Tuesday 31 October 2023

Brent’s Halloween Nightmare – its Morland Gardens planning consent has expired!

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity 


“Altamira”, 1 Morland Gardens, on 30 October 2023 (a significant date).


I’ve lost count of the number of guest posts I’ve written about Brent Council’s plans to redevelop (and demolish!) this locally listed heritage Victorian villa, then home to Brent Start, since they first submitted a planning application in February 2020.


The proposed development was mentioned in a report to Brent’s Cabinet earlier this month, which said: ‘The Morland Garden project is experiencing significant viability challenges whilst also being subject to a significant delay in the project delivery timescales dependent on the outcome of the public inquiry in relation to the stopping up order.’


I pointed out one of the “significant viability challenges” in guest posts in July, including copies of open letters to Brent’s Chief Executive and to the Mayor of London. I showed that Brent’s claim to have achieved a “start of site” by 31 March 2023, in order to qualify for more than £6.5m in GLA 2016-2023 Affordable Homes Programme funding, was false.


At first Brent refused to accept this, but on 30 August I received a letter of apology from Kim Wright, including the following admissions:


‘In the past few days, I have been made aware of some delays to the works programme which have resulted in the GLA’s Start on Site definition not being met, and this is different to what I had been firmly assured by colleagues was the case and which I communicated to you.’


‘I have expressed my disappointment and frustration to those Officers involved, in that I should have been able to rely on the accuracy of what they were telling me, especially after I had probed this particular point thoroughly in order to satisfy myself as to the position.’


‘Having reviewed this with the GLA, the council is now aware that this means the Start on Site definition was not met …. The council informed the GLA as soon as we became aware of this error and we are committed to working closely with them to address any implications arising from it.’


So, currently NO funding from the GLA for this project, What about the delay caused by ‘the public inquiry in relation to the stopping up order’? The Mayor of London’s decision on 20 March 2023 advised Brent that a Public Inquiry would be necessary, but (as one of the objectors) I waited in vain to hear when that would be held. 


On 23 June I submitted an FoI request with a simple question:


‘Has a request to hold an Inquiry over the proposed Stopping-up Order been sent to the Inspector?’


All that it needed was a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, on 31 July I received the following response from Brent’s Director of Property and Assets:


‘In relation to [your enquiry] above, I am unable to provide any of the information that you have requested, and, in this regard, I apply the EIR 2004 Exemptions set out in 12(4) (d) which states that the Council may refuse to disclose information where “the request relates to material which is still in the course of completion. This is because the Council is currently in the process of considering its options in relation to the Stopping-up-Order and no formal decision has been made as to how the Council will proceed.’


It appeared that the Council had not yet put the wheels in motion for an Inquiry into the objections (by four members of the public) against the proposed Stopping-up Order, but as the refusal to say “yes” or “no” seemed unreasonable, I requested an Internal Review. However, it appears that I didn’t understand how difficult it can be to provide a straight “yes” or “no” answer!


On 11 September, I received the Council’s response to that Internal Review (from Brent’s Corporate Director of Finance and Resources, no less). It included this statement:


‘With respect to the public interest considerations, I am aware of our obligations to enable greater access to environmental information. I am also aware of the public interest in promoting accountability and transparency for decisions taken by Brent, especially in relation to Morland Gardens and the stopping up order.  However, I am also of the view, that providing a yes/no answer as you suggest, at that time, could disrupt the process and thinking of officers. I am therefore satisfied that the public interest in maintaining the exception outweighs the public interest in disclosure.’


However, the GLA funding and the Public Inquiry required over the Stopping-up Order were not Brent’s only problems over its proposed Morland Gardens development. They seem to have overlooked Condition 1 of the planning consent they received on 30 October 2020:


Condition 1 from the Decision Notice issued on 30 October 2020,
accepting Brent Council’s Morland Gardens planning application 20/0345.


The Council’s flawed Morland Gardens project has seen mistake after mistake, delay after delay. I will ask Martin to attach below a copy of the Open Letter I sent today to Brent’s Chief Executive, advising her that the planning permission for the Morland Gardens development has expired. It has lots of information, pictures and legal argument, should you care to read it.


1 Morland Gardens and the Community Garden, with the sympathetically redeveloped
(about 20 years ago) Victorian villa at 2 Morland Gardens beyond, 30 October 2023,


Brent may try to find a way to wriggle out of the latest mess they have got themselves into, but I hope they will now have the good sense to drop their current plans, and design a development which provides an up-to-date college for Brent Start, with some affordable housing, but retains the beautiful heritage Victorian villa and the Community Garden area in front of it.


