Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Willesden Regeneration Executive Decision and other documents available here

The full decision about the Willesden Green Redevelopment made by the Brent Council Executive on January 16th is now available on this blog (PAGE above) along with weblinks to the main documents.

Community concerns voiced at January 16th Council Executive

The following representations by local residents were made at the meeting of the Brent Executive on January 16th (from the official Minutes):

Dilwyn Chambers spoke as a local resident on the Willesden Green Redevelopment Project.  Dilywn Chambers expressed concern about an apparent lack of details regarding responses from consultation in the report.  He felt that the art gallery, bookshop and Brent Irish Advisory Service (BIAS) had been given due notice that there would be no space for them at the new site as opposed to being properly consulted and he suggested that neither library staff nor users had been consulted about the proposals.  The Executive heard that the Valued Customer Panel set up in February 2011 was yet to meet.   Dilywn Chambers contested the accuracy of paragraph 4.14 in the report.

Martin Francis, speaking as a local resident, addressed the Executive over his concern about there being no provision for the Willesden Green bookshop in the proposals.  He commented that the bookshop stocked a wide range of books and provided an important educational role in the local community, including providing discount books for local schools.  The Executive heard that the bookshop had been praised in The Guardian newspaper.  Martin Francis stated that although the report had mentioned that there was no space available for the bookshop at the new site, it had not given the reasons as to why and he felt that the bookshop would provide a welcome attraction for the new site and provide community cohesion.  Furthermore, the bookshop was up to date with rent payments.  Martin Francis concluded by asserting that the council should be championing successful local businesses such as the bookshop and he requested that space for it be provided.

Philip Bromberg addressed the Executive speaking as a representative of Brent SOS libraries.  He stated that Brent SOS libraries had sent a letter to the Head of Libraries suggesting that Cricklewood and Kensal Rise libraries be kept open during the redevelopment of the Willesden Green site, which would be at no cost to the council and provide an ideal solution, whilst Brent SOS libraries would be willing to work with the council on this matter.  Philip Bromberg felt that there was not sufficient information for a decision on the proposed interim service delivery to be decided and further information from library staff was required.  Furthermore, the costings for Grange Road and the second additional temporary location were not known, whilst the locations for alternative sites for study spaces remained unspecified.  He asked that any decision be deferred before this information was known and to keep Crickewood and Kensal Rise libraries open during the Willesden Green redevelopment project.

Edward Lazarus, a resident of Cricklewood, also addressed the Executive.  He began by stating that the closure of Cricklewood and Neasden libraries, along with the redevelopment of Willesden Green library, meant that some 200 study spaces had been lost and that this meant that effectively only ten study spaces remained to cover a large area.  These study spaces played a vital role for some school children, particularly those in deprived areas who may come from overcrowded homes and the loss of the spaces meant they would have no other place to go and impact upon the education of those who needed it most.  Edward Lazarus asked that Cricklewood Library re-open for two years whilst the Willesden Green Redevelopment Project was being undertaken.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Image and Plan for proposed Willesden Cultural Centre

The proposed Willesden Cultural Centre (minus new flats)

Statement from the architects:

Allford Hall Monaghan Morris and Architecture 519 are pleased to announce they have been selected for the Willesden Green Cultural Centre Redevelopment in Brent with Galliford Try Regeneration.

AHMM are leading the masterplan, which incorporates a new 4,000+ sq. m. library and cultural centre, with approximately 90 residential units by Architecture 519. A compact, atrium-centred scheme with a dramatic presence on the High Road will replace the existing 1980’s library, creating a community landmark in Brent. Activating the ground floor will be a café, children’s library and ‘creative cluster’ of large spaces tied into the masterplan through a significant new public space by Gillespies Landscape.

The team, supported by URS Scott Wilson for structure and services, expect to submit a planning application in the spring, with completion in 2014 for the entire site.

Brent Council's Plan (yellow is the Cultural Centre site - rest housing)

Willesden proposals: reasons to be angry

Willesden Sunset by local artist Tim Danby
Posted on behalf of a Willesden Green resident:

Brent Council has not consulted on this scheme. This is why so many local residents, like myself, are angry.  This is one of the reasons for the  'call in' meeting by a group of councillors on February 1st. This is why a growing number of us are determined ensure our views are taken into account and decisions no longer continue to be made with as little public scrutiny as possible.

