Saturday, 18 February 2012

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.

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