Philip Grant.



Monday 30 October 2023

Additional 27 places for Manor School Satellite at Newman Catholic College

Brent's Director for Property and Assets has approved a variation of the Council's contract with McAvoy Group to build extra SEND provision at Newman Catholic College.

The variation will provide an additional 27 places to the 36 originally planned and will cost £411,624.15.

The satellite provision will be run by Manor School.

The provision will remain in place until the new SEND provision in London Road, Wembley is ready to be occupied - originally expected in 2024/25. 

Brent, London, and the struggle against apartheid - Willesden Green Library, noon Tuesday October 31st


The statement from 35 Brent Labour councillors yesterday calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East, mentioned Brent conferring the Freedom of the Borough, on Nelson Mandela, as evidence of the borough's tradition of standing on the 'right side of history'.

This talk at Willesden Green Library tomorrow, Tuesday 31st October noon-1pm, goes into the history of the Anti-Apartheid movement and Brent's part in the struggle for justice in South Africa:

In this talk discover how London was a hub for the international opposition to apartheid South Africa. As well as providing a home for many exiled opponents of the racist regime including Oliver Tambo, President of the African National Congress, London was the HQ of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, which played a leading role in the international campaign to end apartheid. Brent in the 1980s and 1990s had an active local Anti-Apartheid Group and Wembley Stadium hosted the two international Nelson Mandela Concerts in 1988 and 1990.


Mugs first produced by the Brent Anti-Apartheid group, telling the story of a Black South African worker sentenced to 18 months in custody for writing ‘Release Nelson Mandela’ on his tea mug.

Courtesy Anti-Apartheid Legacy & Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives

Long time Brent resident Suresh Kamath was Vice-Chair of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and chaired the organising committee of the two Mandela concerts. He is currently a Trustee of Action for Southern Africa and the Liliesleaf Trust UK.


Public Meeting: CEASEFIRE NOW-SAVE GAZA 31st October, Harrow with Jeremy Corbyn


Saturday 28 October 2023

Barham Park accounts: Cllr Lorber provides evidence for claim of £100k combined loss to the Trust

Following the Scrutiny Committee hearing of the call-in over the Barham Park Trust accounts, Paul Lorber has given me permission to reproduce his letter to Kim Wright, Chief Executive of Brent Council:


I am writing to summarise my continuing concerns about the losses suffered by the Barham Park Charity as a result failures of the Councillor Trustees and by Officers of Brent Council.

I will deal with the saga of the ‘changes template/style of the 2022/23 under separate cover.
One Cabinet member and two other Labour Councillors expressed the view that yesterday’s scrutiny meeting was a "waste of time and money". Since the system of Scrutiny was set up by a Labour Government with the aim of holding decision makers to account these views are surprising and undermine the democratic process and bring it into disrepute.

You told me a while back, in response to my numerous concerns about the Barham Park Trust (BPT) Accounts and loss of income, that an independent audit was to be carried out. I had asked a while back about the scope of that audit and who would undertake it. I was interested because I would wish to make a detailed submission to that person.

As you know I have been expressing my concerns for some time and engaged with officers to get proper answers to my concerns. Sadly these have not been forthcoming. I also made an in advance request to speak at 26 September meeting of the Barham Park Trust which dealt with the accounts deferred from the meeting of 5 September on the grounds that a wrong form was used. I was denied the right to speak and the ability to point out numerous mistakes made by various units of the Council.

The revised accounts - supposedly on the better "received and paid" basis were approved without any questions or review by the Trustees I had no choice but to initiate a call in to Scrutiny.

At Scrutiny one of your officers intervened every time any member wished to ask about figures in the accounts on the grounds that Scrutiny Members could not ask "any operational questions". This seemed bizarre as all numbers in those accounts were the direct result of "operational" decisions many of which could be the wrong decisions.

A mention was made that you had initiated a review of the Accounts but no one present (not even the Operational Director with oversight over Barham Park Trust) was able to provide any details as to the scope of that review and who would to conduct it or the timescale. It sounds a Sir Humphrey Appleby type of review. Scrutiny then expressed a  rather forlorn wish that the findings of that mystical review might possibly be reported to them.

