Madness of March

When it comes to saving The Queensbury, something usually happens in March. So STQ towers are a little nervous that it’s almost the last week of March and nothing much has happened, yet.

In March 2013 we had our one and only meeting with representatives of Fairview New Homes.

In March 2014 Brent’s planning committee threw out the application to demolish the pub.

In March of 2015 the government’s inspector threw out the appeal.

It’s now March 2016 and we can’t help feel uneasy that nothing of note has happened – least not that we’re aware of…

Still no news on when Brent Council will list the building locally and our efforts to uncover who took a decision to not proceed have drawn a blank. It’s a secret, apparently. Still no new planning application from the building’s owners.

Perhaps we’ll get to eat eggs stress-free this year?

 

When is a decision not a decision? Smoke and mirrors at Brent Council

Our attempt to get The Queensbury added to Brent Council’s local list of protected buildings has uncovered the murky world of Brent Council decision-making. The Councillor charged with taking the decision will no longer return our emails, we’ve had to resort to Freedom of Information legislation.

A property developer bought The Queensbury pub in Willesden Green almost four years ago and lodged a plan to build a 10 storey tower block in its place. Save The Queensbury was formed and we convinced Brent Council’s planning department to reject the plans. We then represented ourselves at a five day public inquiry when the developer appealed, unsuccessfully and the Inspector spoke highly of the merits of the existing building.

From the start we believed that the building, in a conservation area, should have been protected by being added to Brent’s “local list” of buildings. The problem is, we have been left completely confused as to who takes a decision as to what buildings are on the list and have now been stonewalled by decision-makers at Brent Council.

Back in 2012 we were told that there were no plans to review Brent’s list, which contains buildings as diverse as the State Ballroom in Kilburn to the bandstand in Queens Park.

In June 2014 a mysterious report appear on Brent’s website, rightly adding Kensal Rise library to the list but claiming that The Queensbury had been reviewed but would not be added. Naturally this was a blow so we asked for the assessment to be made public. Brent refused to publish the assessment so we complained to Brent’s Chief Executive and asked for this to be looked at by a senior officer, away from those close to the decision.

Instead we had a reply giving Brent a clean bill of health – from a manager in the same department who we wanted to be investigated as failing to consult with residents. (Bear in mind also that officers in planning have twice recommended that the pub be demolished, in spite of local opposition). Weird, eh?

Fast forward to summer 2015 and Brent consulted on a review of the local list and we, along with dozens of residents, asked for The Queensbury to be listed. Cllr Margaret McLennan, Brent Council’s lead member for housing and development, said: “This consultation is a chance for residents to have their say on the pieces of Brent’s fantastic heritage that are most important to them. I would encourage people to go online and nominate their favourite site of historical interest to be considered for inclusion on the Local List.” So we did.

We thought we were making progress when a report emerged, adding The Queensbury to the local list, later 2015. A decision was promised, in December 2015, but an email from Brent Council reveals that a decision not to proceed was apparently taken by Brent’s Cabinet.

We asked for the minutes of that decision, given that it was on a Cabinet agenda for December. No response. No agenda. No minutes. Hang on…. this is getting weirder. Where’s the transparency?

The Chair of planning then tells us that a “Policy Coordination Group” would a review the Cabinet decision but that’s left us mystified. Of all the 30+ groups and committees listed on Brent’s Democracy site, the PCG is not one. So we asked again, only to hear that the Lead Councillor (i.e. the one inviting us to participate in this democracy) will no longer comment or email us on this matter.

At the turn of 2015 we put in a Freedom of Information request to try and clear the smoke around Brent’s mysterious PCG and hopefully find out precisely who took a decision not to add The Queensbury (again) and on what basis.

In law, Brent have to respond to an FoI request, by the first week of February.

We will wait and see if we get transparency and minutes from the mystery PCG. Or at least an explanation as to why The Queensbury was not added, again. Without this, the popular and viable pub in a beautiful conservation area remains vulnerable to demolition.

