Guest Post by Philip Grant in a person capacity
1 Morland Gardens, behind locked Heras fencing, 26
It is almost three years since I first wrote about Brent Council’s plans to demolish “Altamira”, the locally listed Victorian villa at 1 Morland Gardens, and build a new adult education facility and 65 homes there. Ever since the project for an updated Brent Start college, intending to retain this beautiful heritage building, was “hijacked” at the end of 2018, to provide a large number of new Council homes, there have been mistakes and delays. Now there are more.
Brent Council does now have a vacant building, as the six month stay by Live-in Guardians has ended, and a barrier of Heras fencing now surrounds the outer wall of the grounds. They also have a contractor in place for their project, Hill Partnerships Ltd, under a two-stage Design & Build contract awarded last July. The first stage, a Pre-Construction Service Agreement, is underway, and as part of that the contractor submitted a Construction Logistics Plan (“the Plan”), as required by one of the conditions of the planning consent (given in October 2020!).
Condition 20, for a construction logistics plan, from the 1 Morland Gardens planning consent.
The submission of the Plan, in December 2022, was treated as a separate planning application (22/4082), but it was not advertised. I only discovered it online last week. It may not sound like a very interesting document, but when I read it, I found a number of things to comment on, pointing out in my objections how Brent, and their contractor, have got it wrong again.
The Plan treats the development site as a single plot of land, when it is actually two. Brent Council owns the public realm and highway outside the boundary of 1 Morland Gardens, which its proposed new building would partly cover. But it does not have any legal right to build on that piece of land. It first needs to obtain a Stopping-up Order for a section of the highway, and if it gets that order, the Council would need to appropriate that land for planning purposes.
There are objections to the proposed Stopping-up Order, and Brent has yet to submit its request for an Inquiry by an independent Inspector. As far back as May 2021, Brent’s Development Management Manager confirmed that an order would need to be: ‘approved prior to any development taking place on the areas that are currently adopted highway. Until the stopping-up process has been completed under S247 of the Town & Country Act 1990, works will not be able to start on the development insofar as it affects highway land.’
The Plan has been submitted because it needs to be approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority (Brent Council) ‘prior to commencement of the development’. If or when the legal hurdles I’ve just mentioned have been overcome, and the contractor has a site it can start work on, there are still plenty of problems.
The Key Site Constraints page from the Construction Logistics Plan.
As this early page from the Plan shows, there are a number of “constraints” involved in developing the site. Some of these are the result of the project’s designers trying to squeeze too many new homes into an unsuitable site, and ignoring the practical “constraints”. (Does that sound familiar? Newland Court and Kilburn Square come to mind, among others!)
One of the “constraints” listed is the single access/egress point to the site during construction, along the residential cul-de-sac of Morland Gardens itself, which would restrict the size of delivery vehicles. The Plan deals with this by saying that deliveries by articulated lorries will be unloaded from the lay-by, or “pit-lane”, on Hillside. What lay-by?
Page showing where vehicles would deliver materials to the site, from the Logistics Plan.
Someone involved in Brent’s project has made a major mistake here. The lay-by on Hillside for deliveries and refuse collections was part of the original plans submitted in February 2020. Those plans had to be revised, because both TfL and Brent’s Transportation Unit objected that a lay-by there would be unacceptable. Hillside is a London distributor road and bus route, with no waiting allowed at any time along its frontage with 1 Morland Gardens because of the proximity to traffic signals. A lay-by there would also be too close to the bus stop, and make the footpath too narrow for safe use by pedestrians. It appears that the contractor has been given the original, and incorrect, plans!
The site diagram above shows all deliveries by “rigid vehicles” coming through a gate from Morland Gardens, and then using the existing “turning head” to drive into and then reverse, so that they can exit forwards once they have been unloaded. But that “turning head” would no longer be available for vehicles making deliveries to, or collecting refuse from, the other properties in Morland Gardens. This, again, would ‘unduly prejudice the free and safe flow of local highways’, something the Plan should not be allowed to do, if it is to be acceptable to Brent’s planners.
Access for deliveries to Brent’s proposed Morland Gardens development is not an unforeseen problem. I raised it in an objection comment in July 2020 (see the “Transport and Access” section of a guest post I wrote before the Planning Committee meeting), after the revised plan removing the lay-by had been submitted in June 2020. However, Planning Officers dismissed my objection by saying it would be dealt with by a condition requiring a Delivery and Servicing Management Plan for the new college (ignoring the fact that there would also be deliveries and servicing for 65 homes!).
The other page from the Plan which has caused me to make an objection comment is the one labelled “Proposed Sales & Marketing Area”.
The “Sales & Marketing” page from the Construction Logistics Plan.
Sales and Marketing? The 65 homes in this planned Brent Council development are all meant to be “genuinely affordable” homes. Condition 3 of the planning consent confirms that, stating: ‘The development hereby approved shall be implemented and maintained for the lifetime of the development as 100% London Affordable Rent.’ Yet the diagram above shows a 2-bedroom, 3 person “show apartment”, available for viewing in the first section of the development (due for completion in week 64), to be used for sales and marketing purposes.
The 1 Morland Gardens planning application went totally against both Brent and London planning policies on the protection of heritage assets, and Planning Officers admitted that. The justification for doing so was the “public benefits” of the development, particularly the provision of 65 homes which would all be “genuinely affordable”. If some of the homes are to be sold, not let to Council tenants who urgently need them, that shifts the balance more towards scrapping the demolition, and keeping the Victorian villa as part of a more sensible scheme.
The Report to November 2022’s Cabinet meeting about the conversion of some LAR homes to shared ownership did include a paragraph on Morland Gardens, which suggested “value engineering” the project (without giving details). Martin published a guest post from me, including my open email to the Council Leader and Lead Member for Housing. I suggested, not for the first time, an alternative solution, but Cabinet members and Brent’s New Council Homes team seem determined to carry on with a project which is unviable and impractical.
How many more times can they get it wrong, before they realise they’re just throwing good money (our money!) after bad?