Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Many questions left unanswered at today's Willesden Green consultation

Consultation presentation at 2pm today

I started out feeling sorry for Beth Kay from the Brent Council Regeneration Team today as she was once again the council's 'messenger' under fire from many quarters at the latest 'consultation'. .This sympathy was reduced somewhat when I heard the presentation and some of her answers to questions.. The Q&A would have gone much better if there had been a neutral chair to keep order and make sure that full answers were provided.

The main feature was the exhibition showing a possible scheme incorporating the 1894 Library. However Beth gave mixed messages about this. At one stage she had been talking about dialogue being frustrated by the issue of the the Victorian library and said, "Now the Old Library has been saved we can have conversations about what we want in the new library". However later she said that the retention of the Old Library compromised the scheme, presented challenges and made her nervous in planning terms.

In presenting the results of the top  consultation concerns (Loss of Old Library 45%, Loss of Wiilesden Bookshop 22%, Inadequate parking 18%, Renovation rather than redevelopment 17%, Dislike of design 16%, Insufficient consultation 16%, New building too small 14%, Loss of public space at front of building 14%) she referred to three petitions.  However for the 'Retaining Bookshop' petition and the 'Pause, Listen and Reflect' here presentation only gave the figures for the e-petition, rather than the much larger (sometimes 10 times larger) paper petitions. For the 'Oppose Demolition of the Old Library' petition  the presentation gave both the e-petition and paper petition figures.

I protested that this seriously misrepresented the number of people supporting the first two petitions and she undertook to amend the presentation.

Another conflict arose over the Willesden Bookshop. Beth claimed once again that the bookshop's rent had been subsidised (despite the owner Steve's denial on this blog) and that all bookshops were in crisis. She further claimed that the Bookshop itself had admitted it was not viable. However she said that (yet another) consultant had been appointed to look into the viability of a combined cafe/bookshop.

When it was pointed out that the Willesden Bookshop had now closed despite her presentation stating that the Council was trying to continue non-core services in the interim, she said that the Council was trying to find them premises on the High Road.

Challenged by another member of the audience on the total amount of  money that had been spent on consultants she was unable to provide an answer but implied that Galliford Try was footing the bill.

Questioned about why the planning application had been pulled Beth said this was due to the widespread opposition to the demolition of the Old Library. She did not mention that GLA planners had raised concerns that the proposals did not meet London Heritage policies in meetings with Brent Council officers. With a straight face she stated, "By withdrawing the planning application we have shown it is not a 'done deal' ".

During discussion about why refurbishment of the 1989 hadn't been considered, and when the audience laughed when someone asked 'Who built it if it's no good?" and was answered, to laughter "Brent Council!", Beth claimed that the Chalkhill Estate had been rebuilt and that was the same age as the current library. In fact the old Chalkhill Estate was built in several phases between 1966-70, 20 years earlier than the library.

I did not receive a satisfactory answer to a question about possible conflict over Brent Council's role as instigator of the project, point partner with the developer, conductor of post partnership public consultation, and decision maker on the planning application. I pointed out that our objections were not just limited to the retention of the Old Library but also concerned the loss of open space, the fact that the housing was unaffordable, loss of bookshop and the provision of council offices, none of which were to be consulted on. We wanted the Council to start again from scratch involving local people from the beginning. Beth angrily stated that the provision of council offices was a matter for the council and nothing to do with the  public, only the Council knew what they needed.

In the light of the above I asked that Keep Willesden Green be given the space to make their case to the public in the interests of openness and democracy. . To rumbles of disagreement she said that she did not think KWG was representative but added that it had been added to the list of special interest  groups to be consulted in September.   She responded more positively to a suggestion that there should be an ongoing  group to work on the proposals, possibly as part of the Willesden Town Team, or as a separate group.

I recognise this is a personal and subjective account and will happily post other views if they are sent to

Martin Francis

1 comment:

  1. Comment from Sajidah Kazmi

    I, for one, am of the opinion that to attach the victorian building onto a modern building is not only comical, but a complete farce and highly disrespectful to the conservation area and all that it stands for.

    This new design is worse than before.

    We must therefore do what we can to gather evidence showing that the Town Square has been used for the past 20 years for various pastimes. We must all do what we can to promote the town square application as well.

    Finally, I would also like to restate the importance of maintaining the car park for parking. I have seen so many towns in America try to reduce car traffic in their inner village or try to bring about a quaint pedestrian area by eliminating car parking and car traffic. I've watched this being done beginning in the early 1970's. In every case, it was a financial disaster and a devastated town centre was returned to the way it had been 20 years before. They found that people just go to the shopping malls or took their business to areas of town where where they could park even if it was father away.

    It is a wonderful goal of the Council's to improve sustainability. However, their goal is also to regenerate our area.

    In March, the government approved the Mary Portas Plan for regeneration of our High Roads and therefore also endorses the improvement of parking facilities for High Roads because it is in her plan. I have in previous emails spoken of the importance of parking not only for now but for the future. It is a benefit for the whole population either as car park users or from the financial benefits that we will all see in our High Road. This is a public amenity for all of us that cannot be ignored and should not be given away. The cost is far too great for all of us and preserving it should be in the KWG recommendations.

    I will provide more comments on this in the future if needed.

    Sajidah Kazmi, BSc(Hons), MBA, MA


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