I tried to explain the problems to Scrutiny and made a claim that in my view that through bad practices - "operational" decisions - the Barham Park Trust has lost around £100,000 income and therefore that its cash balances  and reserves are understated by at least £100,000. Action is needed to stop the ongoing losses to arise in future years. This is the list:

1. £22,000 architects charges to the Trust. The BPT agreed to undertake the architects study into redevelopment and income generation on the basis that the estimated cost of up to £25,000 would be met by the Council from its Capital program. That is the only decision BPT as an independent endorsed. At the meeting Councillor Tatler, present as one of the Trustees claimed that the Council was advised that the fees could not be paid out of the Councils Capital Fund and "therefore we agreed to charge it to BPT". I think Councillor Tatler forgot the role she was serving - as a Trustee her sole responsibility is to the Trust and NOT to the Council.
Irrespective of Cllr Tatler's confusion there is no record of a decision or authority in place from the BPT Trustees to charge £22,000 to the Trust 2022/23 Accounts.
2. The largest tenant occupying space in the Barham buildings signed a lease in 2014 at a rent, inclusive of service charges, of £43,000. The rent was due an upward review linked to CPI in 2019. The Property Unit who do not seem to keep a record of when rent reviews are due overlooked this. As a result the increase in rent from 2019 of around £4,800p.a. was not implemented. The loss to BPT between 2019 to 2023 therefore amounts to around £19,000.
3. The Children Centre is leased to Brent Council. A Report to the Executive a few years ago reported that the agreed market rent would be £11,000 plus a service charge. No service charges have ever been calculated or charged and definitely not paid. While without a calculation the exact loss is unknown I estimate it at £10,000.
4. Service charges have not been charged to other tenants in the complex either - once again the exact figure is unknown but another loss of £10,000 is a reasonable estimate.

5. The Accounts for many years have been showing an insurance cost relating to the Barham Park buildings of £2,500. A large proportion of this cost should have been recharged to the tenants in line with normal lease agreements. Once again as the Councilor Officers supposedly supporting the trust have never calculated the recharge the exact figure is also unknown - but I estimate the loss to BPT as another £10,000 to date.
6. For a number of years the Council has used the BPT cash balances of around £500,000 or more within its funds. The Council only pays BPT interest of 2%. Interest for some time.  rates started rising a while back and charities could get a rate above 2%. I estimate that BPT could have achieved an average interest rate at 3% in 2021/22 and  probably as much as 4% in 2022/23 if making independent decisions the loss of interest income would therefore be around £5,000 in 2021/22 and £10,000 in 2022/23 - a total of £15,000 over those two years.
7. The rent paid by the Council to BPT for the use of the Children Centre should be based on market rents determined by an independent valuer. This has not been done for some time and the £11,000p.a agreed some 10 years ago is clearly out of date. Even if the market rent had risen in line with CPI it should be around £13,000p.a. by now which means that over the last 5 years BPT has lost around £10,000 in extra rent income.
8. Letting of Unit 7. This was agreed in over 4 years and Heads of terms issued in February 2019. Council Officers suspended the process while the long winded review of the buildings etc is carried out. Had the matter been dealt with efficiently the Unit would have been modernised and been serving people with Dementia from at least 1 April 2021. BPT has therefore lost 2 years worth of rent worth £4,000. 
9. Unit 7 sustained extensive damage through water penetration and wet rot. Some of the repairs required where suspended while Unit 7 was modernised - the cost of this could have been paid for out of the NCIL Grant awarded to Friends of Barham Library. The work will now need to be carried out at some point by BPT and will cost a minimum of £5,000. (as this is a future cost this is not included in the £10,000 at this point). 
10. The charges for use of Barham Park for annual Funfairs are covered by a Council wide agreement negotiated by the Parks Department. This was renewed from 13 January 2022 and covers 5 parks including Barham Park. The daily licence fee  was set at £978.16 per operating day in year 1 plus RPIX as determined by the average for the preceeding period from September and August. This suggests a day fee of over £1,000 per operating day in Barham Park in 2022/23. Paragraph 2.2g then refers to "annual 41 day operational fees etc" to be paid in April with and fees for additional operational dates to be payable in September. 
This implies that BPT should have received a payment of 41 x £1,000 = £41,000 in 2022/23. As only £36,000 is shown as received (accounts on cash received basis) there is a shortfall of £5,000. It is possible and probably likely that BPT has been underpaid in many of the previous years too. The Licence to Occupy agreement for the Funfairs is poorly written but irrespective of this a detailed review of this needs to be carried as the Funfair Operator may have been under charged not just for using Barham Park but all the other parks in Brent.
11. As you know one of the tenants, brought to the table and espoused as being ideal by Council Officers in 2013 built up rent arrears of a staggering £79,000. The Lease terms state that interest on rent arrears would be charged. While there was an 'amnesty' for this for a while during the Covid lockdowns this came to end a long time ago. Officers responsible for managing BPT failed to impose any interest charges on this substantial debt which will not be settled until 31 March 2024. To cover this up and to ensure that BPT had enough cash to meet its operating needs the Council was forced to make an 'advance' to BPT which is some what secretly reflected in the 2022/23 accounts as the £39,000 figure was netted off against the balance of £12k of architects which was charged to BPT without BPT approval. The loss of interest lost needs to be calculated but could be up to £5,000. 