Brent Council's proposals, which are already far advanced,  have been made by a group who do not represent in age, ethnicity, social class and political power the people I see in the library. The Vision Statement is a shabby piece of PR; the current library could achieve all that is listed if it were properly managed.

When I asked a library assistant about the proposals two weeks ago, she knew nothing about it, nor could give me any information! Why were there no plans in the library? An opportunity to talk to a representative from the Council about this exciting new vision?

We had at least two mailings about the small alteration to the junction of Staverton Road and Brondesbury Park with detailed plans and opportunities for feed-back. Why were residents sent nothing at all about the redevelopment of our library centre?

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Give Brent children the chance to be inspired

The following comment by the mother of Zadie Smith has been posted on Wembley Matters:

The current Brent Library Centre may not be one of the most attractive buildings, but it has provided residents from across Brent with a place to study, work and play for well over 20 years. It’s a place to just sit and read a good book. It is highly accessible for both young and old and for those with disability issues.

Over the years it has attracted a number of celebrity writers who have come along and inspire would be writers. It has hosted a number of cultural events/music festivals, the French market etc. It has attracted educators and community speakers. Local artist display their work. Would be local entrepreneurs test the waters there.

The children's library and various creative activities all offer much needed space for many families who live in overcrowded or otherwise inadequate homes. The wonderful Willesden Bookshop brought something unique to the area, and is well used by Brentites and schools.

 I am privileged to be the mother of the internationally acclaimed novelist Zadie Smith. Zadie and her brothers are all university graduates who have pursued careers in the arts. A major inspiration for all of them was the fact they had access to local libraries, the Kilburn Bookshop in the first instance and then to all our joy, our very own Willesden Bookshop.

Steve the owner of the bookshop has always been happy to have the youngest of children thumb through the books. 25 years later and my gorgeous granddaughters are enjoying the same privilege.

Please do not further reduce opportunities for Brent children to be inspired. Communities all over our towns and cities are becoming less and less cohesive. We want Willesden Green to keep its sense of community as far as is possible. Our Library Centre is a major way of encouraging this. It is the heart of our community bringing as it does people from across all ethnic, religious and class groups. It is a warm and safe place for people to spend time.

Rebuild by all means. But do not leave us with less than we had. And surely a special plea for our locally listed beautiful little library building not to be demolished. How can the architects say it cannot be incorporated! They are architects. They usually do what they are commissioned to do, don't they?

Friday, 27 January 2012

Harrow resident stunned in Willesden

I was passing the Willesden Green Library Centre a couple of evenings ago after leaving the Rising Sun. I was accompanied by someone from Harrow who was absolutely flabbergasted when I told her that the building was due to be bull-dozed.

"But it looks modern!" she gasped.

She was even more stunned when I told her the bookshop was to go and would not have a home in the new development.

Then of course I told her that the beautiful old Willesden Central Library building she was admiring was also going to be knocked down...

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see things as they really are.

Willesden Green Regeneration: Some key questions for the Council

'Richly divererse and vibrant' Brent reflected in an exhibition
I count myself very privileged to be a resident of Willesden Green. It is a richly diverse and vibrant place. It is hard to put your finger on what makes it tick but at the heart of this extraordinary integration of cultures, religions and generations is a Library Centre that celebrates and promotes a bonded Community. A building, which claims nearly 500,000 visits per annum.

The success of the library is not necessarily the Architecture. What seems to make it tick is the location, it is a shared ground where all paths can cross.

When Brent Council published their vision for the proposed new Willesden Green Civic Centre they expressed many of my hopes for a rejuvenated space.

Brent’s Vision was as follows:

Willesden Green Cultural Centre will be a building at the heart of it’s community in every sense. Actively welcoming people in all their diversity, it will be a social space: a place full of life, energy and fun, that will support and celebrate creativity and imagination and allow knowledge and ideas to be accessed, produced and shared. Efficient to run, and easy to maintain, the Cultural Centre will be a really useful local landmark: a thing of beauty that is able to respond to changing aspirations, offering the spaces and services that it’s community needs, now and in the future. 

