The Planning Committee tonight failed to challenge the change of tenure from Social Rent to London Affordable Rent in the Rokesby Place planning application and the conditions tonight.
I suspect that this may mean that London Affordable Rent (LAR) is becoming the default position on Brent's new council housing. As Alan Lunt did before, in another application, the planning officer presenting the report minimised the difference claiming that LAR was genuinely affordable. She first said that she hadn't got the numbers but LAR was 'very, very similar' to social rent. She was given time to get the figures and stated that the difference was that LAR was 8% higher than social rent but did not mention that unlike social housing services, LAR services are not capped. No councillor asked her to explain why the change had been made.
Making light of an 8% plus increase on the original rent, particularly during a cost of living crisis on accommodation for large families, is not acceptable.
It seems that Labour members of planning committee can see things that are wrong, ask a question, but then withdraw even when the answer provided is obviously inadequate.
They challenge but don't pursue all under the emolliative chairing of Cllr Kelcher.
Similarly vague answers from Maddox, Brent Council's agents, were accepted and this included a claim that argued there was no requirement to take into account the disability adjustments needed for existing disabled residents as a result of the development, as well as the dismissing of LAR even though(not mentioned by councillors) their report stated that the development was for social rent.
This followed a heart-felt presentation by a Rokesby Place resident on the impact of the changes on access of the proposed layout changes on access for those using a wheelchair. It was left to Conservative councillor Michael Maurice )Ken ton ward) to oppose the application on grounds of lack of disabled parking as well as parking for visiting carers and medical staff, reduction of amenity space for existing residents and an increase in density on a very small site. Cllr Rajan Seelan (Labour - Wembley Central) also voted against on vehicle access grounds but the application was passed 6-2.
In her presentation resident Shahida Khan had said that the present car park that will be removed was the only place for a disabled person to get out of a car safely. There was no evidence of an equality impact assessment for disabled people and she suggested that councillors get in a wheelchair themselves and tried to get in and out of a car. The process has not been fair and the disabled had not been considered. She wanted the application deferred for further consultation.
Residents voiced oncerns about the difficulty of access for fire tenders but officers argued that the new houses would be fitted with sprinklers so that rather than the requirement for a 45 metre hose distance from appliance to the house that a 70 metre distance would apply.
Cllr Ketan Sheth (Labour - Wembley Central) a former chair of planning committee, gave a 5 minute presentation opposing the application and supporting the residents' views.
He said that while private amenity space and a shared amenity space had been provided for residents of the new houses, the plans took away well-used existing amenity space for current residents. What was now proposed was a scant replacement for what they would lose.
Residents' everyday experience of parking on the estate meant that they rejected the officers' assessment of parking needs. The suggestion that they park on nearby streets would put them in competition with existing use by staff from the post office sorting office, fire station, police station and a nursing home.
He challenged the officers' view that it was unlikely that hedgehogs were present in the current green space by saying as well as residents' sighting, he had seen them for himself. The loss of mature trees was disappointing and would discourage wildlife.
Cllr Sheth was also concerned about the new development's impact on the privacy of residents. The new car park would mean that at night headlights would shine straight into bedrooms and the proximity of the amenity meant noise would disturb residents.
He drew attention to the discrepancy in the documents that referred to social rent in the applciation and London Affordable Rent in Condition 3. The Council's own Poverty Commssion had identified that LAR was not affordable to most Brent residents. He suggested that Condition 3 be changed back to social rent.
That was not to be.
BACKGROUND: Wembley Matters has raised some questions about the make up of the Planning Committee and its inter-relationships in a previous article Planning and Probity.