Monday, 27 February 2012

Willesden wants its voice heard on regeneration

Willesden Green residents, concerned about the lack of consultation over the Willesden Green Library Centre redevelopment  have formed the Keep Willesden Green campaign. They aim to persuade  Brent Council to pause the development to allow residents  a 'real voice' in the far-reaching changes envisaged for the site.

These include the demolition of the historical Old Willesden Library and the likely closure of the Willesden Bookshop. The campaigners are also concerned about the loss of the open space in front of the current library and bookshop and its replacement by a 'canyon' open space between the proposed flats and the back of the new Cultural Centre which will lack light and be hidden from the High Road.

A limited consultation is being held by the developers Linden Homes/Galliford Try with one to one sessions (by appointment) tomorrow and Tuesday at Willesden Green Library. In addition the developers promise that:
Plans for the Cultural Centre, and for the associated residential development, will be displayed at a two-day public exhibition to be held in the existing library on Friday 9th March (2pm-7.30pm) and Saturday 10th March (10am-2pm). Plans will also be displayed here following the event.
However, the developers do not say what will happen to the consultation feedback and whether it will be considered by Brent Council. It is likely that this will just tweak a 'done deal' so residents will need to tell the developers that we want the development to be paused so that we can have a thorough going real consultation that will start from what residents want, rather than what developers think they need or what will be most profitable.

The questionable status of this 'consultation' can be seen by this statement from Brent Council Democratic Services when I asked about presenting the Willesden Bookshop petition:
As you know the Executive has already taken decisions on this matter and so there are no current plans for the Executive to consider the matter further.  It is now for the Planning Committee to consider the planning application 
The Galliford Try website is notable for the number of pages it has which still await content and appears to have been hastily put together as a result of public disquiet. Pages on Community Benefits, Cultural Centre Design and Residential Design are all blank so residents will have little concrete to comment on and no assurance that their comments will have any impact.. You can see the website for yourself HERE

Kate Spence, co-chair of Keep Willesden Green said:
Local residents are shocked by the Council's plans to sell off public amenity to private property developers. The proposals intend to give us a large and dense private housing development with an inadequate Cultural Centre and council offices squeezed into the Conservation Area at the front. This land is council property and belongs to the council tax payers and stake holders in the area. None of us want to see this land sold off in exchange for an inadequate Cultural Centre. Our public amenity and heritage assets are being eroded, they are not being improved. As locals we do not see this as an acceptable proposal.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Willesden Green campaign gathers strength

More than 30 people volunteered for Save Willesden Green's committee last night and quickly got down to the work of organising different aspects of the campaign. They aim to stop the development to give time for local people to have a say in the proposals, and time for the Council to reconsider their plans.

Only 12 people were involved in initial consultations and there are only 30 spaces available in Galliford Try's two consultations days on February 28th and 29th.

Anger is building at what residents see as a private 'done deal' between the Council and developers and committee volunteers included a broad range of local people including shop keepers, parents, teachers and residents.

Petitions to save the old Victorian Willesden Library from demolition and to relocate the Willesden Bookshop in the proposed Cultural Centre each look likely to gains more than 1,000 signatures.  A leaflet has been produced outlining the issues and is being distributed widely, aided by more than £350 which was collected in a whip round last night.

The vast majority of people taking part have not been involved politically before but have been galvanised by what they see as their exclusion from major decisions about their neighbourhood.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Willesden Bookshop: The council "don't know what they've got"

From the Bookseller LINK

Willesden Bookshop is searching for new premises after Brent council plans to develop the Willesden Green Library Centre, where it is based, into a "brand-new multi-million pound cultural centre" led to the termination of its tenancy.

Brent said the new "Willesden Green Cultural Centre" will be a state of the art cultural centre and library that will act as the main hub for council services and community activity in the south of the borough. WGCC is to be delivered "at no capital cost to taxpayers thanks to a deal struck between Brent Council and Galliford Try, one of the UK's leading construction companies, to build homes for market sale at the back of the site in return for the centre," the council said.

Work on the new centre is expected to start in September with a completion date of  spring 2014. The existing Willesden Green library building is set to be demolished as part of the process and there will not be a place for the Willesden Bookshop in the new development.

Steve Adams, owner of 25-year-old bookshop, which has a strong children's section including a specialism in multicultural books, said the council had terminated the shop's lease but given it a temporary extension to August. "We are looking at local alternatives but we are fairly gloomy because local rents are amazingly high," he said. "The trade is in a state of crisis and it is very hard to be confident at looking at a new 15-year lease on commercial premises when you are probably looking at a declining market."