The Willesden green Cultural Centre will be the main Cultural hub for the Council, and its role will only grow both with its new development and the transformed library service. The priority here is therefore to support local practitioners through giving opportunities to promote work and also to grow audiences through activities like reading groups, taster sessions and community food markets.

Currently the existing space serves most of these purposes well. There is plenty of space to gather, a quiet area to learn, exhibition halls, galleries, a museum, space to play, corners for newspaper reading, a market place, a theatre space, a well-loved bookshop, a café, an historic, locally listed landmark, a shared destination etc.  The building is probably not the most efficient to run and could be reinvented for a new generation. It is very important however that in doing this, none of the qualities that engage and bond are lost. I am concerned that the ambition to finance and rebuild the Centre will inevitably result in a sacrifice of Public space. I await with interest, to see the scheme that has been chosen to replace the existing library.

For now my questions are:

  • Has there been complete transparency and an open dialogue so that all agendas are understood?
  • Has the Council consulted CABE/ Design Council?
  • Has a traffic study been carried out?
  • Will the Council’s decision support local practitioners and residents ?
  • Will the partnering developers fully understand the fine balance that makes Willesden Green?
  • Will all the cultural benefits of the existing library be accommodated in the new building?
  • How will the development risks be managed to safeguard the development vision? 

My own personal view is that the development plans are too ambitious and short sighted. The Vision cannot possibly be met in the current financial climate without a significant loss to Willesden Green. That loss could be limited by local insight leading to good design. I hope that through careful consultation and a well lead design team, Brent Council will be able to deliver a balance and solution for us all.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Who knew the plans for the library?

I have lived in Willesden Green for 4 years. Over 2 Years in Staverton Road and now nearly 2 years on Brondesbury Park.

The first we heard of the new development for the library was last week. It seems that at this point plans for the new development have been through several phases without our consultation. After our concerns we have since had meetings with many of our neighbours who it turns out also have not been involved in the decision making process at all.

We have always been extremely fond of the library and its service to the local area and in recent times to a much wider area.

My housemate has been running the Willesden Green Wassail for several years and in this coming together of the local community, there is very little knowledge of the plans.

Since investigating further and with the help of neighbours, we have finally seen what is planned and quite frankly it is horrifying. I absolutely understand the need for regeneration in areas such as ours and whole heartedly support the premise.

But quite simply, it is outrageous that we have not been consulted on the matter and that it seems the sample that were are not representative of the demographic within the local community.

I would request that the whole thing is re-consulted and that neighbours as close as we are in Brondesbury Park and Staverton Road are consulted properly on the matter.

Petitioning on Saturday to preserve old Willesden Library building

Someone from the Willesden Local History Society hopes to be outside the Willesden Green Library on Saturday between 11am and 2pm. She will be collecting signatures on a petition to save the old Central Willesden Library building.

Willesden plans to be scrutinised on February 1st

 The Willesden Library Regeneration Project is to be examined by the Call-in and Overview Scrutiny Committee of Brent Council  at the request of the Lib Dems. The  meeting is on Wednesday February 1st (7.30pm Committee Room 1, Brent Town Hall).

The public can address the Committee for a few minutes on the item to be debated: 
Contact: Toby Howes, Senior Democratic Services Officer  020 8937 1307, Email: toby.howes@brent.gov.uk

The call-in queries the delegation of decision making to the developer, the lack of detail in the proposals, interim arrangements while the development takes place and the consultation process:

Willesden Green Redevelopment Project

The reasons for the call in are:-

1.     Delegation of authorisation of detailed design (recommendation 2.4 in the report): it is appropriate that a decision of this significance is signed off by members, especially if the consultation process or other pressures result in a need to reconsider elements of the scheme or choose between options.

2.     Interim service delivery strategy (recommendation 2.5)

(a)    Lack of clarity over important aspects of the alternative provision including the size of the premises at Grange Road and details of other premises in the Willesden Green area being explored.

(b)    Lack of serious consideration of the use of available closed libraries to aid the delivery of services as evidenced by the perfunctory nature of paragraph 6.29 in the report.

(c)    It is incorrect to state that the provision of transport services to aid access to alternative study space is outside the council’s powers (para. 9.23). The council has a number of potentially relevant powers including the power of well-being.

