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!

Preparing for the public inquiry

Let’s recap on where we are at. Brent council decided in March this year that permission should not be granted to demolish 110 Walm Lane (and with it The Queensbury pub). A government inspector will now decide whether Brent Council was right to take that decision. A public inquiry will now decide on the future of The Queensbury. That inquiry will sit for 5 days, starting on 27th January 2015. Fairview Homes and Brent Council are the big players in the inquiry but we think we should have a voice too.

What is Rule 6?

Save The Queensbury has been confirmed as a “Rule 6″ party at the inquiry. A Rule 6 party becomes an active partner in the inquiry and has to prepare a case in advance of the inquiry taking place. WE are working on that and have to have it to the inspector by 3 December. At the actual inquiry we will be in a better position to cross examine witnesses, including Brent’s and Fairview’s witnesses.

Why are we asking to be a Rule 6 party?

Being a Rule 6 party is not for the fainthearted and is a significant undertaking of time and effort. We have always said that we would follow whatever process necessary to protect the existing building. Brent Council have been very supportive of our campaign in their decisions and have twice decided that Fairview’s plans are unacceptable (on the actual scheme and on the affordable housing element). BUT, in spite of meeting officers and attempting a dialogue with them, they continually seek to sidestep the council’s own policies and side with the developer rather than with the community. Being a Rule 6 party is the only way we can ensure that the voice of residents is properly heard by the inspector. It will also enable us to continue to be vigilant of Brent’s officers as they prepare their inquiry case.

A word about Save the Chesham Arms

Other pubs have been Rule 6 parties and other pubs have succeeded. One case we’ve followed keenly and have sought advice from is the Save The Chesham Arms campaign. We want to bring as much vigour to this inquiry as they have to theirs.

What will it cost?

A good Barrister costs about £10k a week, plus another £5k to prepare our case. A consultant planning / heritage expert costs another £5k. Big money. But we have no money!  This website is supported by meagre resources from a kind donor. Our leaflets cost £75 and were printed via the Campaign For Real Ale. All the petitioning, meetings, letters and planning objections have been supported only by time and effort of local residents and we really have achieved a great deal.

It is a credit to Willesden that a Barrister who lives locally has offered his time, for free, to help with our Rule 6 case.  He specialises in planning law and will work with us IF we are accepted as a Rule 6 party by the government inspector.

What is the risk?

There is a risk, but it is a small one. If we behave unreasonably then costs of the inquiry may be awarded against us. However the advice we have received is that if we stick to planning matters, continue to represent ourselves in the right way and not waste the inquiry’s time by trashing the civic centre, then we have a perfectly reasonable case.

How can you get involved?

Our legal volunteer and those who worked on the ACV and planning objections will be drawing up the necessary documents for the appeal.

BUT….. given the inquiry runs over five days, we need people to attend the inquiry and listen to how it’s going, from Tuesday 27th January, possibly for five days.

Please get in touch NOW if you know you will be available and willing to sit in on proceedings.

What drives development – housing need or developer profit?

Another marathon meeting at Brent Civic Centre last night ending with a decision to refuse Fairview’s revised “offer” of 12 affordable units in the development at The Queensbury. This is the second time Councillors have agreed with our representations and rejected officers’ recommendations.

There was a lot of debate last night, focusing on “financial viability”, a dark art where developers convince council officers that it would simply be impossible for them to make money if they have to include cheaper units in their schemes. Clearly Brent have had enough and were scathing about the cloak and dagger nature of the viability reports provided to them and the lack of detail to make an informed decision.

Developers aim for 20% profit on a scheme. Nice return, eh? That is achieved by premium apartments that command a high price, with “affordable” flats tucked away out of sight with a separate entrance. Is that what we want for Willesden?

Fairview bought 110 Walm Lane for a knockdown £1.65m and originally included 4 affordable units and no pub / community space. This was increased to 10 units (they couldn’t possibly go higher according to Brent officers) and a pub. Last night a revised offer of 12 affordable flats was refused as too little and the inspector will now take the final decision at the public inquiry in January.

