Saturday, 19 June 2021

1 Morland Gardens – Brent’s development delayed

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity


There are many things wrong with Brent Council’s proposed redevelopment of 1 Morland Gardens. It is not just the planned demolition of the locally listed Victorian villa, “Altamira”, or the way in which Council Officers managed to get it approved by Planning Committee in August last year.

 

“Altamira”, the beautiful Italianate Victorian villa at 1 Morland Gardens, Stonebridge.

 

Another reason why this proposed development is bad planning is that, in order to “maximise” the number of new homes the Council plans to build, the site has been extended to include a ‘public green space’. A 9-storey block of flats will be built over the Harlesden City Challenge Community Garden, created in 1994 to help beautify this busy corner of Stonebridge.

 

The location of the Community Garden, at the corner of Hillside and Brentfield Road.

 

Extending the site was seen as a potential opportunity in the Strategic Brief which Brent’s Officers gave to the architect they appointed for the scheme in 2018, Curl la Tourelle Head (“CLTH”). Their RIBA Stage 1 Design Report in December 2018 showed the potential extra land (blue line) on its site plan. It also pointed out that ‘some of the site is designated as public footpath which may require appropriation.’ It also said that it was ‘likely to be public highway.’ This would require a “stopping-up order”, before any building could take place over it.

Site details from CLTH’s Stage 1 Report, December 2018.

 

I received a copy of the Stage 1 Report in September 2020 under a Freedom of Information Act request.  The “Risk” section at the end of the Report also mentioned the ‘Morland Gardens road stopping up process’ as a potential cause of delay for the proposed development.

 

Risk assessment from CLTH’s December 2018 Report

 

I checked to see whether there was any “stopping-up order”. These can only be made after planning permission has been approved, and as there was no indication that one had yet been made, I kept an eye on the Council’s Legal Notices in the “Brent & Kilburn Times”. But months went by, and there was no announcement. Brent Council was hoping to appoint a contractor for the project by May or June 2021, with work due to begin In September, after the Brent Start College has been decanted to temporary accommodation in August. 

 

With this in mind, I made an FoI request on 6 April, seeking details of the appropriation of the Community Garden land, and stopping-up order information for the Morland Gardens footpath / highway past the front of No.1. I copied this to Brent’s Strategic Director, Regeneration and Environment (who Cabinet had delegated to enter into the construction contract), so that he was aware of a potential “problem”. When I eventually received the response to my FoI, from Brent’s Development Management Manager on 25 May, it said:

 

Following a search of our paper and electronic records, I have established that Brent Council does not hold the information you have requested. The reason the information is not held is as follows:

An application to formally stop up the highway has not yet been received. This would need to be submitted and approved prior to any development taking place on the areas that are currently adopted highway. Until the stopping-up process has been completed under S247 of the Town & Country Act 1990, works will not be able to start on the development insofar as it affects highway land.’

 

 

The Morland Gardens highway / footpath between the Community Garden and “Altamira”
(Photo by Margaret Pratt)

 

The response did not answer my request for information on the appropriation of the land for planning purposes, and after an immediate reminder that this was still outstanding had not been replied to, I have asked for an Internal Review to remedy this defect, and obtain that information.

 

After sending a copy of the FoI response to Alan Lunt at Brent Council, I have received this email from him, confirming that “Altamira” will not be demolished until after all of the necessary legal processes have been followed:

 

Email from Brent’s Strategic Director, Regeneration and Environment, on 2 June 2021.

 

So why hadn’t Brent Council already made the stopping-up order required before they can go ahead with the 1 Morland Gardens development? Was it just a careless oversight by a Council Officer working on the project? Or was it deliberate, hoping that no one would notice the absence of this legal requirement, and because it was a Brent Council scheme, they could get away with ignoring the law?

 

Although it is the Council which makes stopping-up orders, it is quite a complicated process, involving several steps. They have to publish a draft order, and give public notice of it, inviting comments from utility companies and anyone else who may be affected by it. There are certainly various utilities running under the footpath alongside the existing wall of 1 Morland Gardens. Telephone and water manholes / access points can be seen in this photograph:-

 

The Morland Gardens footpath, from Hillside. (Photo by Margaret Pratt)

 

There can be objections, and if any of these are received, they have to be referred to the applicant for the stopping-up order, to see whether these can be resolved. This might be by agreeing to pay the costs of diverting services like electricity / gas / water supply etc. But if there are unresolved objections, the draft order has to go to an inquiry, a process that is likely to take many months.

