Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The case for Willesden Green Town Square

Martin Redston has sent the following response to Linden Home's objection to the application to designate the area outside Willesden Green Library as a Town Square:

I have been notified of one objection to my Town Square Application. This has been submitted by Jeremy Alden of Linden Homes. I would comment as follows:

The application for Town Square status was submitted by me as a resident of Willesden Green for more than 35 years. I have always lived within walking distance of the Square and have used it at least once a week for most of each year since it was first constructed in about 1986.I use it for meeting friends, reading books when sunny, walking and attending events. As far as I am aware Jeremy Alden has no relationship with the locality as he has a home address in Guildford Surrey. I also understand that he is writing as a representative of Linden Homes, a non-trading subsidiary of Galliford Try who have a registered address in Uxbridge Middlesex. I would suggest that neither Jeremy Alden or Linden Homes were in any way interested in Willesden Green until 2011 when Galliford Try were selected by Brent Council to construct housing units on the majority of the site and construct a small library facility over the open area at the front overlooking the High Road. I would therefore question the interest that Jeremy Alden has indicated in this area and would suggest that it is motivated purely by short term financial interest rather than any long term community concern.

My detailed response to Jeremy Alden's objections are shown using his numbering:

1. My name is Martin Redston (not Michael)

2. It is a fact that the area has been used for public activities since 1986

3. A selection of names were appended to my application in order to demonstrate the continued use of the Square for more than twenty years. These are not intended to be exhaustive or exclusive.

4. This procedure is as set out in the Defra Guidance notes and indicated in my application

5.1 There are many dictionary definitions of pastime. However this has been tested in Court. Thus the case of R v Oxfordshire County Council and another ..etc clearly sets out the definition of pastime relevant to this particular issue, which includes standing and taking in the atmosphere, walking, sitting, dog walking etc. It does not have to be structured games playing.

5.2 The main use for the area is not just the holding of markets. This is one clearly identifiable pastime that can be easily documented and falls within the R v Oxfordshire etc case precedent.

5.3 If a community member attends a market, I am sure that there are plenty of opportunities to play with children, walking and the like.

5.4 Sitting, playing football and cricket are all relevant pastimes. I am sure that other people have so used the area over the last twenty years. My application only provides a few examples.

5.5 Why is petitioning not a pastime? Many people consider political activities a recreational activity because they are pursued outside their working day. I would refer to such National Open Spaces as Trafalgar Square and Speakers Corner in Hyde Park which are clearly designated for pursuing political activities, petitioning, listening to speakers and the like. The absence or otherwise of a right of way does not preclude registration, as noted in the case of Newhaven Port and Properties Ltd v East Sussex County Council.

5.6  A Right of Way is only part of a wider use for the area. However it is clear that the general public have walked across the Square ever since it was created. In fact the square was specifically created by Brent Council for this walking and gathering by the public as a general amenity. In the recent case of Newhaven Port and Properties Ltd v East Sussex County Council it was established that where no signs are in place indicating the nature of the space there can be no bar to registration.

6.1 A significant number is not defined. However It is easy to observe a continual throughput of pedestrians walking over the area on any day of the week. People are observed to be meeting each other, sitting and talking. It is important to recognise that the area is an excellent definable area for people from out of town to meet friends as it is easily seen from the High Road and can be described as a prominent location at the junction of two main roads and opposite the Post Office. It is ideal for people to wait and congregate with kids and buggies. Elderly people often stand or sit there to sort out their pension money and rest with their bags after going to the Post Office.

6.2 The area is in Willesden Green.

6.3 It is clearly demonstrated that the use of the area has been by a significant number of the locality. I have provided a small sample of pictures taken at a local event in March. There have been two events at least since that date. The objector does not have any evidence to back up his statement.

6.4 There is no necessity to produce reams of paper with names of people who have used the square over twenty years. This was tested in the Case of McAlpine v Staffordshire (2009) which helped to define the concept of significant numbers. In that case only 16 people produced evidence, but these were accepted as typical. Does the objector have any evidence that hundreds of people do not use the square each week?