Adams said there was strong local opposition to the move, with over 1,000 signatures to a petition asking for the bookshop to be retained. "That's from local customers, we've been very touched," he said.

A council spokesperson said: "The council is aiming to deliver the new cultural centre at no cost to the taxpayer and it is not financially viable for the bookshop to [be] given a preferential rent there. We recognise it has many valued customers and is an important asset to Willesden Green, so we will provide as much support and assistance as possible to help them find alternative premises. Discussions about this have already begun."

Brent resident and literary agent Geraldine Cooke said: "The mealy-mouthed message from the council is an absolute disgrace. They have never begun to realise that Willesden Bookshop is providing a service to the community, not only because of the cultural diversity of its stock and the tremendous knowledge of its staff but because it also supplies most of the educational texts to all the schools, nurseries, colleges and libraries of this borough. They don't know what they've got."

Monday, 20 February 2012

Residents' representations to January 16th Executive

These are the Minutes of  residents' representations made at the January 16th Brent Executive Meeting

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.

Councillor John (Chair and Leader of the Council) thanked Dilywn Chambers, Martin Francis, Philip Bromberg and Edward Lazarus for their contributions.

Notes of February 16th Public Meeting

Follow this LINK

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Support from the Brent and Kilburn Times

Brent and Kilburn Times Editorial 16.2.12

The case against Brent Council on Old Willesden Library

Brent and Kilburn Times, February 16th 2012

Consultation meetings on February 28th and 29th

Brent Council has not lost much time after Monday's Executive Meeting. Letters about the new development began arriving this morning:

The letter advertises 'first come first served' consultation on Tuesday 28th or Wednesday 29th February between 10.30am and 6.30pm at the Willesden Green Library. Anyone wishing to make an appointment should ring Paul Beauchamp or Tom Hewitt  on 0800 298 0740.

At the same time a very incomplete website has been set up by Galliford Try about the Cultural Centre, although revealingly it is hosted by Galliford's sister company, Linden Homes, which is building the housing.
Many of the pages, including Community Benefits, remain blank.  You can access it HERE

Willesden Green Client Design Brief emerges from the shadows

Following our public meeting on Thursday I have found the Willesden Green Client Design Brief  on Brent Council's website. Follow this LINK to the 114 page document.

There is no direct reference to incorporating the 1894 Old Willesden Library into the project or of providing space for the Willesden Bookshop.

There is however, the statement:

Proposals could add additional value by:
i Providing spaces within the wider development that accommodate community-led organisations, or services/business/organisations of direct social or economic benefit to the local community.
ii Providing active ground-floor frontages wherever possible.
We had been told by councillors and officers that incorporation of the Victorian Building and provision of bookshop space had been ruled out by developers but  the possibility does not  appear  in this initial design brief that was written by the Council in June 2011.

Any tears for the Willesden Bookshop, Ann?

Leader of Brent Council, Ann John, told the Executive on Monday that she had wept when the Borders Bookshop at Brent Cross closed. She and her Labour colleagues then went on to approve the redevelopment of Willesden Green Library which will displace the Willesden Bookshop and lead to its possible closure.

There are just three days left to sign the epetition calling for Brent Council to allocate this well-loved and respected LOCAL bookshop in the proposed Willesden Cultural Centre.

Queens Park Community School have submitted several pages of a paper version of the epetition.

If you have not signed the petition please do so now HERE and if you have signed please e-mail the link to friends and neighbours and urge them to sign.

Brent Council's lack of planning brief for Cultural Centre exposed

This is the speech that Kate made at Thursday's public meeting:

The proposed development of the Willesden Green Cultural Centre is being greeted with mixed feelings locally. There seems to be a mistrust in the Council’s intention to do the right thing.  

The 6 library closures has cast doubt over the Council’s commitment to provision of much needed study space and library facilities and the plans for the new WGCC leave further questions.

In a search for information about what we, as residents, should expect from our Council, I have turned to the London Plan 2011.

The following grabbed my attention:
Boroughs should work with local communities ensuring that they are engaged in shaping and delivering local development strategies.
In the context of the built environment these development strategies are also known as Planning Briefs. 

So what is a Planning Brief?

A Planning Brief is a document, which summarises the planning authority's guidelines and requirements for the development of a site such as Willesden library. The Planning Brief sets out the context, the preferred land uses and key urban design principles for the site. It also addresses a number of important issues relating to the delivery of development proposals such as the partnering with a developer.

A Planning Brief can also perform a number of functions such as promoting a site for development, interpreting and supplementing development plan policies, or addressing a particular site constraint or opportunity.

