Friday 29 March 2024

The loss of a magnificent willow tree in Wembley Park comes as a sad shock

The magnificent willow next to 6 Greenhill Way, Wembley Park - as it was

Wembley Park has a considerable number of willow trees that give the name to Forty Willows GP Surgery and The Willows Children's Centre in Chalkhill amongst the willow=related place names.  A lovely specimen that was in the grounds of the former Brent Town Hall was removed by the Lycee, in 2017 possibly after storm damage:


After removal

Today, having been away for a month I was shocked to see ttoday hat the wonderful willow in Greenhill Way Top photograph) was a shadow of its former self. I believe it might had had a TPO (Tree Preservation Order) but the jagged edges at the end of the branches seem to indicate storm damage but I would be grateful for any information from neighbours. This was a real landmark tree and it is  sad to see it gone.

Further afield there are willows in the Open Space in Monks Park near the River Brent and another in Neasden Lane on the Chancel House site is to be preserved when the North Brent Secondary School is built.


Chancel House willow, Neasden Lane


The willow maze in the woods

Close by in Fryent Country Park (behind the Salmon Street houses) there is a little known willow tree maze planted by the Barn Hill Conservation Group  decades ago. Now nicely mature I have lost a few primary classes and teachers on its leafy paths over the years. 

Barry Gardiner calls for Byron Court to be given 6 months to demonstrate improvement via a reinspection



In a letter to Gillian Keegan, Secretary of State for Education, Barry Gardiner MP for Brent North, calls for Byron Court to be given a chance to improve with the assistance of govrnors and  the Rapid Improvement Group that is now in place. He suggests a period of six months, two of which are holidays, before an Ofsted reinspection takes place. If successful this could mean that Byron Court remains a community school rather than face the disruption and turmoil of academisation.

Gardiner cites the rapid expansion of the school to 5 form entry (opposed by the local community) that made it bigger than some secondary schools and the absence of the headteacher through sickness as contributing to the problems of the school. A falling school roll, after the expansion, put additional pressure on the school as it attempted to manage a much bigger school estate.

Quoting the NEU's criticism of the Ofsted inspection process and its impact on the staff's wellbeing, Gardiner says that if the inspection had taken place under the new guidance issued after the death of Ruth Perry, the inspection would not have found as it did.


The arguments against the expansion of Byron Court into a 'mega-primary' were reported on Wembley Matters in 2016 HERE.


Brent’s Council Housing – A Tale of Two Sites. The reality behind Brent Council press releases

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity

From the Brent Council website home page, 18 March 2024.


Two news items about Council housing on Brent’s website caught my eye this month. Before I look at these schemes individually, let’s have a recap about their targets for affordable homes.


When Brent’s New Council Homes Programme was launched five years ago, the aim was for 5,000 affordable homes to be built in the borough between April 2019 and March 2024 inclusive. As part of that aim, the Council set itself ‘a strategic target of delivering 1,000 new council homes at genuinely affordable rent by 31 March 2024.’


Promise’s “promise”, from the Spring 2024 edition of “Your Brent” magazine.


Having failed to meet those targets by next Sunday, the Council is doing its best to ignore that fact, and to publicise their new target instead. The ‘5,000 affordable homes in total within Brent’ is given an extra four years, and although an extra 700 new Council homes is added to the target to be achieved by 2028, rather than March 2024, they are no longer promised to be at genuinely affordable rent.


The Brent news release banner, from the Council’s website on 15 March 2024.


The first housing scheme that a Brent news release celebrated this month was the start of construction on the Neville and Winterleys site in South Kilburn. Among the white hard hat “crowd” in this Council publicity photograph are “the usual suspects” from Brent’s Cabinet, including the Council Leader with a spade (as in the Watling Gardens “groundbreaking” photo last October). But who are the others in this “flash mob”? Are they local residents waiting to be rehoused, celebrating that something is actually happening, or workers from a nearby site operated by the same contractor? Please add a comment below if you know the answer.


Brent applied for planning permission for this development in December 2018 (application 18/4920), and these were the details of the homes, and split between Social Rented and Private Sale, approved by Brent’s Planning Committee on 18 February 2020 (more than four years ago!):


Extract from the Final Officer Report to the 18 February 2020 Planning Committee meeting.


