Friday, 28 September 2012

"We need a mini-Civic Centre in Willesden at no cost to us" Muhammed Butt

Muhammed Butt, was asked about the Willesden Green Library at the recent public meeting organised by Brent TUC.

Cllr Butt  said that he had met with Keep Willesden Green campaigners and had passed on their concerns to Galliford Try, planners and the Regeneration Team, and their points will be taken into consideration for the new plans being presented in December.. He said that the old Willesen Library was now being retained and this meant internal redesigns. The council were still looking at 92 private units at the back of the site and this was the only way to fund it.

He was challenged with  the alternative of a small amount of building and refurbishment and the loss of the cinema,  bookshop and car park in the current plans.   The questioner said, "It's like saying I need a new boiler so I will knock my house down! I've heard it called asset stripping."  Butt responded that a lot of the 'stuff' in the 80s building had come to the end of its natural life and the building was unfinished. The cafe and cinema  had closed as a result of not being used. "We need a mini Civic Centre in Willesden so people from this area don't have to travel all the way to Wembley and we need it an no cost to us."

A personal reaction to the latest consultation

A member of KWG has sent in this impression of the recent 'consultation':

I attended a meeting on September 25th  at the “Library Lab”, at Willesden Library under the impression that it was  a Council “consultation” for the public. It was advertised as being   “for you to share your ideas on the future of the WGCC”. 

I found it was no such thing. A girl from the  “Library Lab”, who appeared to be in charge, had a rigidly structured agenda which focused exclusively on the development of the current proposals and wanted to exclude all discussion of whether the public wanted these proposals in the first place.

It was made clear to her by members of the public attending, that they would not accept her agenda for the meeting, and wished to state their objections to the proposed scheme.  Many people there had only just heard about it. 

 On several occasions this person tried to prevent residents from stating their views and from asking questions. She appeared not to have any understanding of how a meeting advertised as a consultation should be run in a democratic country that prides itself on free speech. 

Who was this person? Is she a council officer? If not, why was she running a public consultation meeting about  Council facilities on a council owned site?  What authority did this person have to try to dictate to the public how they could make their contribution to a Borough consultation? Was it even a proper borough consultation? 

What is the Library Lab? And what is its status in terms of the relationship between the electorate and their elected representatives?  The Brent Council website gives no explanation.  It describes  the Library Lab as  “a hub of local entrepreneurial activity in Willesden Green Library Centre, .........part of the New Windows on Willesden project” telling us that “our vision [is] to regenerate Willesden High Road and reduce local unemployment”.   Whose vision? On whose behalf does this organisation  arrogate to itself such grandiose claims? And by what right does it intervene in a consultation that should be between the Borough Council and the electorate?

Council Officer Beth Kay was in attendance still peddling mis-information. The new building will be much smaller than the present one; the developers themselves admit this and it is clear from all the plans.  Many members of the public  pointed out that library space was to be smaller.  Ms Kay now claims that because of consultation feedback the Library space in the building has been increased so that it will be the same size as the current provision. But since the building footprint has not increased  that means that other facilities must be reduced. How is this an improvement on what we already have?

I tried to raise the issue of  the blocks of flats to be built on the car park which will degrade the environment of all the residents whose houses surround the site. This Ms Kay dismissed as a “planning matter”.  It is indeed. It is a degradation of all good planning practice which was designed to prevent town cramming and overlooking.

Ms Kay’s only suggestion was that these plans had been passed by our elected councillors. She  did not seem to appreciate that such a statement amounts to telling us that the scheme is “predetermined”.  That is illegal.

But where were our “elected councillors”?  The room was full of developers and their representatives.  Why were these meetings not run by the councillors? They have abysmally failed in their obligations under Local Government Act 2000 to make themselves “accountable” to the people. They treat the public with contempt, failing to answer any emails, questions or anything else about this wretched scheme. They are not fit to govern. That is why there is such widespread public  anger.

As one attendee at the meeting said, the whole scheme is nothing more than asset stripping. Far from denying this, Beth Kay appeared to agree,  as she replied to the effect that it would not be the first time a borough council had acted in this way. This is shameful. The Council  should remember that these assets were not secured for the people of Brent by their initiative, or that of their predecessors, nor solely at their expense. The Council should therefore be scrupulously careful to observe the conditions upon which our Library was vested in them and to avoid anything which may seem to infringe these conditions.

These meetings have been advertised to the public as consultations under false pretences.  In fact it was intended to allow people to “share your opinions and suggestions” only “on the programming and functionality” of the predetermined scheme for Willesden Green Library Centre.