All Planning briefs should undergo full Public Consultation and the results of this should be fully considered before the brief is formally adopted as council policy. Once adopted, the brief becomes a material consideration in the determination of any future planning application relating to all or part of the site.
I have recently asked the regeneration team if I could read the planning brief for the Willesden Green Cultural Centre and local regeneration programme. The answer is no. There has been no Planning brief for this project.

So why was this essential part of the Planning process skipped? Why was there no robust Consultation based on a Planning brief? If there is no Planning brief, how can a future planning application for the site be determined?

The London Plan also states:
Boroughs in Consultation with English Heritage should include appropriate policies for identifying, enhancing and improving access to the historic environment and heritage assets and their settings.
The Old 1894 Library is a distinctive feature of the High Road Conservation Area. It is recognised as a well-crafted building of it’s period. Designed by Newman and Newman, it is well documented as a unique building of quality. Despite a history of alteration, the frontage of the building remains intact and defines the local townscape.

The London Plan goes on to say that:
“People should have access to a built environment that reinforces a strong, unique local history and character.” And later it states that:
“Development should reinforce the connection between public spaces and existing features of heritage significance.”

The Old Library makes a positive contribution to the character of Willesden Green. It is a landmark building and a monument to the determination of the local 1894 poll tax payers who raised funds in times of terrible poverty to provide books, a library and ensure literacy. Surely it is these historic values that should be celebrated and influence the future character of the area. The development should be informed by The Old library, not facilitated by it’s demolition. It reinforces meaning and civility and its presence should enhance our relationship with the new building. It is an inherent and unique part of the Willesden Cultural heritage and should be recognised as a catalyst for regeneration. It should be valued, conserved, restored and put to a suitable and viable use in the new Library Centre. 

It is for this reason that we have requested that English Heritage designate the Old Library as a listed building and await their response.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Community rallies to the Keep Willesden Green cause

The campaign hits the front page of the Brent and Kilburn Times this week

There was standing room only at the Kings Hall, Willesden last night at the inaugural meeting of the Keep Willesden Green campaign. The meeting heard from local residents concerned at various aspects of the development and had a chance to see details of the proposed Cultural Centre and associated new housing for the first time.

Andy Donald, Brent Council's Director of Regeneration and Major Projects put the case for the new Centre and why it had not been deemed feasible to refurbish the current building. He told the meeting that the agreement with developer Galliford Try had been signed on Wednesday and that it did not include any options for the incorporation of bookshop space or the historic old Willesden Library building. He explained the minimal consultation and lack of detail on the original proposal as due to the constraints of 'testing the market' with developers for the new building.

He showed the audience the 'indicative' images below of the proposed Cultural Centre as well as some plans of the surrounding 94 units of new housing which would be up to 4 or 5 storeys high. He confirmed that the units would not be affordable housing but for sale at market rates. The new Centre would front the High Road and a public space would be provided behind the new Centre between that and the housing that will be built on the present library car park.

High Road frontage
From Brondesbury Park showing the open space
The aim of the meeting was to make local voices heard  the main messages repeatedly coming from the audience was that their voices had not been heard at the commencement of the project and that now consultation was happening they were merely being asked to comment on a 'done deal'.

One speaker brandishing the Newsletter that will be circulated to residents asked if the same sort of glossy image had been circulated 20 or so years ago when the present building had been planned with another council officer speaking persuasively about its merits.

She asked if history would be repeated with the new 'plastic' building being denounced in subsequent years as poorly built and unsustainable. Brent Council were accused of deliberately letting the present building run down and doubts were raised about the future of the Cultural Centre if management was as poor as that for the Willesden Library Centre.

Another speaker expressed doubts about the planning consultation process as Brent Council were the proposers of the private partnership development and Brent councillors would make the decision on the planning application.

There were many contributions extolling the importance for the community of the Willesden Bookshop and its particular role in providing multicultural books and study materials to local schools. The audience treated with derision Andy Donald's statement that in the end it was just another commercial enterprise. The proposals for a revenue earning cafe in the Centre also received short shrift and reinforced the audience's suspicion that the developer was dictating the project rather than the needs of local people.

Cllr Barry Cheese (Lib Dem, Brondesbury Park) and Cllr Lesley Jones (Labour, Willesden Green, and Lead Member for Customers and Citizens) both spoke in favour of the new development saying that it would bring the High Road into the 21st century and improve the area. Cllr Claudia Hector (Labour, Kensal Green) on the other hand sent a message to the meeting calling for the old Victorian Willesden Library building to be saved. She said that she had informed the Labour leadership of her views. The meeting heard that an application had been lodged by campaigners with English Heritage to have the building listed.

