which covers that mural, in the false belief that the lease entitles them to do so.’


I will ask Martin to include my “legal argument” document at the end of this article, if possible, so that it is in the public domain and anyone can read, and refer to it, if they wish to do so. If you are studying law, you might like to use it as a practical exercise, to see what you think of the merits of Brent’s case and my answer to it. If you do that, please feel free to give your “legal opinion” as a comment below!


I have issued my challenge to Brent over this issue (politely and respectfully, of course):


I would ask you, please, to ensure that the position I have set out in the attached document is examined promptly by the Council's legal officers; and that if I am wrong, they explain to me why that is so. 


If I am correct, as I strongly believe that I am, then they should acknowledge this, and take action to ensure that Quintain / Wembley Park Ltd is informed that they are NOT entitled to display advertisements covering the "Footballers" mural on the east wall of the Bobby Moore Bridge subway.’


One positive variation of the lease, introduced by the November 2019 Deed, was clause 10.4. This dealt with the “Tiling on East Wall” of Olympic Way, the three mural scenes showing American Football, Rugby League and Ice Hockey which were “revealed” for a few weeks in January and February 2020. It gave ‘the Landlord’ (Brent Council) the right to request that these be revealed (that is, put back on public display) for up to 21 days each calendar year.


The East Wall tile murals at Olympic Way, February 2020. [Photo by Mark Price]


I have written to ask whether Brent has made a request for these mural scenes to be “revealed” for three weeks during 2021, and if so, between which dates. You can be sure that if I get news of them being on public display, I will let you know!


For the moment, though, I want to make sure that the one mural scene our efforts over the past three years have managed to get put back on permanent public display, is not unlawfully covered up. And unlawfully covered up by a deal that was concealed from public scrutiny.

Philip Grant.


The Legal Argument (Click bottom right for full page version) 


Philip Grant said...


On Monday, I received this message from Carolyn Downs, Brent's Chief Executive, in reply to the email and document I had sent her:-

'I confirm that I will speak to Debra about this and that she will respond to you.'

I will let readers know what Debra Norman, Brent's Chief Legal Officer, says in her response.

Philip Grant said...


Further to my reference to the east wall murals being put on public display again in 2021, I have just received this information from Brent Council:

'The display of tiling on the east wall depicting American Football, Rugby League and Ice Hockey has been confirmed for 21 days from 1 March 2021. We will promote this opportunity to view the tiles on the council website, through our e-newsletter and a press release. The council will not be putting on any event related to the tile display.'

Martin Francis said...

From Paul Lorber
Labour Councillors decided to hand over £17 million of taxpayers money to Quintain for the new steps to Wembley Stadium. As part of that deal they should have cancelled the "dodgy deal" and free up all the Sporting Murals and make them available to view all the time. That would have been a positive and lasting contribution to Brent Borough of Culture - shame the Labour Leadership could not think of something sensible to do for once.

Philip Grant said...

Replying to Paul's point:-

Yes, I would like Brent councillors to support our heritage more, including the Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals which the Council commissioned (and part paid for with our Council Tax) as an important piece of public art when Olympic Way was pedestrianised in the 1990s.

However, I believe that the problem over the murals lies more with Council Officers. They would probably claim that they are doing what Cabinet asked of them, when George Osborne, as Chancellor under David Cameron, began his heavy cuts in local government funding. It is all about raising money from Council-owned assets.

The trouble is that they have failed to take into account the interests of local people, in public art and heritage, and have made no attempt to consult before going ahead with a string of deals that all have a "dodgy" look to them.

The first advertising lease, in 2013, was entered into by Officers under "delegated authority" following an approach by Quintain. Officers claimed that the Cabinet (or Executive?) had allowed them to do this in a 2012 resolution - but that only applied to advertising along Olympic Way (which both Quintain and Brent Council claim to own). It did not apply to the Bobby Moore Bridge, which is indisputably owned by Brent Council.

When that lease ran out in August 2017, Officers discovered that they could not renew it, because of the sums involved. It had to be decided by Cabinet, which is what happened in January 2018. The Officer Report did not even mention the existence of the tile murals on the walls which would be covered with adverts. It did say that there had been no consultation over the proposed renewal for another four years, either with councillors or other stakeholders.

The January 2018 report claimed that there had been a tender process, in which four other large advertising concerns had been invited to bid for the rights, alongside Quintain's offer. That was untrue - an "independent consultant" had said that he believed Quintain's offer wasn't likely to be bettered by other companies! The 2018 lease was therefore based on false and incomplete information.

That same "independent consultant" was used to back the recommendation in the October 2019 "Delegated Authority" Report, under which Quintain's request to extend the advertising lease for a further three years to August 2024 was approved.

If Cabinet is at fault over the continuing "cover up" of the Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals, it is probably because of a lack of oversight of what Council Officers have been doing, and too easily accepting, rather than questioning, what has been going on in the Council's name.

Anonymous said...

Having read Philip's comments above I was stung into action to add this:

I always thought that councillors were there to represent residents and that the officers were there to do the best for the residents of Brent while complying with regulation. It seems that what has happened in the last 10 years is that the Council has changed to doing its best for businesses and people who don't yet live in Brent (including many, many part time residents). Is it gentrification via property prices? Poor old Brent the Rent Capitol of London.

Gentrification is easy, pick a piece of low value land like Northfields Industrial Estate which is run down like most of Brent's business estates, change the planning rules to allow high density developments on that land and the land price go through the roof forcing the current population out via property pricing in the locale because they can no longer afford the local property. Then there's changing of the areas type, e.g. Metroland to Hong Kong, that also forces out the current residents.

This Council is no longer representing its residents, it is gentrifying, but we are still one of the poorest boroughs in London, and will stay that way as all the new developments are by the tube lines, they need to be as there's little decent work in Brent and little opportunity to change that while we build on the industrial land and office blocks become flats or hotels.

What sad times for Brent.

Anonymous said...

I have explained many times to anyone who would listen that Local Councils are no longer public community organisations. They are Municipal Monopoly Corporations whose sole purpose is to perpetuate themselves. Hence selling services including land and advertising spaces will ensure an income stream to pay for their survival. They indicate a veneer of Democracy by allowing the population to vote for them every few years, but once the election is over, they go back to selling off ‘the family silver’ no matter what the public and community thinks. Good Luck.

Philip Grant said...

I agree with much of what Anonymous (12 February at 19:29) and MartinR above have said.

Many things about Brent Council and "local democracy" are not right, and they will be difficult to change.

The way to guarantee that they won't change is to do nothing. I don't accept what I have sometimes been told - things like "they are a bunch of crooks, and there is nothing you can do about it."

There will be local elections in 2022. As many people as possible need to take an interest, and vote for candidates who are willing to work to change things for the better.

As I am not a "party politician", my approach is focus on particular issues, and to let councillors and senior Council Officers know what I think, and to question their actions if I believe they are wrong.

As one person, I may not have much effect. If more people feel the same way, and let those in power at the Civic Centre know their views, perhaps they will take some notice.