Members of the public and opposition councillors presented at the Call-in Scrutiny Committee over a Key Decision on the controversial 1 Morland Gardens made by the Director of Regeneration.
Philip Grant’s presentation to R&PR Scrutiny meeting on 9 June:
The Key Decision Report briefly mentions the Council’s need to have ‘all the necessary statutory approvals in place’. It doesn’t have those approvals yet, and may never get them.
In January 2019, Officers were told they’d need to stop-up the highway outside 1 Morland Gardens, and appropriate the land, if they wanted to build on it. They failed to consider what the effect of this would be, and have continued to do so.
I’m one of several people who’ve objected to the proposed Order, for environmental and public health reasons.
Pedestrians who currently use footpaths across the land are shielded from Hillside and Brentfield Road by the trees of the Community Garden. Stopping-up and building over the land would force them to walk beside that junction instead.
Planning application documents showed dangerous levels of NO2 and particulates there. This meant that all windows in the new building, up to the second floor, must be sealed, with fresh air provided by mechanical ventilation. No thought was given to people walking past!
The health risks to local people, especially children, who’d have to walk through this polluted air, are a strong reason why objections to the proposed Order may well be upheld.
That will be decided by an independent Inspector, and it’s likely to be next year before the Council knows the outcome.
Presentation to Brent Council R&PR Scrutiny meeting on 9 June 2022
Council and Harlesden City Challenge invested significantly to regenerate the site into a tastefully restored heritage building, used as a successful new adult education centre. At that time decision-makers in Brent Council showed huge pride and value in preserving the local and architectural history of 1 Morland Gardens.
The heritage building and educational facilities are too valuable to demolish. Unless it’s absolutely certain that the proposed redevelopment can legally go ahead,
Alan Lunt, Director of Regeneration, apologised for the delay in the stopping up orde for 1 Morland Gardens and assured the Commitete that it would not happen again. Cllr Rita Conneely, Chair expressed the strong opinion that the Committee expected that strong checks and balances should be put in place to ensure that this was the case.
One comment by Alan Lunt that the difference between Council rents and London Affordable Rent (the scheme is the latter) was 'only' £10 a week (£520 a year) was challenged on Twitter with this reference LINK but accepted at face value by councillors and quoted by them.
Emphasising that this was a two stage project, Stage 1 Design and Stage 2 Build, Lunt said that the Design Stage would cost £1.1m, but if a contract was not signed and work started by August, if only a hoarding around the site, the Council stood to lose the £6.5m GLA grant towards affordable housing. Any delay would mean a significant rise in costs, Someone suggested 13%, because of current inflation in materials.
The Adult College had already been moved to the Stonebridge Annex site (previously occupied by Stonebridge Primary School) and the buildings were empty. He undertook that no demolition would take place on the Altamira heritage site until a Stopping Up Order was in place, although the Council were ready to start on demolition.
Lunch said that it was highly unusual for the public to object to such Orders and the normal process was objections from utilitiy companies until negotiations had taken place for access or diversion of their resources. The Council was using the right powers for the right reasons and issued Stopping-Up-Orders about six times a year. None had been refused but if the London Mayor did so it would go the the Planning Inspectorate with a lead-in time of about 6 months.
Objectors had raised concerns that the plans for the site did not conform to the Council's commitments on air quality and the climate emergency. Mr Lunt maintained that the development would reduce pollution and any increase in public exposure using the revised pedestrian route would be 'miniscule'. In any case the extension of the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) the ban on new petrol cars in 2030 and hybrids in 2035, would reduce emissions.
There was only a minor contribution to the discussion by Cllr Mili Patel, Cabinet lead for Finance and Resources, who emphasised the benefits of the scheme for the local Stonebridge community in terms of education, 'affordable' housing and a community cafe.
Some of the issues to do with loss of mature trees and the heritage building were deemed not to come under the Committee's remit as they had been dealt with by the Planning Committee.
The Scrutiny Committee vice chair, Cllr Janice Long, expressed the view that 'life is a risk' and that the potential gains of the scheme were a risk worth taking.
She was disparaging about the City Challenge community garden on the site and could not imagine why anyone would want to sit in such an unattractive area. Alan Lunt had said that the garden was being moved rather than destroyed and that although mature trees would be lost they would be replaced by semi-mature trees rather than saplings.
The Committee voted to support the following option set out in the Officer's Report:
The Committee does not wish to refer the matter back to the decision maker or to Council, at which point the decision is deemed to be confirmed and takes effect immediately following the meeting.
It is worth noting that the meeting was well-chaired and the process explained with opportunities for all to contribute. There was an absence of any political point scoring. New Labour councillor Mary Mitchell acknowledged that the Call-in was based on legitimate concerns.
A promising start to a new era of effective scrutiny?
Once again there were technical hitches. The public watching on the Live Feed were able to hear Melvyn Leach on zoom but the Committee were not, with the result that his presentation had to be read out.
Another problem was that the live feed camera maintained a wide view of the whole committee during the webcast so it was sometimes difficult to know who was speaking unless their name was clearly said when they were called upon to speak. Apologies for any mis-attributions.