Martin Redmond challenged the view that the Old Willesden Library could not be incorporated into the redevelopment and circulated the image below.

The meeting concluded with residents volunteering to form a Keep Willesden Green committee to carry on the work of the campaign and others enthusiastically signing up to work on specific aspects including the Willesden Bookshop, Old Willesden library, the consultation process,  the planning application, and the community's vision for the new building.

If you would like to take part e-mail

Further information will be posted on this blog as the campaign develops. Your comments are welcomed.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Make your voice heard on Willesden Green Regeneration - this Thursday

Kings Hall
'Keep Willesden Green, a group of concerned residents, will be holding a public meeting about the proposed regeneration of Willesden Green Library Centre on Thursday 16th February, 7pm, Kings Hall, Harlesden Road, NW10 2BS (corner of Kings Road). The meeting will bring people together to share concerns and will hear from Andy Donald, Director of Major Projects and Regeneration as well as campaigners on the bookshop and preservation of the Old Willesden Library.

We hope this will be the start of a dialogue in which residents can have a voice and help shape the future of the area.


Monday, 13 February 2012

Powerful presentations on Willesden Green at Brent Executive

Brent Executive tonight approved the report on Willesden Green Regeneration and will go ahead and sign the agreement with the developer. Cllr Crane assured the public that there will be developer consultation over the next 3  or 4 months and further consultation when the plans go to Planning Committee.However it appears that this consultation does not include finding space for Willesden Bookshop in the new Cultural Centre or saving the Victorian Old Willesden Library building.

Powerful presentations were made by the public and two of them are reproduced below:
One of the key weaknesses in the consultation process thus far has been the absence of, to quote Council’s own web pages ‘information materials written clearly and simply’ on the substance of the redevelopment project. ‘The Vision in Detail’ document produced by the Council offers nothing but platitudes and fluffy, uncontroversial aspirations. I think, for instance, we can all agree that a public building requires, again, I quote, ‘a clear and fully accessible entrance’. But that is plainly not what’s at stake in this redevelopment. Instead, the public needs a much more detailed and substantive account of the plans and how they were arrived at.

Looking at the plans, it seems like the new cultural centre will cover less space than that the current complex. The plans state that the new complex will consist of 4,000 square metres. What does the current space measure? The Brent Museum has to be allocated the same space it currently occupies. How much of the space will be allocated to Council offices? Is the new Children’s Library being housed within the General ‘improved’ library or is it separate? How will the size of the space allocated to the new library compare with that of the current library? And once these areas are added up, how much space is actually left over for ‘flexible spaces in a range of sizes’? Will these be able to accommodate public meeting spaces as they do now, so  important for local democracy? And what criteria have been used for the allocation of indoor space other than the Library and Museum?

All these questions raise my fundamental concern about the process thus far: the fate of our Community amenity has been decided by the opinions of Brent’s three chosen Property developers. The publicly- elected authority of the Council is being trumped by the private commercial interests of the developers who, logically enough, are presenting plans that will maximise their profits, not the requirements of the local community.   In sum, there is  a woeful dearth  of facts and figures publicly available on a whole range of critical issues relating to this re-development project:

There is no evidence of feasibility studies with impartial input from a Quantity Surveyor and property valuation.

We are simply expected to accept that, for financial reasons, agreed behind closed doors, there are no alternatives short of the wholesale demolition of the new and old libraries in order to rehabilitate our flawed but highly- valued Library centre.

I, together with over a thousand other local residents who have thus far signed  relevant epetitions, do not believe this to be the case, and expect a democratic Council to extend and publicise more effectively the consultation process, and fill in the huge gaps in the detail of these proposals before it steam rolls ahead with the redevelopment agreement without the backing of local residents. 
Dr Ishani Salpadoru
Another unseemly aspect of the process thus far is the haste under which it’s being undertaken. The client design brief was issued in June 2011  and the council documentation from January this year claims that ‘officers  have spent the last 12 months successfully firming up the proposal ensuring the project is feasible’. Yet the public has only been given a couple of weeks to see and digest the first (vague) details of the actual redevelopment plans  before the deal is signed with Galliford Try. Why the haste? And how exactly are any of the substantial concerns raised by local residents – over the 1894 Library, over the bookshop, over parking, over the internal distribution of space – going to be seriously considered before the Library closure in July and its demolition in September?    