After minor changes to the design, the number of flats to be built here has been increased from 219 to 225, but the number of Council homes has gone down from 112 to 95. Despite this, Brent’s Lead Member for Regeneration can still put a positive “spin” on the numbers:


Extract from Brent’s 15 March 2024 news release.


The “almost half” is actually 42.2% of the new homes, and these will all be for existing Council tenants in South Kilburn, being decanted from other blocks that will be demolished as part of the troubled South Kilburn Regeneration Project. None of the ‘more than 200 much-needed homes’ will go to provide housing at genuinely affordable rents for local families on the Council’s waiting list, even though the 95 for existing tenants will be counted as ‘new Council homes’. 


Despite Brent celebrating the start of construction now, those homes may not be built in time for the 2028 target, as the news release says: ‘The scheme will be delivered by Countryside Partnerships (part of Vistry Group) and is due for completion by 2029.’ [I may add a comment below later about Vistry Group.]


Another Brent news release banner, again picturing some of “the usual suspects”, on 18 March 2024.


The second housing scheme that Brent issued a news release for this month is the former Euro House site in Wembley Park, now known as Fulton and Fifth. The development initially received planning consent in December 2020 for a total of 493 homes, which was increased to 759 (of which 218 would be “affordable”) under a second application to Planning Committee in November 2021 (with one Labour member, since removed from the committee, voting against approval). From the news release, it seems that the final figure is 876 homes, with 294 of them as new “affordable” Council homes.


It's amazing how many homes you can squeeze onto a site of 1.29 hectares, which used to be a two-storey warehouse. And the five towers have gone up quickly, as you can see on the left in this photograph, which I took earlier this month, while looking at what had happened to parts of the British Empire Exhibition grounds of 100 years ago (when there was a coal mine here!):


The Fulton and Fifth site, with its tower cranes, seen across Engineers Way from Canada Gardens.


It is very good news that all 294 ‘will go to council tenants on the council’s housing waiting list.’ But, as they say, ‘the devil is in the detail’, and these are homes that the Council is buying, on long leases, from a private developer, not Council homes that Brent is building itself.


In the 2021 proposals, there would only have been 80 homes for London Affordable Rent (“LAR”), with 62 “affordable” at no more than Local Housing Allowance (“LHA”) rent level and 76 for Shared Ownership. I explained LHA and Shared Ownership in detail, in a November 2022 guest post


The press release says that now ‘118 will be at London Living Rent, and 176 homes will be rented at London Affordable Rent.’ 176 homes at the “genuinely affordable” LAR rent level will be very welcome (although that rent level does not include a cap on the level of service charges). But 176 is slightly less than the 181 which will be sold privately, or as Shared Ownership, on Brent Council’s own development at Cecil Avenue in Wembley, with only 56 of the 237 being built at that site for rent to Council tenants at LAR level!


You may not be familiar with London Living Rent (“LLR”), so I will take this opportunity to explain what it means. It was introduced by the Mayor of London, and the GLA website says: ‘London Living Rent is a type of intermediate affordable housing for middle-income Londoners who want to build up savings to buy a home. … it is designed to help people transition from renting to shared ownership.’


To qualify for an LLR home, you need to live or work in London, be in housing need, but not be able to afford to buy a home (even a Shared Ownership one!) and have a household income of no more than £60k a year. Your tenancy, if you get an LLR home, will be for a minimum of three years, and up to ten years. During that time, you will be expected to save, so that you can buy a share of your home through Shared Ownership.


London Living Rent levels from 1 January 2024 for each Brent Council Ward. (From a GLA spreadsheet)


LLR rent levels are based on one third of average local household incomes, on a Ward-by-Ward basis across the capital, and are recalculated each year. Currently, the monthly LLR rent level for a 1-bedroom flat in Wembley Park would be £1080, rising to £1320 for a 3-bedroom home. For 2024, there is a cap of £1400 a month for LLR rents.


Extract from Brent’s 18 March 2024 news release.


What the LLR rent levels for Wembley Park will be in 2026, if the promised homes are ready in ‘just two years from now’, will depend on figures for household incomes in that area. Given the large number of new Quintain Living (and other private) apartments being let, and the rents that people have to pay for them, “local household incomes” are likely to rise, with the LLR rents rising as well.