Season’s greetings from Save the Queensbury

Another year draws to a close – and what a year it was.

At the start of the year we produced our case for the public inquiry, which took place in February and reported with a brilliant result in March. We won at the appeal which denied Fairview homes permission to demolish The Queensbury. Busy Rascals carries on with the children and tickets are on sale for a New Year’s bash for the grown-ups thanks to our efforts.

Since the appeal we have spent all year lobbying Brent Council to add 110 Walm Lane to its “local list” of valuable buildings but progress has been painfully slow. The “local list” was thoroughly reviewed, with officers spending months preparing the necessary paperwork but no progress has been made because senior staff at Brent Council have decided not to proceed. Nobody seems to know why. We are told there’s no conspiracy yet decisions have been taken at secret meetings (with no notes taken) and nobody can give us a timeframe. Countless emails to Councillors have been met with a stone wall response, so much that they’re no longer responding to our emails. Charming.

We have also been asking (for over three years) for a specific “pub protection” policy. We responded to a consultation back in July 2014 (yes, 2014) but whilst Brent and the Campaign for Real Ale (CamRA) agreed a policy between them, the council still has not ratified it.

Many of you emailed Brent on these two important things because they will add a layer of protection to the building. So far your voice has been completely ignored so perhaps it’s worth dropping your Councillors an email to ask when both of these will be formally adopted by the Council?

Meanwhile no news from Bah Humbug Fairview Homes. The ghost of Christmas past?

Good times for a change

Save The Queensbury began in October 2012, so long ago that some of the babies using Busy Rascals have now started school but we do have two pieces of good news this month.

Since 2012 we have been asking Brent council to protect the pub by adding it to their “local list” of buildings of interest. At last we’ve seen progress and Brent have revised their local list (for the first time this millennium) and we understand 110 Walm Lane will be included on it. Thanks to all who recently wrote to Brent council on this – your persistence has paid off.

Second, we have become a cause célèbre for pub protection locally and Brent has finally agreed a sensible policy to give its pubs special consideration when development is proposed. The policy still needs to go through various rubber stamping procedures over the coming months but the hard arguments have been won. Pub protection means that a developer has to make a case that a pub is no longer valued / used by the community, otherwise it has to be protected. (You may remember the skulduggery of 2013 when Fairview’s PR consultants tried to tell the community that the pub was loss-making and failing, to justify demolition. Brent did not have a policy to force the developer to prove this was the case).

These two things (and the ACV listing) will protect the building and the pub. We really can relax a bit now, having done all we can to stop demolition… at least until the next move by Fairview Homes who have been very quiet since losing the appeal earlier this year.

Let’s see if we get a Christmas card from them and take it from there?

 

Let’s get The Queensbury listed

We’ve already got The Queensbury listed as an Asset of Community Value which is great, but this carries limited weight when it comes to planning decisions. Since our campaign began we have continued to ask Brent Council why 110 Walm Lane is not on their ‘local list’ of protected buildings, which get special consideration when plans are submitted for their demolition.

Following the unsuccessful appeal by Fairview Homes earlier this year (when it became clear to everybody just why the building should be included) we again asked for a formal review.

We can confirm that Brent council has finally started a process for people to nominate buildings that they believe should be given special consideration when plans for development are submitted. See last week’s Brent and Kilburn Times.

Your assistance is once again required.

Please spare 10 minutes to respond to the consultation on Brent’s website. The more people who ask, the better. The consultation will ask you about four things.

1. Authenticity: is the building authentic?

The Queensbury is authentic. The pub and the wider building has all of its original features retained, both internally and externally. It is an authentic example of a local building of note and therefore should be included.

2. Architectural significance: is there anything architecturally significant?

It’s not the Taj Mahal but 110 Walm Lane is unique to Willesden, as the largest example of a detached property on Walm Lane and in the Mapesbury conservation area. As one of the first buildings to appear when the Metropolitan railway was built, 110 Walm Lane is an excellent, surviving example of the “Arts and Craft” style that Mapesbury was based upon.

