These are the full notes of a meeting between Save the Queensbury, Busy Rascals and representatives of Fairview Homes, which took place at The Queensbury pub on Monday 18 March 2013. A shorter summary can be found here.
Those present introduced themselves and agreed that the meeting would be recorded to enable an accurate record to be made:
Sharmine – SH (Busy Rascals and NCT local branch team / volunteer)
Ailsa – AI (NCT local branch team / volunteer)
Anna – AN (NCT local branch team / volunteer)
Ian – IA (Save the Queensbury group (STQ))
Emma – EM (Green Issues Communiqué)
Gabriel – GA (Lexington, on behalf of Fairview homes)
Sujata – SU (STQ)
IA welcomed all and outlined five main areas that STQ/BR/NCT would like to cover:
- Background to the STQ group
- STQ’s principle objections (full objection to Brent council sent to GA prior to the meeting)
- Pub viability matters
- Busy Rascals / NCT community use
- Alternative provision, as suggested in the previous email from GA
GA read out an email from his clients, asking that he listens, understands, and identifies common ground and areas where Fairview may be able to address our concerns.
Background to the STQ group
IA explained that the STQ group fist met in late October. It is a non political group, made up of local residents who object on various grounds: the principle of change of use; loss of amenity; loss of community use (BR/NCT); conservation area concerns. There are a range of people on our subscriber list and we are in touch with local community groups / residents associations also.
IA explained that the start point of the group is to protect the pub, its community use and the building in the setting, which is in a conversation area and opposite a listed building. IA summarised the amount of objection on Brent Planning website and that almost all comments are objections, from local people in NW2 and NW10. There are common themes of loss of amenity and the pub as a valued space, both outside and inside.
IA noted that the group preferred to respond formally to the planning application(s) before Christmas, rather than meet with the applicant to discuss. The reason we are meeting now is specifically due to the viability issue. GA has met with CamRA, NW2RA and with MapRA, all mentioning an underlying notion that a pub on this site is not viable. IA noted the recent press coverage on this matter which GA confirmed he had seen.
IA explained that discussions took place between STQ and the pub owners when the application was lodged, to ascertain whether the pub was viable and assurances were given by the owners at that time. GA explained that he’s come to see what else we have in relation to this matter and noted John Pryer’s letter to the local newspaper. GA asked whether there is any other information that GA should take back to his clients to better understand the pub’s position.
IA explained that STQ would provide information through the proper planning process and that we would not fuel the developer’s case. IA explained that the state of the company’s finances is not the group’s business, but that the viability of a pub on this location is. IA clarified that STQ is completely independent, not funded by the pub and we have had discussions with the owners on this matter alone.
GA noted that John Pryer made reference in his statement to being part of a replacement Queensbury or something similar and asked what the STQ view was. IA confirmed that the group want to protect the pub and the building on this site; to build around the pub not on top of it. Speaking as a local resident, AN agreed with this sentiment.
SU suggested that people accepted that there will be some form of development on the site but that does not mean demolition of the building. People are confused why there has been no attempt to retain the building. IA noted that the material submitted with the planning application downplayed the significance of the existing building, in a conversation area. AN agreed, noting that the current building provides a transition into the conservation area.
Conversation turned to the Fairview consultation events, summer 2012.
IA referred to the planning application and a statement that the community is in favour of this development. IA referenced people in the STQ group who took part in the consultation event(s) who feel their views were not represented at all. SU concurred – 22 comments cited in the consultation have not been published, some of which we know are against the proposals. AI pointed out that letters from Fairview referenced “110” and not the pub.
GA suggested there are data protection reasons why those comments cannot be shared; the comments are for him to look at and to share with the local authority. IA confirmed that the comments are not lodged with the local authority – STQ have asked. EM explained data protection legislation, citing this as a reason for not sharing this information, but will check and report back.