3.     Lack of clarity in the papers provided to members at the Executive meeting about the design and functions of the proposed new building including:

(a)    No information (even in broad terms) about how the available floorspace will be split between the different uses and the projected income from the proposed commercial uses.

(b)    No information about the architectural and design approach to the development or the planning considerations and risks (other the risk of local objections set out on page 54) that the design has to take into account.

(c)    Lack of clear explanation about how the zero net capital cost will be achieved.

(d)    Inadequate consideration of the risk of construction costs being greater than anticipated and the extent to which the additional costs might fall on the council if they are not the responsibility of the contractor; and inadequate assurance about financial control of the project subsequent to detailed design development and prior to practical completion.

4.     Defects in the decision making process including lack of information provided to members about the revenue consequences of the recommended decision (section 7 asserts that all future revenue costs will be contained with existing budget allocations for the management of the WGLC but there are no figures to support this. Additionally there is no mention of the revenue implications of the non-cultural centre functions such as office space and contact centre).

5.     Lack of access to Background Papers despite requests in good time

6.     Consultation strategy (recommendation 2.7)

(a)    The agreed consultation strategy does not include any objectives nor does it specify what scope there is for the current design to be altered in response to the consultation. It is therefore unclear to what extent this is a genuine consultation strategy and to what extent it is simply a public engagement strategy designed to provide reassurance and promote the project to stakeholders.

(b)    There is no mention in the report, recommendation or consultation strategy of reporting back the outcome of the consultation to members (Executive or Scrutiny) to enable consideration of the views expressed.

Suggested action for the Call In Overview and Scrutiny Committee to take:-

·         Consider the revenue implications of the decision to assure value for money and the other issues raised above.

Recommend that:-

·         The decision about the detailed design and costs be taken by the Executive and not delegated;

·         The interim service delivery strategy be revised to provide more library floorspace and more accessibility to the museum collection than the present proposals deliver, possibly including use of currently closed library premises to avoid the need to pay rent;

·         Objectives be set for the consultation strategy; the process for considering and responding to consultation feedback be clarified and publicised to stakeholders in due course; a resident / stakeholder liaison group be created as part of the consultation strategy.

Happy images from the Green Fair outside Willesden Green Library

The open space outside the Willesen Green Library has begun to be used and livens up the town centre. This picture is from the Green Fair when local councillors joined in parachute games with the children. Public space is much  needed in a crowded area.

Fight builds for old Willesden Central Library

The threatened building now
The proud subject of a local postcard in the past
The ratepayers of Willesden voted to build it, the councillors of Brent voted to demolish it
 The Willesden Local History Society write to Sarah Teather MP last April about the threat to the old Willesden Library building.  Following the Council's decision to go ahead with the demolition they are preparing to mount an epetition in its defence.
Dear Miss Teather,

I am writing on behalf of the Chairman, Committee and members of the Willesden Local History Society. We were upset to hear at our last meeting that the  plans for the development of the Willesden Green Library Centre may lead to the demolition of the iconic old original Library building, on Willesden High Road. The 100-year old building only survived by a whisker in the 1980s, after a campaign by local residents and Councillors.

We are anxious that any redevelopment should retain this small remnant of Willesden's history, a landmark loved by local people. May we ask you to express our wish for the retention of this building, to the relevant bodies? Councillors Mark Cummins and Ann Hunter have offered support if we can mobilise a campaign of awareness of the threat to the old building. We are not usually a campaigning society, but we feel strongly about this local landmark.

                         Yours faithfully, Margaret Pratt.

