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.


  1. The council must be panicking that they will be blamed for letting the centre fall into disrepair so this is their way of covering their tracks. With a £10m sale of land owned by Brent ratepayers. That's not quite 'zero-cost, is it?

    I'm curious as to how maintenance of the new centre will be paid for. Cllr Powney already (finally) admitted rent for the retail space will be 'premium rate'. What's that, 50K a year? More? So will the 'creative cluster' spaces also be premium rate?

    Certainly, if this building ends up in the same sorry state as the current one, there will be no fat chunk of land to sell off to pay for its refurbishment or rebuilding.

    I'm still curious as to what proportion of the new centre will be taken up by councillors offices.

    Oh, and one small point. Having the 'open market space' at the back was justified because it's 'south facing'. Well if it's got a 4-story block smack in front of it, it can face wherever it likes, it still won't get any sun.

  2. I heartily agree about the open space at the back of the proposed Cultural Centre. Willesden Green High Road badly needs to be punctuated by a visible (and green) public square and the corner with Brondesbury Park provides the ideal site. Relegating it to a 4-story 'canyon' side street is not desirable.

  3. It's quite depressing to hear the only thing our local Councillors can say about this massively controversial redevelopment is that it will 'improve the area'. It would be good to hear more specific details from our Councillors on how closing our much-loved bookshop, bull-dozing the only historic landmark in the area, closing a play area and building a five-storey building of expensive flats is going to improve our neighborhood. If flogging public land to private developers and chain retailers is our Councillor's idea of a 21st century Willesden, I'd rather go back to the public-spiritness of 19th century which first delivered the original Library.

  4. This is a disgusting and underhand method of conning 'voters' into signing away our only remaining bit of community space and heritage. Brent Labour Counsellors should hang their heads in shame for allowing this appalling development to go through on top of their miserable record of Library Closures. I, as an ex Labour voter will never ever be able to vote Labour again. I intend to fight this shameful development to the bitter end.

  5. The loss of the public square and museum will be so detrimental to the area, the councillors support is utterly baffling. Their motivation for this is highly questionable.


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