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?