First image of proposed new Cultural Centre

The proposed cultural shoe box
Galliford Try have delegated the designing of the new Willesden Cultural Centre to a Leeds based architects firm, removing the project even further from local people and designers who know the local area well. They have released the first images of the building which will replace the current library and bookshop. No space is allocated for the bookshop.
Allford Hall Monaghan Morris and Architecture 519 are pleased to announce they have been selected for the Willesden Green Cultural Centre Redevelopment in Brent with Galliford Try Regeneration. 
AHMM are leading the masterplan, which incorporates a new 4,000+ sq. m. library and cultural centre, with approximately 90 residential units by Architecture 519. A compact, atrium-centred scheme with a dramatic presence on the High Road will replace the existing 1980’s library, creating a community landmark in Brent. Activating the ground floor will be a café, children’s library and ‘creative cluster’ of large spaces tied into the masterplan through a significant new public space by Gillespies Landscape. 
The team, supported by URS Scott Wilson for structure and services, expect to submit a planning application in the spring, with completion in 2014 for the entire site."
Observers at last night's Council Meeting said that the council appeared confident that the project would go ahead with planning approveal by June/July 2012 with construction beginning in September 2012.

However a strong campaign is developing of those who are opposed the the redevelopment. They are joined by others with a particular interest in preserving the old Willesden Library.  Meanwhile Cllr James Powney, lead member for libraries, has intervened on the bookshop issue before the e-petition has closed and before it has been presented to the council.  As usual he appears to have made up his mind before hearing the arguments. This is what he posted on his BLOG:
Martin Francis of Brent Green Party has started a petition about the Willesden Bookshop.  Brent Council has given the bookshop notice to quit so that it can redevelop the Willesden Library Centre.  The petition appears to be arguing that the bookshop should be included as part of the new Willesden Library centre.  Presumably, Martin wants the Council to help the bookshop to temporary premises, and then to move back 18 months later.  Would any retailer really find it attractive to have two disruptive and expensive moves in a period of less than two years? Given that any retail space in the new library centre will be much higher quality than the current provision, the rent is likely to be much higher.  Would it not be more sensible to move to premises somewhere in the immediate area?
I have lodged the petition as a local resident rather than on behalf of the Green Party. As I write it has 303 signatures. Please encourage more people to sign so that Cllr Powney is forced to listen to us.

Here is another message from a concerned local resident:

I am also very unhappy about the proposed redevelopment of Willesden Library. Proper consultation has been distinctly lacking. 

We will be losing one of the more attractive corners of Willesden - currently providing much needed light and space in what is already a narrow and crowded high street; a much loved and well used book shop; a historic Willesden landmark in the old library building and a Library Centre which already houses an art gallery, museum, lots of space which has been allowed to deteriorate rather than be fully utilised as well as a decent sized library which the the south of the borough will now need following the closure of other local libraries.

The new plans seem to be far more about housing and council office space rather than a 'cultural hub'.

Why you must accommodate the Willesden Bookshop in new Cultural Centre

Before the Executive meeting  on January 16th a Willesden Bookshop customer sent this message to Brent Executive members:

Dear Councillor,

As a member of the Executive who will be attending this evening's meeting I am writing to you to register my dismay at the proposed redevelopment plans for Willesden Green, which currently do not accommodate The Willesden Bookshop. 

As a Brent resident for the last ten years I have valued this establishment and with each year I use it more and more.

I am not sure if you are aware of the invaluable resource that the bookshop provides, supplying stock to countless individuals and schools in the borough and beyond, cognisant of the diverse cultural community which it serves and reflecting those needs in the books that it sells. The depth of knowledge of the staff there is comprehensive impressive and provides a great service for those of us who prefer to browse and have a face to face conversation about a title or genre with someone whom we know will help us. It is efficient in ordering books for customers when they do not carry the titles on their own shelves, and are always courteous and helpful. My primary school aged children and secondary school aged son spend hours selecting books there and would be devastated not to be able to couple their visits to the library with one to the bookshop. There are numerous local authors whose work is regularly and prominently displayed. It's one of the few beacons of cultural success in Willesden Green and is a successful small business that we as individuals as well as local and central government should be championing. 

The current cafe space in the Library Centre area has always been unsuccessful. This may be down to the fact that there is a great deal of competition when it comes to cafes in the High Road and yet the redevelopment has plans for one. Willesden doesn't need another cafe. It needs to keep its only general bookshop, and I would like the developers to explain to Brent residents how one can have a Cultural Centre without having a bookshop, reflecting the culture of the area and the needs of its residents, at the heart of it.

I would please ask you to reconsider the plans in order to accommodate the Willesden Bookshop. It would be a tragedy for it to be lost.

