Day 4 at the planning inquiry

We opened with another of Willesden’s fabulous residents, vociferously urging the inspector to reject the developer’s appeal. Whatever the eventual decision we thank inspector for allowing the community’s voice to be heard throughout this process.

Then came Fairview’s planning consultant who blinded us with some technical details on density and references to the London Plan. Unfortunately Brent’s barrister decided not to cross-examine him. We were then given opportunity to make several points relating to both the layout of the proposed new space and the interim arrangements for Busy Rascals while construction  is underway.

We impressed upon the inspector that the current layout of the The Queensbury with its 2 interconnected rooms is ideal for Busy Rascals use as it allows parents to drink tea and coffee in the front while still being able to watch the classes taking place in the back. In contrast, the new proposed layout will have 2 strongly delineated spaces with the back room accessed via a corridor and no line-of-sight view between the two rooms.

We further made the point that Busy Rascals have not been shown any of the proposed interim spaces nor have they agreed that any of them are suitable.

We did manage to secure an agreement that in the event of the appeal being allowed that the interim space for Busy Rascals would need to be agreed as suitable by themselves, as well as Fairview and Brent Council.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with fairly technical matters relating to the nature of the affordable housing (whether it would be for shared ownership or for rent) and details of the Section 106 agreement (money which developers pay to the council to improve local infrastructure).

The inquiry will not sit on Monday but will readjourn on Tuesday at 1pm for closing submissions.

It’s been a tough 4 days, so we’re off to the pub (while we’ve still got one).

Day 3 at the planning inquiry

Another day at the planning inquiry, another day in the chilly Civic Centre with flickering lights and no heating.

We began with a resident of Westly Court who spoke briefly about the impact that such a large residential development with (probably more than) 100 residents would have on this corner of Willesden and told the inspector very firmly, “The Queensbury has put Willesden Green on the map, it’s what gives us our character”.

We then went onto Fairview’s heritage expert who tried hard to persuade us that that The Queensbury was part of Willesden town centre so its relationship to the Mapesbury Conservation Area, despite sitting within it, was of limited relevance. We heard a few gems such as how much people exiting Willesden Green station would appreciate the new building –a claim which we found to be a distinctly odd given the several thousand petition signatures we collected from people outside the very same station.

After the heritage expert spoke at length about the limitations of 2D drawings and photographs we asked why a scale model, as requested by Brent’s Design Review Panel, was never produced. Their answer? “Mr X asked us to produce a model, but Mr X should have asked Mr Y to ask us, then we would have done it”.

There was some discussion of a document which is publicly available on Brent Council’s website called the Tall Buildings Policy which is undated, unverified and no one, including Brent Council, seems to know if it represents a policy, is a background paper, or something with which to line the cats litter tray. This inquiry experience has taught us that these are not mutually exclusive categories.

However, on the plus-side, we’ve also improved our language skills and we’ve now become quite fluent in Developer Speak –a language which does not contain the phrase “tower-block”, but instead speaks of “a building with a strong vertical quality”.

Onto parking and transport. Mapesbury councillor Lia Colacicco asked about the extra traffic that 100 extra residents on a busy corner would generate – not just through private car use but also servicing of bins, parcel deliveries and so on. Fairview’s transport expert seemed to be under the illusion that most things bought online are delivered digitally such as e-books and mp3s. Let’s hope he never gets into ordering his groceries online as he’s likely to get terribly hungry if he’s relying on a loaf of e-bread for sustenance.

Then we came to a main point of contention – that of the affordable housing provision.

There was a long and detailed discussion on the possibility of reducing the number of affordable units from 18 to 10 – but 8 of these 10 units would be for affordable rent rather than shared ownership. Affordable rent properties are more in line with Brent’s current needs but they are more expensive for the developer to provide so this was a bit of a devil or the deep-blue sea choice. Brent’s legal counsel also pushed for a reevaluation of profits part-way through the sales period which would enable Brent to demand more affordable units if rising property prices meant Fairview achieved a better than expected return. Needless to say this was strongly resisted by Fairview.

Amidst all this we got confirmation that the affordable units will have a separate entrance (more commonly known as a “poor door”) to keep the residents of the luxury flats from the riff-raff. We also got sight of the costings which revealed that Fairview expect to achieve a 20% profit amounting to £4.5 million. Who knew that segregation was so profitable?

And that was the end of day 3. This is challenging and technical stuff for us; mountains of paperwork to absorb and cross-reference every day, complex detail to keep track of and, nervous of sounding stupid in front of the besuited experts, we are but amateurs who simply want to preserve the character of our area and save our pub.

That shouldn’t be so hard. Should it?

 

Day 2 at the planning inquiry

The morning of day two was taken up by Brent’s planning officer defending the policies that Brent have to protect this type of building in this type of location and it was refreshing to hear this from Brent’s planning department for the very first time in the past 2-plus years. One of our major gripes – the danger of another cafe to saturate Willesden at the expense of a quality pub – has been accepted. But we still want to keep the building!

First up was the community space and replacement “pub / restaurant.” Brent accepted that the replacement on the table were acceptable, a point on which we disagreed.