In conclusion the combination of the above issues suggest a combined loss of around £100,000 to the Trust. I have attended many of the BPT meetings over the years. I have tried to express my concerns but was frequently denied the right to speak. I have reviewed most of the Reports and Minutes of BPT meetings since at least 2013 and cannot find and decisions which authorise the following:

1. The payment of £22,000 Architects Fees
2. The forgoing of Rent Reviews and the charging a rent in line with the mutually agreed Lease Terms.
3. Failure to charge service charges in respect of the Children Centre (and to other tenants)
4. Not recharging insurance costs for many years
5. Not to to pay the market rate of interest on BPT cash balances after interest rates started rising substantially.
6. Not to revalue revalue and pay a proper market rent for the Children Centre
7. to accept the loss of rental income by failing  to complete the letting of Unit 7.
8. Not to charge interest on rent arears.
9. Not to charge correct operational fees for use of Barham Park for Funfairs. In fact the issue of funfair fees and impact of using the land in Barham Park is hardly mentioned.

BPT is a charity and Councillors and Officers have a very special duty of care to a Charity under its control. As Trustees and as responsible Officers the duty is to the charity only. This duty includes a fiduciary duty to ensure that the Charity receives all income that is due to it, that it does not incur expenditure that it is not responsible for and has not authorised and that its assets are protected.

In my view, and the evidence presented above I am concerned that the Trustees and the officers tasked to serve the Charity have not fully met that duty.

Friday 27 October 2023

'The missing' undermine Brent Scrutiny as its wrestles with the Barham Trust accounts. Brent CEO commissions independent review of the accounts and associated issues.

 Four councillors were missing from the meeting of Brent Public Realm and Resources Scrutiny Committee last night (Cllrs Miller, Mitchell, Shah and Aden) as well as the CHief Executive, Head Of Audit and representatives from Brent Council property team. The meeting was a call-in by 5 opposition councillors on the Barham Trust accounts. LINK

The latter absences particularly affected the Committee's ability to get answers to their questions. This was compounded by a ruling that councillors could only ask about the format of the accounts, and the changes made in the presentation, but not the accuracy of the figures. They could not touch on 'operational' issues. At one point legal officers seemed to back down and say questions about the figures could be asked but Cllr Tatler (deputising for Cllr Muhammed Butt who is at a wedding in Pakistan, but acting as a Barham Park trustee) quickly stepped in to declare her complete confidence in the accounts, and officers were not pressed further to answer the questions, leaving committee members high and dry.

Cllr Geogiou drew attention to the call-in paper that had been approved by officers that clearly referred to inaccuracies in the accounts, rather than just the presentation. He was puzzled as to why he could not ask about figures,

On the last point (above) the Committee found out for the first time that a council committee had ruled that the Council could not pay for the  £25,000 consultant's site redevelopment  report (architect's fees)  from capital funds, and that this would have to be paid from the Trust's own funds, despite an earlier agreement for council payment.

Presenting the call-in Cllr Paul Lorber drew attention to the recording of an income of £1,625 for 2022/23 when the income from the site's four main tenants (excluding the children's centre) should be £54,000 as well as include income from funfairs.  Towards the end of the meeting the finance officer said the £1,625 was a net figure which suggests there were a lot of arrears in that year. 

Officers repeatedly claimed that the change in the method of presentation of the accounts was to make them more understandable and transparent with the council's contribution clear. A perplexed Cllr  Fraser (a substitute), herself a trustee elsewhere, felt the new presentation raised more questions than answers.  The Committee were told that questions  about rent should be addressed to Brent Property but they were not present to answer.