6.4.1 The resident from Edgware is actually someone who lives close to the Brent border, he attends many events in the area and on the Square. He is representative of all other people who would be disadvantaged if the square were to be built over. This indicates that the area has great importance to the wider community.

6.4.2 The five people noted on the sheet all live in roads in the locality. The lack of a postcode does not invalidate their evidence. The roads noted are:
Chandos Road (NW2)
Kings Road (NW10)
Donnington Road (NW10)
Dundonald Road (NW6)
St Gabriels (NW2)
Leighton Gardens (NW10)
Perhaps the objector should have checked his facts before writing this.

6.4.3 In fact all the people that I approached (apart from Edgware) were chosen because they specifically live in the area. Many more people would be pleased to declare their use of the space. However as noted in  McAlpine v Staffordshire etc it is unnecessary and impracticable to obtain the names of everybody that may have used the area. After all it should be noted that some may have already passed away and others may have been babies or toddlers when first using the area and would not necessarily remember the details. It is only necessary to indicate that the area has been used by the public generally during the qualifying period and this is indeed the case and cannot be refuted.

6.5 Under the Defra gudelines it is not necessary to obtain evidence from all residents in an area. In fact if only one new local person each day for twenty years visited the square this would make a total of about 7000 new visitors to add to the regular attendees. Because the area is in the public domain, not fenced off and used as of right this point is clearly demonstrated by observation on any day of the week.

7.1 The period runs since the area was completed and opened to the public by Brent Council in about 1986.

7.2. It is not necessary to ensure that the same people used the area throughout. As stated above, I personally have used it throughout the period on a regular basis. Some will be new to the locality, some people may have moved away or deceased. Some have been born or moved into the area. This indicates a typical  fluid population all who have free access to the area. Many people will have moved into the area because the amenity is available, it would be a reduction in their quality of life if it were removed. However I now enclose verbatim evidence provided by a local resident indicating use for 'pastimes' throughout the period:

I grew up on Staverton Road and in the 1980s. I often waited for friends on the area at the front of the library.  As a fledgling music professional, it struck me as kind of poetic when during the late Nineties, a group of boys started hanging out at the front of the library, practising their breakdancing moves while Run DMCs It's Like That pumped out of their boombox (or did they still call them ghetto blasters back then?). It wasn't exactly to the standard of that video, but the kids provided plenty of entertainment to those of us who stopped to spectate! I continued to sit in the Town Square and when returning from music gigs I would use the area to sit, relax and read.

Six years ago, when I was on maternity leave with my second child, I would often walk down from my new home in Normanby Road with the pram and my toddler to do the shopping for the next few days. I do have a car, but when you're cooped up at home with a baby and an active toddler, you are happy to take a long time to carry out any chores that get you out of the house. 

Once you get past Willesden bus garage, the pavement is narrow and cluttered and it's a real obstacle course getting past bus queues, roadworks and even prams coming in the other direction! It's a very busy road with heavy traffic and my daughter would have to walk obediently clutching the side of the pram, under strict rules to stay out of the way of both pedestrians and traffic.

The area outside the library was like an oasis. My daughter could finally be let to run around, balance on the walls and jump from paving stone to paving stone. Routinely, this would be followed by a trip to the library, the bookshop (now gone), and then the round of butcher's, greengrocers (now gone), bakery and fishmongers (now gone). Then we would go back to the Town Square for another runaround, (often having a chat with other mums who will have seen us as they wheeled past on their own high-street shopping trip)  before setting off on the slow stroll home. A modest afternoon's activity, to be sure, but car-free and putting money in the tills of local businesses.

Its should also be noted that school groups use the space to assemble before crossing the high road after visits to sports centre and museum eg a safe gathering point. For Example St Mary Magdelene school do this all the time. 

I also enclose in Appendix A below an article by Zadie Smith who is a notable Willesden resident who spent her formative years living a few doors away from WGLC and has written this for the New York Review of books. The first seven paragraphs are relevant to my application.