These are not merely technical issues requiring a click of the mouse here or there to change the layout.. The design and content of the Library Centre touches on many critical aspects of our neighbourhood, from literacy and diversity promoted by our bookshop, to questions of high street  retailing tied, as Mary Portas has recently pointed out, to availability of parking space. These are issues that need substantive, qualitative public consultation and a time-frame that allows not only widespread deliberation and deeper assimilation of what is being proposed but, crucially, reasonable lead-times to the enact changes issuing from the consultation. In other words, not a mere public engagement exercise geared to fobbing us off with minor changes but a consultation with detailed outcomes and the potential to alter existing design.

The Council and its partners rightly took their time when delivering their project. Now they owe Willesden Green residents the democratic courtesy of letting us  mull over, debate and disagree on what is being proposed to us. I would therefore  Why delay the signing of the final agreement with Galliford Try and extend the early stages (A and B-) of the consultation process, so residents can arrive at a calm and considered view on the plans for a building , it is hoped, will, like the Old Library this time survive a bit longer than thirty years before it’s demolished?
Alejandro Colas

First can I say thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you about this redevelopment of Willesden Green, and about the future of Willesden Bookshop in particular. I would also like to thank Councillor John for taking time out of her weekend to contact me at my home. We agreed that there has been some misreporting of aspects of this development, and I hope that this evening we will finally get some clarity from all sides and for us to deal only in facts, particularly from Councillor Crane.
Cllr John told me that “an exception can’t be made for one business” in the cultural centre – but for a business with such obvious benefit to the community, why not? It’s worked up to now – and in fact, they are the only tenants who have stayed the course in that development.  Moreover, the very little detail available for these plans already specifies retail space for a café, which surely contradicts the Council’s argument.
Their survival up to this point has been helped by this relatively reasonable rent. Commercial rents for the smaller premises in the High Road are almost twice the rent that the bookshop currently pays, and unless the Council can agree a similar rent for them with one of the landlords in the High Road, its survival prospects are bleak, given the current financial climate.
Has the manager of the bookshop been asked whether he would consider relocating temporarily for 18 months while the rebuild takes place if space can be made for them within the new centre?
Today the bookshop received an email from the council’s property services with a list of possible properties, all of which the manager had previously seen and rejected for either being too small or too expensive. Although Councillor John told me this weekend that they are being helped to relocate, this is the FIRST such email of its kind he has received. The Council’s Head of Property Management has said that he has not been instructed to help the bookshop relocate, so who has?
Councillors have suggested to the manager that The New Windows on Willesden Green Project may be of some help. On enquiring he discovered it is designed to provide a safe space for entrepreneurs to try out fledgling business ideas for three to six months with a view to extension should their enterprise be successful.  Hardly appropriate for an established business with a proven track record of more than 20 years.
Has the contract already been signed by the Executive for this development to go ahead, or is there still time for a proper consultation to take place with Brent residents who will be using this space? As the clients to this development, isn’t it for the Council and Brent residents to specify the remit for the rebuild?
As things stand, we are losing a building of historical interest, a bookshop with obvious benefits, the only open space on the High Road for markets and other events and much needed car parking space and gaining office space and a café that we don’t want. How exactly will this development enhance the provision we currently have, and how much of a profit will the developers make on this?
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing your responses to these and other questions.
Gill Wood
 A fuller report on the Executive meeting can be found on Wembley Matters

Useful Handbook for campaigning

This Handbook on library campaigns has a lot of useful information that may be of interest. Follow this LINK

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Speakers on Willesden Green development at Executive tomorrow

Several local residents have requested permission to make 3 minute presentations at the Brent Executive meeting on Monday evening. They are likely to be taken at the beginning of the meeting after apologies and minutes.

The meeting begins at 7pm on Monday 13th February in Committee Rooms 1,2 and 3 (at the top of the stairs).

The members of the Executive are:
Cllr John (Chair) Leader/Lead Member for Corporate Strategy and Policy
Cllr Butt (Vice-Chair) Deputy Leader/Lead Member for Resources
Cllr Arnold Lead Member for Children and Families
Cllr Beswick Lead Member for Crime and Public Safety
Cllr Crane Lead Member for Regeneration and Major Projects
Cllr Jones Lead Member for Customers and Citizens
Cllr Long Lead Member for Housing
Cllr J Moher Lead Member for Highways and Transportation
Cllr R Moher Lead Member for Adults and Health
Cllr Powney Lead Member for Environment and Neighbourhoods

Cllr George Crane will probably comment on the regeneration  proposals with possible additional comments from Cllr James Powney who leads on libraries.

