Guest post by Philip Grant
Following my “open email” of 26 May, Carolyn Downs appears to have accepted that it would be unreasonable for the Council not to answer the strong case that I put forward, showing that there is no advertisement consent to cover the “footballers” mural in the Bobby Moore Bridge subway with adverts.
Last Thursday evening, I received an email for the Council’s Legal Director, saying that ‘the Chief Executive has asked me to write to you this final time.’ I will set out the full text of that email below, so that anyone can read how some Senior Council Officers feel they can treat Brent’s citizens. Although Ms Norman considers the correspondence on this matter is over, there are some important things I wish to say in response to her, and I will say them here.
You might think that, because ‘a substantial amount of council resource has been devoted to considering the concerns’ I raised, I have been wasting the Council’s time.
I have submitted Freedom of Information Act requests, to establish the facts behind transactions that Council Officers have failed to conduct openly and transparently.
I did make ‘a whistleblowing complaint’ when those FoI’s uncovered potentially fraudulent arrangements, which may have given a false impression that a “deal” done by Council Officers was “best value”. You’d have thought Brent’s Director of Audit & Investigations would be grateful for my bringing this to the Council’s attention!
I have written a number of letters to Senior Council Officers about this matter, but if those letters had been dealt with properly, from the start, the difficulty I drew attention to could have been sorted out much earlier. Unfortunately, it is a dispute which has still not been resolved.
Last month I suggested what I believe was a sensible way to resolve it, quickly and efficiently, through a small arbitration panel of our elected councillors. Ms Norman dismissively refers to this as ‘some sort of agreement between yourself and the council’. The reason she gives for that opinion is that ‘such an agreement would not include the holder of the legal rights’, but those “legal rights” only exist if the Council has given them and they are still valid.
It’s a simple point, and I think that councillors are capable of considering it fairly, and deciding it on the basis of the facts and evidence. But if Brent wants to invite Quintain to have their say to an arbitration panel, I would have no objection, as long as they, like the Council and myself, agree to accept the panel’s decision.
If the dispute is resolved that way, we would not need ‘repeated correspondence.’ I’m ready to “put my cards on the table”, and will ask Martin to attach my ‘up to 1,000 words’ submission to the panel setting out why there is no advertisement consent for the footballers mural.
The Council’s Legal Director would prefer me either to “go away”, or ‘to consider what legal steps may be available to you.’ She would be prepared to spend £000’s on legal fees of our Council Tax money (some of which might be recoverable from me if the Council managed to “win” the case on some legal technicality), rather than have our dispute settled quickly and effectively by arbitration.
There is no need to go to Court over this, but I think that is Ms Norman’s last line of defence for what can now be exposed, through the details set out in her email, as a very weak case in claiming that there is advertisement consent. The Council’s case is so weak, and based on a superficial reading of only some of the relevant documents, that Brent’s Legal Director should be ashamed to put her name to it!
I have accepted from the start that the consent given in August 2017 (13/2987) did allow the subway walls, including the footballers mural, to be covered with vinyl advertising sheets. Ms Norman claims that this consent remains in place for the “footballers” mural, but that is where her case goes wrong. You could only take that view if you ignore most of the evidence!
Council lawyers seem to fixated on the 2019 consent being for ‘the use of light boxes … for advertising purposes.’ They’ve assumed this must mean that application 19/1474 does not apply to the footballers mural, but all of the supporting documents and drawings for that application show that it does, and that this tile mural scene will be uncovered as part of it.
The email says that I rely on ‘on references to 19/1474 being a “replacement scheme”.’ Yes, and for very good reasons! The letter submitting the application says it ‘will replace the existing system of wall coverings (approved under ref. 13/2987).’ This is also supported by the Officer Report to the Planning Committee meeting in July 2019 which approved it, that says: ‘The current application seeks consent for a replacement scheme.’
You will note that I have used a primary evidence source here, backed up by secondary evidence from a report on what the application documents show. The Legal Director’s argument falls apart when she bases it just on that same secondary source (and ignores all of the original application documents as well).
“The advertisements already consented can be displayed irrespective of the outcome of this application” is a quotation from a summary at the start of the Officer Report. If whichever Legal Officer researched this had read the body of the report, or taken the trouble to consider the application documents, they would have realised that this statement actually means the opposite of what Brent now claims!
In para.15 of the detailed part of the Officer Report it says:
‘Advertisement [consent] has also been previously granted for vinyl adverts over the tiles (also in a way that does not damage them), and should advertisement consent not be granted for the light boxes, the vinyl advertisements also could still be installed revealing less of the tiles than what would be visible under this proposal.’
In other words, the consent under 13/2987 would only continue to apply to the walls of the Bobby Moore Bridge subway if application 19/1474 was not approved.
