Wednesday 31 March 2021

Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals – Brent’s VERY “dodgy deal” exposed!

Guest blog  by Philip Grant in a personal capacity:

Last month I wrote about these heritage murals, and my surprise at discovering that Council Officers had agreed a three-year extension to the lease which allows Quintain to use the Bobby Moore Bridge at Wembley Park for advertising purposes. The initial response to a Freedom of Information Act request I had made suggested that this might be a “dodgy deal”. Further details extracted from Brent Council under that FoI, and two further information requests, now mean that I can set out what happened over the lease extension, and there were some very “dodgy” aspects to it!


The Bobby Moore Bridge from Olympic Way, March 2020.


Although the lease extension only became public knowledge in January this year, the events leading up to it started more than two years ago, so let me set the scene. Council Officers had first given Quintain a four-year lease over the bridge and subway in 2013, and this was renewed for a further four years, to August 2021, by a Brent Cabinet decision in January 2018.


By 2017, Brent and Quintain were proposing major public realm improvements to Olympic Way. In July 2017 Brent’s Cabinet agreed to give Quintain £17.8m of Community Infrastructure Levy money to help pay for these (mainly, but not exclusively, towards the cost of replacing the “pedway” to the Stadium with steps). One of Quintain’s proposed “improvements” was upgraded advertising panels on the Bobby Moore Bridge.


Tile mural scenes on the east wall of the Bobby Moore Bridge subway (when they were visible!).


During 2018, Wembley History Society had called on Brent and Quintain to put the heritage tile murals, on the walls of the Bobby Moore Bridge subway, back on permanent public display, rather hide them with adverts. Following discussions with the Society,  Quintain agreed to put the large “footballers / twin towers stadium” mural, on the east wall, back on display, and to periodically uncover some murals on a wall in Olympic Way, just outside the subway.


Because it was “investing” money in buying new advertising screens, Quintain’s Wembley Park company wanted to be sure that it could use them for at least five years. This seems to have been what caused one of its managers to approach Brent Council about extending the advertising lease beyond August 2021. As I have sent a report on my findings to the Council’s Audit & Investigations team, I will not give the names of any of the individuals involved. I will simply refer to this Quintain employee as “WPmanager”.


Although leases of Council land or buildings are the responsibility of Brent’s Property & Assets team, WPmanager instead approached the head of another department he had dealings with (who I will refer to as “Head”). A meeting was arranged for 19 December 2018 with Head’s line manager (who I will refer to as “Director”). 


Director has confirmed to me (in response to an FoI) that he met with WPmanager and Head at the Civic Centre on that date. I had asked for a copy of the minutes of that meeting, but his reply was: ‘I confirm there were no notes taken of the meeting to my knowledge save for the email [Head] subsequently sent to [WPmanager] that I believe you already have.’


I had been sent copies of some email correspondence, by Head, in response to an earlier FoI request. In fact, WPmanager had sent an email to Head within an hour of the meeting. The redactions in black, about the figures involved, were made by Brent before the copy emails were sent to me. I have used blue to hide the names of the individuals involved (who were clearly on first name terms).


The email from WPmanager to Head on 19 December 2018, confirming the offer made at the meeting.


The final sentence in the email above suggests that WPmanager had left his meeting with Director and Head at the Civic Centre confident that the offer he was making on Quintain’s behalf would be accepted. 


This was confirmed, subject to certain conditions, when Head replied to him on 4 January 2019. Although the lease extension was not formally signed until November 2019, the basic “deal” had already been agreed in principle by early January, and apparently without any involvement by the Council’s Property & Assets team! Although the figures agreed were blacked out, when I “copied and pasted” some of the text into another document, it showed that the basic annual rent would be £XXX,XXX, plus a 50:50 split of any advertising revenue over £XXXk each year.


Head’s email to WPmanager of 4 January 2019, copied to two Brent employees.


As well as copying his email to a Brent property lawyer, who could start liaising with Quintain’s property lawyer over the legal documents, Head also copied it to a more junior officer (who I will call “Officer”) in his department. WPmanager was told that she would ‘be able to help facilitate early conversations with property/highways and planning ….’


