Let’s play “Spot the Difference”

We feared the latest “exhibition” on demolition of The Queensbury would be a nightmare scenario and unfortunately our fears came true.

The exhibition presented two new “options” from GML Architects but was totally silent on their current Appeal proposal and there was no mention of retaining the existing building at 110 Walm Lane, which the previous Appeal thought desirable to retain, on conservation grounds. Any replacement to The Queensbury has to enhance conservation but boy oh boy how ugly is this?

The developer was not at the exhibition which is not only disrespectful but also plain weird. From that point onwards last night it was clear that this was a tickbox exercise with little intention of listening to residents. The PR company claim all the details are on the dedicated website but this is a dead site. It all points to a pointless exercise, falling considerably short of good practice engagement.

What did they exhibit?

Spot the difference. The first photo below is the scheme that they are appealing, to the government inspector and we face a six day public enquiry, again. This proposal was not on show last night but there was a “new” plan which looks cunningly similar.

The PR company only asked “option one or option two” with one having a roof that sloped slightly more than the other, but neither option was the plan that is subject to appeal. None of the graphics on show last night showed any image of the monstrosity of the rear of the block, focussing entirely on the front.

There were no graphics of the design they are appealing (the one below is from the previous application), which is very strange when the design is practically identical.

So what is going on here?

Architects claim that officers at Brent Council have advised them throughout on alterations that would be approved, for example having bay windows in spite of the building next door having none. They were surprised that the last plan was kicked out without even going to the planning committee.

What’s our view?

Classic developer tactics are at play.

The tactic is to swamp the planning department with three simultaneous applications – two that were on show and one being appealed – thus presenting a fait accompli or in plain English “we’ll keep going with one of these plans and there is nothing else on the table. Officers take your pick. We’ve spoked to the community and they prefer plan A over plan B.”

Any suggestion of retaining The Queensbury building, in a sympathetic scheme that enhances conservation is not possible in planning terms, so they’ll say.

Of course, we disagree. Just up the road is a scheme to retain the old police station, to develop it and build around it. That site is more constrained that 110 Walm Lane, more expensive to develop and presents significantly greater challenges. If it is possible there then it is possible here.

There is a fourth option.

The developer is appealing one decision and has placed two other plans on the table but there is a fourth option.

The prospects for the existing building are boundless – a cinema, boutique hotel, theatre, creative hub, nursery, retail….. with mews houses or apartments surrounding. It takes is a creative developer (willing to make slightly less profit) and a quality architect with experience which GML clearly are not.

It also takes officers at Brent Council to give clear, unequivocal advice to the developer that the existing building should be retained. By all means offer to work with the developer, but on a scheme predicated on that approach.

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