3. Historical significance: what was the building used for in the past?

110 Walm Lane has a significant history as a community facility, firstly as a doctor’s surgery, then as a social club and more recently as a venue for baby / toddler groups / public house which is recognised by Brent as an Asset of Community Value. The recent appeal decision (and Brent’s own evidence to it) confirms both its historic and recent importance. This is an historic building that has been used exclusively by the community since it was built in the 1890s and should be recognised as such.

4. Townscape significance: how does the building ‘fit in’ locally?

Built in the late 1890s, 110 Walm Lane was the first example of a large detached building in the Mapesbury conservation area. It epitomises the local character of the estate which is an attractive addition to Willesden Green and sits positively opposite the Grade II listed station. The significance of 110 Walm Lane and its position were both highlighted by the inspector during the recent appeal and Brent’s own evidence to the public inquiry also makes its contribution clear.

Other local buildings already recognised on the local list include Barclay’s bank, The Spotted Dog (oh the irony), the Royal Oak pub in Harlesden and some public toilets on Willesden Lane. We believe there’s room for The Queensbury on this list and the more people who say it, the more chance we have.

The consultation ends on 11th October. Please spare 10 minutes to respond.

999 Save the Queensbury

On our 999th day of campaigning we had another visit to Brent’s civic centre and another marathon meeting. And yet more success. 

We achieved two things tonight. 

First, Brent is adopting a ‘pub protection’ policy. This will mean extra scrutiny on developers who want to close viable pubs. This is a major achievement and will help pubs like The Queensbury, The Corrib’s Rest and others purchased by speculative developers. 

Second, the ‘local list’ of protected buildings is to be reviewed and we’ve been assured we will be involved in that process. Remember, Brent didn’t value 110 Walm Lane when it took a decision to demolish. It was only at the appeal stage that Brent disclosed the historical importance of the building, largely thanks to our persistence. We’ve asked to be involved and will update this site when we know more about how you can be involved. 

With these two things in progress we are better prepared for a new planning application, should Fairview Homes submit one. 

Stay with us and look forward to another 1000 days! 

How soon is now?

It’s summer and time for an update on our campaign to save The Queensbury, following the appeal by Fairview Homes which was refused in March. It’s been quiet but we’ve not been idle.

Last month we wrote to Brent Council with a formal request to add 110 Walm Lane to their “local list” of buildings, and for it to happen NOW! (Buildings on the list are given special consideration when proposals to demolish are lodged).

The inspector’s report on 110 Walm Lane is compelling and Brent should use this evidence to list the building and protect it. We are tired of waiting around and hearing excuses for inaction while Fairview Homes plan their next application.

We’ve always figured that we’re in a battle with Brent’s planning department as much as Fairview and we formally complained about Brent’s apparent review of the building – they say it’s run-down and deteriorating, not worthy of saving. We asked for a formal review, in light of the inspector report because we disagree.

We have also asked yet again for the council to adopt a wider pub protection policy, NOW and send a message to developers that the council will look very closely at applications which seek to demolish pubs. Our complaint asked for an officer outside the planning department to investigate, to avoid us turning round saying “they’ve investigated themselves and found they are not at fault.”

Guess what happened next?

Brent’s Chief Exec asked the Head Operational Director of Planning to investigate (go figure) and he did respond to our complaint, pointing to cuts and staff turnover for the lack of attention to our cause. He can’t see where they’ve done anything wrong, aside from not having enough staff.

How soon is now?

There will be a meeting of the Planning Committee at the Brent Civic Centre in Wembley on 29th July at which we believe pub protection and the “local list” of buildings will be discussed (we need to wait until the week before the meeting when the papers are published to see what exactly is being proposed). Heaven knows we may see some progress, we’ve already waited too long, but all our hope is not yet gone…

We’ll be at the meeting and we’re hoping to address the councillors yet again. There’s been great support from people attending at these meetings in the past so if you’d like to come please get in touch.