Further email correspondence during the first half of 2019 made clear that no formal agreement to extend the advertising lease could be put in place until Quintain had planning and advertising consent for the new screens that they wanted to install, on the parapets of the Bobby Moore Bridge and the walls of the subway. It was April before Quintain put in the applications.


Advertising at the Bobby Moore Bridge, and the proposed screens from a planning application drawing.


Readers may remember the battle over those applications, with over 320 people signing a petition against them. I was one of two objectors who spoke against Quintain’s Bobby Moore Bridge applications at the Planning Committee meeting on 16 July 2019. The opening paragraph of my presentation was:


‘You’re being recommended to grant consent to these applications by Reports that are flawed. They’re inaccurate, ignore or misrepresent valid planning points made by objectors, and give misleading legal advice.’


We did have some success, persuading two councillors to vote against, but five committee members accepted the Officers’ Recommendations, and the planning and advertisement applications were approved. What we didn’t know then was that the Council would get increased rental income if those applications were approved. I can’t help wondering whether Brent’s planning officers had been made aware of that.


Although Head had agreed terms with WPmanager in January 2019, he wrote to him on 6 June saying: ‘Once we have an agreement in principle I’ll also need to get final sign off from [Director].’ I asked for information and documents on this “sign off” in an FoI request to Director, and his reply was:


‘No I did not sign off the lease that was done by the Director of Property Services. [Head] was referring to my verbal agreement as his line manager so he could proceed to work with Legal and Property Services to extend the lease.’  and; 


‘There was no approval process relating to me. As set out above that that all resides with our Property Service.’


But Brent’s Property Service had not been involved in the discussions over this lease extension at all, so how could they know whether it should be approved? It all came down to a Delegated Authority Report, prepared by Officer in October 2019. This provided the information on which the top officer in the Property team (who I will call “ODPA”) authorised Brent’s Legal officers to sign the “Deed of Variation” (prepared by Quintain’s property lawyers!) that sealed the “deal”.


A redacted copy of that Delegated Authority Report was one of the first documents I received under my first FoI request. In my 10 February blog, I mentioned this claim in it:


‘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.’


It’s many years since Brent’s top legal officer was known as the “Borough Solicitor”. The extract from Part 4 of the Constitution, included in the Report, showed that: ‘Only the Strategic Director Resources may acquire or dispose of an interest in land or buildings.’ It also said that he could not agree leases if ‘the annual rental value … exceeds £50k’, which this one clearly did!


My FoI had asked for all the communications in respect of the authority for the lease extension, so I pressed for the documents I had not been sent. Among the further items I received was a copy of Part 3 of Brent’s Constitution. The rules about interests in land had been in Part 3 (not Part 4) since at least May 2018, with the limit on ‘annual rental value’ increased to £250k. 


Head had still not provided the documents under which Officer had sought and obtained confirmation from “the Borough Solicitor” that ODPA had ‘the delegated authority to approve this letting’. I pressed again and, at the third time of asking, was told: ‘there are no further emails or correspondence relating to [ODPA]’s authority to approve this lease extension.’ The statement in the Report about confirmation of that authority was a lie!


The ODPA had either not read the section of the Report that quoted “Part 4”, or ignored it because it was out of date. As the Council is hiding the figures involved, I don’t know whether the ODPA did have the delegated authority to approve the lease extension. One of the restrictions, in Part 3, on that power is: ‘where any leasehold interest has an annual value over £100k or below £250k, he or she shall consult with the Lead Member.’ No evidence has been supplied to show that the Lead Member (for Regeneration?) was consulted in this case.


Part 3 also sets out another very important responsibility for the person authorising the lease:


’11.6 The Strategic Director Regeneration and Environment [or ODPA] may not sell or grant any lease … or otherwise dispose of any land or buildings unless the consideration received, as confirmed by them is the best that can reasonably be obtained.



As the ODPA had not been involved in discussing the terms for the lease extension, how could he confirm that the rent paid would be the best value that the Council could obtain for the Bobby Moore Bridge advertising rights? He appears to have relied on the Delegated Authority Report. And that Report relied on what Brent’s Chief Executive advised me (in good faith, I believe) was a ‘market appraisal … carried out by an independent advertising consultant who recommended the lease extension.’



Extract from the “market appraisal” letter dated 15 October 2019.


