Guest post by Philip Grant
1 Morland Gardens, Stonebridge.
What do these three proposed developments have in common?
1. 1 Morland Gardens, Stonebridge, with its planned demolition of a locally listed heritage building;
2. St Raphael’s Estate, with plans to build on part of Brent River Park; and
3. Kilburn Square, where it’s proposed to build extra homes on an existing green space with trees.
The answer is that all three were drawn up by Brent Council officers, and all three go against Brent Council’s own adopted planning policies.
Brent River Park, looking towards Wembley Point, with St Raphael’s to the left.
How could officers in Brent’s Regeneration major projects team even consider proposals that breach those planning policies? I found out, from a Freedom of Information Act request into the origins of the 1 Morland Gardens proposals, that as early as December 2018 (three months before the first official pre-application meeting between the project team and planning officers), an unnamed planning officer had told them that ‘we’re not likely to refuse a scheme due to loss of this building.’ Planning officers had given the green light to ignore Brent’s heritage assets planning policy DMP7, and backed that up all the way to the Planning Committee meeting twenty months later.
A recent protest against Brent’s Kilburn Square proposals.
In a recent blog on the Kilburn Square proposals, the Chairman of the local residents’ association said that Brent was ‘playing games’ with existing residents and their near neighbours. There are certainly some games being played by Council officers, and some of those involve “funny business” and questionable practices.
It’s perhaps not unexpected that Brent’s planning officers will “aid and abet” their colleagues in Regeneration’s capital projects team, and maintain that ‘on balance’ it is ‘acceptable’ for some of Brent’s planning policies to be broken, where Brent Council is the applicant. But how do they get around other legal requirements over which the Council does not have total control?
The 1 Morland Gardens scheme included building out over a highway / footpath and a community garden. As I couldn’t see that the Council had taken the necessary steps to make this possible, I submitted an FoI request in April to get some answers. In a guest blog last month, I was able to show that the Council had not yet followed those legal processes, which meant that the project would be delayed. I wondered whether this was just a careless oversight, or whether Council officers had not bothered to take those steps, hoping that as they were “the Council” they could get away with ignoring them!
But surely they had appropriated the main site for planning purposes? After all, the details of what was required to fulfil that legal requirement had been set out in the report to Cabinet on 14 January 2020, and Brent’s Cabinet had delegated responsibility to the then Strategic Director for Regeneration to carry out the required process for this.
I put in another FoI request, and will ask Martin to attach a copy of the response I received last week (the replies provided by Brent are in red). You will see that, eighteen months on from being given that authority, Council officers have not even begun the process. Perhaps they never intended to (after all, you’d have to provide supporting evidence to justify that the heritage building is “surplus to requirements”, among other hurdles). Now they will have no choice!
To make my point, I forwarded a copy of the FoI response to Alan Lunt, the current Strategic Director, and referring to this and the earlier failure over the stopping-up order asked:
‘Please let me know whether this means that Brent Council does not intend to proceed with its ill-conceived planning application 20/0345, involving the demolition of the locally listed heritage asset, the Victorian villa "Altamira".’
I received this prompt response from him:
‘Thank you for your email. The Council intends to continue with the proposed development of the site in question.’
The demolition of the Victorian villa, currently used by the Brent Start adult education college (for which it was acquired, restored and converted from a disused members’ club in 1994), was meant to be principally so that a more up-to-date college facility could be built on the site. But the FoI response (see attached) claims that the “compelling case” for the appropriation of the site will be ‘housing needs’.
The shortage of housing in the Borough is a real problem (and a continuing one, because it was a problem 45 years ago, when I worked for a Harlesden-based housing association!). This is a common theme in all three proposed developments that I listed at the start of this article. Yes, Brent has been set challenging targets for the number of new homes which should be built in the borough over the next 20 years. But does this justify some of the tactics being used to force through developments which are clearly detrimental to the environment of the areas they are proposed for?
Council officers are ‘playing games’ with the lives of Brent’s residents. But why are they playing those games, what right do they have to play them and who is encouraging this behaviour? It is about time that this was explained, and if our elected councillors won’t challenge what is happening and let us know why, perhaps we need to demand some answers ourselves.
Brent Council's Response to Philip Grant's Freedom of Information Request