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
After being deputy headteacher in a Brent secondary school, in 1994 I was appointed as the first head of Brent Adult College, now Brent Start, that opened at 1 Morland Gardens. I hope to persuade you not to allow its unnecessary demolition.
Brent 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.
1 Morland Gardens is an attractive listed heritage asset. My experience as a teacher has shown how significant such buildings are in helping students relate to, and learn about, the lives of people who lived and worked in Brent in the past.
If the Council can’t get approval to build on the extra land, it could draw up alternative plans that retain the Italianate villa as part of a modern development.
Heritage sites like this can show young people the importance of Brent Council promoting and enabling conservation, alongside essential regeneration. Political Leaders need to set an example of the value of such special assets. Children learn by example.
The heritage building and educational facilities are too valuable to demolish. Unless it’s absolutely certain that the proposed redevelopment can legally go ahead, I urge you to prevent the unnecessary loss of 1 Morland Gardens and the community garden.
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.
I was at this evening's meeting.
The argument made by Alan Lunt that swung the decision his way was that Stage 1 of the contract (Design) would only cost about £1.1m, but if Brent did not have a contract in place, and work started "on site" by August, they would lose a grant of £6.5m from the GLA towards the cost of the housing part of the project.
He claimed that starting work "on site" could just be putting up a hoarding round it!
The Committee did not take a vote on whether to remove 'pre-construction demolition' from Stage 1 of the contract, after Alan Lunt told them that no demolition would take place on the heritage Victorian villa until there was a Stopping-up Order in place.
He was confident that they would get a Stopping-up Order, although it might take six months. The Design Stage would also take about six months, so they should be ready to start Stage 2 (Construction) at around the same time.
Alan Lunt was very confident that everything would now go smoothly for the project, despite the delays that had occurred so far. (As Martin has reported, he had to apologise for the delay over applying for a Stopping-up Order).
I have to say that (to choose my words carefully) he was "economical with the truth" in some of the things he said to the Committee. As well as the £10 difference between Social and London Affordable Rent levels, his claim that they were simply moving the Community Garden 5 metres nearer the road was a complete misrepresentation.
We will see, over the course of the next 6-12 months, whether Brent's performance on this project has turned a corner, in the Council's favour, or whether their past mistakes catch up with them, and the whole scheme has to go "back to the drawing board".
Unbelievable arrogance and historical vandalism from Brent Council.
Let's see how long this badly designed new build lasts.
The comments about the Community Garden by Labour Councillor Janice Long are interesting. The garden was created using public funds by Brent Council. The responsibility for maintaining the gardens belong to a Brent Coubcil which has been under Labour control for the past 12 years. Why neither she or the Labour Councillors for the area did not challenge Council Officer to stop the apparent neglect is surprising.
This example highlights a bigger problem throughout.Brent. The Council is quick to spend capital money on projects which seem like a good idea but fails to put aside enough money for future maintenance and repairs. There are many locations such is this “community garden” on which public money was spent and seemed like a good idea which get abandoned and fall into disrepair and suffer neglect because poor foresight and lack of commitment.
Following on from what Paul has said about lack of routine maintenance, Alan Lunt also told the Committee that the the Brent Start college at 1 Morland Gardens (including the Victorian villa) was 'in poor repair'.
I'm not sure whether that was true or not, but if it is true, why had that been allowed to happen?
This is an "aside" on the affordable housing point, so not directly relevant to yesterday evening's Scrutiny Committee meeting.
Brent desperately needs affordable housing. On my way to the Civic Centre, on the Jubilee Line, I saw an advertisement for Quintain Living homes at Wembley Park. Prices started at £1,322 a month for a studio apartment!
Although the Council's plans to demolish the Victorian villa were not the issue which was up for scrutiny at yesterday evening's meeting, that was a big part of the underlying story.
You can see that from Melvyn Leach's presentation (above), which unfortunately had to be read out to the meeting because of an unexplained "technical hitch" [these are becoming a feature of Scrutiny meetings where members of the public need to address the committee via Zoom!].
Nearly two years after planning consent for the demolition of this heritage asset was given (wrongly, in my opinion) I am still getting new contacts from members of the public about this. One, earlier this week, said:
'I'm reading about this ghastly plan to demolish this wonderful and important building in Harlesden. Absolutely disgraceful. Is there any petition or someone to express my opposition to this?'