Regardless of the meeting on 29th July, Fairview Homes own the site and while they do they will want to develop it – we agree but we think development should not mean demolition! We believe the inspector’s report gives Brent Council sufficient grounds to use all its powers to protect the pub, before it goes the same way as The Corrib Rest or even The Carlton Tavern.

 

Hey ho, it’s off to the Ombudsman we go

Things have gone a little quiet since the appeal to demolish The Queensbury was refused in March.
We are still working in the background and last month returned to Brent Council with a formal request to add 110 Walm Lane to their “local list” of buildings. (Those on the list are given special consideration when proposals to demolish are lodged). The goverment Planning Inspector’s report on 110 Walm Lane is compelling and Brent should use this evidence to list the building and protect it.
We formally complained to Brent about their refusal to list the building (saying it’s run down and deteriorating) and asked for a reassessment in light of the inspector report.
We have also asked yet again for the council to adopt a wider pub protection policy and send a message to developers that the council will look very closely at applications which seek to demolish pubs.
Unfortunately, we were due a response from Brent by yesterday and yet again we have been ignored by those employed to respond to their communities. Sadly this is a regular pattern, so we will now move quickly to the next steps and make a formal complaint about Brent Council’s maladministration to the Local Government Ombusdman because time is not on our side.
Why the rush?
Fairview Homes own the site and they will want to develop it. They may be back with a more sensible plan or they may throw in the towel and dispose of the site (not sure who’d buy it though). Or they could take the Carlton Vale route, remove the pub tenant and drive a bulldozer through the building.
What’s to stop them? Proper protection from Brent Council, that’s what.

Save The Queensbury presents: Our manifesto for pubs

Image

Our message to the country for this election is clear: hardworking people deserve places to go and meet their friends; to socialise and to have a drink. Even non-hardworking people deserve this, along with the non working, the disabled, the young, the feckless, the poor and the parents on maternity leave. This shouldn’t be taken away by developer greed with their gross profit margins – our pubs need protection.

P1380047 LR © Pete Firmin

The Carlton Tavern in Kilburn, demolished without warning shortly before its was due to be listed (Pic: Pete Firmin)

 

When we are elected to run this country we will commit to the following pledges:

1. Anybody who demolishes a popular, viable community pub should be imprisoned. Anybody who proposes to demolish one should be given community service and placed in the stocks.

What happened at The Carlton Tavern is nothing short of criminal. A developer demolished an open, viable pub on the eve of a preservation order being served on it. It’s not the first time it’s happened – look at Tommy Duck’s in Manchester for an even worse crime – but let’s make it the last so that The Queensbury doesn’t suffer the same.

2. Pubs should be protected by local councils

Many local councils have “pub protection” policies which stop aggressive development on sites where pubs are open and flourishing. The Corrib Rest has apparently been sold to a developer. It is currently closed and we wait and see what happens next. When we run the country we will legislate to ensure that all local councils have a pub protection policy. And we will make the Leader of Brent council sign theirs in blood.

3. Developments of 10 storeys or more should come with those binoculars that you get in the cheap seats at the theatre.

Nobody should have to strain their eyes from their penthouse, especially when you’ve paid £1.5m for the view, so a key plank of our first Queensbury Speech will to be mandate developers to provide binoculars for floors above 9 and 10. It’s only fair that the rich can observe the mundane happenings of the commoners below.

4. Local council offices should have a “poor door” and planning officials should be made to use it.

When developing swanky flats, developers build separate entrances for those who can’t afford the extortionate market rate. They get a discount and as a punishment they enter through a side or rear door, often next to the bins. That’s what was planned for The Queensbury. We would outlaw poor doors but leave a legacy whereby planners have to use one themselves to remind them of their failures.

