Wednesday 30 November 2022

Guest Post: Biodiversity and geological conservation not taken into consideration in Brent Council's Newland Court infill proposal

 Guest post by Marc Etukudo in a personal capacity

I just been made aware that Brent Council have failed to conduct a SPECIES SURVEY for their  proposal at Newland Court, planning application 22/3124  as numerous habitual wildlife are living in the trees in a conservation area where they intend to remove 13 trees. The numerous species of wildlife includes BATS, MAGPIES, PARAKEETS, ROBINS and even SQUIRRELS. BATS are a protected SPECIES under the wildlife and countryside ACT 1981 and regulations ACT 1994.


The Royal Town Planning Institute states that ‘PRE-APPLICATION INFORMATION GATHERING 5.3 Chapter 2 deals with the way that planning authorities can develop and maintain any evidence based upon which to plan for biodiversity and geological conservation. This will supplement the further information required to determine a planning application.’


SPECIES SURVEYS 5.10 Many individual wildlife species receive statutory protection under a range of legislative provisions and licences may be needed when they are affected by development. The development control process plays a critical part in ensuring that the statutory protection of species is applied and the Circular sets this out in detail. PPS9 also requires that other species identified as requiring conservation action as species of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England are protected from the adverse effects of development, where appropriate, by using planning conditions or obligations.


Bats are a protected species under schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and schedule 2 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994. It is illegal to kill, injure or capture a bat, or to recklessly disturb their roosts.




Having read through Brent Council’s planning application that they have submitted I have also found that they have answered numerous questions with misleading answers. I have highlighted them in yellow with comments of what should be the right answers in blue below. (PDF Version HERE)






So as you can see, Brent Council have submitted their planning application with lots of misleading answers. I have raised these same misleading answers and the fact that they are also breaching numerous of their own planning guidance rules to the Brent Council’s planning department. With this and other culminating factors, if this was a private planning application submitted, it would have been rejected, shredded and binned straight away. But it’s not, it is Brent Council’s own application so let’s see what happens.


Marc Etukudo



Tuesday 29 November 2022

Brent Council should submit evidence to the Housing Ombudsman's investigation into social landlords' record keeping and data management

 I am grateful to Julia G on Twitter for this suggestion:

Following the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee meeting on 08//11/22. Brent Council should ensure that it submits information to the Housing Ombudsman's call for evidence on record keeping.

This is the relevant information from the Housing Ombudsman. I do hope Brent Council and other social landlords contribute:

We have issued a call for evidence to support our next systemic investigation which will look at record keeping and data management. This has been a consistent theme found in our casework with 67% of investigations upheld in 2021-22 involving poor records.

Strong record keeping practices are integral to effective complaint handling and landlords’ overall service provision. The purpose of the call for evidence is to understand more about the current barriers to effective knowledge and information management.

Complaint handlers within social landlords are invited to submit evidence which will help the Ombudsman make recommendations that promote greater understanding of the importance of information and knowledge management. It will also share best practice helping landlords to develop their policies and procedures with a view to improving the experience of all residents.

Richard Blakeway, Housing Ombudsman, said:

Our previous Spotlight reports have covered a wide range of topics but poor record keeping has been repeatedly identified as a driver of poor service. This can result in residents experiencing inadequate responses, delays and things not being put right. It is a systemic, sector-wide issue and that’s why we’re focusing on it as the subject of our next investigation and the topic of a Spotlight report in its own right.

The fact that more than two thirds of our determinations with a finding of maladministration have identified record keeping as an issue should be a cause of concern for landlords, particularly their governing bodies. There are real benefits for services by getting record keeping right and our report will support landlords in doing just that.

Residents were invited to share their experiences and give views on their landlords’ practices through discussion forums with members of our Resident Panel. Feedback from those forums together with submissions to the call for evidence and an analysis of our casework will all form part of the investigation and the final Spotlight report to be published next year.