 

What possible objections could there be. I can think of a very good reason for objecting to the diversion of the footpath! Although it would only add a short distance to the walk from Hillside, and its No.18 bus stop, to the existing flats and the nursery school (in the church building) in Morland Gardens, anyone having to take that walk would be subject to much greater air pollution danger. Instead of following the route alongside the present wall of “Altamira” / Brent Start College, with the trees of the Community Garden between pedestrians and Brentfield Road, walkers would have to go via the busy junction at the top of Hillside, which is one of the worst air quality locations in the borough.

 

The footpath between “Altamira” and the Community Garden, April 2021.
(Photo by Margaret Pratt)

 

Brent Council’s development of 1 Morland Gardens will be delayed, and the delay will be the fault of Council Officers. How long the delay will be remains to be seen. Hopefully, it may even be long enough for Brent Council to realise what a bad idea this scheme (and the demolition of a valuable heritage asset it involves) is, and to think again.


Philip Grant.

 


 

FOOTNOTE: Following publication WM received the following anonymous comment that I publish here as it includes photographs:

Brent Council vs. Moreland Gardens and the surrounding locale 

 

One shouldn't forget just how green and special this very busy A404 junction in Stonebridge is - where Hillside meets Brentfield. Obviously our predecessors in Brent recognised the site as being special as can be seen by the imposing architecture surrounding the junction. The entire junction vista and surrounding buildings should surely be protected, preserved and enhanced for coming Brent generations, perhaps grass and trees could be reintroduced on the various traffic islands.   

 

To demolish more and more heritage buildings (assets) and green space, thereby removing wildlife habitat along Brent's trumpeted bee corridors and its green ribbons (mentioned in the Borough Plan) is a travesty. By imposing modern high rise blocks (now known as multi level building I'm told) into this and other historic and green location in Brent is a crime, and in the case of this location disrespects the residents of Stonebridge and Brent as a whole. Shame on you Brent Council.

 

Brent's Heritage assets, be they listed or not, seem to mean nothing to our leaders in Brent, perhaps they don't represent us as they say they do, if they do they are deaf and blind.  They continue to tell us that these new homes (nay boxes) are for our residents and many are affordable.  How is it then that the number of Brent residents in temporary accommodation continues to rise, as does the number of families on the Council House Waiting list? Then there are the people who have to live in substandard and dangerous accommodation within the sector known as Houses of Multiple Occupation where standards can be appalling as will have been seen in reports by the Press and the Council itself. 






9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Having attend evening classes at Morland Gardens I would agree that this junction is a highly polluted location and I can't believe they want to knock down this stunning building, any decent architect would surely be happy to incorporate it into the development? The trees in Harlesden City Challenge Community Garden are a precious haven away from the traffic and provide vital shade.

Anonymous said...

It is such a shame that residents have to hide their identity on this blog. I wonder why that is?

Martin Francis said...

Edited comment from a reader:

This Moreland project has always been a terrible idea, to demolish such a significant heritage asset and pocket park is a travesty, this decision is as bad as the one allowing building on the green space in front of the Stonebridge Primary School (and adventure playground's destruction - did the Leader hate them so very much, and why?). Why do Brent Council hate Stonebridge so much, will they leave any green space by the time they are finished?

I ask, will Brent reverse the decision on Moreland?

Yes, that was a joke, of course they won't.

There intransigence to anything suggested by the Brent residents has become the norm and is now the expectation of the majority of residents throughout the borough - maybe they will express this at the next Council Elections? We can only hope.

It seems that residents now expect to be bullied and abused if they speak up, others watch incredulously in the hope that one day Brent will respect and listen to their residents. Is this intransigence and bullying a reflection of the main players in Brent, yes it probably is. It is time for them to go and let Brent Council listen and respect their residents for once.

Please GO now.

MartinR said...

The Council is not really interested in heritage or environment. The proposed development will generate vast funds for Brent in the form of S106, CIL etc. The removal of 1 Moreland will allow them to develop right to the edges of the site, so they have allowed the developer to demolish everything. Ww must continue to resist and object.

Philip Grant said...

Dear MartinR,

Thank you for your comment.

Brent IS the developer for this scheme, so it won't generate vast sums for them - it will cost the Council (that is, us) money. The Council have budgeted £42m for it (even though the architects estimated a cost of £43m at 2019 prices!).

Neither of those estimates included the cost of decanting the Brent Start college into temporary accommodation, and returning it to the new building. £1.5m of CIL money (which the Council will have to pay as the developer) has been allocated to cover all of those costs - but the cost of converting the old Willesden U.D.C. clinic ready for the college turned out to be £1.2m (when Officers had estimated £500k), so that is already over budget.

