Guest blog by Philip Grant, in a personal capacity.
Architect’s drawing of the two infill houses for the Rokesby Place car park.
I will try not to make this guest post too long, as I will ask Martin to attach two long letters at the end of it. But I hope that as many “Wembley Matters” readers as possible will take the trouble to read this, and the letters. This is a follow-up to my article earlier this month, which included my letter of complaint to Brent’s Chief Executive over alleged planning malpractice.
The letters are about the level of rent which the future tenants of two “affordable” New Council Homes on an infill scheme at Rokesby Place will have to pay. More importantly, though, they deal with the way in which Brent’s Planning Officers went against the rules meant to ensure that the Council’s own planning applications are dealt with impartially and transparently – and how they have tried to justify the actions they took.
Extract from the Rokesby Place planning application, 22/1400.
The planning application for Brent’s Rokesby Place “infill” housing scheme was made in April 2022, and was quite clear that the two houses would be for Social Rent. But when the Officer Report was prepared on the application, for the Planning Committee meeting in August, no mention was made of Social Rent, and the “affordable housing” condition in the draft consent letter said that the homes must ‘be delivered as London Affordable Rent units’.
There was nothing in the published documents to show how or why Social Rent had been changed to the more expensive London Affordable Rent (“LAR”). I had to issue an FoI request to uncover that information. This led to the first part of my 5 September complaint, that there was no reason for, and no justification for, any change from Social Rent to LAR, and Planning Officers had been wrong to change it.
I received the reply to my complaint letter from Carolyn Downs on 16 September, but I believe it was probably drafted for her by the top officer(s) in Brent’s Planning Department. This was the reason given for why they recommended LAR, rather than the Social Rent level shown by the application they were asking Planning Committee to approve:
Extract from the letter of 16 September from Brent’s Chief Executive.
I have set out my response to that in my letter of 22 September below. Briefly, Planning Officers should not be changing what an application says just because they think it should be different, to do so for one of Brent’s own applications (although why, when it’s a Council application, was the Project Manager ‘the applicant’?) was not being impartial, and no ‘clarification’ was needed, because the application was clearly for Social Rent!
The action which Planning Officers took raises serious concerns for other Council housing schemes, especially a number of forthcoming “infill” schemes (Newland Court, Kilburn Square, Clement Close, to name just a few):
· Will they treat other applications for Social Rent housing (as recommended by the Brent Poverty Commission Report, and as supposed to be provided under the GLA’s 2021-26 affordable housing programme) as if they should be for LAR?
· Will they interfere with other details which have been published in the application documents, and recommend different conditions to Planning Committee, without disclosing that they’ve done so?
Even though they had failed the “transparency” requirement in the Local Government Association’s “Probity in Planning” guidance, by not telling Planning Committee that the application was for Social Rent, the Council’s view was that members, when making their decision, ‘were aware that the application was originally for the provision of Social Rented homes.’ I could hardly believe the reason they offered to justify this:
Second extract from the letter of 16 September from Brent’s Chief Executive.
This was the conclusion which Brent’s Chief Executive came to (on the advice of Senior Planning Officers) in response to my complaint(s):
The conclusion from the letter of 16 September.
I have not accepted that conclusion, for reasons set out in detail in my letter of 22 September. In case you don’t feel like reading it in full, here are some paragraphs from near the end of it which sum-up my position:
‘Planning Officers seem to take the view that as Social Rent and LAR are, on the present figures, ‘very, very similar’, then it does not matter whether the affordable housing provided is one or the other. That would not matter for compliance with policy BH5, but as I pointed out in my letter of 5 September, it would matter for the tenants of the two new homes at Rokesby Place.
As you quoted, from the Brent Local Plan Glossary, these affordable homes will be ‘for those whose needs are not met by the market.’ They will be Brent families in housing need, quite probably on limited incomes. By charging them LAR rent levels, rather than Social Rent, even on present figures, they will have to pay £772.20 a year more. As the annual rent increases for these two types of affordable housing are linked to CPI, by the time the houses are built each tenant will have to find nearer £1,000 a year more if LAR is charged, rather than Social Rent.
If a planning application states that the affordable housing tenure will be Social Rent, that complies with policy BH5, and should not be changed without good reason. And if there are reasons for changing from Social Rent to LAR, they need to be set out transparently, both for the Planning Committee and the public. That was not done on this application, so even if Brent Council believes it achieved the “right” answer, the way it was achieved was wrong. So wrong that it needs to be put right.
I hope you can now agree that the new Brent Council affordable housing at Rokesby Place must be for Social Rent, as applied for on the Council’s behalf under application 22/1400.’
I’m putting this correspondence “in the public domain”, so that anyone interested can read it and make up their own minds. If you agree that something has gone wrong here, please feel free to write to your local councillors about it, with a copy to email@example.com .
The letters - click bottom right corner for full page version.