Extract from Brent’s housing projects map, with ‘not yet in public domain’ schemes in black.
Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity
Three weeks ago, I wrote a guest blog about Brent Council plans for “infill” housing schemes which were ‘not yet in public domain’. In the comments beneath it, I shared the text of an email I’d sent to the councillors and Council officers most closely involved, offering them a “right of reply”.
I did receive a short email the same day, from one of my Fryent Ward councillors who I’d copied the email to. Shama Tatler, who is also the Lead Member for Regeneration in Brent’s Cabinet, wrote:
‘Thank you for your email. Yes, you can be assured that we as ward councillors will be involved early with any proposal and will ensure resident voice. We have been doing the same in other projects in the ward.’
Encouraging words, although they do beg the question: “if they had been involved early in the four ‘not yet in public domain’ proposals in their ward, why hadn’t residents been given a chance to have their say about them yet?”
I had to wait a couple of weeks for a substantive reply, but on 16 September I received Brent’s response to my article from Cllr. Eleanor Southwood, Lead Member for Housing. I will set out its full text below, and would encourage you all to read it.
I believe that all citizens of the borough should be able to express their views, on issues they feel strongly about, to those at the Civic Centre who make the big decisions. But we also need to consider what they say. Having these exchanges of views publicly available can help us to understand each other. (It can also be useful in trying to ensure that the Council lives up to the words of the elected members who represent us!)
Here is the Council’s response:
‘Thank you for your email and again apologies for not responding sooner.
For clarity, the map that you included in your blog, entitled by you or other, ‘Brent’s secret housing projects’ was published alongside a cabinet report providing detail of all of Brent’s current housing projects – this report and its appendices were public and therefore by definition, everything included in it is not a secret. However I agree that the term ‘not yet in the public domain’ used as a key on the map was unhelpful, and as such we will not be using this term in future to explain sites that are at the feasibility stage.
I absolutely agree that Brent Council must work with residents to shape housing development projects, not just on the housing itself but also on the improvements that are made as part of each development we deliver. We take this responsibility seriously - with workshops, public events, newsletters and questionnaires all used to discuss and get input on our proposals. You’ll no doubt have seen my written response to a question at Full Council re the Kilburn Square development, which I think is good evidence of this.
However, as I’m sure you’re aware, the process isn’t that linear. As you have also pointed out, in addition to our duty to existing residents, we also have a duty to residents who are homeless or in priority housing need – as at August 2021 there were 1487 families and individuals living in Temporary Accommodation, to whom the Council owes a housing duty. Just for context, if we do nothing more to increase our housing stock some of those families could be waiting more than 15 years to get a suitable house that they can call home. This is unacceptable and we’re committed to changing this outlook, which inevitably involves balancing differing views and priorities.
The approach to addressing the housing shortage in Brent is multi-pronged – we are working with Housing Associations and private developers to bring forward housing sites with good levels of genuinely affordable housing, we are reviewing and improving management of our existing stock so that we can make better use of what we have and, we are building our own housing for social rent to our residents.
We don’t have a surplus of suitable land for development, so we are reviewing lots of sites across our borough to understand which might be suitable for housing – this is the feasibility work referred to earlier. We’re always keen to engage with ward Cllrs and local residents ahead of any proposals going to planning. I appreciate that proposed developments can create anxiety and that compromise is often required. In addition, all of our work in housing development is framed by policy at a local and regional level, which provides strict requirements in terms of density, open space, parking etc, in order that Brent and London continue to provide homes whilst protecting what’s important for existing residents.
I agree that working with residents is key and this will continue to be a core part of developing any proposals for new housing, balanced with the needs of residents who are currently homeless and the requirements of planning policy.
I hope this helps.
Encouraging words again, especially her agreement that ‘Brent Council must work with residents to shape housing development projects’, but we do need to see that happening in practice, and at an early stage of any proposed “infill” schemes. If you live at Campbell Court, Elvin Court, Westcroft Court or Gauntlett Court, or if you know anyone who does, have residents there been consulted about the Council’s proposals yet? Please add a comment below with the answer!
I had read Cllr. Southwood’s written response to the question on Kilburn Square. Some of the points she made in that, particularly that 'the most cost effective building occurs when the council is able to build on land that it owns', reminded me that no one from Brent had responded to an email I sent to all members of the Cabinet on 13 August. That email was about my article on Council housing on the former Copland School site. I also had a letter on the same subject published in last week’s Brent & Kilburn Times (16 September).
An elevation drawing from the Council’s plans for the Wembley housing development.
The Council owns the vacant site, and has full planning consent to build 250 homes there. It has access to over £100m of grant funding from the GLA to build social rent housing over the next five years. Yet Brent’s Cabinet has agreed to invite a private developer to get involved in the project, and to let that developer have more than 150 of the homes to sell at a profit!
I have replied to Cllr. Southwood, and raised this issue again. I can’t understand why, with the urgent need for Council homes that she emphasises, Brent isn’t building all of these 250 homes (including sixty-four 3 and 4-bedroom family dwellings) for affordable rent, instead of just 52!
I will include the text of my latest email to her in the comments section below. And I will, of course, share any response I receive with you.