Thursday 16 February 2023

Kilburn Square – Would you believe it?

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity


Extract from the Affordable Housing Update Report to Brent’s Cabinet, 14 November 2022.


In a guest post last week, Kilburn Square – Brent must come clean on affordable housing!, I let “Wembley Matters” readers know about the Council’s failure to update Brent’s Planners about the change from London Affordable Rent (“LAR”) homes to shared ownership in its Kilburn Square planning application, 22/3669.


It appeared that they were trying to get their application approved (probably at Planning Committee on 15 March) on the basis that all 99 of the proposed “general needs” homes would be for LAR. A Brent Cabinet decision on 14 November 2022 made it likely that around 40 of those homes would be “converted” to shared ownership. On those “true” figures, the application would be likely to fail Brent’s Local Plan affordable housing policy BH5.


In comments below that article, I kept readers up to date with correspondence between myself and Head of Affordable Housing and Brent’s Lead Member for Housing. However, Martin has agreed that the latest exchange of emails is sufficiently important to deserve a guest post of its own.


I have previously drawn the attention of Ms Baines and Cllr. Knight to a letter I had published in the “Brent & Kilburn Times” on 19 January, calling on the Council for honesty over its Kilburn Square affordable housing proposals:


My letter published in the “Brent & Kilburn Times” on 19 January 2023,


On 9 February, after several brief exchanges of emails, I had written to Brent’s Head of Affordable Housing (with copy to the Cabinet Lead Member for Housing) saying:


‘Please confirm that you have now instructed JLL to submit a revised Affordable Housing Statement for Kilburn Square (application 22/3669), giving the actual and updated tenure split for the proposed 139 homes, including those you intend to "convert" from LAR to shared ownership. 


If you cannot give that confirmation, please explain why, and what you intend to do over the tenure split on this scheme. Thank you.’


This is the full text of the reply I received on 10 February:


‘Hello Phillip,


I have previously confirmed we are still in a live procurement, this means we have not confirmed the market costs of this build and do therefore not know if a change in tenure would even be required. 


I can assure you as head of affordable housing and partnerships my role is to deliver as many social homes as possible. 


Best wishes




I have to admit that I found the claim at the end of the first paragraph difficult to believe! If I had replied straight away, I’d probably have used words I might later regret. So I waited several days, and this is the full text of the reply I sent to Brent’s Head of Affordable Housing on 14 February:


This is an Open Email


Dear Ms Baines,



Thank you for your email of 10 February.



I was pleased to read of your determination 'to deliver as many social homes as possible.' I hope that by 'social homes' you mean homes at Social Rent level, as strongly recommended by the Brent Poverty Commission report in 2020, or at least the other form of "genuinely affordable" Council homes, at London Affordable Rent ("LAR") level.



I was surprised to read that you 'do not know if a change in tenure would even be required', for the 99 "general needs" homes proposed for Kilburn Square in your planning application 22/3669.



That is entirely the opposite of what was set out in the "Update on the supply of New Affordable Homes" report ("the Report") to the 14 November 2022 Cabinet meeting, for which you were the first named Contact Officer.



At para. 1.1 of the Report it stated:


'This report specifically outlines viability gaps across 10 schemes, which are not yet in contract and sets out options for cross subsidisation where possible for the Council’s consideration.'



Paragraphs 4.17 to 4.30 of the Report dealt with 10 New Council Homes Programme ("NCHP") schemes which were not yet in contract, with para. 4.18 stating:


'To better understand the Council’s options, officers have reviewed all 10 of these schemes to explore possible options for making schemes viable. This in real terms means the conversion of some social rented homes to shared ownership or other tenures in order to cross subsidise the scheme.'  



Four of the ten schemes were identified from this review as being suitable for "conversion", and Kilburn Square was one of the four. From the information supplied in the Report, it appears that details of the review's evidence and conclusions, from its assessment of the ten schemes, were set out in an "exempt" appendix to the Report, which was made available to Cabinet members and some Officers, but not to the public. 



Para. 4.19 of the Report gives that information, as follows:


'Appendix 2 sets out a summary table of this assessment and overall, there are four schemes which allow for conversion of some homes (50% or under in keeping with planning requirements) and result in a positive net present value which mean they are financially viable.


These schemes are: 
· Kilburn Square
· Windmill Court
· Seymour Court
· Rokesby Place '



Specific details of the number of homes involved in those four schemes, and the total number to be "converted", were stated in para. 4.20:



'Across these four schemes, there were 204 affordable homes due for delivery either at Social Rent or London Affordable Rent. This conversion would see this number reduce to 145 homes for London Affordable Rent and 59 homes for Shared Ownership.'  



Paragraphs 4.22 and 4.23 appear to make clear that only two homes from the small schemes at Seymour Court and Rokesby Place could be "converted" from LAR to shared ownership. That would leave 57 of the LAR homes proposed for Kilburn Square and Windmill Court to be converted to shared ownership, according to the November 2022 Report.



Given that detailed information, from just three months ago, it is difficult to understand how you can now claim that Officers involved in the NCHP 'do not know if a change in tenure would even be required' for Kilburn Square (which has roughly twice the number of proposed LAR homes than those approved for Windmill Court).



