Saturday 24 September 2022

Rokesby Place – Brent tries to justify its planning malpractice

 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 .


Philip Grant.

 The letters - click bottom right corner for full page version.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mr Grant, for once again highlighting the lies in this situation. It is greatly disappointing that even Ms Downs does not have an impartial view. It is extremely saddening to think that the council will go to these lengths to achieve such selfish goals.

Marc Etukudo said...

I would like to personally thank Martin Francis and Philip Grant for highlighting everything about the way Labour run Brent Council run their bent operation. It's lies upon lies upon constant lies. They are going to do the same thing at Newland Court. Brent Council have shown nothing but Systemic discrimination towards the residents of Newland Court over their proposed ‘infill’ plans of building 7 TINY town houses by demolishing the garages at Newland Court. They have shown no empathy, been dismissive and ignored our thoughts and feelings to go ahead with this ‘infill’ contributing to a less favourable outcome for the residents (especially the elderly and disabled) of Newland Court who they are treating like a nobodies or a minority group.

Philip Grant said...

Thank you, Anonymous (25 September at 17:28) and Marc, for your comments.

Although my complaint was about the Rokesby Place "affordable housing" condition, not the main decision to go ahead with the "infill" homes on this small estate's car park (and taking away some of their green space), I believe it is important that Brent Planning Officers should handle planning applications where Brent is "the developer" fairly and transparently.

Although I complained directly to Brent's Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, I believe that the reply I received was almost certainly drafted for her by a very senior officer (possibly the "Director" responsible for Brent's Planning Service).

Ms Downs trusted the person who considered my complaint to reply honestly, and now I have shown her that at least two "facts" her letter relied on in order to dismiss my complaint were actually untrue. It will be a test of her integrity as to how she replies to my latest letter, of 22 September.

I have received an acknowledgement of my letter, from the Head of the Chief Executive's Office, which says:
'Carolyn has asked a senior complaints officer to review the contents of your email and a response will be provided accordingly.'

We do need to be able to trust the Senior Officers who conduct the Council's business, both in what they tell us as citizens and what they tell Cabinet members and councillors in order to persuade them to approve the decisions they recommend.

Even from my own experience, there have been too many cases where councillors have been misled, as I believe they were by Planning Officers in the matter I've complained about here.

I've not seen any evidence that either councillors or Council Officers are making money (other than their allowances and salaries - so no bribes that I'm aware of!) from the actions they are taking. But a number of them do seem to think they are "above" the ordinary people of the borough in the attitude they take towards us.

That is not good for local democracy, or for having confidence in the Council, that the local community deserves to expect. There needs to be a change for the better in the way Cabinet members and Senior Council Officers deal with members of the public they are meant to be serving, and that needs to come from Leadership, at the top.

The reply to my letter of 22 September will be a sign of whether or not there is a will for change, at the top. I will ask Martin to share that reply with "Wembley Matters" readers, when I receive it.

Anonymous said...

A very big Thank You to Mr Grant for perusing this issue. Having read all the correspondence it is very clear that there was no need for the planning officer to check for the type of tenure proposed. It is crystal clear there has most probably been collusion from the beginning between all the parties and that the planning department is not impartial in any way. We have heard from very reliable sources that a planning officer said they are under great amount of pressure. Who is the pressure coming from?!!!

Anonymous said...

I've yet to meet a Brent Council officer who actually lives in Brent - they take the decisions about where we live but don't live here themselves. And the local councillors and MPs only care about promoting their own careers.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr Grant for your continued persistence in this matter, it is greatly appreciated. We all know how challenging and draining it can be getting Brent to acknowledge the error of their ways. I hope the truth and corruption continues to be brought to light and this triggers an external audit to expose all malpractice. If they can deviate from the truth so openly, one wonders what is hiding behind closed doors. I have been waiting for years for Brent council to get their comeuppance.

Philip Grant said...

Dear Anonymous (30 September at 01:58), and others above,

Thank you for your comment(s).

Being persistent with Brent Council sometimes feels like banging your head against a brick wall, and often does not produce a positive result, just a headache and a feeling of utter frustration.

I can only hope that, by being challenged, it might stop matters from being worse than they appear to be!

It seems to me that there is a culture within Brent Council, shared by many Cabinet members and Senior Officers, and "trickling down" to middle level officers, within which they feel that, because they are "the Council" and have the power, they can do what they want, even if it means "bending the rules" to get the result that they want.

I have said in a comment above that the response to my letter of 22 September will be a test of the Leadership at Brent Council. Leadership sets the example, and is one of the Principles of Conduct in Public Life.

Another of these important principles, which all public servants are meant to follow, is Integrity.

I was saddened (although it seems to ring true in both local and national government) to read this sentence in Brent North M.P. Barry Gardiner's article in yesterday's "Brent & Kilburn Times", writing about the late Queen:

'Integrity is not commonly found in the public sphere these days.'

We need to find that Integrity again in public life, and the sooner, the better!

Philip Grant said...

I have just realised that the Brent Planning Case Officer and the Planning Agent (Maddox and Associates) for the Rokesby Place application, which I believe involved planning malpractice, are the same as those for the current Newland Court "infill" planning application, which residents are opposing.

That makes it all the more important that the practices, which made the way the Rokesby Place application was dealt with neither impartial nor transparent, are put right without delay.