Call for evidence page

Under the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the Ombudsman can conduct investigations into potential systemic and thematic issues. In March 2021, we published a systemic framework setting out how we will look beyond individual disputes to identify key issues that impact on residents and landlords’ services. The framework allows us to issue a call for evidence and we have decided to use this to support a thematic investigation into knowledge and information management.

Post-Grenfell Report: every high-rise residential building should have a bespoke fire evacuation plan, developed in full consideration of the building design, the composition of occupants and crucially, the presence, or indeed absence, of effective compartmentation

 The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) was commissioned to carry out a ‘rapid evidence review’ on the topic of evacuating high-rise buildings in March 2020. It’s report was published last week. The lack of clear evidence on fire evacuation in tall buildings limits the usefulness of the report.  These are its conclusions, I have highlighted those I think most relevant to Brent. The recommendation that each individual high-rise building should have a bespoke fire evacuation plan is crucial:


Overall, the findings of this review show that despite there being a high-volume of research focused on fire evacuation generally, the availability of evidence focused specifically on fire evacuation in high-rise residential settings is significantly limited. Of that which is available the vast majority is international, with only a handful of studies providing UK-based evidence. Furthermore, the quality of studies was mixed, with many based on focused qualitative studies and small-scale quantitative surveys.


While this review was conducted to provide comprehensive insight into fire evacuation in UK high-rise residential buildings, it is limited by a paucity of research and an evidence base largely developed in non-UK settings meaning transferability of findings to the UK is unclear. As such, while the findings provide some relevant contextual insight into fire evacuation within high-rise buildings, they do not directly answer the three core research questions central to this review.


What are the most effective methods of evacuation from fires in high-rise residential buildings?


Considering the limited evidence base within scope of this review, the findings of this review tentatively suggest that, if evacuation is necessary and effective fire safety arrangements such as compartmentation are in place, phased and partial evacuation strategies (in the form of ‘defend-in-place’ and delayed evacuation) are safer than simultaneous evacuation within high-rise residential settings.


The evidence also identifies the importance of ‘delayed evacuation’ for those unable to evacuate unassisted, and the necessary requirements to ensure refuge areas are safe and effective. The success of phased or partial evacuation, however, depends on effective compartmentation and communication systems to provide occupants with sufficient and ongoing information.


Nonetheless, despite these overarching findings, the body of evidence suggests that no single strategy is universally appropriate for the evacuation of high-rise residential buildings. Instead, every high-rise residential building should have a bespoke fire evacuation plan, developed in full consideration of the building design, the composition of occupants and crucially, the presence, or indeed absence, of effective compartmentation.


Synthesis of international modelling and simulation studies suggested that fire safe lifts can reduce overall evacuation time in high-rise buildings. There is however a distinctive lack of UK-specific research on the effectiveness of lifts for fire evacuation within high-rise residential settings. The extent to which this finding can be applied to the UK is therefore unclear.


How do occupants make decisions about fire evacuations from high-rise residential buildings?


Collectively UK and international evidence suggested occupants do not immediately evacuate upon recognising fire cues, but first check to validate risk, gather belongings and communicate with other residents. Both UK and international studies also suggest occupants of high-rise residential settings are reluctant to use lifts during fire evacuation, which in UK context is in line with the current NFCC ‘stay put’ position statement that in general in the event of an evacuation stairs should always be used rather than a lift (NFCC 2020).


This is due to long-standing beliefs that lifts are not safe during a fire, and concerns around safety and delayed evacuation times. Some non-UK evidence suggested occupants of high-rise buildings are more likely to use lifts during fire evacuation if instructed by firefighters. No research on UK occupants’ willingness to use lifts upon firefighter instruction was identified in the review. The extent to which these findings are transferable to UK high-rise residents is therefore unclear.


How do firefighters make decisions about evacuating occupants from high-rise residential buildings?


This review identified a significant lack of independent peer reviewed academic evidence into how firefighters make decisions regarding the evacuation of occupants from high-rise residential buildings in the event of a fire. Of the limited evidence available, most was international and focused on the decision-making of firefighters in general, rather than specifically in high-rise residential settings.