Again, although I had been sent this document, I had not received the emails etc. associated with it. I had been told that it had been requested by ‘phone, but how did the advertising consultant (who I will call “Consultant”) obtain the details about the proposed deal on which to base his appraisal? Having pressed further, Head supplied me with an email thread which is worth close examination.

There were just three emails, in a space of less than 24 hours, headed ‘Delegated Authority Report on Bobby Moore Bridge’. On 17 October, Officer sent Consultant a copy of that Report (which she’d signed off that day) with the brief message: ‘This is background information as discussed.Her Report had referred to a market appraisal: 


‘conducted by an independent outdoor advertising consultant, [Consultant] from Fortuna, who has recommended lease extension for three years on the basis of current market conditions.’



The October 2019 exchange of emails about the market appraisal for the lease extension.



On 18 October, Consultant sent Officer his market appraisal letter (see above). His email was copied to Head, who the letter was addressed to. The email offers to “tweak” the appraisal letter, if required (which is hardly what you would expect from an independent consultant!). But Officer was happy with the letter as it stood: ‘Thanks [Consultant], this perfect.’ 



Brent Council’s online “Transparency - Our Spending” records for this quarter show a payment to Fortuna Associates of £1,123-48 on 18 October 2019, under the cost heading “Advertising”. I’m sure all of the businesses that supply Brent would love to receive such prompt payment!

You may have noticed that the Fortuna letter was dated 15 October, as if it had been written before the Delegated Authority Report. It appears that it may well have been written after Officer sent the Report to Consultant, using what she had said to justify approval for the lease extension as the basis for the “Advice Note” relied on as evidence for that recommendation. If that was the case, the “market appraisal” was a false document, and the actions of those involved with its creation potentially fraudulent.



A closer look at the FoI responses I received in 2018, over the renewal of the original lease until August 2021, showed a very similar situation. Consultant had provided an Advice Note in September 2017 for a Delegated Authority Report, but it was found that the rental value was too high for it to be approved by a Council Officer. 



When it went for a Cabinet decision, the tile murals were not even mentioned. Members were told that bids had been sought from four advertising companies, and that: ‘Wembley City Estate Management submitted the best value bid, details of which are set out in the confidential appendix.’ In fact, no other companies had been invited to bid, and the only offer was that from the Quintain subsidiary. The Officer Report in January 2018 misled Brent’s Cabinet 



A week ago, I sent a formal letter of complaint to Brent’s Chief Executive (see below), along with a detailed report that also went to the Council’s Audit & Investigations team. As well as the alleged misconduct over the lease extension, I complained about the general attitude of council officers over the Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals, ever since 2013. They have been too willing to give Quintain and its subsidiaries what they want, without regard to the cultural and heritage value of those murals, and without any competitive tender for the advertising rights. The Council’s relationship with Quintain has been far too “cosy”.




The 1948 Olympic torch relay mural, currently hidden, and the Wembley heritage it celebrates.



I have asked for an assurance that the actions of council officers over the lease extension will be properly investigated. Nothing can be done to end the advertising lease before August 2024, but I am seeking a commitment from Brent Council now:- that any new lease will be open to competition, that it will include an option to advertise only on the bridge parapets, and not covering the tile murals, and that it should be considered and decided openly at a meeting of Brent’s Cabinet. That is the least we deserve!


Philip Grant.


Postscript: After submitting this blog article to Martin, I received a reply from Brent's Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, which included these responses to my letter of 24 March:-


'Firstly, I can give you assurance that the circumstances around the approval of the lease will be investigated by our Audit and Investigations team and that any appropriate action necessary will take place as a result.'


'I agree that the Council will undertake the renewal of the advertising rights as you outline.

 Can I thank you for the time and effort you have put into this matter.'


Philip Grant's Letter of Complaint (Click bottom right for full page)

How to spot a Covid or Vaccination Scam - advice from the Metropolitan Police


Tuesday 30 March 2021

Brent & Harrow GLA candidates announced

The statement of persons nominated was issued on the Brent Council website this afternoon:


Willesden Green Garage developer gets 6 extra private flats in exchange for one 'affordable' bedroom



Density in the age of Covid


It might seem a stark summary but that is what Brent Planning Committee voted for last night when  the developer sought a variation in consent to allow 6 private flats on the same building footprint (so squeezing more into limited space) and the only benefit their agent could muster when challenged was that they were offering ONE extra bedroom in ONE of the affordable flats.  They also claimed that moving the building back from the pavement by 1.2m would be a benefit to the residents who had opposed the changes. All other 'benefits' appeared to favour the developer. 

