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.
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.