One of the comments on a Willesden Local History Society Facebook post about yesterday evening's meeting gave a "link" to the Morland Gardens project page on the website of Curl la Tourelle Head Architects, who designed the "award winning" scheme. This is a telling sentence from their commentary on it:
'We looked at a number of options to retain the locally-listed Victorian villa which is integrated with the centre buildings, but the council’s preferred option was for a full regeneration to create more homes.'
Another commenter said:
'What a shame if it gets bulldozed and a high rise building is put in its place. Just look what the developers did to the villa next door. A sympathic development that keeps the old building and includes extensions that are in harmony with the Victorian villa.'
Unfortunately, those in power at Brent Council just close their eyes and ears to any such comments. The only thing now that would make them stop, and think again, will be if they are prevented from getting a Stopping-up Order.
Alan Lunt's assurance, over no demolition of the heritage building before the Council had a Stopping-up Order, seems to have averted a formal recommendation to that effect from the Committee.
You can call me cynical, but I would prefer the Committee, and the public, to have that assurance in writing. This is the text of an email I sent this afternoon to the Strategic Director. I copied it to Cllr. Rita Conneely (Committee Chair), Brent's Chief Executive and Legal Director, the main Council Officers directly involved with the contract, and the councillors who called-in the decision to award the contract.
'Dear Mr Lunt,
It appears that the reason the second part of the call-in 'alternative course of action' points ('that the Committee recommends that no pre-construction demolition of any buildings on the site shall be included in Stage 1 of the contract') was not put to yesterday evening's Resources & Public Realm Scrutiny Committee meeting was an assurance you appeared to give.
So that the terms of your verbal assurance are absolutely clear, to councillors, Council Officers and the public, please confirm to me in writing (with a copy to all those I have copied this email to) that no demolition will be allowed to take place on the locally listed Victorian villa at 1 Morland Gardens unless or until Brent Council has a valid Stopping-up Order for the area of highway in front of that property, and has validly appropriated all of the land outside the boundaries of 1 Morland Gardens which make up the rest of the development site there.
Please also confirm that this embargo on any demolition will include the curved yellow brick wall around the boundary of 1 Morland Gardens, as seen in the foreground of the photograph above. This was put in place as part of the restoration of the Victorian villa, and is an important part of its heritage setting.
If Brent Council fails to obtain the Stopping-up Order, and cannot appropriate the extra land for planning purposes, all of these heritage features will need to be included in a revised scheme for 1 Morland Gardens, which sympathetically retains and enhances the locally-listed villa, as required by both Brent's own, London and national planning policies, for housing and/or community and educational use.
On a final point, you said that hoardings may be put up within the next couple of months, to give the appearance that work has commenced "on site". Please confirm, and ask the officers and contractors involved to ensure, that no hoardings will be put up around land which has not been appropriated for planning purposes, or which impedes the highway / footpaths which have not been legally stopped-up.
I look forward to receiving your confirmation on these points. Thank you. Best wishes,
COMPARE AND CONTRAST:
The Scrutiny meeting was not about the planning decision to allow Brent Council's application to redevelop the whole site, including the demolition of the locally listed heritage Victorian building.
But I was interested to read a recent article on the Hillingdon Council website, which a local resident has just sent me a "link" to, which displays a very different attitude to that shown by our own council.
Hillingdon had refused a planning application for new homes which would have had a detrimental effect on a (Grade II listed) heritage Victorian mansion. The developer appealed against their decision, but a Planning Inspector rejected that appeal.
This is what Hillingdon Council reported about that decision:
'Cllr Eddie Lavery, Hillingdon Council's Cabinet Member for Environment, Housing and Regeneration, said: "We're delighted with this result that upholds the council's position - that these proposals would cause undue harm to one of the borough's heritage assets.
"In our modern, rapidly-growing world it's increasingly important that this council acts to preserve the borough's history for current and future generations. Buildings such as Highgrove House play a vital role in reminding us of and connecting us to, the borough's past.
"We're duty bound to act in protecting such buildings, and in this case, also safe-guarding the residents and wildlife surrounding the site."'
If only we had a decent council that isn't besotted with tower blocks. Also, will the council not revist local history regarding their attempts at low level adult education, in the 1990s it was Middlesex Itec and what a waste of resources that was. I just happen that that was sited in Bridge Park Stonebridge. Full circle of fools.
Taxation without representation, its a Growth Area!
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