A potential bombshell was partially revealed at the Willesden Area Consultative Forum tonight when Richard Barrett said that he understood that local historian Phil Grant had been in contact with the Secretary of State for Communities over whether Brent Council was the appropriate body to make the planning decision on the Willesden Library Regeneration. He said Brent Council thought they were but would find out more. Phil said that the issue revolved around Conservation Area Consent which would possibly make Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State,the appropriate authority. He predicted that the Council would not have a smooth ride with its planning application . He called for no amenities to be closed until full planning consent had been obtained.
Speaking about the regeneration Elizabeth Proud said that if people wanted to comment on more that cosmetic details of the proposals they were effectively told to 'shut up'. She spoke about the loss of open space, the Victorian building and the reduced size of a replacement building that looked like an airport building or a warehouse: 'We know an eyesore when we see one'.
Indeed when Beth Kay and Richard Barrett presented the revised plans the building looked worse than in the earlier artist's impression and there were little more than cosmetic changes to the internal layout and the floor plan. There was slightly more space between the building and the High Road and an indication that the cafe area might include retails space, that 'could' be a bookshop, but would be let at market rates.
One resident said that the plans had been underhand and imposed on residents. The Victorian Library and the open space were part of Willesden. She claimed the Council had deliberately run down the cafe and cinema and the 80s library had only been refurbished 5 years ago. She said that the way the Council had behaved was more like something from the old Soviet Union.
She was followed by a woman who said that the Victorian Library and open space were the heart of Willesden and in response to Richard Barrett's claim that the landmark Victorian Library would be replaced by a new landmark building, the Cultural Centre, she said something that looks like a circus marquee will never be a landmark building. Warming to her theme she said that in removing the open space the Council were not getting rid of anti-social behaviour but of social behaviour: it was a space where people could congregate and mix in all their diversity and one where people new to the area could observe local life and feel part of the community. The Neighbourhood Bulletin from Brent ward working had said that (contrary to the Council's claim that the space encouraged ant-social behaviour) 'the area outside Willesden Green library is no longer a haven for anyone causing anti-social behaviour' because 'a dispersal order is now in place...'
She said that the real failure had been one of 'management and marketing' and the problem could have been solved with a proper management plan.
In a corrective to the presenters' statement that local councillors had been consulted, Liberal Democrat councillor Gavin Sneddon said that they had warned officers that demolition of the Victorian Library would be controversial and that his colleague Ann Hunter had asked for two plans, one with the Victorian Building and one without. The decision to proceed with the plan for demolition did not involve local councillors.
No member of the public spoke in favour of the proposals, if anything the opposition has broadened and deepened.