A guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity
1 Morland Gardens and the community garden across the Hillside junction, September 2022.
Martin has already highlighted the £18m in cuts/savings which is the main item for next Monday’s Brent Cabinet meeting, but another report, which was added to the agenda on Tuesday afternoon, may be just as important.
The “Update on the supply of New Affordable Homes” is far more than its bland title suggests. I hope to write a separate post about that, but first I would like to share with you an open email which I sent on Wednesday afternoon to the Council Leader and Lead Member for Housing. It offers an alternative solution to that proposed in the report by Council Officers for the Council’s controversial, hugely delayed and badly flawed Morland Gardens project. I have added some relevant illustrations, to break up the email’s text:-
Dear Councillor Butt and Councillor Knight,
The report to next Monday’s Cabinet meeting, Update on the supply of New Affordable Homes, shows that there are problems with a number of the Council’s schemes, including Morland Gardens at para. 4.26. The problems with that project are even worse than admitted in the report. I am writing to suggest an alternative solution, which I hope that you, and Council Officers, will seriously consider.
The Morland Gardens paragraph from the Update Report to Cabinet.
[ SO = Shared Ownership. OMS = Open Market Sale.]
The report admits that the current scheme is not viable, and offers ‘to value engineer the scheme during the PCSA process’ as a possible solution. What it does not admit is that the scheme is likely to lose the £6.5m GLA funding, which was part of the original basis for Cabinet approving it in January 2020. It will lose that funding because it will not be possible for the project to “start on site” by 31 March 2023.
At the moment, the Council does not have a “site” there. 1 Morland Gardens and its grounds are legally occupied, until at least January 2023, by Live-in Guardians. The Public Realm outside the property, including the Harlesden City Challenge Community Garden, which would form part of the site, has not been appropriated for planning purposes. It cannot be appropriated unless a section of highway crossing it can be stopped-up, and the proposed Order for that is the subject of objections which will not be resolved until after 31 March 2023.
Alan Lunt’s email of 2 June 2021.
In an email of 2 June 2021, copied to you both, and which is in the public domain, the then Strategic Director for Regeneration, Alan Lunt, wrote: ‘I confirm that the demolition of “Altamira” [the locally listed heritage Victorian villa] will not take place until all of the legal pre-requisites are in place.’ No work can commence before matters such as the stopping-up are resolved, and that will be too late for the GLA funding deadline.
Converting some of the proposed 65 homes to shared ownership, or trying to squeeze more homes into the building, instead of affordable workspace, would both need planning consent. This would mean further delay and expense. It would be throwing good money after bad, just as Alan Lunt’s risk of awarding a two-stage Design & Build contract, which Cabinet approved last June, for a project which did not have a legal site was a waste of at least £1.2m (the estimated cost of the PCSA process).
This project has been flawed from its early stages. It breached the Council’s adopted heritage assets policy, which was only justified for planning purposes by the “benefit” of 65 affordable homes at London Affordable Rent. If there is any change to that “benefit”, then that justification no longer exists.
Councillor Knight will remember that, at the Planning Committee meeting on 12 August 2020, her colleague Cllr. Aden, on behalf of all three Stonebridge councillors, was neutral on the Morland Gardens application. Although he welcomed the prospect of 100% LAR housing, he was against the loss of the important heritage asset, the overdevelopment of the site to the detriment of local residents and the inadequate parking and servicing provision, which would cause traffic congestion at the busy Hillside / Brentfield Road junction.
Councillor Aden’s submission, from the Planning Committee minutes, 12 August 2020.
It is time to rethink this project, as I suggested even before the planning decision in 2020, in detail to Stonebridge Ward councillors in June 2021 (with copy to the Leader and then Lead Member), and again to you as Council Leader and Alan Lunt in January 2022.
Extract from my email to Stonebridge Ward councillors on 19 June 2021 (which Cllr. Knight replied to).
The main reason for the 1 Morland Gardens scheme was to provide the Brent Start college with more modern facilities than those provided in the 1990s in the sympathetically restored heritage building. That modern college facility does not have to be on the Morland Gardens site. £15m of CIL money was been set aside for it in 2020, with a further unspecified amount agreed at last month’s Cabinet meeting.
By working with the developer, using Section 106 if necessary, that new college could be provided as part of the Unisys House redevelopment, still in Stonebridge and alongside the new Bridge Park community facilities. That would leave the question of what to do with Brent Start until the new college was available.
The college is currently in a temporary home in the Stonebridge Primary School annexe. It could stay there, but the better solution would be to move it back to the existing facilities at 1 Morland Gardens. Once the new college was ready, the Morland Gardens site could be developed for housing and/or community facilities, retaining the beautiful heritage building as part of the scheme (details of which could be worked out and agreed ahead of the college’s permanent move).
Moving Brent Start out of the Stonebridge Primary School annexe would allow the much-delayed Twybridge Way housing scheme to go ahead. That project, which is being blocked by the Council’s mistakes over Morland Gardens, will provide 14 family-sized houses, 13 smaller flats for rent and 40 new supported 1-bedroom homes for independent living. Sensible allocation of those “NAIL” homes could allow forty existing family-sized homes in the Stonebridge area to become available for families on Brent’s waiting list.
Brent’s current plans for 1 Morland Gardens have been ill-conceived since the time of poor advice from Council Officers in late 2018 / early 2019. Rather than trying to press on with a project which is badly flawed, please take this opportunity to make a sensible choice, and accept the alternative solution I have put forward.
Thank you. Best wishes,