Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity
Architect’s drawing of the two proposed new Council houses at Rokesby Place.
There was a flurry of blogs on “Wembley Matters” last month about the planning application for the proposed Brent Council housing “infill” development at Rokesby Place. On 12 August, Martin wrote about the loss of green space and the tenure change. Straight after the meeting on 17 August, he reported that Planning Committee had “dumped” the a recommendation of the 2020 Brent Poverty Commission Report, and allowed a changed of tenure for the two new homes from Social Rent to London Affordable Rent.
I could not understand the justification for Brent’s Planning Officers recommending LAR when the planning application, only 4 months earlier, had said that the houses would be let at Social Rent level.
Extract from the Planning Statement for the Rokesby Place application, 22/1400.
I added a comment below the second blog, giving the text of a Freedom of Information Act request I’d sent to Brent’s Head of Planning, seeking the evidence behind that change of tenure. Martin published that as a separate post the following day.
I received the information I’d requested on 1 September (that was quick for an FoI, but I’d told the Head of Planning that he should not issue the consent letter until my enquiries were resolved!), I said I would share the response with “Wembley Matters” readers, and will ask Martin to attach it at the end of this article, if possible.
I am not attaching the two enclosures, which were series of emails between Brent Planning Officers, the Brent Project Manager for the Rokesby Place scheme and the planning agent representing Brent Council for application 22/1400. The names of senders and recipients had been redacted (in order to protect the guilty?).
I will include copies of the key emails below, as I explain what Council Officers did wrong, and why the change from Social Rent to LAR was not justified, and should be reversed. There is more detail on this in an open letter, and formal complaint about the conduct of the Council Officers involved, which I have sent to Brent’s Chief Executive. I hope that Martin can also attach a copy of that, as it includes some important points which MUST be put right before any more planning applications for Council “infill” housing schemes are considered.
Email from Planning Case Officer to Project Manager in Brent Property Services.
The email above was sent by the Planning Case Officer (“CO”) to Brent’s Rokesby Place Project Manager (“PM”) when the Officer Report was about to be published with the agenda for the Planning Committee meeting on 17 August. There should not have been any doubt about which rent level should be in the recommended affordable housing condition, as the application clearly stated Social Rent!
But worse than that, the CO should not have been communicating with the PM over the application (especially offering the chance to change a detail in it). There have to be special procedures in place where a Council, like Brent, is both the developer and the Local Planning Authority, to ensure that the Council’s applications are dealt with fairly. This is summed up in the Local Government Association booklet, “Probity in Planning”:
Extract from “Probity in Planning”, 2019 edition.
I have set out why this contact, which could (and did) have an unfair influence on the planning decision, was wrong in my letter to Carolyn Downs, if you are interested in the detailed reasons.
Further emails from the CO to the PM over the next few days, after the Officer Report had been published, show that the Planning Officer knew that recommending LAR might be a mistake, and that if it was, that should be reported to Planning Committee members.
The “confirmation” CO sought was finally provided by PM later that day, and acknowledged by the Planning Case Officer:
But LAR was not correct. It might be what was intended on the New Council Homes ‘master tracker’, but it was not what was shown by the planning application. That was Social Rent, which should have been the tenure included in the Officer Report for Planning Committee.
The emails between the planning agent, Maddox & Associates (“M&A”) and CO, and copied to another person (possibly the Senior Planning Officer who would be presenting the application to Planning Committee) are even more worrying. There were no communications involving the tenure of the proposed new homes after the application was submitted until the afternoon of 17 August, just a couple of hours before the Committee meeting. This was the first, from M&A:
Email from planning agent to Brent Planning Officer(s), 125 minutes before Committee meets.
M&A were concerned. They’ve discovered that “residents” are raising the issue of what rent level should be charged for the proposed new homes (they’d been discussing it on “Wembley Matters” since 12 August!). So M&A claim ‘we have always proposed that the units are 100% London Affordable Rent’. AND, in the final sentence, they effectively ask Planning Officers to repeat that claim, ‘in case Members ask the question to officers directly’ at the meeting!
We know that claim was false, because M&A had proposed that the homes would be for Social Rent. But Brent’s CO also knows it was false, because eight minutes after receiving that email from M&A, the CO sends this reply:
Undeterred by the truth, M&A send a further email to the CO (again cc’d), less than 50 minutes before the start of the Planning Committee meeting which will consider the Rokesby Place application. [The warning that it ‘contains information that may be confidential’ and that the recipient ‘may not … disclose it to anyone else’, does not protect it from a valid FoI request!]:
M&A are “flagging” to Brent Planning a line of argument which could be used to justify LAR being the tenure required in the affordable housing condition included in the Rokesby Place planning consent letter. I don’t know whether the Senior Planning Officer who presented the application to the meeting that evening saw this email, or was aware of its contents. But I do know, from watching and listening to the webcast, that this was the basis of the argument which she used.
I have set out in my open letter to Brent’s Chief Executive, in much greater detail, why the actions of Brent Planning Officers before and at the Planning Committee meeting were wrong and unacceptable. This includes the fact that the objectors (particularly the Ward councillor, Ketan Sheth, over the Social Rent or LAR point) were not dealt with fairly and impartially.
I have also set out how I believe my complaint(s) should be resolved, including the measures needed to ensure that future planning applications where Brent Council is the developer (and there is likely to be a string of new “infill” housing applications over the next few years) are dealt with properly, fairly and impartially.
I may not achieve everything that I hope for, but I am confident that Brent should reverse the decision over affordable housing tenure, so that the two new homes at Rokesby Place will be for Social Rent, not London Affordable Rent.
The tenants of those four-bedroom houses are likely to be large families in urgent housing need. The Planning Officer claimed that the two rent levels were ‘very, very similar’. But, even on the figures she gave, each tenant would be paying £772.20 a year more than they should be if LAR is charged, rather than Social Rent. That’s why the Social Rent level recommended by the Brent Poverty Commission Report is so important to families on a tight budget.
Information Request and Open Letter to Brent CEO. Click on bottom right corner for full page view.