It was approved, and replaced the 2017 consent, both for the new light boxes, and for the footballers mural. The advertisement consent documents show that, including the “Statement of Significance” (see quotes from this in my document below) submitted because the murals were identified as a heritage asset. Additional confirmation is given in para. 11 of the Officer Report:
‘The Council’s Principal Heritage Officer notes that, given that the tiles are not a designated heritage asset, the proposals are a reasonable compromise. Officers therefore consider it appropriate that the plaque would be visible and the Twin Towers would be permanently exposed in recognition that they are part of Brent’s Heritage.’
The plaque in the footballers mural, below one of the Stadium towers.
It was a key part of Quintain’s application that they recognised there was a heritage issue over the tile murals in the Bobby Moore Bridge subway. While applying for consent to advertise on the light boxes, they committed to put the footballers mural back on permanent public display. That was an integral part of the consent given under 19/1474, with a majority of Planning Committee members approving it because it was seen as ‘a reasonable compromise.’
For some reason (potential profits?) it appears that Wembley Park’s commercial team, and a few Council Officers, are seeking to claim an advertisement consent for the footballers mural which does not exist.
I will send a copy of this “guest blog” to Brent’s Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs. I will ask her to decide, in consultation with the Leader of the Council, whether Brent should continue to hold to its false view over advertisement consent (and the disrepute this would bring, if the footballers mural is unlawfully covered with adverts when football fans come to Wembley for the Euros), or accept what the evidence clearly shows, that there is no such consent.
This is the full text of the email I received on 3 June:
Dear Mr Grant
The Chief Executive has asked me to write to you one final time to answer your most recent emails to her and to reiterate the grounds upon which the council considers that Quintain has advertising consent to place vinyl advertisements on the tiles of the footballers mural.
The council’s position, and the reasons for that position are as follows, and have already been given.
Consent to the placing of vinyl advertisements on the tiles of the footballers mural is given by advertisement consent 13/2987 [25 August 2017]:
‘Advertisement consent for eight “gateway advertisements” comprising… .. 4 no. vinyl advertisements attached to the east and west tiled walls of the underpass and adjoining Olympic Way’
This consent in respect of vinyl advertisements remains in place notwithstanding the subsequent advertisement consent 19/1474 [22 August 2019] which relates to the use of light boxes for advertising purposes and does not permit the light boxes to extend over the footballers mural.
19/1474 does not expressly restrict reliance on 13/2987.
I understand it to be your view that despite the lack of an express restriction, 13/2987 can no longer be relied upon in respect of the Bobby Moore Bridge and its underpass because 19/1474 gives consent covering the same area, except of course that it does not extend to the footballers mural.
You rely on references to 19/1474 being a “replacement scheme”. As stated in my email to you of 9 April, although the applicant for consent 19/1474 stated the consent was sought as a replacement scheme to 13/2987, there is nothing in the 19/1474 consent itself which prevents reliance on 13/2987, to the extent that the two consents are compatible. Display of vinyl advertisements on the footballers mural pursuant to 13/2987 would not impede reliance on 19/1474 to use light boxes for the display of advertisements on the area permitted by that consent, which does not include the footballers mural.
I also note that the officers report considered by the Planning Committee on 16 July 2019 expressly states that “The advertisements already consented can be displayed irrespective of the outcome of this application.”
I think the council’s position and the reasons for it have been made very clear.
As the Chief Executive has pointed out, Quintain has indicated that it does not in fact intend to place vinyl advertisements over the footballers mural in reliance on the 13/2987 consent. With reference to your email of 24 May 2021, this is an informal indication from Quintain and not a binding commitment, although the Chief Executive hoped it would provide you with some re-assurance.
Consent 13/2987 will expire on 22 August 2022, so next year. As you have pointed out, the reference to re-tendering at the end of this year in the Chief Executive’s email of 24 May 2021 was an error, perhaps connected to the consent expiring next year. She has asked me to apologise for the confusion.
Your most recent email of 26 May 2021 repeats your assertion that the legal position could be resolved by some sort of agreement between yourself and the council. This suggestion ignores the fact that such an agreement would not include the holder of the legal rights in relation to the advertising consents and so could be of no effect.
As indicated at the start of this letter, the Chief Executive has asked me to write to you this final time. In addition to the correspondence with myself and the Chief Executive you have submitted FOIs requests and a whistleblowing complaint. These have been, or are being, responded to. As set out in my email of 16 April 2021, a substantial amount of council resource has been devoted to considering the concerns you have raised and the council is not able to agree with your view or to take the steps you wish.
If you consider that there is something legally wrong in how the council has proceeded, I would urge you to consider what legal steps may be available to you. It is clear that the disagreement between yourself and the council as to the legal position is not going to be resolved through repeated correspondence and it is not appropriate that any more council resource be devoted to such correspondence.
Director of Legal, HR, Audit & Investigations