Friday, 20 April 2012

Letter to Eric Pickles on Conservation Area Consent

To: The Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles MP Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eland House Bressenden Place London, SW1E 5DU 

17 March 2012
Dear Secretary of State, 

Willesden Green Library Centre Redevelopment (London Borough of Brent) Section 74, Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 Who is the appropriate authority for “conservation area consent”? 

I am a resident and Council Tax payer in the London Borough of Brent, and am writing to ask for your help. If you can give all parties with an interest in this matter a clear statement of your views, this will help to avoid unnecessary delays to this proposed redevelopment, which is intended to provide both a new Cultural Centre for the south of the borough and new homes. Users, like myself, of the existing library (Brent‟s busiest, with over 500,000 visitors a year), museum and archives on the site will be without proper facilities there for at least 20 months (August 2012 to April 2014), which will be a considerable inconvenience without any additional delays. 

By way of background, but not the issue I am asking you to consider now, I would advise you that a key planning decision which has to be made in this case is whether a locally listed building (the original 1894 Willesden Green Library) within a conservation area can be demolished. The developers, the London Borough of Brent and Galliford Try plc (their „development partner‟ under a Development Agreement signed in February 2012, following a “tender” process), wish to demolish the building, to clear the site for an entirely new building. A large number of local people oppose the demolition of the building, many, myself included, believing that it can and should be retained as part of the new Cultural Centre. 

The difference of opinion which you can easily resolve at this stage (I will suggest a way that this could be done below) is over who has the authority to decide whether this building, in the Willesden Green Conservation Area, can be demolished. The relevant legislation on this point is from the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990:- 
74. Control of demolition in conservation areas.
(1) A building in a conservation area shall not be demolished without the consent of the appropriate authority (in this Act referred to as “conservation area consent”).
(2) The appropriate authority for the purposes of this section is—
(a) in relation to applications for consent made by local planning authorities, the Secretary of State; and
(b) in relation to other applications for consent, the local planning authority or the Secretary of State. 

During a recent discussion with representatives of Brent‟s Regeneration Team and Galliford Try plc I was advised that they believe Section 74 (2) (b) applies, as they intend that both the application for planning permission and the application for conservation area consent will be made by Galliford Try plc (as sole applicant) to the London Borough of Brent (the local planning authority). My view, and that of some of my fellow objectors to the demolition of the 1894 library building, is that Section 74 (2) (a) applies, as Brent is the owner of the building that is proposed to be demolished, will be the owner of the new building that would replace it, has responsibility for the design of the new building, is legally the development partner of Galliford Try plc for that building and is the local planning authority. 

Even if it is correct in strict law that Galliford Try plc are the applicant (because only their name will be shown as “Applicant” on the application for conservation area consent form), this is surely a case in which Planning Law must not only be applied fairly, but be seen to be applied fairly. If Brent Council were to decide this conservation area consent application in favour of demolition, I believe that most impartial observers would consider that they had acted as both judge and jury in their own case. It might also lead to legal action, resulting in additional delays and costs, a situation which I hope all parties would prefer to avoid. 

As “the Secretary of State” can be “the appropriate authority” for the purposes of both Section 74 (2) (a) and (b), and can consider the evidence and arguments of both sides in a manner which will be seen as independent of both, the way in which I would suggest that you can resolve this matter at an early date is to notify all parties along the following lines: 

In the particular circumstances of this case, and without prejudice to whether S.74 (2) (a) or S.74 (2) (b), Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 applies, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will act as the appropriate authority in this case, and any conservation area consent application made in respect of the proposed demolition of the 1894 Willesden Green Library building in the London Borough of Brent must be referred to him. 

Everyone involved would then know how the application should proceed, and could prepare accordingly, saving time which might otherwise be wasted in disputes over who was “the appropriate authority” when the conservation area consent application is actually made.  

As well as replying to me as an individual, please send copies of your reply to the Chief Executive of the London Borough of Brent and the Company Secretary of Galliford Try plc, to whom I have copied this letter at the addresses shown below, and to the two groups whose letters of support are attached, Keep Willesden Green and Willesden Local History Society, who have seen this letter in draft.
Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you. 

Yours sincerely,
Philip Grant

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