Sunday, 29 May 2022

Brent Council’s “infill” housing plans – some clues from Rokesby Place

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity


In August last year I wrote about Brent’s “secret” Council Housing projects, a list of proposals ‘not yet in the public domain’ for building extra homes on existing Council housing estates. A map presented to a Cabinet meeting in July 2021 included three possible new homes for “Rokesby”, which was then in Sudbury Ward.


I was recently asked to have a look at planning application 22/1400, which has now been submitted for building two homes at Rokesby Place. When taking a look through the Design & Access Statement for the application, this page caught my eye:


Fifteen sites in Brent where FBM have been appointed ‘to develop proposals’.


The Statement in support of application 22/1400 was prepared in March 2022 by Fraser Brown McKenna Architects (“FBM”). As it was written on behalf of Brent Council (client), and submitted to Brent Council (Local Planning Authority), the glowing details about Brent’s New Council Homes Programme seem rather unnecessary, but the final sentence reads: ‘FBM were appointed in April 2021 to develop proposals across 15 sites within the borough.’ The map shows the locations of those fifteen sites, and if there is a blue dot close to where you live, you may wish to ask your local councillors what “infill” schemes the Council is planning near you!


There is no doubt that Brent needs to build more Council homes for people on its waiting list and those who are homeless. At first sight, the plans for the two new houses (below) at Rokesby Place look attractive, as they are 4-bedroom / 7-person family homes, for which there is a real shortage of affordable housing in the borough.



Architect’s drawing of the proposed new houses at Rokesby Place, from planning application.


The Council does need to make use of any spare land it owns which is suitable for building homes on (like the vacant Copland School site – so why are all 250 homes there NOT going to be genuinely affordable Council homes?). But it also needs to consider the existing residents of the estate it is considering adding new homes to. That is why in my “secret” Council Housing projects article last year I made the point that early consultation with residents was needed.


Cllr. Southwood, then Lead Member for Housing, replied to the points I’d raised, saying:


‘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.’


However, this is what the Rokesby Place Residents’ Association have said about the consultation they are supposed to have received, in their objection comments on the current planning application:


‘Apart from a generic questionnaire which had only one relevant question that was listed last, the whole questionnaire was irrelevant to the proposal. The only information sent with the questionnaire was a publicity leaflet from Cllr Southwood which did not give any detailed information. There has been no consultation with Rokesby Place residents or the neighbouring community. All the information we have found out has been from perusal of the documents on the planning portal.’  


Another objection comment, from a leaseholder of one of the Rokesby Place flats, was also very critical of the application’s claims over consultation:


Extract from the “View Comments” section for application 22/1400 on Brent’s planning website.


Brent certainly needs to improve its consultation with existing residents of estates where it is proposing to add “infill” housing, in order to try to reach agreement on proposals which are acceptable to them, as well as providing at least some of the additional homes which are needed. If they had done that at Rokesby Place, they might have avoided putting forward plans which have produced more than a dozen objections, some of them very detailed.


The proposed homes would be built on an existing car park, used by many Rokesby Place residents. One of the main concerns is the effect of the proposals on the availability of parking, with a net loss of nine parking spaces on the estate. The assumption in the application that because the new homes will be “car free” (in that no parking spaces will be provided for them), no one in either of the seven-person households will own a car or van, also seems naïve.


The Design & Access Statement admits that the level of "parking stress" would increase from 65% to 107%. Residents have stated that the problems caused by the loss of parking spaces would be worse than that. The consultee comments by Brent's Transportation Officer (included in the “View Documents” section) make clear that insufficient data has been supplied by the applicant to justify the Statement's claim that the loss of parking spaces would be acceptable.


Aerial view of Rokesby Place, with sites A&B marked, from the planning application.


In order to restrict the level of “parking stress” to what the application claims is an “acceptable” 107%, the existing car park at A on the photo above, where the two houses would be built, would be replaced by a new five-space car park at B. As you can see, it would be built on what is currently an open green. That has led the Residents’ Association to point out, in its objection comments, that this would go against Brent’s policy over the amount of external amenity space needed to satisfy (existing) residents’ needs:


‘By taking away the only green space which is relatively level, quiet, private and safe will leave no usable place sit out and enjoy the good weather. Residents have always used this area to have picnics, barbecues and ladies get togethers. During the lockdowns this space was a lifesaver for all residents who used this area.’


The loss of parking spaces and the loss of green open spaces and trees (the loss of three mature trees, and severe cutting back of others, is another point raised by objectors) are likely to be key issues in many of the proposed Brent Council “infill” schemes. It will be very interesting to see how these matters are dealt with in the Report by Planning Officers on the Rokesby Place application. 


