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.

Make your voice heard at the Queensbury appeal

In the last update we highlighted documents sent to the Inspector regarding the appeal to demolish the pub, one of which outlined some “common ground” which heavily favoured the developer’s viewpoint. We wrote to Brent and have received a response.

Brent have confirmed to us that the “common ground” document was prepared unilaterally by the developer and they have not formally agreed any common ground. Same old Fairview. Brent assure us that officers will conduct themselves professionally throughout the appeal and are committed to robustly defending the Council’s decision. We will ask for an urgent meeting so we can get across our concerns.

Also, it appears there was a delay / error by Brent in sending out letters to those who had previously commented on the scheme. As such, Brent tell us that the deadline for responses is now 6th August rather than 1st. Brent also omitted to consult English Heritage (?) on the original plans but have now done so on the appeal. We do not yet have a date for the inquiry.

How to respond

The Council have confirmed that it can only contest the appeal on the basis of the reasons given for refusal in their decision notice. However we, as residents and interested parties, can raise any issue we want. Ultimately the inspector will judge what is relevant and what is not.

Please make sure your voice is heard. Bear in mind when you respond that the inspector will be most interested in the height, scale and mass of the building, plus its impact on the conversation area and lack of affordable housing. Brent say the proposals are not consistent with their policies and we agree. Let the inspector know that local people feel this development is not needed and not wanted.

Please email teamp13@pins.gsi.gov.uk quoting case 2219081.

In your own words please tell the inspector how the landscape of Willesden Green will be severely marred by a tower that dominates the station, higher than the nearby church and dwarfing Erin Court (on the other side of the railway tracks). It will be almost twice the height of the new building next door at 112 Walm Lane.

The views from the station and from the conservation area will suffer greatly. The existing building is typical and befitting the conservation area and its proposed replacement is too bulky, too high and will stand out (in a negative way).

The level of affordable housing is not worthy of losing a community building, which is an asset of community value and heavily used by all sections of the community. Few flats will be affordable to local residents – look at the flats where the library used to be, now on sale in Singapore.

The replacement “pub” is an odd shaped space and will lack the character and flexibility that The Queenbury currently offers.

Finally, as ever, our two mantras are 1) It’s more than just a pub, it’s a community hub and 2) Build around The Queensbury, no not demolish it!

Please respond and please pass this on to friends and neighbours – anyone can write in regardless whether they’ve commented previously.

Fairview’s appeal is confirmed

Fairview Homes has appealed to the Planning Inspectorate against Brent’s decision to reject their plan to demolish The Queensbury.

Back in March, Brent Council refused Fairview Homes permission to demolish The Queensbury pub, which is a Brent Council asset of community value. We have news that the developer has appealed to the government Planning Inspectorate Not the best news, but not unexpected!

An Inquiry will take place over three days (date yet to be arranged). A letter from the Inspectorate can be found here.

This process scrutinizes Brent’s decision to refuse permission to demolish The Queensbury and build a 10 storey block of flats.

It seems that Brent and Fairview have to find some “common ground” ahead of the inquiry and a statement of this common ground was submitted to the Inspectorate in May. It can be found here, on page 8, although Brent Council do not appear to have signed it:

There is no reference to the pub being an asset of community value yet this is a material planning matter, which is worrying. The council also agree that the current building makes no positive contribution to the conversation area and that the new building will secure wider benefits for the local community – yet the decision to refuse permission said the opposite!

Naturally we are contacting Brent council to point this out and will ask them to work with us in defending their earlier decision.

Planning Committee throws out proposal to demolish The Queensbury

Last night Brent Council’s Planning Committee voted to save The Queensbury Pub from demolition.

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Permission to build a 10 storey block was denied at a packed meeting on 12th March. Brent’s officers recommended approval but after excellent representations from local residents (and businesses) Councillors refused it. This signifies a tremendous victory and we are grateful to members of the committee for seeing our perspective, using their own polices and standing up to officers in saving the pub.

Fairview New Homes bought the site at 110 Walm Lane in February 2012 and had no plans other than to demolish The Queensbury, thus ending the community activity that takes place there. Fairview hatched a plan and spoke to few people about it.

We gathered and petitioned, got organised and made our voices heard. Children waved banners and we lobbied local politicians. Plans were withdrawn last year and new ones produced, which featured a cafe and community space. But still we fought and succeeded in getting the pub accepted for what it is: an Asset of Community Value. All that work has paid off and The Queensbury lives to fight another day.

What is next?

We await the full decision but have to be prepared for Fairview appealing to the Planning Inspectorate. That process is lengthy and will not happen any time soon. We really hope they’ll learn and return with a scheme that is more suitable to Willesden.

But for now, raise a glass and “God Save The Queensbury”