Considering the limited evidence base, the UK and international evidence outlines two main factors that inform firefighter decision-making: pre-determined procedures and previous experience. International evidence also identifies significant amount of information firefighters must assess in their decision-making. This includes specific features of high-rise buildings, and awareness of occupant vulnerabilities and knowledge of occupant adherence to requests to ‘defend-in-place’ or use refuge areas.


Future research and evidence gaps


While the findings from this review provide some insight into fire evacuation in high-rise residential buildings, the ability to identify the most effective methods of evacuation is limited by a paucity of high-quality research and an evidence base largely developed in non-UK settings. An important contribution of this review is therefore the identification of significant and wide-ranging evidence gaps, which would need to be addressed in order to improve the peer reviewed academic evidence base.


These includes research on:

  • comparisons of the effectiveness of different evacuation strategies in UK high-rise residential settings
  • the effectiveness of lifts for fire evacuation within UK high-rise residential settings
  • UK high-rise residents’ willingness to use lifts during fire evacuation upon instruction
  • the effective evacuation of vulnerable groups from UK high-rise, residential settings. This includes residents with reduced cognition, residents with small children, residents with English as an additional language, and residents’ potentially limited knowledge of evacuation procedures, such as those who are short-term, un-tenured or guests
  • firefighters’ decision-making regarding the evacuation of occupants within UK high-rise residential settings


Day of Action: 'United for Warm Homes, Brent' invite you to join them on Kilburn Square this Saturday at Noon. Government must permanently fix our failed energy system.


The Government Needs To Keep Us Warm This Winter from Warm This Winter on Vimeo.

 On December 3rd Warm This Winter, an FoE partner campaign, is organising a national day of action to put pressure on the government to deal seriously with the energy crisis by insulating homes, properly supporting those in fuel poverty, and permanently fixing our failed energy system.

All are welcome to join Brent Friends of the Earth and the 'United for Warm Homes, Brent' coalition to distribute leaflets and display our placards.

Come to Kilburn Square, Kilburn High Road  on Saturday from noon until 2pm. Between W.H. Smith's and Kilburn High Road.

Councillors, the Mayor of Brent and local MPs have been invited to attend


Monday 28 November 2022

Brent’s Affordable Council Housing – figuring out Cllr. Butt’s reply

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity


On 14 November, Martin reported the questions which Cllr. Anton Georgiou had asked at the Cabinet meeting about the number of new Council homes Brent has delivered, and the proposal Cabinet was considering about “converting” some homes the Council was building from London Affordable Rent to Shared Ownership. The Leader, Cllr. Muhammed Butt, said the Council would come back to him with a detailed reply. 


Cllr. Georgiou has received that reply. He’s passed a copy to me, saying he would be happy for me to share it, as it should be public knowledge. I’ll ask Martin to attach the answers to the questions (prepared for Cllr. Butt by Brent’s Head of Affordable Housing) at the end of this post. At the Cabinet meeting, Cllr. Butt said that he hoped the Council and its Officers were not being accused of deliberately misleading the public. As the information he has supplied may be slightly confusing, I hope this article will provide a bit more clarity.


Brent’s Lead Member for Housing emphasising ‘genuinely affordable housing’.
(From the publicity video for Brent’s Clement Close “infill” scheme)


Much is made in Brent’s publicity about ‘Delivering 1,000 New Council Homes’ (“NCH”). What does the Council’s housing policy actually say? Brent is committed to there being 5,000 affordable homes built in the borough between April 2019 and March 2024 inclusive. As part of that aim, the Council itself has ‘a strategic target of delivering 1,000 new council homes at genuinely affordable rent by 31 March 2024.’


There are two types of “genuinely affordable” rent which can be charged by social housing providers such as Brent. The first is Social Rent (sometimes known as Formula Rent, which is the maximum rent for each size of home, calculated by the Regulator of Social Housing). This is the “rent capped” level which can be charged to existing tenants of social housing provided by local authorities and Housing Associations, or new tenants if the registered provider choses Social Rent as the tenure. These Social Rents can only be increased by a set “formula” each year, so rents paid by existing Council tenants may be less that the maximum “rent cap”.