And what will the response of Planning Committee be, if it comes before them for a decision (as it will have to, in view of the number of objections, unless the Council withdraws its application in the face of strong opposition)? 


I understand that one of the objectors is a Labour councillor for Wembley Central Ward (in which Rokesby Place now sits, following the boundary changes ahead of the 5 May local elections). Will other Labour councillors have the courage to stand up for their residents, in the face of Brent’s New Council Homes “infill” proposals? And if so, will it make any difference?


Philip Grant



Paul Lorber said...

The most suspicious aspect of the current planning proposals for Rokesby Place is the fact that, for reasons which are now obvious, Rokesby Place, although a Council Estate, was excluded from the recent parking control consultation undertaken by the Brent Housing Service before the local elections.

The proposal to build houses on this car park space has been around for a long time - possibly initiated more than 8 years ago - but as the then Sudbury ward Councillors (including me) objected the idea was never pursued.

The problem with 'in fill' developments is that the needs and views of local residents are simply ignored by Brent Council. Rokesby is a small estate of 34 homes. Parking is at a premium in the area and a real concern as the nearby Copland and Crawford Avenues are used as a free car park by people working at the nearby Wembley Police Station in Harrow Road. Most days there is no spare parking space in the area so residents and visitors to Rokesby Place will have no where to park if the whole car park is lost.

Brent Council should take note that in relation to the Loss of the whole car park at Sudbury Town Station to the building of flats the Inspector rejected the Appeal against refusal. The impact of that proposed development on the quality of life of existing residents was a major local consideration.

As Philip says it is extremely naive of Brent Council to assume that none of the residents living in the two 4 bedroom houses will have a car, use a van for work or that the families will not have any deliveries or visitors.

What is being proposed (a loss of the car park and a loss of green space for residents) is unrealistic. Rokesby Place sits on land which originally belonged to Titus Barham and his family. The small Estate was built by the GLC which provided the 34 homes with sufficient facilities and amenities to make an attractive development which probably originally just had one large house on the site.

Labour Councillors made a mistake accepting a Local Plan which included unrealistic housing targets (Anton Georgiou from the Lib Dems was the ONLY Councillor who voted against the proposal rushed through without proper consideration at the Council Meeting just before the local elections). As a result local residents are seeing unsustainable proposals being imposed on their area which will inevitable create parking conflicts and make the quality of their lives worse. Proposals such as this one should be refused.

Philip Grant said...

Paul has made some good points in his comment, and part of my reason for writing this guest blog was to alert residents to the sorts of issues which will arise when their estate is in line for a Brent Council "infill" housing scheme.

Brent's Cabinet, and the Officers appointed to deliver their New Council Homes Programme, are on a mission to meet a numerical target. Although they pay lip service to consultation, and taking residents views into account, they will insist that they have a duty to build new homes. We can see that on a larger scale, with their attempt to force through 144 new homes at Kilburn Square.

Which makes it all the more peculiar that they want to press ahead, without any scrutiny, with proposals for a Council housing scheme at Cecil Avenue, where only 37 of the 250 homes will be for affordable rent, and a developer partner will be allowed to sell 152 of these homes (including 20 family-sized homes) privately for profit!

David Walton said...

Towers possible too among those appropriately blue dots. Parking moved to B, becomes a future site? 34 homes with facilities and amenities, it's an integrated design for good living which Brent views as land of opportunity……

Is South Kilburn a highway? Brent has recently sent me a map which indicates that most of South Kilburn has become Brent highways owned land? I am seeking further clarification.

South Kilburn has car-free housing builds planning required and a separate developer trade then in London Central underground parking spaces with more roads to be built to access this side developer extraction car parking space growth business.

It's a guaranteed money maker, central location, stations and many car-full conservation area customers surround this particular Brent colony zone. Colonial 'build back better', better for who? The South Kilburn local car-free new homes- social, environment, ecology, active travel spaces, natural flood defences are being market exterminated bit-by-bit for greed.

Housing targets for boroughs was abandoned by Michael Gove earlier this year, there is more emphasis now towards getting second, third homes and flat investments kept-as-empty being re-purposed as family homes. Brent is hypnotised by abandoned government policies and a Local Government outlier with its obsolete brutally zoned/ red lined "winners and losers/ life and death" new Local Plan.

Anonymous said...