Having failed to go through the proper planning and consultation process for this “Key decision  ( a statutory designation), the Council is still avoiding any proper public consultation on the principle of this development and ignoring public protest. It is trying to force the public to discuss a scheme it does not want.  That is not consultation by any stretch of the imagination. It certainly does not comply with Brent Council’s stated commitments both in policy documents and in its constitution:

Brent Council Constitution:  “The purpose of the Constitution is to support the active involvement of citizens in the process of local authority decision-making;”  and  “create a powerful and effective means of holding decision-makers to public account;”

Brent Local Code Of Corporate Governance:   –to ensure that stakeholders have confidence in the decision making and management processes of the authority, by conducting genuine consultation, providing access to full, accurate and clear information.

Partners for Brent Community Consultation, Engagement & Empowerment  Strategy  2010 -2014:    Partners for Brent will develop and put in place regular and effective processes which enable all Brent residents to influence and control the services and quality...........  Involve people from the outset and throughout the whole process;

New council constitutions: guidance to English Authorities; Local Gov Act 2000,
7.2 Key decisions which have significant effects within the community.... will need to be identified and properly consulted on.

The Council’s conduct can be seen in the context of a wider malaise afflicting the country’s institutions. From MP’s expenses, civil servants’ abuse of government credit cards, Leveson, Hillsborough, Rochdale – the list goes on and on and is added to almost by the  week.  The Bishop of Liverpool in announcing the findings of the Hillsborough Inquiry spoke for many of us: “It is timely for us to reconsider how people in positions of power, whoever they may be, behave in a transparent and accountable manner back the trust which is so vulnerable at the moment in our society”.

No-one has been killed or injured in Willesden, but a community feels that it is being raped and tyrannised by those who portray themselves as public servants.  It is one more small addition to the bitter disaffection felt by the governed for their “elected dictators”, throughout the land.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Oliver Sacks: My happy hours in Willesden Green Library

Oliver Sacks, the  British biologist, neurologist, writer, and amateur chemist has written the following letter to the New York Review LINK

To the Editors:

Seeing the photograph of Willesden Library in Zadie Smith’s powerful article [“North West London Blues,” NYR, July 12] gave me a sudden start, and a rush of intense memories and emotions, for it was here that I spent many of the happiest hours of my growing-up years—our house was a five-minute walk from the library—and where I received my real education. I hated school, instruction, classes, and needed to feel free—free to look at the thousands, tens of thousands, of books in the library—to roam and to enjoy the special atmosphere and the quiet companionship of other readers, all, like myself, on quests of their own.

The tender and nostalgic memories evoked by the photo turned to rage and heartbreak as I read Smith’s account of the proposed demolition of the library, and its replacement by luxury flats.

It is true that one can get anything online now, and read everything at home, but there is nothing like a “real” book, and nothing like a library, especially a local library, which is an essential part of a living community. I hope something can be done for Willesden Library, and for public libraries everywhere, but one sees from Zadie Smith’s account of the dawn raid on Kensal Rise Library in London how even passionate communal support—volunteers to run the libraries, and chains of people to protect them—may be impotent to prevent their destruction.

Oliver Sacks
New York City

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Willesden Green Development - who profits?

A contributor has asked me to post this summary of the current issues regarding the Willesden Green Redevelopment:

The story so far.... 
The original plans from GT included destroying the plane tree on the High Road. 
Locals objected.
A chunk was knocked off the nose of the proposed WGCC in response to objections regarding the tree. 
GT also proposed demolition of the old Library in a Conservation Area.
Locals objected.
The facade of the  Old Library is now plastered on to the nose of the WGCC in a clumsy attempt to heal the rift between locals and Council and facilitate the HCA Housing. 

The WGCC is not a well-considered scheme. It has been a series of clumsy lash-ups attempting to rectify a massively flawed design and an incompetent, mismanaged attempt at Regeneration by Brent Council.

The new proposals are not acceptable as they do not meet the Council’s own design brief to the tendering developers. 

Public Interest is not being served, the proposed loss of Public Amenity is devastating and simply retaining the facade of the Old Library does not begin to patch up the mess created so far.

Until the plans are taken back to the drawing board and the ratio of Public Land to housing reconsidered, there should not be any discussion of how the Old Library should be incorporated. 

Brent  Council’s Regeneration Team see themselves as Master Developers with an open budget. They have a sense of entitlement to our land and public space that is not serving Public Interest.
 It is clear that the original Galliford Try plans were not fit for purpose. They would not have required such drastic changes if they had been. The designs by the other bidders were more competent and far less flawed. 
At the outset, neither the topography or the protected Plane Tree at the front of the site were properly considered by Galliford's architects AHMM. The agreement to enter in to a developer partnership with Galliford cannot have been on design merit. 

