Monday, 11 June 2012

Martin Redston: reasons for rejecting these plans

Martin Redston has sent in the following objection to the Willesden Green Planning Application: 

As a preamble to my objection to the above proposals I have written four paragraphs detailing my understanding of the process by which this scheme has been conceived. I recognise that this is not usual for a Planning submission but this scheme has been presented by Brent Council as inevitable for this site and is thus highly controversial:

It is important that the Planning Committee are made fully aware of the motivation behind this scheme. Brent Council has made it clear that a new Council Hub for the South of Brent Borough is required in order to consolidate all of the Council Services locally. Therefore It was decided to use the Library as a multi use centre. It was also noted that a degree of maintenance and upgrading was necessary to the twenty five year old building and finally the small Old library Building was requiring some maintenance since its refurbishment in the mid nineteen eighties.

Having identified the costs of basic maintenance and repair of the building, the Council then set about establishing how this could be achieved in a cost neutral way. The redevelopment of the entire site inclusive of car park and old 1894 building was identified as an income generator. Consultants and Developers were consulted to establish the percentage of residential development needed to produce funding for a replacement to the current Library Building and public spaces. 

This exercise clearly identified that the library must be on a footprint of a little more than half of the current area in order to make way for enough flats for resale at top end prices. I suspect that the financial aspects of this scheme could be considered marginal and heavily dependent on fluctuations in residential property prices in a difficult economic climate. Consequently it became clear that the Council building would need to be constructed with additional storeys in order to incorporate the public areas and council offices. Thus the plan to move the building forward to the corner of the site evolved.

Five blocks of flats were then conceived for the site configured in a manner that would provide them with the smallest of areas to maximise residential site usage.

An initial 'consultation' was held with twelve people attending focus groups run by non-Brent based consultants. This exercise included questions about requirements in a refurbished building and clearly indicated that actually the library complex would need to be larger than the current building.
A developer was chosen and from that moment it was possible for the Council to distance itself from the process by devolving all of the consultation and planning processes onto the developer. The planning application currently under consideration is the final result of all of these deliberations and machinations.

The application being considered by the Planning Committee includes many unsubstantiated statements in particular in relation to the condition of the existing buildings, consultation procedures and outcomes etc. The design and access statement correctly identifies that the 1983 design was opened in 1989 as a 'marker for regeneration in the area'. Later in the same document there is justification for the new development by reference to the public spaces which are apparently neglected at the rear and steeply ramped at the front thus deterring their use as a public space and preventing access to the library. Neither of these contentions is true, public events are often organised easily in ether position but little promotion is implemented by Brent Council as a result of the lack of will to create public community feeling.

The description of the library building is clearly inaccurate. It describes it as unwelcoming and with poor signage. The signage could easily be updated, and indeed a new matrix light sign has been erected over the frontage and provides information about current events. The two Willesden Green Library Centre signs at the front are both clearly visible from the High Road and could be enhanced with modern LED lights if necessary. Colourful flags and banners could be incorporated along the frontage and elsewhere in Willesden Green advertising the facilities. This is the approach taken by other Councils in parts of London.

The current internal spaces are criticised, especially the common walkway through the centre of the building. This is always full of people visiting the library and passing through, there is a permanent display of artefacts from the museum in cases near the entrance, there are banners hanging from the roof and there are pictures and display cases (brightly lit) provided by local artists in the foyer. At weekends there are community stalls selling popular items to the public as well as a refreshment stall. Walls are adorned with posters and announcement and there is plenty of room to wait around for your turn into the OneStop shop. 

The library seamlessly melds through light glass automatic doors, books and display stands are clearly visible and kids have easy access to a light and airy ground floor corner library area. Reference and quiet study areas are in evidence at first floor level and, indeed, have been increased during the previous refurbishment of the building. If there is any doubt about the facilities in the building there is a reception desk near the library. In recent months the cafe area has been regenerated first with a crèche and latterly with the Library Lab zone. The neglected Cinema is still used to capacity during special events such as St Patrick's Day celebrations.

As I understand it Brent Council has Planning Guidelines for this type of public building. It is clear that the scheme does not comply with these. For example Objective 9 of the Brent sustainability plan states that an increase of public open space is to be provided. This not the case with this scheme, where public open space is actually decreasing and being moved round to the rear, largely as a facility for the flats behind. It should be noted that there is currently a Town Square registration application for determination later in July. The Registration is necessary because the area between the Old and New libraries have been used by the Public as of right for more than twenty years, thus precluding any building work over the area.