Lorber clashed with officers over their rulings and Cllr Tatler at the end of the meeting said that she was going to report him via a complaint about his treatment of officers.

The carpet was rather pulled from beneath the Committee when they were told that the Chief Executive of Brent had commissioned her own additional consultancy review to provide independent assurances over the recent comments and the correctness of the accounts. This was ongoing and would be concluded in early November.

They became confused about what exactly might happen to their recommendations in the light of the CEO's report. The CEO was not present to answer and officers felt unable to answer for her.

A laconic Cllr Long wondered if a Trust was the best way of looking after Barham Park and was swiftly told that present arrangements had recently been confirmed.

Summing up, Committee Chair, Cllr Rita Conneely said that she respected Cllr Tatler's position of absolute confidence in the accounts but a move towards more transparency would be welcomed by people who have an interest in Barham Park and its governance. 

The results of the CEO's reports were not in front of the Committee and so it would be difficult for the them to preempt what was in the report and prejudge any conclusions. Everything that had been done so far appeared to be in line with the Charity Commission, but the committee did not have that data.

Scrutiny Committee had requested earlier this week, when they received paperwork from the Head of Audit, who signed off the report,  that they be present at the meeting. They were not available  and so could not answer questions, which was a shame.

Conneely went to on to say that although some information was available to the committe it also limited some of the questions they would like to have asked.  Her own position would be that the commitete should recommend that when the CEO's  had completed her report, that any concerns or examples of good practiced, should be shared with the Trust for consideration and for implementation.

She hoped that the CEO's report and the Trust itself would reflect on the committee's discussion and the additional matters that were raised by Scrutiny councillors, and would be considered as evidence in their future meetings.

Committee members asked how they could gain further information and were told  that they would have to make Members' Requests.

Cllr Saqib Butt declared himself satisfied with the accounts but Cllr Moghaddam said unanswered questions meant that he was not happy with them. Cllr Butt and Cllr Tatler said that they thought the call-in was a waste of time and the monies expended put to better use. Cllr Georgiou strongly contested this saying call-in was part of effective scrutiny and accountability and essential to local democracy. For the record he disassociated himself from their remarks.

A rather frustrating meeting all round.

Thursday 26 October 2023

Council summit on 'stark' crisis in providing homeless safety net within current funding

I recently reported on the financial crisis facing Brent Council due to the rising number of homeless in the borough and the spiralling cost of temporary accommodation.  I have just received notice of this meeting which Brent councillors may be interested in attending.

Over 100 councils will attend an emergency summit taking place on Tuesday 31 October to discuss the escalating social and financial crisis created by the unprecedented demand for temporary accommodation.


Hosted by Eastbourne Borough Council and the District Councils’ Network, this summit aims to share insight from the councils attending and will result in a joint cross-party letter to the government ahead of the Autumn Statement urging immediate action.


Councillor Stephen Holt, Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, said:


The situation is stark. 


Councils provide a safety net for the most vulnerable people who need our help, and that safety net is at real risk of failing. 


Figures from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities have shown that the cost of temporary accommodation to local authorities reached 1.7bn last year and is increasing rapidly. This is wholly unsustainable for councils, and the situation is now critical.


The summit will explore solutions from the government, including: 


  • Increase Local Housing Allowance rates for private rented accommodation 
  • Develop policy to stimulate retention and supply in the privately rented sector 
  • Review the housing benefit subsidy rate for local authority homelessness placements 
  • Give district councils the powers, funding, and resources needed to increase the supply of social housing
  • Increase the level of Discretionary Housing Payment and Homelessness Prevention Grant


The Minister for Local Government, Lee Rowley, has been invited to attend the summit.


Councillor Hannah Dalton, the District Councils’ Network spokesperson for health, housing and hardship, said:


Across the country, we are experiencing a spiralling tide of need, driven by a severe shortage of social housing, the cost of living crisis, and an unstable and unaffordable private rented sector. This means as district councils, we are placing an unprecedented number of people in temporary accommodation, which is cripplingly expensive for councils and unsuitable for residents. 


Districts are vital to preventing homelessness and providing resolution when our residents are faced with no alternative. Without urgent intervention, the very existence of this safety net is under threat.