We know from a Freedom of Information request that the three bidding developers were all asked to offer a Residual Value to the Council as part of their bid.
Cost breakdown document
 A bid from another developer offered a 50/ 50 split of the profit from the private housing. This developer was able to demonstrate that the private housing profit would be over £9m. They offered the Council an over-all  value of £14,328,152.48. This total includes £9,400,000 for the WGCC library construction but the residual sum of nearly £5m is effectively a profit share which the Council claim would be "ring-fenced for social housing". Why has there not been more transparency about this?
Why have the Councillors publicly denied that there would be no other financial benefit from the scheme? 
We are told that the scheme to build the WGCC will not be financially viable without the development of 94 housing units. 
How much is the proposed profit share from the preferred Galliford Try scheme? An FOI for the bid submitted by Galliford Try has been refused. Brent Council have not been transparent about the Residual Value for this project. How can they claim zero cost to the public when it is clear that additional value is being squeezed from the site and obfuscated?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Philip Grant's latest submission on Willesden Green proposals

Although Philip Grant is not a member of Keep Willesden Green he has made a number of thoughtful and trenchant contributions to the consultation process as an individual.  This is his latest submission. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Keep Willesden Green or individual members:

Willesden Green Library Centre redevelopment – Philip Grant’s views as part of the further consultation exercise, September 2012.

The way that the views of many members of the public were ignored and misrepresented in earlier consultations up to April 2012 has left a deep suspicion of Brent Council, Galliford Try Plc and their agents in the minds of local people. We have been assured that this further consultation exercise will be a genuine one, and I sincerely hope that this will prove to be the case. I will set out my views under two headings, one dealing with a fundamental issue and the other on a detailed design including the 1894 Willesden Green Library building.

1.  Should the existing Willesden Green Library Centre be demolished?
The current proposals from Brent’s Regeneration Department and Galliford Try are drawn up on the basis that the existing WGLC should be demolished, and replaced by a new Cultural Centre on a smaller site and a development of 90+ private homes. There are several reasons why this approach is not the best one to follow.
1.1  Although the existing WGLC needs some refurbishment (toilets and plant need updating, in particular), it is only 23 years old, and was planned to last for at least sixty years. Knocking it down would be both costly and wasteful. It would surely be possible to redevelop the existing building, retaining those parts (like the library, Museum and Archives and their education room, special exhibitions space and art gallery) which still work, and to redesign the rest of the space (adding an extra “light weight” floor if necessary) to provide the extra One-Stop-Shop and Council offices necessary for the proposed “hub” for the south of the borough. Most or all of the cost of this work could be funded from a smaller private housing development built on most of the existing car park.
1.2 The current proposals would mean building over the existing open space situated between the remaining section of the 1894 library building and the front of WGLC. That space is the subject of an application for registration as a Town Square, which would mean that this land cannot be built on. Galliford Try (and Brent?) have objected, but the application appears to be valid and well-founded. The open space is much more relevant to Willesden High Road than the planned space at the back of the proposed new Cultural Centre would be. It would be better for Brent and their development partner to accept the continued existence of this public open space, and proceed on the basis of retaining the existing WGLC building, rather than facing further delay and uncertainty by fighting the wishes of the local community again (as they did unsuccessfully with their original plans to demolish the 1894 Willesden Green Library).
1.3  I realise that this major about-face in the plans for redeveloping Willesden Green Library Centre is not what Brent and Galliford Try had in mind when they entered into their Development Agreement in February 2012, so that the terms of their relationship would need to be renegotiated. I believe that this would be the best option, and hope that it will be given serious consideration. If the Town Square application fails, and the two parties go ahead with plans to demolish the existing WGLC and build a new Cultural Centre, then my second section below applies.