Quintain Living advert, photographed on a Jubilee Line train in March 2024.


As an example of what is currently charged by Quintain Living, the advert above says that you can rent a studio apartment from £1703 a month. That’s more than £20,400 a year for a home only big enough for one or two people, so not affordable for most local people in housing need. (You have to look very closely for the “small print” on ‘one month rent free’, as it’s printed in white on a light background – it only applies to selected unfurnished apartments with a minimum 12-month tenancy.)


One final point on Brent’s affordable housing at the Regal London Fulton Road development. 294 homes is only 33.5% of the total being built there. Brent’s own planning policies say that at least 70% of the affordable housing provided on large developments should be “genuinely affordable”, but the Council’s 176 LAR homes are just under 60%, while the 118 “intermediate” LLR homes account for just over 40%. Not even following their own rules!


I hope you have found my latest look at Brent’s Council housing of interest. I’m sure it is more informative than Brent Council’s press releases!


Philip Grant.





Meanwhile MYLONDON reports on private renting:


The average cost of renting privately in one North West London borough has exploded over the past 12 months. Since February last year, tenants in Brent have seen their housing costs increase sharper than anywhere else in the country, leaving some residents feeling like life has become about nothing more than simply working to afford the extortionate prices.


The cost of renting the average private home in Brent is 20 per cent more expensive than it was in February 2023, according to data from the government’s Housing Market Indices Team. This increase is five per cent more than the next worst affected London borough, and more than double the national average.




In case anyone is wondering how the 759 home scheme approved by Brent's Planning Committee was magically increased to an 876 home development, here is the answer.

Among the many further planning applications arising from conditions set out in the November 2021 planning consent was application 22/3123, seeking variations of (among others) 'conditions 2 (approved drawings/documents), 3 (residential units)'.

One of the variations was to add an additional floor within the buildings, making the tallest 24 storeys rather than the 23 approved, but to do so without raising the consented height of the building.

How do you do that? By reducing the ceiling height of the flats on each floor! The ceiling height would now be 2.5 metres, which is still acceptable for housing standards. One of the two blocks where this reduction would be made was block E, with 176 homes - and it is no coincidence that 176 is the number of homes for LAR which Brent Council tenants will be offered!

This planning application did not go to Brent's Planning Committee. It was approved by a Delegated Team Manager, and signed off by Brent's Head of Planning on 9 June 2023.

This was despite the Report on the application saying: 'It is acknowledged that the proposal would continue to be in excess of the indicative site capacity of the whole site allocation,' - squeezing them in, as my article points out!

The Report also says: 'Of the 876 units, 122 of these would be 3-bed (13.9%). Under the extant consent, 79 out of the 759 units were approved to be 3-bed (10.4%). While there is an uplift of 3-bed units, these still fall short of the requirement for 1 in 4 dwellings within a development to be 3 bedrooms or more, sought by the Local Plan Policy BH6.' So, a big shortfall in the family-sized homes which Brent desperately needs.

The 3-bed flats which Brent Council will receive are shown to be 56 for LAR in block E
and 36 for LLR in block D. (That's 56 family-sized homes for "genuinely affordable" rent in a development of 876 homes!).

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Give Byron Court the chance to demonstrate progress with a re-inspection by Ofsted leading to revoking of the Academy Order


Barry Gardiner MP at the community demonstration against academisation

 Parents and staff opposing the forced academisation of Byron Court Primary School after a poor Ofsted will be cheered by support from the London Region of the National Education Union.

The union is critical of the conduct of the Ofsted inspection and distress that it caused to staff and challenges some of the judgements made. The timing of the inspection meant that staff were not protected by Ofsted guidance on the wellbeing of staff that was later introduced.

The union supports the view that the school has begun to address the issues raised by Ofsted and has shown that it is capable of demonstrating that it can offer the high quality education that all children deserve without recourse to forced academisation.  They call for a re-inspection by Ofsted to assess this claim and if proved correct to revoke the Academy Order. This has happened in the case of 22 schools.

More than 1,000 people have signed the petition opposing academisation and a takeover by the Harris Federation while NEU members at the school have voted to progress to industrial action over their potential transfer to a new employer.

