Monday 22 August 2022

New Homes at 1 Morland Gardens – but not the ones Brent promised! Has Brent Council shot itself in the foot?

Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity


In January 2020, Brent’s Cabinet approved proposals for a new adult education college, and 65 affordable homes, on the site of the existing Brent Start building at 1 Morland Gardens in Stonebridge. They delegated authority to make all the Key Decisions for this project to the then Strategic Director for Regeneration (in consultation with a Lead Member). His report told them that work on the new building should be completed by the summer of 2022:-


Morland Gardens “Delivery Timetable” from the report to Cabinet, January 2020.


In fact, the scheme had already been informally approved by the Leader, and then Deputy Leader and Lead Members for Education and Housing, at a meeting with the project team in February 2019. Then they were told that 89 new homes could be built on the site. That number was later reduced to 65, as even Brent’s planners would not agree that the impact on neighbouring residents (loss of light, etc.) of the 89-home design would be ‘acceptable’.


The proposal had started off in 2018 as an updated college and some new housing. The original design by the architects would have retained the locally-listed Victorian villa, and developed the site in phases, so that there was no need for Brent Start to by decanted. There was a viable alternative to the scheme which the Cabinet approved. However, it seems that the Council were determined to build as many new homes as they could on the college site, even though it meant demolishing a valuable heritage asset their own policies promised to protect, and that was the first of many mistakes they have made on this project.


Architect’s image of the proposed new building (viewed from across Brentfield Road).


In August 2020, the Council controversially obtained planning consent for the development, despite strong local opposition. It was soon celebrating its “award winning” Morland Gardens scheme, and the 65 new homes it would deliver. Two years later, there are new residents at 1 Morland Gardens, but in the original building, not the new one pictured above. 


The Brent Start college was moved out earlier this year to a “temporary home” in the former Stonebridge School Annexe. (The adaptations to the annexe cost at least £1.2m, and the building will be demolished once the college leaves, as it is on the site of Brent’s Twybridge Way 67-home housing scheme, which was given planning consent in May 2020, and should be nearing completion now!) That left 1 Morland Gardens vacant.


What do you do with a large empty building, when the catalogue of mistakes you’ve made means that you are still not ready to go ahead with its redevelopment? In May 2022, Brent contacted Live-in Guardians, and by early July this organisation was housing mainly young single people in the former college building.


An Instagram advert for Live-in Guardians at 1 Morland Gardens, July 2022.


I was first aware of Live-in Guardians (“LIG”) there when I attended a site meeting with Brent’s Project Manager on 26 July, to discuss my objections to the proposed Stopping-up Order for the highway outside the property. There was a sign on the gateway to say that they were providing live-in protection for the building, and a resident would not let us enter because the Officer had not arranged access in advance. 


I’m interested in all aspects of the Morland Gardens project, so I put in an FoI request for a copy of the Council’s agreement with LIG. This has been supplied to me, and as live-in guardianship is an idea which may be of wider interest, to single people (or couples) in need of an affordable short-term home as well as to property owners, I will include some information and extracts from it below.


The opening paragraphs from Brent’s agreement with LIG.


These “new homes” would not be for people on Brent’s housing waiting list, so who were they for? The agreement says that up to 26 “Guardians” would be provided with accommodation at 1 Morland Gardens, and gives details of the type of person and how LIG selects them.


It sounds from this extract that the Guardians living here will be people who do need relatively inexpensive accommodation, at a stage where they are not in a position to rent or buy somewhere more permanent. But how long can they stay in the building?


The paperwork makes it clear that the Guardians only have a licence to occupy the premises, subject to the right to 4 weeks’ notice to leave after the 26-week contract period. Their legal status is explained to them on the LIG website.


From the LIG website.


1 Morland Gardens has been used as a college since 1994, when it was sympathetically designed around the restored Victorian villa. Turning it into living accommodation would require some alterations, but as part of the agreement LIG paid the initial fit-out costs, for things such as installing a kitchen, 4 extra showers, and carrying out all of the necessary safety checks. The cost of this work was estimated at up to £17k.


It appears that Brent is getting a good deal out of allowing Guardians to live at 1 Morland Gardens. The Council would not have to pay a security company to look after the vacant property. The only expenses they would incur during the contract period would be the Council Tax or Business Rates, and any repairs or maintenance which the agreement made them responsible for. And, at any time after the 26 weeks, they could get vacant possession of the building and land within its garden walls by giving only four weeks’ notice.


I have to say that I approve of Brent’s decision to allow 1 Morland Gardens to be used for providing temporary accommodation, rather than remaining empty after they had moved the Brent Start college out of the building. The presence of Live-in Guardians will hopefully prevent the beautiful heritage building from being vandalised (and among the potential vandals, I include Brent Council and the contractors it has recently hired, perhaps unlawfully, to demolish it!)


1 Morland Gardens, the former Brent Start college, June 2022.


Another reason why I like Brent’s agreement with LIG (although, on refection the Council may regret it) is that the 26-week period will last until at least the end of December 2022. At a Scrutiny Committee meeting on 9 June, Brent’s Strategic Director for Regeneration justified the urgent award of a c.£38m contract for the Morland Gardens development on the grounds that if work did not begin on site by August ‘the Council stood to lose the £6.5m GLA grant towards affordable housing.’


The site is in two parts. They can’t build on the land outside, because there are open appeals against the proposed Stopping-up Order. Now they can’t begin any work inside the boundary, because that is legally occupied by Live-in Guardians. Brent can’t “start on site”, within the terms of their GLA grant agreement, this month (or this year), because they have no site to start on! 


Philip Grant.


Anonymous said...

No wonder they got rid of the Strategic Director, the responsible Cabinet Members should be next to go. What a mess they have made of this and what a waste of (our) money.

Philip Grant said...


I've mentioned the GLA grant agreement in my final paragraph above. These are some relevant definitions from that agreement:-

Site means the site identified to the GLA in OPS as being the area of land, buildings or dwelling-houses comprised or to be comprised in a Named Project;

Start on Site means the occurrence of all of the following in relation to a Named Project:
(a) the Building Contract has been entered into;
(b) the Building Contractor has taken possession of the Site; and
(c) the Start on Site Works to the Site have commenced;

Start on Site Works means any work of construction or demolition in relation to any dwelling including:
(a) the digging of a trench which is to contain the foundations, or part of the foundations, of such dwelling;
(b) the laying of any underground main or pipe to the foundations, or part of the foundations, of such dwelling or to any such trench as per (a) above;
(c) any operation in the course of laying out or constructing a road or part of a road; or
(d) such works of demolition or service diversion as are set out in section 2 of the Affordable Housing Capital Funding Guide;