7.3 There is no necessity for typical pastimes to run continuously or remain unchanged through the period. There is reference to a table to be produced by the Council...what is this please? I have not been given a copy.

8.1 to 8.10 These items all indicate continued and gradually increased use of the area for community activities. The list does not include the sizeable gathering of the community on the weekend when the library was opened 23 years ago. There has also been a more recent activity of Wassailing in 2010. 2011 and 2012, this has not been continuing for twenty years but it has demonstrated the increasing community activity in a multicultural locality. I am sure that other activities will be forthcoming in the future. 

8.11 Kids play has been continuing since 1986.

8.12 Public seating (on walls etc) has been available since 1986.

8.13. These activities have probably been going on for more than 20 years. Any open space will attract ball play activities. These are not proscribed in this area. The temporary arts installation (December 2011 to July 2012) was in a  particular area of the square and there was still plenty of adjacent room nearby, the two activities survived together without any conflict.

9. All of these activities are demonstrated to have been used continually. So the objection is wrong. The objector is exceedingly new to the area and probably has not actually attended or observed on a regular basis. He is in no position to judge.

10. All activities have been attended by the public as of right. I have never been asked to apply for a licence to walk, talk, read, sit, walk a dog, play with my children, attend an event or petition in the Square during the twenty six years of its existence. There are no notices posted in the area indication the requirement for a licence. The area is free and unencumbered for the use by members of the public. It is not fenced. It was created for public use.

10.1 to 10.15. I assume that stallholders require trading licences and/or music licences for their activities in accordance with the relevant consumer law as they would anywhere, but no licence is required by the public to attend. The objector is incorrect in using the word licence out of context here.

10.2. The Art installation may have been organised by the Council, but nobody needed permission to attend it or view it. In fact the Council clearly understood the significance of the square as a free public gathering place and wanted to provide an amenity for local people to freely view. So the objector is wrong.

10.3 These activities are typical example. It is clear that sitting has continued throughout the last twenty six years as indeed witnessed by myself over many years.The Square hosts many parades and events that could not be facilitated without the open space. It is an essential part of Willesden daily life. This is not a village green application. It is unnecessary to prove that people have been gathering to play cricket, tennis and boules in order to justify an urban town square. This was clearly demonstrrated by the Court in the recent case of Newhaven Port and Properties Ltd v East Sussex County Council. It should be noted that other events recently have included the Wassail, tree planting at the front of the library  (Appendix B), Green Fair (Appendix C), Reclaim the Streets (attended by local councillors and the council leader) and the like. The space is neutral ground and a place where paths cross genially. This is very important in an increasingly multi cultural neighbourhood. The square is very lively and active, particularly on a Friday evening when pedestrians make their way to various religious buildings in the locality. 

10.4 How can the objector state that you can play football or cricket accidentally when visiting a library? The entrance to the library is off the square, and the two activities have continued separately anyway.

10.5 It is patronising to state that there is a lack of space. In fact there is plenty of place for games if taken in the context of a crowded inner city environment. Unlike leafy Surrey, the population in this locality needs to retain every piece of open land for recreational use, not allow building to take place on it.

10.6 I do not have to prove that these activities were instigated as of right. The objector has not proved the opposite. The fact that people have freely ranged, unchallenged across this area is adequate proof of the right. There is no evidence whatever that the activities were carried out under licence. The objector is well aware of this fact.

11 The Conclusion is completely wrong as evidenced by all the points noted above. The objector has no idea about this matter as he does not live in the area and is only interested in the financial reward gained by building multi storey buildings on the site. He and his family do not have any interest in the community and really has no idea about the use of the site. Perhaps he should attend one of the events to see the very real community use of the square and understand how it is important to support community cohesion.

11.4 The application meets all the relevant tests. Brent Council has already indicated that the application has done so when they accepted the application in April. Under the Defra guidelines they could have rejected it at that stage, but did not do so due to the overwhelming evidence for its Registration. No objection has been received by Brent Council or any other person or organisation.

The Area between the two buildings should be registered as a Town Square under the legislation forthwith.

Martin Redston
28th August 2012

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