We are therefore calling on the government to act now and urgently adopt our five asks ahead of the Autumn Statement. While these alone will not end homelessness, they will go a long way in reducing the number of families in temporary accommodation and the series of challenges that come with this.


The summit will take place remotely on Tuesday 31st October from 9.30am to 11am.


Any council leaders, housing portfolio holders or senior council officers wishing to attend the summit should email laura.walsh@lewes-eastbourne.gov.uk.

Council housing – does Brent know what it is doing?

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity


An aerial view of the Newland Court estate. (From Google Maps satellite view)


Although much of the attention at the 15 November Planning Committee meeting will be on the deferred Kilburn Square application, there is another Council infill housing application which may well be on the agenda. 


Brent New Council Homes Programme’s Newland Court garages proposals (22/3124) were first submitted on 7 September 2022. Many residents, both on the estate and whose homes backed onto the very narrow site, objected to the plans. My own objection was mainly because the established trees along the boundary, protected as part of the Barn Hill Conservation Area, grow both over and under the site, making it impractical for the proposed development.


Brent’s April 2023 revised five homes plan for the Newland Court infill scheme.


Although Planning Officers should have refused the application, they instead allowed the Council’s architects and planning agent to submit revised plans in April, which reduced the number of homes from seven to five (so extra cost, reduced viability). Surely this scheme could not go ahead? I’m grateful to Marc, and other Newland Court residents, for their permission to quote from correspondence they have received from Brent Council over recent months, which has inspired the title of this guest post.


As this threat of a detrimental development had been hanging over her head for a year, one resident wrote to Brent Council’s Head of Housing and Neighbourhoods in September 2023, to ask what was going on. This was the reply she received, from Brent’s Tenancy and Neighbourhoods Service Manager on 18 September:


‘Thank you for your e-mail dated 5 September, which is addressed to Kate Dian, Head of Housing and Neighbourhoods.


Newland Road is not a Private Road, as the site is own by the Council and based on a public land.


Due to current financial pressure the proposed infill will not go ahead. This has now been confirmed by our housing supply and partnership services.


Your site is included in the next round of consultation for ‘Off street-controlled parking’. We expect the consultation to take place before the end of this calendar year. As the proposed infill will not go ahead, the associated cost and its implications are now not relevant issues, which requires further clarity.’


The reply was shared with her neighbours, to great relief, although there was some puzzlement over the reference that “Newland Road” ‘is not a Private Road’, as the Council’s signs at either end of it say the opposite.


Signs at the gated entrance to one end of the Newland Court estate road.
(Courtesy of Michelle Hart)


Marc, one of the Newland Court residents who has been leading the battle against the plans, and the way in which he and his neighbours have been treated by the Council over them, was not convinced by this “good news”. He’d been told that Brent’s application would be going to Planning Committee on 18 October. He wrote to the Lead Member for Housing, seeking clarification, and this was the response he received on 4 October:


‘Dear Marc,


Firstly, I would like to apologise for the delay in responding to your enquiry. I have now had an opportunity to review this matter and liaised with the development team; my findings are as follows.


As you will appreciate there is a chronic housing shortage in Brent, which the Council is committed to addressing, by utilising available resources to increase the supply of affordable homes.


Although building costs have increased due to the current economic climate, the Council are reviewing the pipeline and will continue to pursue planning permission for schemes within the New Council Homes Programme, including the Newland Court development site: should planning approval be secured, then an extensive financial review to assess the financial viability of each development going forward will be undertaken.


At this stage, no formal decision about the Newland Court development proposal has been made and on behalf of the Council I would like to sincerely apologise for any confusion caused because of recent communication which has been circulated.


I recognise this may not be the response you hoped for and note your comments, but I trust the above clarifies the Council’s position in respect of this matter.


Cllr Promise Knight
Stonebridge Ward
Lead Member for Housing, Homelessness, and Renters’ Security


So, Brent Council’s housing team is spending time and money, pressing on with seeking planning consent for schemes (often small ones) which it doesn’t know whether it will ever be able to afford to build.


I have to say, yet again, that if they had got on and built the 250 homes on the vacant Council-owned brownfield site at Cecil Avenue (the former Copland School), which they obtained full planning consent for in February 2021, and built them all as Council homes, they would have done much better in ‘utilising available resources to increase the supply of affordable homes.’ Instead, those homes won’t be available until  2026, 152 of them will be sold privately by Brent’s “developer partner”, and only 59 will be for Council tenants at London Affordable Rent.