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Learn how to pick fruit in your neighbourhood and save it from rotting Tuesday April 23rd St Raphael's Edible Garden


There are so many gardens with apple and pear trees where the fruit just falls and rots. Learn how to shake it off the tree into a tarpaulin and what's involved in starting a group to put fruit to good use with foodbanks etc.

Sufra launch Ramadan Appeal 'Seeking Sanctuary - Finding Hope' - your donation will be match funded, Help the homeless and the hungry



 Thanks to the Islam Channel for the video

 Message from Sufra Foodbanks and Community Kitchen

Whilst many of our team observe fasting during this month of Ramadan, it’s sad and distressing that a growing number of our guests don’t even have enough food to break their fast.


Youssef, a young Sudanese refugee, is just one of many of our guests in this situation.


Youssef came to our food bank this week in desperate need of hope. He had been sleeping on the streets for weeks, with no food or adequate provisions to keep warm. He had lost faith in getting the support he needs over Ramadan.


As we do with a growing number of refugees and people seeking asylum who have been made homeless, we are making sure Youssef now has a nourishing Iftar every day.


Meanwhile, we are paying for emergency accommodation to keep Youssef warm, dry and safe – whilst fighting for his right to a decent roof over his head.


With record levels of demand for food aid at Sufra, and homelessness reaching new highs across London, we can’t do this without your help.  



At a recent Advice drop-in, Ahmed (a refugee from North Africa) turned up in complete despair. Despite his physical disability, he was evicted from his Home Office accommodation without any support, and left to fend for himself on the cold streets of London.  


Using our Samaritan Fund, our Advice Team arranged emergency accommodation in a hotel that met his medical needs. We provided food aid and support with his benefits, whilst working to secure his right to a decent roof over his head. 


This Ramadan, Sufra’s thoughts are with people like Ahmed, who have been forcibly displaced and are bravely establishing new lives in London. Those who have fled war, abuse and life under threat. Those forced to leave their families and seek sanctuary in a foreign land. 


Donate Now to Help Sufra Support People Like Ahmed  


Sadly, when a person seeking asylum reaches the UK, their basic human rights are ignored and they are often treated like second class citizens. Every day our advice workers are faced with some of the most inhumane and heart-wrenching cases, and it isn’t the situations they are fleeing but the ones they are facing here. 


As soon as a person seeking asylum receives the right to remain in the UK, they are served an eviction notice and have as little as seven days to leave their Home Office accommodation. Many of them are left homeless and hungry whilst trying to find a place they can afford – an almost impossible task. 

When guests come to Sufra, we make them feel at home by sharing a meal and listening to their struggles. We treat everyone with dignity and respect to rekindle their hope and sense of community – all whilst fighting for their basic right to food and shelter.  


Please support our ‘Seeking Sanctuary, Finding Hope’ Appeal to help uscontinue to provide food and shelter this Ramadan. 


35,000 Meals This Ramadan 


During the holy month of Ramadan, our Community Kitchens will be serving free Iftars, four days a week. People of all faiths or no faith are welcome to attend and sample Chef Jas' delicious global cuisine.  


Through our network of Food Banks and Community Kitchens, we aim to provide 35,000 meals to those most in need.


If you would like to be part of our mission this Ramadan, please donate HERE


Double Your Donations with Beta Charitable Trust (BCT)


We are very grateful to have £10,000 of initial match funding for our Ramadan Appeal from our gracious, long-term partner BCT. This means every penny you give will automatically be doubled and have twice the impact for our guests.


Donation amounts: 

  • £5 will provide one of our guests with a hot and freshly cooked 3-course meal.   
  • £40 will provide a family with a week’s worth of food and essentials. 
  • £100 will cover the cost of emergency accommodation for a guest who has been made homeless. 
  • £250 will sponsor one of our homeless food drives.
  • £1250 will sponsor a week’s Community Kitchen service. 


Zakat al-Mal and Zakat al-Fitr 


Sufra NW London can distribute Zakat al-Mal and Zakat al-Fitr on behalf of observant Muslims to needy individuals and families living in Northwest London. 


All Zakat funds are restricted to providing emergency aid (including food, clothing and hostel accommodation). No zakat funds are used for the general running costs of the organisation. 


You can find our Zakat Policy here. 