There is a balance to be found. With a turnover of £205m per year, Fairview are no mugs. But with 3 bed flats on the same road commanding £780k we think they can build what’s right for Willesden and still return a profit.

We hope all of this is immaterial. We are confident that the inquiry will conclude that Fairview’s plans are flawed, the building should be retained and (as we have previously shown) it is possible to build around The Queensbury and not demolish it!

Tomorrow’s decision postponed

The Chair of Brent’s planning committee has asked for the decision on Affordable housing at 110 Walm Lane to be pulled from the agenda of tomorrow’s meeting. We welcome this decision because as you can see form earlier blog posts we were very concerned that local residents had not been properly informed or consulted. Key information was missing and there was insufficient detail in the few papers which supported this key concession.

It is incredible that this campaign was not formally notified (let alone consulted) on this matter (in fact we technically still haven’t been!)

Once again, intervention has been required to stop an Officer recommendation that would undermine The Queensbury and the forthcoming appeal, and this has only happened because of only complaints from us on behalf of residents.

No doubt the committee will discuss the matter at a future meeting. Hopefully, in the meantime, a proper consultation will take place and all papers relating to it will be in the public domain, long before the meeting, to enable local people to give their views and members to take an informed decision.

That said, our position is clear: a decision on the level of affordable housing can only be taken in the context of the whole scheme and what was offered falls woefully short of Brent’s own policies.

Admin error or a secretive deal? You decide.

An inquiry to decide the future of The Queensbury will take place in January. One of the three main areas the inquiry will cover is affordable housing in the new development (proposals are 19% affordable units against a Brent policy of 50%). Brent council wrote to 1200 local people to tell them about the inquiry.

On Wednesday of this week Brent’s planning committee is asked by the council’s planning department to quietly accept two more “affordable” flats than were previously proposed. If this is accepted by the committee on Wednesday it will not be discussed at the inquiry. Brent has only written to 172 people and many, like this campaign, were not notified because of an administrative error by Brent’s planning department.

We have asked Brent council to postpone this item, to enable local residents to be fully involved in it. So far, they have refused.

We believe all those notified of the inquiry should be notified that Brent and the developer have cooked up a plan to quietly remove affordable housing from the agenda. We have seen the background papers and there is no convincing case to accept this “concession.”

You have to look hard to find this decision – tucked away on page 31 as a special item of this agenda.

The Queensbury deserves better than this. Contact your local councillor and ben.martin@brent.gov.uk and tell them so.

Fairview shenanigans over affordable housing

The lack of Affordable Housing was one of the four reasons Brent council gave for refusing permission for demolition of The Queensbury. The developer has appealed and we are set for a marathon 5 day inquiry in January (originally 3 days but the developer has lobbied for more).

Over the summer the council and the developer have apparently been horse trading over the amount of affordable housing and the council’s planning committee have been asked to take a decision on an increased ‘offer’ of an extra two units. They want this to be accepted so it is not mentioned at the inquiry in January. Is that acceptable?

We think people who responded to the planning application should have been informed about this decision, which will be taken on 17th September, but they haven’t. It feels as though the developer is trying to stop this being discussed in detail at the appeal and Brent officers seem to be agreeing with them.

Two more units will mean 22.6% is now “affordable” rather than 18.9%. Brent’s policy is for 50%. The revised offer is subjective because it certainly fails to meet Brent’s policy expectations. We believe that we should be allowed a voice in that debate.

We are mystified as to why officers are recommending this amendment be accepted and why they have not provided any opportunity in the council papers for people to respond.

We encourage you to write to the officer named in the report ben.martin@brent.gov.uk with your views. The full meeting agenda can be found here

Speak up now, before it’s too late

We have been copied in to lots of responses to the government’s planning inspector on the appeal to demolish The Queensbury. Clearly the pub is valued and people are still resisting a 10 storey tower that will blight the conservation area.

It really is last orders for your contribution. The deadline for comments is Wednesday 6th August.

Please email teamp13@pins.gsi.gov.uk quoting case 2219081 and tell them what you think.

Speak up now before it’s too late.