5. Children should be banned from pubs. They don’t belong there. Their little feet stick to the carpet and they aren’t even big enough to reach the coin slots of the fruit machine.

No, we’re not serious. Responsible parents should be able to take their children to responsible venues, at appropriate times of the day. The Queensbury is a responsible venue and throws open its doors daily to babies, children and parents via Busy Rascals / NCT activities. The developer of 110 Walm Lane objects to this. Given the shortage of community venues in Willesden we will legislate to ensure all pubs are open for children of all ages and have cot facilities onsite too.

6. When an unprecedented number of people sign a petition, that should be enough evidence to list a building as a local asset.

The petition to save The Queensbury gained over 4,000 signatures but this was still not enough for Brent Council who have persistently failed to protect the building at 110 Walm Lane. Quite the opposite – officers at Brent council refused to put The Queensbury on the register of locally listed buildings while other officers sitting opposite wrote a report recommending its demolition. We think that’s wrong and the government’s inspector agrees with us. We will pass a law to ensure that if local people think a building should be protected then local councils have to take them more seriously.

7. If you order stuff online you have to print it off using a 3D printer at home.

At the public inquiry on The Queensbury a resident asked where the Asda Ocado van would park to deliver to Altitude Towers. Incredibly, the developer insisted that online ordering would mean fewer delivery trips. We will follow this through to its natural conclusion – order online and there will be no delivery – print it yourself.

8. When locally elected members have meetings with developers, these should be documented and made available to the public.

Back in early 2012 Fairview Homes met with lots of Brent Councillors about their plans for The Queensbury. We don’t know what yarns they spun at these meetings. Unfortunately, local councillors did not ask their residents what they thought of the proposals and we were unaware that these clandestine meetings were taking place. Other London councils are open and transparent and print minutes of their meetings, so we can all see what was said. When we rule the world, we’ll make this a law.

9. Free beer Fridays

Pints, spirits, shots and slammers will be available free of charge in all pubs on Fridays, from noon until midnight only (let’s not go overboard).

Too silly? Not when you consider this.

10. People who do not register to vote should not be allowed to vote on The X Factor.

Either you’re in or you’re out. If you can’t be bothered to register for a vote in May then that should disqualify you from all forms of democratically decided events such as The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. You can’t have it both ways.

So when your doorbell rings and you see a fearful candidate with a horrific rosette, simply ask which of these pledges they will deliver if elected in May.

 

The Queensbury is saved!

The appeal by Fairview New Homes has been dismissed by the government Inspector. The Queensbury is saved, again!
 
Two years of campaigning are summarised in a 17 page letter from the Inspector, received today. The design was flawed, the case for a “landmark” building was flawed, the impact on the conservation area would have been severe. The Inspector gave more reasons than Brent Council (they refused permissionoriginally, in March last year) and the decision is very thorough.
 
The Inspector noted our campaign and acknowledged that some comments he received “attest to the high esteem in which the venue is held as a well managed, safe and congenial social facility in an area where these are felt to be lacking.” Yep.
 
In a nutshell he says “the adverse impacts in this instance would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of the proposal.” Yep.
 
We are very proud of what we have achieved. We were up against a legal team in a five day inquiry and an architect who paraded his awards for design. Fairview threw tens of thousands of pounds at a QC Barrister (no wonder when you consider the price of apartments in Willesden). 
 
We are convinced that had we not taken full part in the Inquiry then the reasons for refusal would have been diluted and Brent’s decision probably overturned. So…….. well done us.
 
What’s next? The ball is in Fairview’s court but we’d like to see a scheme that retains the building. Fairview will have to go back to the drawing board (literally) and return with something more sensible, or dispose of the land to someone less greedy and willing to reduce their profit. Or they could play the long game and allow the lease on the pub to expire in 2017 and let the building dilapidate (aka The Spotted Dog).
 
One things is certain – we will be vigilant and continue to fight for our local community buildings, doing our best to protect them. 
 
You can read the inspector’s full decision here