Among the issues that have emerged about the regeneration proposals are:

  • Lack of consultation over the original proposals and the 'offer' to be made in the proposed Cultural Centre
  • The handing over to developers of council land to finance the development with all profits from housing going to the developer
  • The Council-Private Partnership which leaves a lot of decision making to the developer
  • The developer's apparent decision that retail in the Centre would not be viable (despite provision for a cafe when there are many available in the vicinity)
  • The subsequent loss of premises to the much valued Willesden Bookshop
  • The developer's advice that the historic old  locally listed 1894 Willesden Library could not be accommodated in the new plans
  • The subsequent loss of  a base for the Brent Irish Advisory Service
  • The apparent lack of public meeting rooms in the new Centre when the current rooms have been well-used and are essential to local democracy
  • Provision for council offices in the new building when other offices are being closed and moved to the new Civic Centre
  • The adequacy of the council's alternative arrangements during the 18month-2 year building period and proposals to reopen some of the closed libraries instead
  • Loss of the open space in front of the library
  • Lack of parking spaces for disabled visitors

Friday, 10 February 2012

Brent Police chief looking to close Willesden Green Police Station

The Brent and Kilburn Times LINK is reporting that Brent's police chief is considering closing Willesden Green Police Station.
He said: “There are currently three officers behind the front counter at Willesden police station which I am looking at closing.
“Do I have officers behind a desk and not doing anything?
“As soon as you start taking away libraries and closing up police counters people get angry but we can’t continue to deliver these services.
“We need them to listen and to understand. It is going to be difficult.”

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Come to our meeting about the Willesden Green development

Press letter on Willesden Green regeneration

Press coverage on Old Willesden Library campaign

Click on image to enlarge (Brent and Kilburn Times)

Dollis Hill by-election likely on March 22nd

The by-election in Dollis Hill ward, following the death of Councillor Alec Castle, is likely to be held on Thursday March 22nd. The date is subject to confirmation.

The by-election will give an opportunity to question candidates on the Willesden Green Regeneration issue.

There is full page coverage in the Brent and Kilburn Times today about the history of the Old 1894 Willesden Library building and its planned demolition. The epetition to save the building  has more than 430 signatures and there are additional signatures on paper petitions. The Willesden Bookshop epetition has more than 400 signatures and again there are more on paper versions.

There are likely to be representations on the issue at the Executive Meeting on Monday February 13th and there is a full Council meeting on February 27th.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

George Crane defends Willesden Green regeneration project

Cllr George Crane, the lead member for the Willesden Regeneration Project defends the development in a guest posting on Cllr Krupesh Hirani's blog. He claims local Liberal Democrat councillors are fully behind the plans.

Follow the link HERE

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Officers' report rejects closed libraries reopening during Willesden Green rebuild

The Officers' Report on the Motion passed at Call in and Scrutiny Committee has been put on the Agenda for the February 13th Executive Meeting.  The Report rejects the request to re-open closed libraries during the closure of Willesden Green Library Centre for rebuilding.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

A blog written April 2011

Deleted and free: LIBRARIES – WE DO NEED THEM

Brent Council's response to 'Frequently Asked Questions'

The Council has published a 'Frequently Asked Questions' document on its website on the Willesden Green Library Project making the case for demolition.  It fails to make the case for not offering the Willesden Bookshop or BIAS in the new scheme.  One overlooked aspect of the new development seems to be that there is not provision for public  meeting rooms at the library.  The current ones have been used frequently by campaign groups and have been a focus for community activity in the south of the borough. As Alice would have said, confronted by Brent Council's action, "It all gets curiouser and curiouser". A community hub without space for the community to meet...


Friday, 3 February 2012

More questions for Brent Council and the Regeneration team

I have been asked to post the following:

Some more questions…..
Brent Council’s own Policy regarding Area Consultative Forums is as follows:. “To give the local community a full voice in the planning and other local government priorities in an area”.
Why is it then, that as the plans for the new Willesden Library and Cultural Centre come to light, it is becoming clear that we are being served a “done deal”? The intended placement and envelope of the proposed building has been decided. The positioning of the building and its relationship to the High Road and surrounding neighbourhood is set. There seems to be an assumption from Brent Council and the Regeneration team that Consultation will only need to be a matter of presenting the scheme as a given, telling us that it will meet their “vision” for the site and discussing the detail of the building use so that we, as a neighbourhood, can feel involved. This does not give us a full voice. Yes, of course we will have opportunity to object when an Application is submitted but what are our chances of being heard when the Council are Applicant, Judge and Jury.
The plans are being currently developed for a Planning Approval  by the partnered Galliford Try alongside Brent’s Regeneration team and there will be considerable work going on to meet the Councils deadline of a submission in April, in order to demolish by September 2012. 
This process is far from democratic. The Council have very successfully managed to exclude the stakeholders and have kept the information regarding the proposed development from the public domain until 18th January 2012. My guess is that the feasibility plan has been on the drawing board for at least 2 years in order to reach the highly developed master plan that is being presented. As residents living within 200 yards of the library, I, and all my neighbours, would not have given the proposals our blessing had we been informed. We all recognise the need for an efficient and well run building to meet the needs of future generations and perhaps demolishing the 1983 building is the best option, but did anyone ask us if we would like to have the Old 1896 Willesden Library demolished? NO.
The 1983 Library Centre, with a footfall of almost 500,000 a year, is well-used and in many ways serves the “vision” that Brent has laid out for the future. The building was overhauled and upgraded 5 years ago at a significant cost to the rate payer. Yes, the existing Centre is not ideal and the needs of future generations could be better met with improved technology and a more sustainable building, but the building is well-used, it works, why rush? Why not improve the status quo by better managing the existing building and create a fund with a longer-term plan to retain the entire site. So little effort has been made to maximise the existing and previously well-loved facilities such as the Cinema, Bookshop and Café. The Cinema and Cafe have been allowed to decline by the Local Authority and the Bookshop has been asked to relocate. 
The phrase “constructive dismissal” springs to mind when I think about these spaces. It is hard to agree that we need a large housing development with a “compact” and ill-conceived Cultural Centre attached. What we really need is good and properly administered Public amenity and a Regeneration Team that is happy to listen to the local Community to deliver a Cultural Centre that will genuinely meet the needs of Willesden Green.
So what is the hurry? 
Brent Council needs to raise cash. They have therefore (behind closed doors) worked up a master plan and consulted with three property developers. These developers have told them that a scheme to rebuild the library would not be viable without the demolition of the Old 1896 Library, to facilitate the construction of private housing units, which could then be sold by the appointed developer for mutual financial benefit. So, the fate of our Community amenity has been decided by the opinions of Brent’s three chosen Property developers, who have been asked to submit bids to develop the land to maximise financial benefit. Not surprisingly, Brent has told us that in the opinion of these three property developers, the site is not financially viable without demolishing the Old 1896 Library. There are no facts and figures publicly available to back this up. There is no evidence of feasibility studies with input from Quantity Surveyor and property valuation. We are simply expected to accept that, for financial reasons, agreed behind closed doors, there are no alternatives.
The truth is, Public Space is being squandered in a rush to do a deal with cash-ready developers to meet the short-sighted ambition of a Regeneration team.
The building sits in a Conservation Area defined by Brent Council as follows:
The Willesden Green Conservation Area has a linear form running along the High Road and Walm Lane. The junction of these two roads and the junction at the original library are foci within the Area; whilst the St Andrews group of buildings and Willesden Green Tube Station mark the boundaries of the Conservation Area. The Heathfield Park Estate has a somewhat different leafy, residential feel from the much busier main roads.
The main Victorian commercial centre contains many significant buildings by several well-known architects. James Brooks, Newman and Newman and Gabriel contributed St Andrews Church, the Old Library and the bank premises respectively. Sexton's Spotted Dog (1881) and Clark's faience-tiled Met. Station of 1924 are also worthy of note.
 It is locally listed as a significant building within the High Road Conservation Area. The Brent Conservation Officer has been consulted so why has there been no mention of the Conservation Area Application that will be required alongside a Planning Application?
Excerpts from Brent’s Conservation Area Policy follows:
Development proposals and new uses in Conservation Areas, or outside them but affecting their setting or views into or out of the area, shall pay special attention to the preservation or enhancement of the character or appearance of the area.
New development and enhancement proposals in Conservation Areas shall have particular regard to any specific design policies as may be prepared by the council, in co-operation with the local community, to ensure that the scale and form of new developments consistent with the preservation or enhancement of the character or appearance of the area.
Consent will not be given for the demolition of a building, or alteration involving demolition of part of a building, in a conservation area unless the building, or part of the building, positively detracts from the character or appearance of the Conservation Area.
Where demolition in a Conservation Area is acceptable and this would form a gap site, then a full planning application will be required to accompany the application for Conservation Area Consent, showing details of what is to be substituted.
Replacement buildings should be seen as a stimulus to imaginative, high quality design and an opportunity to enhance the area.
The Brent Strategy for Development says:
2.5.16 The Council is committed to ensuring that new development contributes to preserving that which is environmentally pleasing in the Borough and improving those parts of Brent which are less attractive…….Wherever possible, schemes to upgrade the environment will be undertaken with the full involvement of the local community.
STR 15
Major development should enhance the public realm, by creating or contributing to attractive and successful outdoor areas. 
 This rare building is so important to the context of the High Road. It’s presence defines the Architectural Character of the area. The new scheme proposes to demolish this gem and gives us a South facing, glass-fronted monstrosity which sits hard up against the reduced pavement and eliminates the gathering space that currently defines the location.