The current maximum weekly Social Rent levels. (Regulator of Social Housing website)


The second type of “genuinely affordable” rent, in London, is London Affordable Rent. It was introduced by the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, in 2016, as the genuinely affordable rent level at which new homes built using his “affordable homes” grants could be charged. The weekly amounts are slightly higher than the maximum Social Rent level. (Currently, the annual increase “formula” for both rent types, set by the Regulator, is the previous September’s CPI + 1%, although the cap for increases from April 2023 was recently limited by the Chancellor to 7%).


London Affordable Rent levels. (From the GLA affordable housing website)


I’ve given this information before examining the answers provided to Cllr. Georgiou’s questions, as I think it will make it easier when I try to explain some of the replies. 


Paragraph from the 14 November “Update” report on the success of Brent’s NCH Programme.


The item being discussed at the Cabinet meeting was an update on the supply of affordable housing (see my guest blog of 11 November for more details). The Report said that the Council had developed and let 684 NCH. Cllr. Georgiou asked how many of the 684 were at each type of rent level and what types of tenure made up this total. This was the response:


Extract from the document sent by Cllr. Butt on 21 November.


In the first list, there are 235 new Council homes shown as being at Council (which must mean Social) rent level. There is a reason for this, which was first highlighted in a September 2021 “Life in Kilburn” blog about Brent’s “1,000 New Council Homes” Programme. 209 of those 235 were homes into which existing tenants from the Gloucester and Durham blocks in Kilburn, which Brent will demolish to redevelop, had been transferred. Their rents had to stay at their old Council/Social level, and its possible that the other 26 at that level are for a similar reason.


The 253 of 684 at LAR are probably new homes that have been supplied to people on the Council’s waiting list, or similar genuinely new Council tenants. But what about those at ‘London housing allowance rent level’? You will notice that the figure of 149 at that level matches the 149 shown for tenants in temporary accommodation, and 92 of those will be at the Council’s Knowles House development for temporary accommodation in Harlesden.


LHA is actually Local Housing Allowance level, a series of scales calculated by the Valuation Office Agency as a way of setting housing benefit entitlements for tenants living in the private sector. It is higher than rent levels that the Council could charge as a social housing provider, so Brent’s temporary accommodation is treated as a sort of semi-private Council housing. 


Weekly LHA rates for areas covering most of Brent. (From the VOA’s LHA website)


The LHA figures applicable in Brent are those calculated for the Inner North London (basically south of the River Brent) and North West London areas. They are the maximum amounts which the tenant can claim Housing Benefit (or the housing part of Universal Credit) for. In that respect, they can be seen as “affordable”, but it is not the “genuinely affordable rent” which the 1,000 new homes are meant to provide.


It will be seen that the 47 “Assisted Living” homes are not included in the rent level breakdown answer, so they are not provided at “genuinely affordable rent” either. And the claim that 488 of the 684 are ‘social rent homes’ is also incorrect. As shown above, only 235 are at Social Rent level. This is yet another example of the misleading descriptions of housing often used by councillors and Council Officers. It would be correct to call the 488 “genuinely affordable” homes “social housing”, or Brent Council social housing, but they are NOT all for ‘social rent’.


Another clarification that Cllr. Georgiou asked for at the 14 November Cabinet meeting was the difference between the 684 figure, and that given to the Scrutiny Committees when they were jointly considering Brent’s Draft Borough Plan the previous week. When asked how many NCH had been built, the Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, said around 800. Cllr. Butt cut in to say 768. 


From the reply now received it’s clear that those figures included new homes completed in 2018/19, before the start of the five years covered by the “1,000 New Council Homes” pledge. Of the 103 from that year, only 30 were “general needs” homes at LAR. It may just have been a misunderstanding that a higher figure was given at Scrutiny, but the councillors hearing it may have mistakenly believed that was the current progress towards the Council’s target, so the record needs to be put straight.