To pay Zakat al-Mal (2.5% of annual savings – restricted to emergency aid) use this link

To pay Fidya, Kaffarah or Zakat al-Fitr (£5/person – 100% restricted to food) use this link


Other Ways to Help 


Many mosques, community centres and school are running food drives during the month to help keep our shelves stocked, if you would like to organise a collection please get in touch and we can provide you with one of our iconic yellow bins and shopping lists to distribute in your local community. 

Alternatively, you could also take part in our Ramadan Giving Calendar which is a great way for children to learn about the importance of giving (and adults too!)



LETTER: Is Brent Council ready to be called in by the Building Safety Regulator?

 Dear Editor,

We are now less than a week away from the deadline of 1st April 2024  for Brent Council to comply with the Building Safety Act, but because of Easter, it will be by the 28th March 2024.

There are several sections of The  Building Safety Act coming in from the start of April 2024 but the key one is the publication of the Safety Case Reports and safety cases for each of the 41 buildings in scope.

A Safety Case Report requires the council to carry out assessments of all the safety risks in each of the 41 buildings and publish them by the deadline.

They also need to publish a new Reporting Safety Issues Occurrences policy and The Golden Thread.

But the key publication for tenants and leaseholders is the new Resident Engagement Stategy.

So to recap, almost all the Buildings Safety Act will be in force by the 6th April 2024 apart from Building Control which has been given a 3 month extension to the 6th July 2024.

From the 1st April 2024 the Building Safety Regulator will start calling landlords for them to provide him with Safety Case Reports and Resident Engagement Strategies, Occurrence Reporting and The Golden Thread.

However, no one knows who will be called first but most commentators believe it will be those buildings built with Large Panel Systems (LPS) with three of them in South Kilburn. So the council needs to have everything ready just in case they are called first and failure to comply could lead to fines, or imprisonment.
As well as LPS buildings, those over 12 floors will be at the top of the Regulators call in list and that applies to two in South Kilburn that are still occupied, plus Hereford House which now has no tenants.

So based on this criteria, Brent Council could be called in from any time after the 1st April, 2024
A local resident 
Thank you for your letter and your monitoring of the Council action on this important issue. Readers wil be interested in Brent Council's own risk assessment on this issue (March 2024):

Failure to comply with statutory Housing management service requirements and deadlines, may result in a serious health and safety incident or non- compliance with legislation, which may lead to serious injuries and/or fatalities, reputational damage, fines and/or imprisonment. 


As a landlord we have to ensure we are complying with all of our statutory duties and health and safety compliance particularly Fire, Legionella, Asbestos, Gas and Electric (FLAGE) form part of those duties. Failure in any of the areas would be a breach of the consumer standards and the Council would be subject to sanctions from the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH). 


Following the Grenfell Tower inquiry findings published in October 2019, there was a number of recommendations made to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. The Government undertook to introduce new regulations based on these recommendations. These regulations take the form of the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 and extend duties imposed by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. 


The Building Safety Act 2022 was introduced to improve the housing safety standards for residents giving them more rights and protections. The Building Safety Regulator (BSR) will oversee the safety and performance of all buildings with a special focus on high rise buildings. 


The above have stipulated actions that have to be completed by certain deadlines to show assurance that our buildings are safe and to avoid any further actions by the Building Safety Regulator. One example is the preparation of Building Safety Cases for our 41 High Rise Blocks by April 2024. 


The Building Safety Act working group was formed in September 2023 and currently meet fortnightly to assess progress on adherence with the Act. The group has developed a process for updating vulnerable resident’s details that are held in the secure information boxes. The group have also started to engage with residents in high-risk buildings. The first three block meetings were held in December to discuss building safety and the fire strategy for each block. All high-risk building were registered complete with structural and safety data within the deadline. 


We have not been successful in the permanent recruitment of the Building Safety Manager however we do not expect this to have an impact on any of our deadlines. We have commissioned a Building Safety Case pilot with consultants Penningtons Ltd with a view to instructing them on the other 39 blocks if the pilot is successful. 


Meetings are being held with consultants to assist the Council in determining how to receive, use and manage  Building Information Management information. The draft Building Safety Engagement Strategy has gone out to residents’ consultation and will go out again when the wider Engagement Strategy is published.

Pennington's have published a useful guide on what should be in a Building Safety Report HERE