Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity
A few weeks ago, I was able to write an article about horse racing on what is now Fryent Country Park in Victorian times, thanks to research by the author William Morgan. William was able to visit Kingsbury last week, as part of a research trip, and has shared two photographs with me, taken from a drone, for local interest.
Barn Hill, and the south-west corner of the Country Park. (Courtesy of William Morgan)
We only have the beautiful green spaces shown in these photographs because of the good sense of our local Councils in the 1920s and 1930s. Haymills Ltd had bought the former Wembley Golf Course (which covered the southern slopes and top of Barn Hill) to develop for housing. Wembley Council realised that the area’s new residents would need space for outdoor recreation, so purchased land from Haymills in 1927 to create the Barn Hill Open Space.
Haymills built the original Barn Hill Estate, closer to Wembley Park Station, before selling the rest of their land to George Wimpey & Co. That firm then built further west along the slopes, including the homes you can see to the right of the wooded hill top in the photo above. Wimpey applied for planning permission to put roads for housing development across the fields in that picture. However, as part of their new “Green Belt” powers, Middlesex County Council put a compulsory purchase order on this land in 1936.
On the opposite side of a new road, Fryent Way, Salmon Estates Ltd had outline planning permission to extend their major suburban housing development. However, Wembley Council blocked their full application in 1936, on the grounds that the land was now reserved for public open space. This allowed Middlesex C.C. to buy the fields, seen in the photograph below, to create the Fryent Way Regional Open Space in 1938. You can read more details about this in Part 4 of The Fryent Country Park Story.
Looking east across Fryent Country Park, 22 April 2022. (Courtesy of William Morgan)
I am lucky enough to be within a few minutes walk of both Fryent Country Park and Roe Green Park. I am also fortunate to live in a house with a garden. I know how important it is to be able to spend time in green open spaces, especially at when the pressures of life build up on you.
I also know that there are other parts of Brent which are much less fortunate in terms of green space and which have significant “open space deficiency”. This has been recognised for many decades, as shown by Willesden Borough Council’s “The Willesden Survey, 1949”:
A map comparing then existing and actual open space per resident. (Source: The Willesden Survey, 1949)
This was in the heyday of Post-War town and country planning. A paragraph from the Survey’s section on Open Space Standards reads:
‘The open space standards recommended in the Greater London Plan vary between 7 and 10 acres per 1,000 of the population, depending upon the residential density of the district. Thus it is quite evident that the standard of existing open space in Willesden falls far short of the suggested standards of the Greater London Plan. This deficiency will continue even if the proposed decentralisation of some 48,000 of Willesden’s population to New Towns has been achieved and the population of the Borough reduced to approximately 140,000.’
[It is perhaps interesting to note that 7 acres is the size of Quintain’s Union Park, to be provided as the main open space for the Wembley Park development, which will be home to many times more than 1,000 people!]
While it could not completely remedy the shortage of open space, Willesden Council was taking steps to improve the position. These are the paragraphs from the Survey on the two most open space deficient areas in the borough in 1949, Kilburn and Carlton (South Kilburn):
From the “Open Space” chapter of The Willesden Survey, 1949.
Willesden Council expected that the clearance of some overcrowded Victorian housing in Kilburn would ‘be turned into open space’. Yet 70 years later, Brent Council is proposing to take away much of the green space and trees on its Kilburn Square estate, in order to build 144 more homes. This would add to the area’s already high open space deficiency, and local residents are right to resist such bad planning (which actually goes against the Council’s policies!).
Willesden Council did create a ‘large open space’ adjoining its Granville Road baths in South Kilburn. Sadly, Brent Council now plans to build on the remnants of that green space, as part of its New Council Homes programme.
These are not the only green spaces under threat. Brent’s plans for the St Raphael’s Estate will mean building homes on part of Brent River Park. Other plans for “infill” developments on existing (and well-designed) Wembley Borough Council post-war housing estates are likely to see existing green spaces lost at several sites in Kingsbury, and at Gauntlett Court in Sudbury.
Green spaces and trees at Gauntlett Court, Harrow Road, Sudbury.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Brent Council building genuinely affordable homes for local residents in housing need. [I think I have demonstrated that in my efforts to get Cabinet members and Council Officers to rethink their plans to allow a developer to sell 152 of the 250 homes they will build at Cecil Avenue in Wembley for profit, with only 37 of the 250 for affordable rent to Council tenants.]
People need decent homes, but they also need decent green spaces close to their homes. As well as being necessary for their health and wellbeing, these also provide places where children can play together. Those caring for them can sit and start conversations with others, discovering how much they have in common, despite differences in appearance, so helping to build community cohesion.
We do have some great large natural areas and parks in Brent, like Fryent Country Park, but we also need to value the smaller, local green spaces. This should be an important consideration in the forthcoming local elections, because if the balance of power at the Civic Centre stays the same, we are likely to lose a number of those local green spaces within the next four years.