Because of the higher number of private flats the proportion of affordable housing actually FELL as a result of the granted variation.

A view that this was more than a minor variation to the granted scheme, which itself had been decided by an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, and should be a new application, came to nothing.

There was an attempt by councillors to draw attention to the disbenefits of a denser development at a time of Covid when people were at home more but only Cllr Maurice voted against granting the change in consent on those grounds as well as parking issues.

Public concern about Coronavirus drops sharply, but it remains the biggest issue facing Britain

 From IpsoMori - interesting to see poverty and inequality moving up in the list of concerns.

The March 2021 Ipsos MORI Issues Index records the first significant drop in concern about Covid-19 since June 2020.The proportion who name the coronavirus as a big issue for the country has fallen from 72 per cent in February to 49 per cent this month. One third see the pandemic as the single biggest issue (34%), a decrease from almost six in ten last month (57%).


While economic concern has held steady, there has been a fall in the proportion of the public naming Brexit as an issue. This month 26 per cent cite the UK’s exit from the EU as a worry, the joint-lowest score for this issue since the vote to leave in 2016 (concern was also at this level in April 2020). This month’s score is seven percentage points lower than last month – and half the level of concern recorded in December 2020 (60%).


There has been an eight-percentage point increase in mentions of the NHS as a big concern: 24 per cent mention it as an issue. Fieldwork occurred between 5 and 11 March, covering the period when the Government announced a one per cent pay rise for NHS staff.


Other issues that have risen significantly from last month include Poverty and inequality (up 6ppt since February), education (up 4 ppt), unemployment and immigration (both up 3ppt),



While concern about Coronavirus has fallen across all groups since last month, there is a distinct pattern by age, with older and younger Britons now significantly less concerned than those in the middle age brackets. The proportion mentioning the pandemic as an issue stands at 44% among 18-34s, 59% among 35-54 year olds, and 43% among the over 55s. By contrast, in February these figures were 70%, 76% and 72% respectively.


Those aged 65 and over are among the least likely to mention the pandemic as a big issue; 39% do so, meaning it is their joint-top concern alongside the economy (also 39%).



QAnon and Conspiracies: Should We Be Worried? - Watch the video and give your views



 I am grateful to  Kensal Kilburn Better 2021 for permission to embed this video on a very important subject.  They would welcome any comments so please leave them below and I will pass them on or Tweet to @KKBetter2021

This is a video of the 26th March 2021 talk "Conspiracy Theories and the Digital Dark Arts: How Worried Should We Be?" Hosted by Tom Lennard @To_Murse. 


How worried should we be about conspiracy theories, and are they a threat to democratic norms and digital freedoms? Who benefits from these theories, and how do we help to stem their proliferation and draw people away from such destructive beliefs? How can we distinguish between "conspiracy fact", such as Watergate or MKUltra, and "conspiracy fiction", such as chemtrails and vaccine-microchipping? 


Joining the discussion were: - Jitarth Jadeja, a former QAnon believer-turned-spokesperson for those re-emerging from conspiracy-led beliefs. - Booker Prize long-listed James Meek, author of the recent LRB essay Red Pill, Blue Pill that looks at the power of conspiracy theories in the UK. - QAnon Anonymous Podcast's UK correspondent and researcher Annie Kelly, writer of the article Mothers for QAnon. - Educator and social psychologist Alexandra Stein, author of Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachments in Cults and Totalitarian Systems. 


Stay tuned for future events! You can find Kensal and Kilburn Better 2021 on Twitter at @KKBetter2021 :) Thanks for watching.


Key questions asked over Network Homes suitability as a development partner in Northwick Park scheme


Network Homes, with its head office located in Wembley, is one of the partners in the massive development at Northwick Park as well as an adviser to Brent Council on the building of council houses in the borough LINK.  Network's other partners at Northwick Park are Brent Council,London NW University Healthcare NHS Trust and the University of Westminster. It comes under the auspices of the government's One Public Estate policy which aims to maximise the return on public property.