2. Detailed design including the 1894 library building.
I hope that all parties are now clear that the section of the 1894 Willesden Green Library which was retained as part of the 1980’s library redevelopment should not, and cannot in law, be demolished. If a new Cultural Centre is built, it must retain at least the original walls and roof of the Victorian building. Here are my views on the details of such a design.
2.1  Several sketches showing possible ways of connecting the original and new buildings were displayed at WGLC during August 2012. I think that the idea which works best visually is the one labelled “Gallery”, showing a glass roof sloping down from the new building to the back of the 1894 library. There are two possible problems with this which I would mention, which will need to be addressed in the detailed design. The first is the need to deal effectively with the large amounts of rainwater which would run down the glass during a heavy “cloudburst” shower; the second is the need to be able to keep the glass clean, and to remove leaves (from the plane tree) and other debris, to allow good natural light from the glass roof into the entrance foyer below.
2.2  I believe that the best use for the 1894 library building as part of a new Cultural Centre would be as a community gallery. Part of this (perhaps alongside, and viewed from, the entrance foyer) should be a small permanent display from Brent Archives and Museum showing the history of Willesden Green Library, and of this part of Willesden High Road from Victorian times, so that the significance of the old building and the continuity of public services here from the 1890’s to the present is introduced to the Centre’s 21st century users. Most of the gallery space would be used for temporary exhibitions, which visitors could enjoy in their own right or during their visits to the Centre for other reasons. These would need to be co-ordinated by a pro-active overall manager of the Centre, but could include displays by local artists (BAR, or other exhibitions as currently staged at WGLC), small “taster” exhibits to draw attention to larger exhibitions available in the Museum, Archives or other galleries upstairs, displays linked with Library activities (such as author talks, which could actually be held in the community gallery) etc.
2.3  One of the reasons given for not retaining the 1894 library building in the original plans was the need to “connect” the new Centre with Willesden High Road. I have mentioned this idea before, but would repeat my suggestion that the original doorway into the 1894 building should be “un-bricked”, and the door reinstated with a plate glass window which would give a full height view from the High Road, through the community gallery and into the main Centre building. The design (aside, from the 1893 elevation drawing) of the doors could be printed on film and attached to the window, as if etched, to give an impression of the original building, and for safety reasons. I believe that this would help to attract passers-by to come in and discover what was on offer to them at the Cultural Centre.

Philip Grant
19 September 2012

Keep Willesden Green Public Meeting September 20th

New Willesden Green designs to be consulted about on September 25th

Following the consultations on Willesden Green earlier this month I have now received the following letter:
Dear Resident,

Following the withdrawal of the planning application for the proposed new Willesden Green Cultural Centre in July, Brent Council and Galliford Try have engaged in further consultation with the community. During this process fresh ideas and perspectives were sought for how the building should look and what role it should play in the area. This consultation process has yielded a new set of potential designs and we would like to invite you to a consultation session to view these plans.

You will be able to see the latest plans and meet with the project team to discuss them at an event to be hosted at the Library Lab on the 25th September 2012, between 5.00 pm and 8.00 pm. Further to this, the plans will be available throughout October in the Library Lab as well as the foyer of the Willesden Green Library.  

We hope to see you at the event and look forward to discussing this latest stage of planning. If you have any queries please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Best wishes,

The Project Team

Monday, 3 September 2012

Brent's own 1983 plan shows 'Public Square' at Willesden Green

Martin Redston has written again to Michael Read of Brent Council regarding the Willesden Town Square application:

Dear Michael, 

I enclose extracts from the original 1983 document relating to the WGLC as currently constructed. The main site plan clearly shows a Public Square at the front of the building. The written description page describes the public square in some detail. Also an annotated sketch plan of the site stated: 'The Council intend to preserve the little building on the corner with its turret and decoration - the wings behind are later additions, and these will be removed to provide some much-needed open space.' 
This document was produced by Brent's Development Department (the forerunner of the present "Regeneration and Major Projects")  in December 1983. 
I understand that some councillors wanted to save money on the project, and demolish the whole of the old Willesden Green Library, replacing it with a public square which would run from the new Library Centre right down to the High Road. In a Council debate, reported in the "Kilburn Times" on 20 April 1984, Councillor Len Snow said that this 'would be a sad mistake', leaving 'a gap here, which will be open to wind and traffic noise'. He went on to say: 'If the square was protected by an interesting frontage it would be a haven of peace and on a sunny day a delight to sit in.' 
Brent Council's 1983lLibrary  development document clearly shows a public square
On this basis there is clearly no doubt that the area in front of the library is already a public square, therefore registration should be completed forthwith. The objection by Galliford Try is clearly inaccurate.
Although Brent's objection document, submitted after the due deadline date but dated 14th August is not valid as previously noted, I have taken the trouble to read it. There is nothing in the submission specific to the WGLC Square. Reference has been made to trading licences and examples have been provided. As noted in my own response this is entirely irrelevant as trading anywhere in the borough requires a licence, customers of the licensed traders do not require a licence to attend the stall or premises. I will provide an example: At Gladstone Park there are two ice cream vans, one by the gate on Kendal Road and one within the park by the central playground. In both cases the traders have obtained licences and permission to trade in particular positions. However the public do not need a licence to stand next to the van in the two types of public space to buy their ice creams.
The late submission by Brent Council has not been adequately researched and therefore should not be accepted as part of the process.

I look forward to your positive response in favour of registration, otherwise I suggest that we move forward to The Public Enquiry stage at the earliest opportunity. 

Martin Redston

The 1989 Library Vision - what we have lost

We have managed to get hold of Brent Council's leaflet advertising the opening of the 1989 Willesden Green Library. Clearly this building had EVERYTHING  including a community bookshop. See what we have lost....