Why I am worried about the regeneration proposals

The Library and Bookshop due to be demolished
 Guest posting  from Sophia MacGibbon, a Willesden resident who spoke at the recent Willesden Area Consultation Forum. There will be an Executive report on the Willesden Green Library Regeneration at tonight's Council Meeting, 7pm, Brent Town Hall

I have a number of concerns about the Willesden Green Regeneration proposal as outlined by the Council

I find it hard to see what exactly is being proposed. The document is full of good sounding phrases, but short on what they actually mean. Because of that I cannot see whether the proposed development is going to give the people of Brent more than they are getting now. In fact all the vague proposals could be delivered in the existing structure with better management and some investment in improved technology. 

I am worried about the proposal for a number of specific reasons:-

1 The proposal will, I believe result in the demolition and loss of the original library building, currently housing an Irish Advice centre. This building is an historical and architectural gem and these are in short supply in Brent. It would be an act of vandalism to destroy it      

 2. The loss of car parking space. I know it is environmentally fashionable to knock car use and proposals that appear to make bringing cars into the town centre more difficult should be the current good thing to do. However I believe the councillors should study the finding of the survey undertaken for the Government by Mary Portas.  She argues strongly that for local high roads to stand a chance against shopping centres etc, there has to be parking provided at minimal cost. While it is possible to park at Sainsbury’s, the space is limited and I fear that many of the shops further along the High Road will lose custom if the car park at the library were to go. Many people park, use the Library centre and then nip out to the local shops. What rate benefit the council might accrue from residential development of the parking space may well be offset by the loss of business rates if yet more shops close down. And the negative impact on the High Road could be devastating.

The closure of 6 of the borough’s libraries has meant that may people have to travel considerable distances to get access to a library. The loss of the car parking facility will hit the elderly and people bringing young children to the library to enjoy the under5s sessions, etc. These sessions are an important way of developing a love of books and a confidence in using libraries. The closure of the car park could be argued as discrimination as it will impact on some sections of the population more than others

3. The loss of the open space at the front of the library centre will be a shame, especially as there is beginning to be a real effort to use the space more frequently and imaginatively. There is an ongoing attempt to establish a regular market there that has the potential to become successful, there things take time, and the current sculptural art work is a delight.  The High Road is mainly narrow and quite dark, the open space around the library is a welcome break of light and air.

4. What is wrong with the current building? I read in the proposal document that it is expensive and not fit for purpose. In what way is it not fit for purpose? Everything that seems to be being proposed could go on in the existing centre if it was properly managed. Currently many of the features of the current building are idle. Why? How come people have been able to establish a successful cinema in most unlikely premises in Kensal Rise, (The Lexi) while the purpose built cinema with a car park is unused? Good management should have dealt with that in a way that could have been profitable to the council. Likewise the bar/cafe area.  Cafe culture is rapidly growing all round the borough and that cafe should have been a successful and profitable business, bringing rent revenue in for years. A recent successful art/craft project showed the real potential of the space. The underused upstairs spaces could have been utilised in ways envisaged in the proposals for redevelopment.  The current centre is expensive because it is underused and little imagination has been shown both to exploit the space and make money out of it. If a new centre is built what guarantee is there that it won’t be poorly, expensively and unimaginatively managed.

5. The loss of the bookshop. Bookshops are struggling across the country and having one still surviving on the High Road is to be applauded. The High Road is increasingly reducing to pound shops, all hours’ grocers and fast food outlets. Any shops that provide variety and in the case of the bookshop, culture should be encouraged and supported. While attempts to get current unused shops available at reduced rents, there are only to be for a limited period and this proposal is not a permanent solution for a shop such as the bookshop. The shop provides an invaluable service to many local schools as it deals with their book orders. The schools will struggle if the shop goes.

6. I fear for the future of the library aspect of the proposed centre when I see the current provision described as “warehousing books”. What is being proposed, a library without books? Already much of the library space is taken up with the provision of a free internet cafe. While I think the provision for study space, including internet provision is invaluable, much of the current space is not used for that, but by people sending emails. Moreover student study space is not the only use of the library and despite the increasing use of eBooks; hard copy books are still the central purpose for libraries and will be for many years to come. If in the future technology proves me wrong, it will require a small investment to upgrade the provision.