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

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