The final part of Cllr. Georgiou’s questions was on the thorny subject of Shared Ownership. In a guest post on 12 October, I made clear that this is actually an “assured tenancy”, which would only become “ownership” if or when the tenant succeeded in purchasing 100% of the home. The information provided by Cllr. Butt showed “0” shared ownership in the rent or tenure details, but then admitted that there were 39 ‘shared ownership homes within the HRA account’.


At the Scrutiny meeting on 8 November, Cllr. Georgiou had requested ‘complete clarity for the committee’ on Brent’s Council housing (see transcript at the end of my 11 November “Affordable Council Homes” guest post). When he put to the Chief Executive that Brent appeared to be including shared ownership as part of its Council housing, Ms Downs replied: ‘We have not ever built a single Shared Ownership. Developers might, we the Council haven’t.’ 


That reply seems to have been playing with words. The shared ownership homes in Brent’s Housing Revenue Account must include 23 built for Brent Council, by a developer, under a Section 106 planning agreement, as part of the Grand Union development (the other 16 may well have been acquired under similar agreements). But under that same S.106 agreement, 92 of the 253 LAR homes included in the 1,000 NCH count were built, for Brent but not by Brent. This “double standards” treatment could be considered misleading!


You will see from the reply attached below that the proposed “conversion” of “genuinely affordable” LAR homes to shared ownership, which Cabinet approved on 14 November, and the commissioning of a report into shared ownership demand in Brent, is explained like this:


‘The proposal was therefore to identify new examples of best practice so Brent can be a leading example in any shared ownership homes that it provides ….’


Along with the reply to the questions, Cllr. Butt sent two other documents. These were a December 2017 Report by the Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research on “Affordable housing products in Brent and their affordability to target client groups” and some “Shared Ownership data sets” extracted from that report. 


Shared ownership affordability for a couple with two children in Brent, from the data sets.


The report seems to be the source of much of the data supplied to the later Brent Poverty Commission, which led to this extract from a report to Cabinet in October 2020:


Brent Council’s policy on Shared Ownership, as set out in a Cabinet Report, October 2020.


That assessment does see the need for some shared ownership homes in the borough. However, an “Update” report to Cabinet a few months earlier, on progress towards meeting the strategic target of 5,000 new affordable homes by March 2024, showed that other shared ownership providers had more than enough such homes “in the pipeline” to meet that need.


Table from the July 2020 Update Report on progress towards the new affordable homes target.


On the data currently available, it seems likely that there will already be more shared ownership homes in Brent than existing Brent residents, who might be thinking of this “housing product” in order to “get on the housing ladder”, can afford. They are mainly suitable for young professionals, who would like to eventually own their own home and who foresee their income level rising significantly as they gain experience. But they are also the ones most likely to have read about the pitfalls of shared ownership on social media (see this 2020 guest post from a shared ownership tenant in Kilburn)!


If you wanted to get on the shared ownership ladder in Brent now, there are plenty of opportunities to chose from. But you can only qualify for this supposedly “affordable” housing option if your annual household income is less than £90k! Then, if you managed to get a mortgage to buy a 25% share of a home, you’d probably have to pay service charges of at least £250 a month, on top of your mortgage payments and rent for the other 75%.


A small representative selection of the shared ownership homes in Brent
currently advertised on the internet.


At the end of his presentation on 14 November, Cllr. Georgiou urged Brent’s Cabinet to reject the Officer’s recommendation to “convert” LAR homes in the NCH Programme to shared ownership. His plea, and the evidence he’d given to support it, was ignored. He tried to get the Full Council meeting on 21 November to consider a motion calling for Brent to concentrate on delivering genuinely affordable rented homes, and not to make some of the homes it plans to build shared ownership or open market sale. 


The attempt at a proper debate on the issue was ambushed by Cllr. Shama Tatler, with a Labour Group amendment, which backbench Labour councillors were “whipped” to support. But I still believe that ordinary residents should have their say, so if you would like to, please add a comment to my guest blog “SHARED OWNERSHIP – Let’s have a debate!