IA suggested that if there are 22 comments that are used to substantiate the demolition of the building in a conversation area, but these cannot be released because of the way the questions were asked, then the process is fundamentally flawed.
SU suggested that few people in the area knew of the scheme; users of the pub were not consulted; Busy Rascals were not consulted; it was only because STQ leafleted streets that people became aware, hence the reason for 400+ objections on Brent’s planning website compared with Fairview’s 22 comments.
Conversation moved to wider consultation
GA confirmed that he has read all objections on Brent’s site and that number of objections cannot be ignored. His purpose at this meeting is to find a way through concerns. GA noted that Councillors will draw their own conclusions on the comments and consultations.
IA asked whether the consultation(s) asked the question about the change of use of the building; or asked the question about the loss of a pub; or asked about a change to residential use. GA confirmed that the consultation did not ask these questions.
GA explained why they undertake these events – to flush out all of the interests, such as talking to MapRA and NWRA2 to understand the level of interest. GA gave information on discussions with MapRA prior to the exhibitions. IA stressed that whilst the STQ group did not exist, the pub did, Busy Rascals did and so did the NCT but none were contacted, neither by Fairview or by MapRA. IE noted that MapRA only contributed on design matters, not principle of use.
GA asked for STQ to clarify whether our ‘bottom line / red line’ is that the pub remains, the building remains and development takes place around it not on top of it. IA confirmed this is the position of the STQ group.
IA asked specifically where the information came from – that the pub is not viable on this site. GA said Companies House information was used. IA confirmed that STQ also has Companies House information but it does not detail viability. IA asked that, other than the £514k longstanding “debt” whether GA had any other information leading him to assert that the pub is not viable, such as profit and loss accounts? GA needs to double-check this with Fairview because he did not want to give an inaccurate impression.
SU asked for an acknowledgement that the debt of a holding company is not the same as a profit and loss of an individual business. GA responded by asking the group whether the “debt” of the holding company related just to The Queensbury, or to other companies? IA responded that it is not our business so we do not know. GA again confirmed that he will check and come back to STQ.
SU suggested that the viability issue is being bandied around to attempt to undermine the pub’s position and people are quite angry. GA again offered to go back and clarify.
IA stressed that the conversations the group have had with the pub’s management and owners led STQ to appreciate that the pub is in a very very difficult position given that their location is under a new landlord. They have a lease and do not want to make waves, but for the STQ group the viability issue would not go away, to the point where John Pryer has made a statement.
GA asked whether there is a minority shareholder, Nigel Burke and IA replied that it is not our business so we would not know. SU questioned the relevance of the pub owners finances and whether a debt or lack of is a material planning concern.
EM asked how to channel this information and IA requested that it goes through the group email given that it is accessed by more than one person.
Busy Rascals, NCT and community use
GA asked what charities were using The Queensbury and SH confirmed that both NCT and the Music Project are both charities running classes along with social events.
AN clarified what the NCT does, for all parents on a voluntary basis. SH, AN and AI all volunteer for the local branch. (SH would like to make clear that comments made in relation to the NCT are at a local level and not on behalf of the charity itself). This group has been key in offering support to many families. AN runs a group in a cafe in NW10 with attendance at 10-12 per week whereas at The Queensbury it is closer to 20-30 and it is down to the difference in the venue with the key being a place to put children down and a place to park buggies, for example. SH clarified the room set-up and how the whole pub is used.
IA suggested that if it helped GA then he could observe a class at The Queensbury, once again clarifying the accessibility and suitability of the venue for this purpose. GA agreed and will email BR direct.
SH gave background to how BR came about as a business, starting at the deli and moving to the pub in late 2011. IA confirmed that the “nearest” provision was Willesden Library children’s centre. AN clarified that there is a nearby alternative at the church but this is oversubscribed and only operates once a week. SH bumps and babies group began at the Deli and moved to the pub two years ago and the relationship built. BR followed. IA clarified that the provision is not just bouncing babies on knees of mothers having a chat, it is a support network, education, health, feeding, speech paediatric first aid and development for under 5s. SH noted the support group element. GA appreciated the contribution and confirmed that BR/NCT activity was not mentioned in the Statement of Community Engagement nor were these groups consulted.