Density was discussed in great detail; just how many rabbits can you squeeze into these shoeboxes? Affordable housing was covered in great detail too, with Fairview’s QC pressing why previous officers welcomed the amount but this one doesn’t. Similar developments were discussed (including the site of the former Spotted Dog).

In the afternoon session the Inspector pointed out the lack of consultation with English Heritage. Brent Council forgot. Long periods of silence followed before the Inspector agreed to park this but it remained an issue.

And then our turn.

We presented a case to retain the building and develop the site in a more sympathetic manner. We questioned whether the replacement has been designed as a pub and how the community space would work in practice. We noted the level of support in the community. Two residents and Mapesbury councillor Lia Colacicco also spoke. Under cross-examination Fairview’s lawyer questioned some of the stuff we said and we put our best foot forward. A nod from Brent’s barrister suggests we did OK and the inspector thanked us for our efforts.

Finally today, the architect who designed the proposals came to sell us his plans. Naturally he waxed lyrical about how wonderful life would be if he was allowed to build his creation and we were treated to a few gems such as “we’re putting the ‘green’ back into Willesden Green”, the building “feathers up onto the sky and vanishes”, “the building is not a tower but it is tower-like”, and finally, “this is Willesden Green, we’re not going to get common people living here”. The last one was perhaps a joke but showed the disregard this development has shown for the need for social and affordable housing in Willesden. In turn, we again challenged the height and brutality of the 10 storey tower that would land in on our doorstep if Fairview get their way.

On to tomorrow. Day three will bring a heritage expert for Fairview Homes and more on the design of the proposals.

Day 1 at the planning inquiry

After the welcome and introductions (including meeting our new best friend Planning Inspector Lyons) the appellant, the council and us set out our opening statements. It was refreshing to hear an excellent opening statement by the Council’s barrister, slating the grounds of appeal.

We opened by saying that conservation, the pub, the community facilities and the absence of a plan to house Busy Rascals concerns us and will be covered in detail by us. Not to mention the density and unaffordable housing proposed.

London Assembly Member Navin Shah gave a comprehensive summary of London’s protection of pubs. Cllr Carr made clear how Cllrs have come together in objecting (across parties) and Cllr Miller gave an excellent summary of why The Queensbury is important. He also covered what is ‘viable’ in housing terms and what is not.

Brent had a heritage expert who tells us that the land used to have a nursery on it – around 1895. He couldn’t get into detail because Brent’s Archive is only open a couple of days a week. #cuts! He also recognised the important landmark that is St Gabriel’s church and we saw some horrifying images of the proposed tower.

Fairview’s people then went through his evidence practically line by line. It’s ironic that the QC for Fairview is from Landmark chambers which is ironic given the afternoon was spent discussing “what is a landmark.” It got a bit abrupt at one point.

Glazed terracotta versus cream terracotta. Verticality and horizontality. By this point we’d glazed over and we adjourn until tomorrow when Brent’s policy and housing person is up to give evidence, then us.

The inquiry continues this week at the Brent Civic Centre in Wembley, the public are welcome to attend.

 

Another (!) Open Letter to Fairview Homes

Dear Fairview Homes,

We first wrote an open letter in December 2012, asking you to withdraw plans to demolish The Queensbury. You ignored us. At the time we had a petition of 1000 signatures.

We wrote again in April 2013 asking when is enough, enough? Signatures had swelled to 4000 and local feeling was clear. But still no response.

We had The Queensbury recognised for what it is – an Asset of Community Value and in March last year Brent Council (rightly) kicked out your plans.

By appealing this decision you clearly believe a tower is needed and wanted in Willesden Green.

The Save The Queensbury group can tell you it is not needed. The penthouse “Prestige” apartments with a private underground car park, along with the dire offer of affordable housing is clearly not wanted.

We look forward to taking full part in the public inquiry at Brent Civic Centre next week and countering the spin from your sharp-suited (and no doubt expensive) lawyers.

We are confident that an alternative plan is viable, which retains the building in a more sympathetic (low-rise) development.

That way Busy Rascals can stay, the pub can continue to thrive and family homes can be built. That is what Willesden wants and that is what Willesden needs.

The planning inquiry takes place at Brent Civic Centre from 27th January-3rd February (does not sit on Monday 2nd February). Members of the public are welcome to attend.

Countdown to the planning inquiry

Christmas is over and we enter 2015 by counting down the days to the start of the public inquiry that will decide the future of 110 Walm Lane and The Queensbury pub. Fun starts on 27th January and your help is required!

We need somebody to attend the proceedings particularly on Thursday 29th, Friday 30th January and Tuesday 3rd February – JUST TO LISTEN – NOT TO SPEAK!

We have had excellent input from a local Barrister to prepare our case and have filed our paperwork with the government inspector. In return we have had a mountain of paperwork from Fairview’s people and a fascinating account of local Willesden history from Brent’s people.

Ian Elliott will speak at the inquiry on one of the five days on behalf of the group.

If you can attend, just to listen and report back (definitely not to speak) please contact us asap!