Friday 17 June 2022

Watling Gardens – a rushed (and incorrect) Report to Monday's Cabinet

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity


Extract from the Affordable Housing Statement in Brent’s planning application 21/2473.


When Brent Council submitted their planning application for the redevelopment of their Watling Gardens estate they said: ‘Brent Council are fully committed to delivering these much-needed new affordable homes.’ Then suddenly, at the last minute, they want to change that, so that 20% of the homes there will not be genuinely affordable.


Less than 24 hours ago, I wrote a guest post about a Report on 1 Morland Gardens for the Cabinet meeting at 10am on Monday morning, which had only been published on Thursday afternoon. I mentioned that there was another Report for that meeting which had still not been published. Giving Cabinet members, other councillors and the public so little notice of important issues where decisions are to be made is bad for local democracy, and it can also lead to bad decisions.


The Watling Gardens Report was only published at around 3pm on Friday afternoon. It asks the Cabinet to approve the award of a contract ‘in the sum of £38,535,634. In order to make the Watling Gardens scheme viable, it also recommends that Cabinet: ‘Approve the tenure changes of 24 homes (19 x 1 bedrom homes and 5 x 2 bedroom) from London Affordable Rent to Shared Ownership.’


I had looked at the Watling Gardens planning application, and felt that something was not right with that recommendation, nor the “facts” given in the Report to support it. I had another look, then immediately sent an email to Brent’s Legal Director and the Strategic Director (Community and Wellbeing) who had signed off the Report. This is that email (sent at 4:14pm on Friday):


Misinformation in Report to Cabinet on Watling Gardens (item 16 on Monday's agenda)

Dear Ms Norman and Mr Porter,


The Report on item 16 (Award of Contract for Watling Gardens) for Monday morning's Cabinet meeting was only published at around 3pm today. 


I realise that this is an urgent matter (and that: 'Due to urgency, a waiver of call-in has been obtained in relation to the decision to be taken by Cabinet.'), but that does not excuse the Report containing what appears to be incorrect information, which might lead Brent's Cabinet to make an unlawful, as well as rushed, decision.


The misinformation I am referring to is at paras. 3.3 and 3.6:


'3.3 The planning consent gained for this site is for a 100% affordable housing scheme.'  


'3.6  Therefore, officers recommend the change of 25 of the 125 homes to be converted to shared ownership as in recommendation 2.1. There will be no change to the planning approval required as this is an affordable housing product, on which the council receive 25% capital receipt at the point of sale and staircasing receipts usually from year 5 onwards. The properties would be fulfilling a need within Brent for people unable to register for affordable rented housing but not able to access the open market due to salary levels.'


The planning consent is not just for '100% affordable housing.'


Planning Committee, when they approved the application, did so on the basis that the 125 homes would be a mix of Social Rent and London Affordable Rent.


The consent letter of 25 April 2022 contained a specific condition over what type of affordable homes had been consented to:


Condition 3 from planning consent letter of 25 April 2022 on application 21/2473



There is no indication on Brent's planning website that there has been any change in this condition under application 21/2473, so that making a decision, and awarding a contract, which converted 24 (or 25?) of the 125 homes to shared ownership would involve Brent Council breaching its planning consent for the Watling Gardens scheme.



This point needs to be put right, so that Cabinet members are aware of the correct position well before they are asked to make a decision on the Watling Gardens contract.



The Report says that it affects Mapesbury and Kilburn Wards, but as I am not sure which Ward the site falls into following the boundary changes, I am copying this email to councillors for Cricklewood & Mapesbury and Kilburn Wards. Yours, 


Philip Grant.


Philip Grant said...

I've received no reply from either Debra Norman or Phil Porter to the email (above) I sent them on Friday afternoon.

As I'd heard nothing from the Officers, I emailed the Lead Member for Housing, Cllr. Knight, at Sunday lunchtime, with copies to Cllrs Mili Patel and Shama Tatler, to ensure that they were aware of the correct position before this morning's Cabinet meeting.

When I'd not received even an acknowledgement from anyone else at Brent Council, I sent an email to Carolyn Downs, Brent's Chief Executive, first thing this morning. She did reply to me at 9:49- ten minutes before the Cabinet meeting was due to begin.

She wrote: 'Thanks for this - colleagues will be making sure the recommendations are correct.'

Now that the meeting has taken place, I will have to check whether that actually happened!

Philip Grant said...


Follow-on from my comment at 13:46 above.

I have checked what actually took place at the Cabinet meeting over Watling Gardens (and several other items). This was my reply to Brent's Chief Executive after doing so:-

'Dear Ms Downs,

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I have now watched the recording of this morning's Cabinet meeting, and note that the recommendations for item 16 were amended, to take account of the need for an amendment to the planning consent in respect of the affordable housing condition.

Thank you also for reminding the Leader of the revised recommendations, when he sought and received Cabinet approval for them! Best wishes,

Philip Grant.'

Carolyn Downs has her critics, but I'm not sure whether the changes to the recommendations on the Watling Gardens Report (which made the Cabinet decision legally correct, but with whether it could actually go ahead "up in the air") would have happened without her input.

The Leader introduced item 16, in the absence of the Lead member who had called in unwell, without really saying anything about it, and had to be prompted by Ms Downs about the changes to the recommendations he was about to ask his Cabinet to agree.

When Cllr. Butt asked the Council Officers involved with the Report whether they wanted to speak on the Watling Gardens item, they declined. They did not even explain how they came to give the Cabinet incorrect information, or apologise for it.

And like most Cabinet decisions, it went through "on the nod", without any discussion.