Public car parking is not included within the new WGCC at all. Existing loading bay provision in Grange Road is being converted to Parent/baby and disabled spaces (5 in total). This contrasts directly with the private car parking being provided for the private flats where 60 spaces are being created in an underground car park below. This will reduce use of the new Centre because public transport does not serve all areas of the borough. In particular, apart from the High Road and Brondesbury Park Routes passing the site, there are no intersecting routes across the area, leaving a significant number of residential properties not covered. Also Bus routes become infrequent in the late evening when events are likely to terminate. For example the 206 is a twenty minute service and finishes early. This will reduce the use of the new Centre as access for the public will be severely curtailed as choices are reduced.

Section 106 Agreement. In my discussions with many members of the Community, I have been asked repeatedly about Social Housing provision as a planning gain to be provided by the developer. Obviously none has been offered. Brent Council has indicated that the construction of a new library is being offered in lieu. However as indicated above the new library will have less provision than the existing arrangement. This means that there is nothing additional offered for the benefit of the community. There is therefore a lack of S 106 legal provision making the entire application invalid. Please ensure that it is rejected on these grounds in any circumstances.

There is a discrepancy in the site area and the section of Grange Road that has been 'annexed ' into the scheme.I assume that both the trafficked section (with the loading bays) and the 'pedestrian' section of Grange Road are still designated as Public Highway and are still in the ownership of Brent Council. Thus they should not be included in the Galliford Try application. The disabled/mother and baby car parking spaces together with the play area should be moved into the site boundary in order to protect the public asset. The 1:1250 Location plan submitted for this application appears to be incorrect. The site outlined in red on site plan drawing 11034-EX-0001 P01 does not include the northern part of Grange Road where the applicant is indicating tree works to the London Plane Tree, and play space. There also appear to be highways works and landscaping proposed that are in this area, including the formation of parking spaces and crossovers, and removal of trees that presumably will also require planning approval. The land I mention is not outlined in blue on the Location plan and therefore presumably not owned by the applicant. I think this creates a technical issue with the validity of the Planning Application.

I have been provided with a copy of the maintenance plan report for the 1983 Building and this indicates that the actual structure of the building is in an excellent state. There is no masonry damage, foundation subsidence, floor or roof structural damage at any position. Some upgrading of services to make them more fuel efficient, roof and window upgrading is also required to ensure that the building is more fuel efficient into the future. This is typical for most buildings of this age and type and there does not appear to be any actual justification for complete demolition.

The Planning Committee should read this report and compare it with the applicant's design and access statement which precludes any responsibility for future maintenance.
I have also requested a copy of the Engineer's report on the Structural capabilities of the 1983 building. I have not been provided with this document and I therefore believe that it does not exist. Of particular concern is the contention that the foundations would not be able to carry a further storey if required at roof level. As a Structural Engineer, I believe that a modern lightweight framed structure would not exert significant additional loading. This would make it possible to retain the existing structure allowing it to be updated and extended at relatively low cost. This type of work could be included as part of a true S 106 agreement to the benefit of all parties.

The exclusion of the two blocks of flats (Block A) would allow the rear of the library to be retained and save the cost of rebuilding the entire structure while stlll allowing the scheme to be sustainable.

Finally, I have spent many hours talking to local residents and others about this scheme. To date I have found that there is 100% disapproval of the proposal to demolish the old 1894 Library building and probably 95% opposed to the entire scheme. Many are actively campaigning by writing objections to Brent's planning officer. It should be recognised that the Applicant's own survey implemented in April 2012 indicated more than 70% disapproval for this scheme. On this basis alone the current plans should be rejected.


1 comment:

  1. Other points:

    a) With blocks of flats surrounding the proposed new open space at the back, it would not be practical for use as a public space. It would be the courtyard for flats. Any events would be likely to disrupt the life and peace of residents in the flats and deprive their children of their natural play area.

    b) The present library centre was the effective cultural centre of this area and the car park was effectively a town centre car park. There will be no town centre car park in future if the plans go ahead.

    c) It is not conducive to effective cultural events to site them in an office building. There will be a pervasive sense of dreariness and official interference.

    d) The so-called problem with cabling the in the existing building is less of an issue these days, since wireless networking is now the norm.


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