Alternatives, on site or off site
GA gave feedback from the meeting with NW2RA at which the prospect of a pub off-site was mentioned, to see whether there is possibility of common ground for solutions. DA gave information from the meeting with CamRA and that Dale Ingram has sent a list of potential pub operators. Fairview will take a look at these in due course.
GA clarified that his and EM’s job is to help Fairview get planning permission but if at all possible, do so by working with the community and its representatives on a financially viable scheme and hopes that we can do that. No specifics were given.
IA referred to the notes of the NW2RA and Camra meetings and noted that STQ had been invited to a meeting on Thursday 21st March by MapRA, at which GA is supposedly showing revised plans. GA clarified that Fairview would give an update on current proposals following a request to amend plans by Stephen Weeks, Brent’s Head of Planning. This update refers to the ‘rucksack’ and change of use of the ground floor from residential to non residential. GA noted that if the conditions were right then there are no reasons why further changes cannot be made.
EM asked that if Councillors disagreed with our position whether STQ/BR/NCT would enter discussions over use of the ground floor (non residential) in a revised scheme. IA declined this as a proposal, questioning whether it is enforceable in planning terms, with no guarantee being possible to secure the space for one purpose or another. Any S106 monies can be used by the Council, in any location in the borough. IA gave an example of the plans to redevelop the library on the High Road. It would have an element of community use to it, but there is no guarantee that any one group will be given exclusive use of it.
AI questioned how a commercial operator could guarantee BR use of the space created for their needs via the planning process? GA pointed out that he is not a planner but where there is a will there is a way. AN stated that she has set up several of these groups, from Camden to Kenton, and The Queensbury is the most successful and has the biggest potential with a special combination, at the right time and the right place which is not at all easily replicated – it is not just about the room. AI agreed and because it’s a pub, with staff and refreshments this sets this space aside from others. AN referred to other spaces as ‘personality free halls’ such as community centres, whereas The Queensbury is not.
GA asked whether we had raised the issue of community space (and lack of) with Councillors. SU gave information on Brent’s ability to provide any kind of service other than statutory obligations given the funding cuts. There is no prospect of funding for this type of provision. SU pointed out that The Queensbury is offering a space and BR are offering a service that Brent no longer does.
IA noted that Children’s Centres are perhaps the closest provision but Willesden’s closed and the building is facing redevelopment.
GA asked whether in principle we were opening to meet again. IA responded that in principle STQ were and are open to meeting but GA and Fairview needs to understand that we represent a large group and that some views carry forward from the Statement of Community Engagement conversation – if we are seen to be in dialogue then we are seen to be in agreement and this is not the case. One strong view of the group is to just respond to the absolute “knowns” via the planning application(s).
IA summarised that there is nothing that we can take back to the wider group from the meeting – no revised plans, no timescales, nothing other than the existing applications which we have responded to. GA agreed that there is not.
IA clarified that we would not engage with GA again on ‘vague’ proposals or even prior to a further planning application (reasons why are covered above).
AN welcomed the opportunity for GA/EM to see BR and asked that they email BR directly.
GA now understands clearly what our position is and will discuss with Fairview how else to proceed and work towards an agreement, but at the very least give some categorical answers to the questions and issued raised in the meeting and covered above.
SU asked whether a revised plan had been drawn up and GA confirmed this is the case, because the planners asked them to. IA stated that planners will not share this information with STQ due to commercial confidentiality reasons
IA stressed that it is not our role to reach agreement, nor for residents associations to broker solutions, but for Fairview to draw up a plan and submit this to the council. The council then consults and STQ will be involved in that process.