Network Homes have been embroiled in the cladding scandal and warned in January 2020 that it would need to pass on most of the £200,000,000 that needed to  spent on remediation of its estate would have to be passed on to leaseholders. With its properties requiring so much work doubts have been raised over the quality of its housing.

 Although the Planning Committee has a quasi-statutory role and is supposed to be non-political Brent Council is a developer itself in this case.

Cllr Daniel Kennelly, a member of the Planning Committee, took up concerns over  Network Homes  at last night's meeting.

He wanted reassurances of the long-term viability of the project with Network Homes as a partner given its financial difficulties  and wanted to be assured that they properties they built would be safe. He noted that Network was facing long-term difficulties regarding its cladding responsibilities 'down the road' - what they had done had been 'criminal'. 

Officers responded that they did not look at the financial viability of the developer itself but of the financial viability of its project - did it give sufficient return to the developer on the basis of what they would build and the income it would derive. Network would have to adhere to fire regulations and the plans were for brick build with no cladding. The fire strategy would be considered under reserved matters and rigorously checked.

Kennelly continued to press on the impact of the overall scheme if one partner collapsed financially:  would other partners be liable to its costs? A lead officer responded that different entities in the partnership would be responsible for their own section of the development and would not be responsible for the other parts. He pointed to the  financial collapse of a building company which, after it crashed, its development had been bought by another company and completed.

The councillor sought assurances that although there was an undertaking that there would be no ground rent on the scheme would there be other costs on top of the rent. An officer replied that planning did not control service charges. Cllr Johnson was concerned that the existing NHS residents on the Network Homes estate that was to be demolished would get first refusal on new 'intermediate' (MF not genuinely affordable) properties. He was concerned that they would not be able to afford them. Officers replied, rather obviously, that this would depend on their salary. Network Homes had been engaging with them about their options. NHS staff would not be eligible for London Affordable Rent properties as these were allocated to people on the Council's housing list.

Cllr Kennelly also asked about the large number of trees that would be removed in the development and asked how long it would take for the present level of carbon capture  by existing trees to be reached by the new planning. An officer commented that this issue was not captured by planning guidance at the moment while another said it would depend on the rate of growth of the different tree species planted and what was done with the felled trees - if they were burned and released carbon this would add to the carbon capture requirement. Replacement trees would not  all be saplings and there woduld be a substantial increase in the overall number of trees.

Representations by Brent and Harrow Cyclists over  safe routes around and  through the development were largely dismissed as referring to the new through road that had already been approved. Officers said there was not enough space on the road for segregated cycling and that a single crossing at the junction with Watford Road would make life easier for cyclists and pedestrians, but as there was heavy traffic flow on Watford Road, maintaining the flow was the priority. John Fletcher (Highways) said they would take the representations into consideration as the scheme got underway and offered to meet with the cyclists to walk through the site.

Given some of the less than convincing  answers by officers (I have never heard so many 'sort ofs' in such an important meeting), it is surprising that the application was unanimously approved.



Monday 29 March 2021

Brent Council offer up to £25k to reactivate local shops in Church End, Neasden and Willesden town centres

 From Brent Council

Brent Council is on the hunt for landlords in targeted areas across the borough who would like to sign up to a regeneration scheme that aims to bring empty shops back into long-term use.


The council have launched a new pilot scheme to reactivate empty premises on local high streets and support local businesses. Vacant space activators Meanwhile Space have been contracted to deliver the scheme, and are working with Brent Council to engage landlords, offering grants of up to £25,000 for shop improvements.


The scheme aims to reactivate 3-6 empty shops in targeted areas of Church End, Neasden and Willesden Green town centres. Landlords have been contacted with details of the initiative and invited to make an application for their shop, with a closing deadline of Sunday 18th April 2021. Improvements will be made to each successful vacant premises up to the sum of £25,000 per unit.


The pilot scheme will support local businesses in need of a premises but unable to take on a full lease, or who may struggle to pay rent on town centre premises. The pilot scheme will provide an opportunity for these businesses to develop a sustainable business model in the medium and long term with the aim of going on to rent a high street unit on commercial rates.