As the Report was signed off by the Corporate Director, Resident Services, and recommended (and received) greater delegated powers for him in respect of the tenure split for NCHP schemes, I am copying this email to him, and to the Council Leader (as well as to the Cabinet Member for Housing).



Mr Gadsdon may wish to explain to the Council Leader (and Cllr. Muhammed Butt may wish to receive that explanation) what has changed so much in the past three months to make the previously unviable Kilburn Square scheme, where perhaps around 40 LAR homes would need to be "converted" to shared ownership, now potentially viable, so that no such "conversion" might be needed.



I am sure that a number of other councillors, and interested local residents, would like that explanation to be made public. 



As things currently stand, the apparent difference in the situation over the affordable housing tenure split at Kilburn Square, between that set out in the Report in November 2022 and that suggested in your email of 10 February, could be seen as an exaggeration of the viability problem last November, in order to mislead elected councillors into transferring some of their powers to Senior Officers. Some clarification is surely needed!



Best wishes,


Philip Grant.’



Has there genuinely been a massive change in the viability of Brent’s proposed Kilburn Square housing scheme in the past three months? Was the “viability gap” on New Council Homes schemes overstated by Council Officers in their report to Cabinet in November 2022? 


Or has the true position over the tenure split of the proposed homes at Kilburn Square not been disclosed in the email sent to me on 10 February, in an attempt to maintain an unfair advantage over affordable housing when the Council’s planning application is considered? You can decide which version you believe!


Philip Grant.



Philip Grant said...


I have been sharing my correspondence on this important point of principle with the public, through "Wembley Matters", in the interests of openness and transparency.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that Council Officers want to be open about their real intentions over what types of homes they plan to deliver at Kilburn Square, pending consideration of their planning application.

This is the full text of a message I received at around 7.30pm yesterday evening, in reply to my email of 14 February above, while my article above was awaiting publication:

'Phillip, your email is noted.

At this point I have nothing further to add other than we are doing our utmost to build as many new council homes as we can. If there is an update to be shared with residents I will ensure this is communicated.

Best wishes

Emily-Rae Baines (She/Her)
Head of Affordable Housing & Partnerships'

David Walton said...

Maybe there is something of use in these two new borough generic (when hyper population Growth is Brent red-line zoned) SPD's for Kilburn Square Growth Zoned?

Draft Residential Amenity Space and Place Quality SPD Feb 2023

Draft Sustainable Environment and Development SPD Feb 2023

Anonymous said...

We need Phillip Grant on the council. Sign him up.

Philip Grant said...

Dear Anonymous (16 February at 18:30),

Thank you for your "vote of confidence". Unfortunately, I don't feel able to stand for election to the Council.

For one thing, I'm past my best physically, and would not have the energy needed to do a councillor's job properly.

For another, I'm a political independent, and the chances of getting elected without a party behind me (and probably with the Brent Labour "machine" against me) would be virtually zero anyway.

Where I hope that I can be of some use is by using what energy I have, and the experience from a former working life in public service, on particular issues that interest me (mainly housing and heritage).

As an independent, I'm happy to liaise with people (including councillors) from any party, or none, in support of a particular cause.

It may not make a difference to the end result, but that does not mean it is not worth trying, especially when there are important principles involved, such as honesty and integrity within our local government.

David Walton said...

Maybe clone Philip?

- Philips.

Developer-led Brent is certainly 'Wild West London' in terms of deny, ignore and block growth data of 2023 facts. See new Feb 'strategic' docs above for proof of that.....

Why not WM post Draft Sustainable Environment and Development SPD Feb 2023 and deconstruct its public mislead?

If Major Development is Brent Planning categorised as 10 flats, then what is South Kilburn Zone?

Philip Grant said...

Dear David (17 February at 10:17),

There is no need for anything as drastic as cloning me!

All that I do is to put my views in writing, and sometimes in person, to councillors and Council Officers, and where it is a planning matter, in online comments on the relevant application.

Any local citizen can do the same, and I think that Brent could be a better place if more people did make our elected representatives aware of how they feel about the issues which concern them.

Just be honest about your views, express them as clearly as you can, and be polite, not abusive.

Martin is kind enough to publish most articles I write, as he does for others as well, to help raise awareness and promote discussion about the issues involved.

And when you get the chance, as many citizens as possible should use their votes to choose councillors who will really represent themselves and their neighbours (not just put their cross by a party name), rather than not bothering, because they think their vote won't change anything.

Philip Grant said...


Further to the response I received from Brent's Head of Affordable Housing (see FOR INFORMATION - 16 February at 10:57 above), I've decided that I can't take this correspondence any further in the face of stonewalling by Council Officers (and no response from the Leader or Lead Member for Housing).

This is the text of the email I sent this afternoon (with copy to Cllr. Promise Knight):

'Dear Ms Baines,

Thank you for your email of 15 February. I've only just realised that I had not yet acknowledged receipt of it.

As you have nothing further to add, it seems that we have reached an unsatisfactory impasse. I expect that matters will be resolved, one way or another, over the next month or so. Best wishes,

Philip Grant.'

How matters will be resolved (at least how those in power at the Civic Centre hope they will be resolved) is likely to be revealed when the agendas for the Cabinet meeting on 13 March and Planning Committee meeting on 15 March are published.

To coin an old phrase: Watch this space! (Or better still, keep an eye on "Wembley Matters".)