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?