Saturday, 17 March 2012

What really happened at that consultation meeting

The following letter was published in this week's edition of the Brent and Kilburn Times:

In last week's issue (8 March) you published the response from a Brent spokesman to criticism that the Council had not consulted local people about plans to demolish the 1894 Willesden Green Library building. He claimed that the plans were made public in February 2011, and that:
"Consultation was carried out last year to develop the brief for the new building with councillors, staff and a small number of library users."
I was among seven library users invited to a focus group meeting with one of Brent's Regeneration Officers (and an outside consultant) on 28 February 2011, and am writing to make clear what happened at that consultation.

We were told that although the 1980's Willesden Green Library Centre building was "a much valued and well used local resource" it was no longer "fit for purpose" and was "inefficient to run". It was explained to us that there were five "options" for dealing with the current position, ranging from just dealing with "essential repairs and maintenance" to a "major mixed use new build development". We were advised that Brent's Regeneration Department favoured the complete redevelopment option, if it could be "delivered at zero cost to the council".
In the discussions which followed, we found out that what they had in mind was not just the demolition of the 1980's Willesden Green Library Centre building, but also the original Victorian library building. All seven members of the focus group made clear to the Regeneration Officer that if the redevelopment option was taken, the original 1894 library building fronting the High Road must be retained, both for its importance to the streetscape and because of its key part in Willesden's heritage.
Focus group members were invited to join "a user group that can be regularly consulted throughout the project". I am sure that I agreed to join that group, but I have never been invited to another meeting of it. The advice that we, as local people and users of the library centre, gave about not demolishing the 1894 library building was clearly ignored when Brent's Regeneration Department came "to develop the brief for the new building".
Your readers will understand why I feel aggrieved that a Brent spokesman is now using the February 2011 "consultation" with myself and other library users to try to justify the proposals which were displayed at the library centre last week. Hopefully, the strength of feeling expressed by the hundreds of people who attended that event will make Brent Council and their development partner realise that they must change their plans, and retain the Victorian library building.
Yours sincerely,
Philip Grant.

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