Alan Lunt, Strategic Director for Regeneration & Environment at Brent Council, said:

 Our businesses and high streets have taken a big hit from the pandemic and now is the time to look for opportunities to turn that around and build back a better Brent for businesses and residents. Through activation of empty shops we hope to stimulate long-term demand for space in the area and support the economic recovery of our neighbourhoods.


Details of the scheme and opportunity for landlords can be found at rrent-projects/meanwhile-pilot-scheme/

Planning officers back developer's application to squeeze an extra 6 private units out of Willesden Green Garage development


View from Park Avenue

"The proposal is considered to have a high quality design that has regard to the character of its surroundings and would have an appropriate relationship with the surrounding buildings and would not result in harm to the setting of the Grade II Listed Building."  Officers' Report

Kingsley Court the Grade II Listed Building opposite the site


 The garage site

Brent Planning Committee will decide this afternoon whether to accept changes to the extant planning permission for the garage site at the junction of St Pauls Avenue and Park Avenue, Willesden Green. There is likely to be discussion about whether the changes amount to a 'minor amendment'  to the planning permission already granted or necessitate a new application. Committee members will be aware that a previous planning appeal against refusal of planning permission succeeded.

The main change is the addition of 6 private flats for sale at market rates requiring changes in the internal layout.:


 The 6 extra units obviously means some changes in the internal layout. This includes multiple flat entrances from landings. I suggest that this level of traffic is worth looking at in the context of Covid19  contagion  as well as the reduction in size of the units.

Five of the private floors would exceed the Housing SPG target of 8 homes per floor per core (with 2 x 9, 2 x 10 and 1 x 12 homes per core on the respective cores). However, this is not considered to have a significant impact on the quality of accommodation or levels of social cohesion.

There are 13 comments about the development on the Planning Portal, all of which are objections from neighbours. Some refer to the extant application rather than the revisions. This comment is about the revisions:

 I am concerned that in increasing the number of units this will have several adverse impacts, and would like to raise the following issues:

1. The increase in units has not led to a change in the number of affordable units. why not? A revised Financial Viability Appraisal should be submitted to ascertain whether further affordable units would have to be incorporated due to the improved viability.

2. More family units are not being added, as obviously this is an attempt to squeeze more out of the site.

3. Disabled bays are being lost. Changes to basement car parking do not offer a more efficient layout but do fail to meet either the London Plan requirement of space for 10% of the flats or Condition 6 in respect of spaces for disabled parking (7 not 8).

4. The reduction of landscaping elements does not help mitigate noise levels in the amenity spaces.

5. The provision of outdoor amenity space ("winter gardens") does not come up to the standard aimed for by Brent. There is a bigger overall shortfall and 5 units would fail to meet the London Plan's minimum of 5 SQM.

6. The iron railings with vegetation behind in the approved scheme are apparently to be replaced by a solid brick wall along St Pauls Avenue which would have a detrimental effect on the street scene especially with the removal of the green roof over the ramp.

7. As another resident has commented: the changes in palette and landscaping mean the proposed amendment is no longer "in keeping with the urban character and appearance of the area".

8. Since the last application, COVID-19 has led to major changes in peoples lives - with workers/residents spending more time at home - is now the time to approve smaller flats?

9. Issues around parking, servicing and deliveries associated with the proposed development have not been further considered in the latest documents. This is particularly relevant due to the continuing increase in on-line sales and home deliveries.

11. Near neighbours have concerns that: Aspects of the proposed changes that would worsen the situation are the omission of the landscaping features which were in the central space as well as around the perimeter and the large open spaces on the 3rd and 4th levels which are particularly concerning to neighbours.

10. The additional 6 self-contained units, enlarged external floor space and repositioned and redesigned ramp constitute a proposal that is significantly different.

11. Para 17 of the Committee Report confirmed that the scheme now approved would result in a density above the London Plan matrix range . The further intensification now proposed does not represent sustainable development and there is no justification for the significant harm that would result.

12. The significant changes to the internal layout and the increase in units beyond the reduction to 70 originally approved by the planning officers exceeds the scope of a 'Minor Amendment' and requires a new planning application.


The application will be heard this afternoon at 4pm.  View live HERE