Have I figured out Cllr. Butt’s reply for you? If I’ve done my sums correctly, more than 3½ years into the five year Strategic Target, Brent’s New Council Homes Programme has only delivered 253 genuinely affordable new homes for people on its long waiting list. It has also built 235 genuinely affordable new homes for existing tenants, “decanted” from homes it plans to demolish in order to redevelop the sites for housing in future. That’s 488 in total, out of 1,000.

Philip Grant


Councillor Muhammed Butt's reply to Cllr. Georgiou's questions.


Top licensing KC wins new hearing for Review of Aura Bar and Restaurant's licence. 3,681 sign petition to close The Aura. Premises have 'safety concerns' over threats made against them.


The Licensing and Entertainment Sub-Committee of Brent Council is not a committee that usually attracts attention, but today's hearing was an exception. The agenda was an application by the police for a 'Fully Expedited Review' of the Premises Licence for the Aura lounge and bar in Harrow Road, Sudbury.

This followed serious crime and disorder involving fighting on the 30th of October 2022 when a male lost his life. There was a report from the Metropolitan Police and Brent Licensing Officer. Residents and local ward councillors supplied evidence with a 259-signature petition opposing the licence and letters in support of the premises had also been received.

In fact, Sudbury ward councillor and Sudbury resident Paul Lorber said in his introductory remarks that this petition had been started by the family and there was also an on-line petition with more than 2,000 signatures (actually 3,681 today Nov 29th LINK).

It became clear when. in the introductions we heard that a KC, Philip Colvin, was representing the premises, that this was no ordinary hearing.  The website 11KBW describes Colvin:

Philip is one of the country’s most eminent licensing KCs. His practice spans all fields of licensing, including alcohol and entertainment, gambling, sexual entertainment, taxis, sport, and the security industry. He acts across the board for national and independent operators, national regulators, local authorities and local residents and community groups.

He has been ranked in the top tier for licensing in the Legal 500 and Chambers directories for many years.  As one client put it, “There isn’t anyone who comes close to his stature” (Legal 500 2020)

He is Patron of the Institute of Licensing, the professional body for licensing practitioners, a board member of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and an Associate Fellow of Westminster University’s Centre for Law, Society and Popular Culture. He is also a Recorder of the Crown Court, sitting as a Judge in jury trials in the Crown Court on a part-time basis.

Dickon Edwards, Legal Adviser to Brent Council made a statement before any evidence was presented.  He said that the Sub-Committee had received representations both from the police and the premises that the review hearing should be held in private. He said, the police are understandably concerned that there is a risk that an ongoing serious investigation might be compromised, or all their evidence be disclosed in a public forum. The premises have safety concerns in the context of a number of threats that have been made recently against them.'

He continued:

Clearly the Sub-Committee is mindful of the need for justice and the huge concern and public interest in the hearing but balancing the interest and mindful of the powers under Regulation 14 of the Licensing Act 2003 the Sub-Committee has determined that the hearing shall be conducted in private. The Sub-Committee did consider whether a mixed hearing could be conducted and considered this to be impracticable.

The live feed was suspended while the Sub-Committee met privately and when it resumed it was clear that Philip Colvin had done his work.

In a carefully worded statement Dickon Edwards said:

The Sub-Committee has considered an application made by Mr Colvin, KC, on behalf of the premises to adjourn this review hearing and it to be heard before a reconstructed Sub-Committee, on the basis that Sub-Committee has demonstrated an apparent bias in their conduct of the hearing. They were reminded of the test for establishing bias within the case of Porter-Mcgill LINK [The Westminster Council, Shirley Porter council house sales case], that is to say whether a fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts would conclude that there was a real possibility of bias.

Without accepting that there is, or was, any bias within the Sub-Committee or any individual members, for or against any of the parties, the Sub-Committee has determined that it is in the public interest for the hearing to be adjourned to be reheard before a differently constituted panel to ensure that any decision that is reached in due course cannot be subject to any such doubts or concerns.