These things take time

A week on from the end of the marathon public inquiry into The Queensbury and three popular questions we’ve been asked are: What’s the decision?  How was the inquiry?  And….. Do you think we’ll win?

The first question is easy. These things take time. The government’s planning inspector has indicated that a decision will be made “on or before 25th March” so look out for a tweet / email nearer that time.

Second, how did it go? We gave it our best shot, took a full part and reinforced just how strong local feeling is against this development. Brent Council’s consultant heritage expert made a great case that a 10 storey building simply does not sit or fit well at 110 Walm Lane. It was a tiring and difficult process to be involved in but a good 12-15 local people came forward to attend / speak at the inquiry so it was really worthwhile. Importantly, we secured some key detail around the community space and opening hours IF the proposal gets the go ahead.

Onto the third question: will we win? The fact that the inquiry lasted a week and the decision is taking a further seven weeks means that it is difficult to call. The proposal for a dense 10 storey tower is new for Willesden and is consistent with some policies but inconsistent with others. Fairview threw everything at it, including a very experienced QC barrister to fight their corner.

The inspector has to consider everything and produce a cast-iron decision that cannot be challenged. The decision will be detailed, offering reasons why the appeal was unsuccessful (or successful). We have to respect that decision, accept whatever future the Inspector decides for The Queensbury and take it from there.

Yes yes yes….   but will we win?

The inspector’s decision is something we just can’t predict. Obviously we hope that the existing pub and building will stay, but even if he rules in Fairview’s favour we have won a major victory in securing a pub and community space in the new building, something which Fairview strongly resisted but for our campaign.

 

Day 5 at the planning inquiry

Below is a summary of day five – the final day. A fuller reflection will be posted over the next few days.

At 10am precisely the inspector and those taking part met at 110 Walm Lane to conduct a site visit. A resident saw what they were up to and heckled – nothing to do with us but goes to show what locals think about plans to demolish the pub.

They popped into the pub and saw those parents who’d braved the snow at the Busy Rascals Bumps and Babies group. The inspector then led a two hour walk around the conservation area, including stepping left and right of the images provided by Fairview Homes (often from behind trees and lamp posts).

Onto the Civic Centre for closing submissions but before then we had detailed discussion over the opening hours of the pub IF permission is given to build the tower block. Hours will be the same as now – which is longer than when we started 5 days ago.

We had our say. As is our mantra we asked to build around the existing building, with a lower and more sympathetic design. The inspector cannot dictate this; he can only say whether or not to allow this proposal. We expressed concerns that the design was one of a residential block, and that the pub replacement  wasn’t a particularly good example, with its dog-leg shape and two room layout. Above all, we can’t see how a 10 storey block “fits” onto the site, there is still a shortfall of affordable housing and there is nowhere for Busy Rascals to go.

Brent’s barrister leaned heavily on their witness, a heritage and conservation expert. He referred to the proposal as “Rude”. Fairview’s QC (a bigshot on legal planning matters) dismissed this and reiterated their evidence – this is a suitable design and fits the area. The location lends itself to a dense building.

Whether the existing building is a “non-designated heritage asset” was covered. This is so frustrating because for the last two years council has repeatedly been asked by us to consider a local listing. Their apathy and inefficiency has left its mark because they simply did not act. That’s one for the post-mortem.

The inquiry is over and we can expect a decision in a few weeks.

What’s our view?

We’ve saved a pub (The Queensbury II) if permission is granted to demolish the building. This would be run by the current operators. We won a load of concessions to safeguard Busy Rascals in the meantime (and if the pub isn’t operating for whatever reason).

Our time and effort over the last two years means that what was previously a purely residential scheme is now a pub/community/residential scheme and we really should not underestimate how developers resist this mix. Whatever happens now, that is a significant achievement.

The decision hinges on one simple question: does a shiny 10 storey tower belong on the site and is it worthy of demolishing the building?

Only the inspector can decide and we await his verdict.