Sunday, 6 June 2021

Bobby Moore Bridge “footballers” mural – Brent Council’s “final word”?

 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.

Philip Grant.


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.



Best wishes



Debra Norman 

Director of Legal, HR, Audit & Investigations




Philip Grant said...


I'll set out below the full text of an email I sent to Carolyn Downs this morning, with copy to the Council Leader.

If you would like to let them know your views on the Footballers tile mural, please send them to: and

'Dear Ms Downs,

Thank you for asking Debra Norman to send me the Council's grounds for its view that there is advertisement consent to cover the footballers mural in the Bobby Moore Bridge subway.

As the Council's Legal Director made it clear that she did not wish to correspond with me further on that matter, I have responded to it publicly, with a "guest blog" published yesterday evening:

I hope you will read what I have said as soon as possible. I am attaching a pdf copy of the article, and a copy of the document published beneath it, for ease of reference.

As my article makes clear, you personally (and Brent Council) have been badly let down by your Legal Team over this issue. Their consideration of the matter has been superficial, has ignored important documentary evidence (even when I have supplied copies of the documents to you and/or Ms Norman) and has, frankly, been wrong.

Brent's lawyers even managed to misinterpret, and then misrepresent, a vital point from the Officers Report to Planning Committee on application 19/1474. By just relying on a sentence from the summary at the beginning, rather than reading the detailed section of the report, they thought it meant the opposite of what it actually did, and have then based the Council's view on that!

The view that I have set out, in my article and my submission prepared for arbitration (denied, so far) actually supports what Quintain asked for with application 19/1474, and what Planning Committee approved, which is that there could be advertising on the new light boxes in the subway, but that the footballers mural would be put on display and remain uncovered.

I hope you will urgently review the Council's position over advertisement consent, in consultation with the Leader of the Council.

I believe that the view set out in Ms Norman's email to me of 3 June is clearly untenable. If you agree, please confirm that, and advise Quintain / Wembley Park Ltd that there is no advertisement consent for the footballers tile mural.

If you still cling on to the belief that it is arguable, I would be happy to go for a quick, simple, fair and binding arbitration of the issue, including Quintain as a participant if you wish to invite them, and they wish to take part on the same terms as the Council and myself.

If the footballers mural is unlawfully covered with advertising during the Euros football tournament (or at any other time), it would bring shame on the London Borough of Brent, for permitting and even encouraging that.

I wish to avoid that outcome as much as I'm sure you do, so we do need to resolve this issue urgently. It won't go away by ignoring it, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Best wishes,

Philip Grant.'

Philip Grant said...


It may be a coincidence, but this evening I've received an "Internal Review" response from Brent's Legal Director.

I had made an FoI request on 17 April, in connection with the legal advice that Brent said they'd received, which apparently supported their view that there was advertisement consent for the footballers mural.

I did not ask to see that legal advice, as I knew that would be covered by Legal Professional Privilege, but I did ask for some information under three points.

When I received Brent's response, from the Council's top Property, Planning and Regeneration lawyer, an answer was only supplied on the first point, with the other two refused on the grounds that it included privileged information, and that it was not in the public interest to disclose it.

Point one was: 'What was the date of Brent Council's request for external legal advice in connection with the disputed advertisement consent over the "footballers" tile mural, and who was that request made to?'

The answer given was: 'External advice was requested on the 25 of March 2021. The request was made to a barrister.'

I immediately submitted a request for an Internal Review (supposedly an independent reconsideration of the FoI request, and reasons why information had been withheld, carried out by a more senior officer). My grounds for the request were that at least some of the information was not legally privileged, and that it WAS in the public interest to disclose it.

I was particularly keen to receive the information which I had asked for at point 3:
'Please provide a copy of the list of all the supporting documents provided to the person from whom the legal advice was sought, to assist him or her in considering the matter.'

[As you will gather from my blog article above, I suspected that the QC had not been given all of the relevant evidence documents, as I could not see how he/she would support the Council's view if those documents had been seen and considered when forming an opinion on the issue.]

The Internal Review was carried out by Brent's Legal Director. Her letter is more than three pages long, but the basic answer is:
'I have concluded not to uphold the request for review. The reasons for this decision are explained below.'

As well as the reasons given in answer to my original FoI request, there is a new one, headed "Vexatious":
'We are of the view that the volume of your communication in relation to the Bobby Moore Bridge has become vexatious in accordance with s14 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act. Section 14(1) of the FOIA states:
“Section 14(1) does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the request is vexatious.”

Among the legal references quoted in support of this view is:
'The UT [Upper Tribunal] defined vexatious, which was subsequently upheld in the Court of Appeal, as a “…manifestly unjustified, inappropriate or improper use of a formal procedure.”

Although acknowledging that I 'may have a genuine conviction that [my] requests are reasonable', Ms Norman says:
'In considering whether your request is vexatious, the council has considered whether the request “is likely to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress” and it is of the opinion it does.'

I certainly appear to have irritated Brent's Legal Director!

She ends her letter (apart from the formalities about my right to appeal to the Information Commissioner) with:
'Any future correspondence on the Bobby Moore Bridge matter will not be responded to.'

Philip Grant said...


I'm pleased to say that Debra Norman's email to me on 3 June (full text in my guest blog above) was NOT Brent Council's "final word" on the Bobby Moore Bridge "footballers" tile mural.

I have been informed that the "footballers" mural will remain on permanent public display until at least August 2024. More details will follow.