The way that the Council has got so many things wrong on this scheme, it would not be a surprise if they have to get a private developer to come in to bail them out on it, IF they insist on going ahead with it. That would mean some of the promised "affordable homes" going for private sale or rent.

Philip Grant said...

FOR INFORMATION:

Below is the text of an email that I sent to Stonebridge Ward councillors (with copies to the Lead Members for Regeneration and Education & Skills) earlier this evening.

[As I've said before, I believe in letting our elected representatives know what we think about local matters that are important to us. To do their jobs properly, they need to be kept in touch with the views of residents - they may choose to take no notice, but at least they can't claim to have been unaware of them!]

Heading: 1 Morland Gardens - Brent Council's bad scheme delayed

Dear Stonebridge Ward councillors,

I am writing to send you a copy of an article which I had published today, about the delay which will occur to Brent's redevelopment of 1 Morland gardens, and the reasons for it. I hope you will find time to read it.

If you feel able to do so, I would encourage you to read the article on the "Wembley Matters" blog. It has already attracted several comments, which show how many residents feel about the way the Council treats them over planning matters, and the proposals for "Altamira" in particular:
https://wembleymatters.blogspot.com/2021/06/1-morland-gardens-brents-development.html

Brent Council has made mistake after mistake with this proposed redevelopment scheme. Although the idea of new affordable homes for Stonebridge is attractive, you know very well (as shown by Councillor Aden's "neutral" comments on your behalf at the Planning Committee meeting) that these proposals for the site are a mistake.

The Council Officers' plans demolish one of the few heritage buildings in your Ward, and the one that gives Stonebridge real character, they remove an important public green space, and they replace these with a building that is too tall for that location, and deprives existing residents in Morland Gardens of an unacceptable amount of light.

Now the scheme is delayed. If the "decant" of the Brent Start college to the former Willesden U.D.C. clinic building goes ahead in August, the college will probably be in that temporary accommodation for at least a year longer than planned. And the use of that building as a temporary home for Brent Start is further delaying the Council's approved plans for housing on that site. The whole approach by Council Officers on the 1 Morland Gardens "project" is a mess!

As I am sure I suggested to you more than a year ago, it would be better to keep Brent Start at 1 Morland Gardens for the time being, and just do a single transfer to a new, modern college facility which could be included (through Section 106 / CIL negotiations) as part of the redevelopment of the Unisys / Brent Park site.

This would allow the existing new housing scheme to go ahead on the former clinic site. Once the college had been rehoused, there could be a sympathetic redevelopment of 1 Morland Gardens, retaining the main part of the Victorian locally listed building and the Community Garden in front of it. A similar redevelopment was carried out at 2 Morland Gardens, to retain the character of "Altamira's" twin Victorian villa, "Hurworth". This could provide probably up to affordable 20 homes (less, if more family size units were included) at 1 Morland Gardens.

One drawback of this would be the "waste" of the c.£1.2m spent on converting the former clinic as a temporary home for the college, but that would be just one more mistake by Council Officers (who estimated this would only cost £500k).

Please consider these ideas, and if they make sense to you, then please promote them to the Council's Leadership. Thank you. Best wishes,

Philip Grant
(a Fryent Ward resident, but borough-wide campaigner for Brent's heritage).

Philip Grant said...

FOR INFORMATION:

I received the following message from Councillor Promise Knight this morning, and have replied to thank her for it:-

Dear Philip,

Thank you for your email. We will raise your concerns with senior Council Officers.

Best wishes.

Cllr Promise Knight
Stonebridge Ward

Philip Grant said...

INTERNAL REVIEW RESPONSE:

In my article above, I mentioned that I had requested an Internal Review, because part of the information I had requested in an FoI of 6 April (on the appropriation of the highway and community garden land for planning purposes) had not been answered in the response I received from the Council on 25 May.

I have now received the result of that Internal Review, from Gerry Ansell, Brent's Head of Planning and development Services. The key paragraph says:

'I have reviewed the matter and I can confirm that at this point the land has not been appropriated and remains part of the public highway. As such, there is no documentation to provide on this.'

So, not only have Brent Council failed to apply for a stopping-up order for the highway and/or footpath that they plan to build over, they have failed (so far) to take any steps to appropriate that land for planning purposes!

And they were going to treat it as part of their 1 Morland Gardens construction site from September 2021!

Philip Grant said...

FOR INFORMATION:

Further to my comment above (19 June 2021 at 19:28), with text of my email to Stonebridge Ward councillors, I have received replies from both Councillors Promise Knight and Ernest Ezeajughi, who have said that they will refer the points I have raised to Council Officers for a response.

It will be interesting to see what that response is!