Would a Conservation Officer see the demolition of this landmark and defining historic building in favour of a dense housing scheme as justifiable?

My biggest fear is that the ambition has eclipsed morals. There seem to be no obligations to the existing stake-holders and no intention of listening to the views of anyone other than hand picked property developers”. Are Galliford Try aware of all the Planning issues here or are they agreeing to a deal on the understanding that all Planning issues are already mitigated? If Brent Council are standing by the guidance set out in their own and Central Planning Policy, this situation presents risk for all parties concerned.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The voice of residents: 1894 and 2012

Executive asked to reconsider Willesden Green interim arrangements

The Call In and Scrutiny Overview Committee tonight passed a motion that  called on the Executive to reconsider their interim service plan for the period of the Willesden Green redevelopment to include the possibility of using existing closed library buildings in order to provide a comprehensive and financially viable library service.

Amid chaotic scenes Brent legal officers present appeared to indicate that the effect of this was to postpone any signing of an agreement with the developer until the Executive had considered the motion from Scrutiny. This will put back the timetable for the regeneration which is already running behind schedule.The anticipated signing date of February 2nd  was only revealed after the vote.

The next Executive is on February 13th and will already have a full agenda which includes the budget. Although the Executive routinely votes down referrals from Scrutiny Committee there will be a further chance for the public to make representations.

Eleven members of the public spoke tonight.

Much of what they had to say was concerned with the poor consultation over the plans.  It emerged that the 'stakeholder consultation' consisted of two evening focus group meetings attended by 5 and 7 people respectively who were unrepresentative of Brent's population. Several complained that there had been no mention of the Willesden Green closure when the Library Transformation plans were discussed and users of the closed libraries had been told that Willesden Green was their nearest alternative,

There were pleas from several different library campaigners for the closed down libraries to be reopened to provide an interim service. If Willesden Green had been near enough to be an alternative for their closed library then the reverse must also be true. A Kensal Rise campaigner argued that there was no justification for paying rent on temporary buildings when that purpose built library was available rent free and had enough space for the Brent Archives.

Nicolette McKenzie from Mapesbury Residents  made an impassioned plea for the Willesden Bookshop. She said that most cultural centres have a bookshop.  Although the bookshop was not part of the council's core service it was part of the bigger moral contract between the council and local residents. She said that the council needed to make some compromise and show goodwill towards residents.

Alison Hopkins for Dollis Hill and Neasden residents reminded the council that they had spent £300,000 on refurbishment of Neasden and were paying rent of £55,000 plus security costs on a building that could be put to use. The area was one of high deprivation and badly need the library..

Jacky Baines said that there had been no consultation over the of the old Willesden Library building and called on the council to listen to residents. She said that an epetition had been launched on the council website. (Available HERE)

Simon Hawkins, speaking for Brondesbury residents said that the first they had heard of the proposals was on January 16th. On the  focus groups he said it was wrong that so much was decided by so few. Consultation was now available only when detailed plans existed and decisions were being made by small groups behind closed doors. He said interim arrangements were incoherent and residents needed reassurance that the project was not a housing scheme with a small ill-thought out library space. He asked what justification there was for removing the cinema. Contrasting the success of the Tricycle he said that the Willesden Green Library Centre had been badly managed and needed a manager of real calibre.

Responses from Cllr Crane (leader member for regeneration and major projects) and Andy Donald, the officer concerned, reiterated that the present building was not fit for purpose and would cost too much to refurbish and anyway the council did not have the money. A developer partnership meant that the project was cost neutral with the council gaining the freehold of the new building by handing council land (the library car park and a section of Chambers Lane) over to the developer for housing.

Fuller version of this post available HERE

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Willesden Green Call In tonight

The Call In and Overview Scrutiny Committee will be examining the Willesden Green Regeneration plans tonight at 7.30pm, Brent Town Hall.  Local residents are expected to make short presentations on the issue at the beginning of the meeting.

Press and public are allowed at the meeting but will be excluded from any discuss of appendices 8, 14 and 16 on grounds that they relate to business and financial affairs of the Council.