With regard to the comments about Rokesby Place I would like tom add my comments about the biodiversity aspect that Brent Council are determined to destroy.
On the previous application in 2015 (which was never started), the Tree Officer appraised the two trees to the rear of the site (Bird Cherry T2 and Lime T3) and provided root protection recommendations (in fact the cherry is a prunus lusitanica, a tree with an Award of Garden Merit which produces food for pollinators and berries for birds). That report stated ...” the retention of trees identified as T2 and T3 is recommended as this will enhance the screening between the new houses and the adjacent gardens. The retention of existing groups of trees will be beneficial in maintaining the character and appearance of the site and locality as well”. Additionally, in the final report of the 2015 application it stated, "One tree would be lost as a result of the proposal, however, a Bird Cherry and Lime which provide a valuable food source and attract various wildlife would remain on site”. There doesn't appear to be a tree officer's report for this application, just a report by the developer which is not going to be impartial. These two valuable trees, plus a nice silver birch, are all to be sacrificed, it seems - heartbreaking! We strongly object to this. Surely Brent should adhere to its previous recommendation to retain these trees. We would also request a BAT survey has they are in our garden every summer.
Additional to this there are a growing number of hedge hogs in the area in and around Rokesby Place (against the trend of a 70% reduction in numbers generally across the country) in the last 25 years) as well as all three types of Woodpecker (that use the trees in the car park) even though the council cut down the 200 year old Oak tree they were living in previously, at least two types of frog, damselflies, and bats that can be seen in the early evening every summer.
Add to the above the destruction of the only private community open space that residents have in the main maintained with rose bushes, potted plants etc shows Brent Councils disregard to the environment and as in fact just become a construction organisation with no balanced view to the environment and residents well being.

Anonymous said...

As residents of Copland Avenue we are well aware of the parking problems and traffic congestion. A lot of the spaces are currently occupied by police and civilian workers visiting and working from the Harrow Road police station and the Royal Mail sorting office. Closing down the Rokesby car park and putting parking restrictions in the close, as we understand is intended, will make things very much worse for all local residents and workers. The proposal is very misleading when it considers parking and the ramifications of the change are much wider-ranging than suggested.
The application submitted by Fraser Brown McKenna Architects (“FBM”) states that they had done a survey of parking in the area around a 200m radius and ... Overnight
parking surveys were carried out on 24 and 30 November 2021 to determine the existing levels of parking stress in a 200m radius. A total of 116 out of a possible 218 spaces were occupied giving a parking stress level of 53%. Taking into consideration the net loss of the nine spaces the proposal has the potential to increase parking stress to 125 out of 218 spaces, giving a maximum parking stress of 57% .PLEASE NOTE IT WAS AN OVERNIGHT SURVEY!!
Don’t be fooled by the net loss of 9 spaces as they intend to stop all parking in Rokesby Place except for the 5 spaces and it is probable that it will result in a net loss of nearer 20 spaces. This does not take in to account the services vehicles that have to visit every day.
I didn’t believe these figures so undertook my own survey during the day ( The only way this can be done is to walk from Rokesby Place 200m in along each road (which is what residents would have to do) not as the bird flies. Walking along Copland Avenue, Crawford Avenue and part of Harrowdene Road is well over 200m and the statistics are as below
These are the figures I have counted below
Copland Avenue- 37
Copland close- 5
Crawford first part to Harrowdene -24
Crawford 2nd part from Harrowdene round corner to Harrow Road -0 (all residents of Crawford Road permits Monday to Saturday 8.00-6.30pm and pay and display for bottom part outside Church)
Lantern 0
Harrowdene Road to Sylvester road 16
This makes 82 in total. If you count Sylvester Road it would add another 20 space
I did not cross Harrow Road (police station side as there are no parking opportunities for our side of Harrow road (all residents pay and display and post office)
This is a far cry from the supposed 218 spaces stated in the application. Even if you do a as the bird flies survey you would perhaps add another 20 spaces which would take you another 100+ metres up Harowdene Road. Also to bear in mind is that there is a proposal to double yellow line Copland Close.

Anonymous said...

And what's the point in doing a parking survey in 2021 during the pandemic when many commuters would have been working from home still?

Philip Grant said...

Dear Anonymous (31 May at 18:07)

Perhaps the point is to give Brent Council the answers it wants, in order to support its Planning Application.

Anonymous said...

Brent are massaging the facts and figures to suit them. They give lip service only and do what suits them so they can stay in power

Anonymous said...

Brent Council's Cabinet and many of the back-bench Brent Councillor wouldn't understand biodivercity and the environment if it got up and bit them in the rear end. For instance they keep allowing and funding 3G pitches and floodlighting, which even seperately create wildlife deserts and add to our air polution and consequently our health and life expectancy. They don't even seem to realise that all the demolitions and contstruction is adding to the polution of the air we have to breath in Brent. Working for the residents of Brent? More like making people ill and killing residents of Brent due to excessive polution and its side effects.

Anonymous said...

We have recentley recieved another letter form the council for comment as the applicants have made a change to the design (ie the boundary on the green area). They have very kindly (NOT) taken MORE green space to erect 2 washing lines. This is incredibly partronising but to be expected from people who probably live out in country side surrounding London and think this can placate the residents.