The Rokesby Place car park on 3 October 2023.


They received planning consent for at least two small infill schemes last year. The August 2022 Planning Committee meeting approved Brent’s application to build two four-bedroom houses on the car park at Rokesby Place. These were supposed to be homes at Social Rent level, for Brent families in housing need, although Planning Officers changed that to London Affordable Rent (which would be £772 a year more, at 2022/23 levels).


By November 2022, Brent’s Cabinet were told that Rokesby Place would not be viable as genuinely affordable housing, so that one of the two houses might have to be sold privately. Even then, no action seems to have been taken to build the two houses, as shown by the recent photograph of the car park “site” above.


In December 2022, Planning Committee approved another Brent two houses infill application, for the garage site behind homes at Broadview (a late 1950s Wembley Council estate in Kingsbury, now with many houses privately-owned through “right to buy”). They did so despite misleading information from Planning Officers, which had been brought to their attention by objectors!


Has any progress been made on building those “much needed Council homes”? None that I can see, and I suspect that they will never be built. The houses on this tiny unsuitable site would cost more than usual to build because they would need extensive soundproofing (because they would be just 20 metres from the Jubilee Line tracks), and will need a special water tank constructed under the front forecourt (as fire engines could not get close enough to them, because of a long access drive only 2 metres wide).


Cllrs Butt, Tatler and Knight at the Watling Gardens “groundbreaking” event, October 2023.
(Brent Council publicity photograph)


Brent Council does claim that it is having some success in “Delivering New Council Homes”, as shown by this staged photograph taken at Watling Gardens. Their planning application was submitted in 2021, and received full consent in April 2022. Eighteen months later, they are just starting work on the project, and it will be ‘winter 2025’ before the homes are finally “delivered”.


That is not all. The Council’s June 2022 press release, headed “Another 125 new council homes for local families”, was rather misleading, as a blog by Martin at the time pointed out. 42 Council homes are being demolished to make way for the redevelopment, and 34 of the new homes will be used to house displaced tenants. 45 will be 1-bedroom “independent living” flats for elderly people (not for families). The Cabinet decided that 24 of the remainder should be “converted” from London Affordable Rent to shared ownership. That leaves only 22 of these “New Council Homes” available for local people waiting for a genuinely affordable home to rent.


The Cabinet Member for Housing, Homelessness, and Renters’ Security,
in a July 2022 Brent PR video promoting its Clement Close infill proposals.


There is no dispute that Brent needs thousands more genuinely affordable homes to rent, and the borough’s Labour leadership promised to build 1,000 of these in the five years up to March 2024, and a further 700 (part-funded by a promise of over £100m from the GLA) by 2028.


I agree with the Council that the steep rise in the cost of building materials, and in interest rates, has made their task more difficult. But poor decision making, and poor advice from some Council Officers, have played a big part in delaying some schemes, and seeing others put on hold.


Why has so much time and effort (and money) gone into small infill schemes which common sense should have told them would never work, either practically or financially?


Why have they wasted two years trying to push through an unacceptable proposal for Kilburn Square (missing out on the chunk of GLA 2016-2023 Affordable Homes Programme funding which would have been available), when if they had worked with the local community on a smaller scheme, construction could already be underway?


And to go back to my original question on Council housing: ‘does Brent know what it is doing?’

Philip Grant


A number of Newland Court residents have copied me into emails they have sent in the past ten days to Brent's Council Leader, Chief Executive, Planning Committee members and others at the Civic Centre.

These emails have listed what is wrong with the plans for their estate, the lack of any meaningful consultation with them over the proposals, the ignoring of their objections by Planning Officers, the Council's off-hand responses to correspondence over the proposals (one example: email responses 'seem like the respondent is reading of a script like a cold fish. We are not stupid, please get to the facts and stop insulting our intelligence.'), and they have called for the Planning Committee to visit the estate and see for themselves how ridiculous the plans are.

Councillor Muhammed Butt, or his Complaints and Casework Officer on his behalf (it's interesting that the Council Leader needs his own Complaints Officer!), has sent a letter to one of the residents, copied to others who have drawn these important issues to his attention. It says:

'Your enquiry has been forwarded to the respective department, who will look into the issue and make every effort to resolve it.'

I will ask Martin to add a copy of the "Office of the Leader" letter below my article above, as evidence of his apparent indifference to the views of local residents, who are also Council housing estate tenants and leaseholders.