Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Willesden Green: incompetence can do as much damage as corruption

A local resident has written the following letter regarding today's consultation:

I very much regret that I cannot attend the 'update' on the WGLC on Wednesday 8th. August as I am working out of Newcastle all next week.

However, I would like to make a statement.

i)     It seems to me that Galliford Try are being somehow made the 'villains' in the current planning chaos.  As far as I can ascertain, all the company ever did was draw up plans according to the brief given them by Brent Council.

ii) In January of 2011 someone, or a small group within the council, decided it would be a good idea to redevelop the WGL site, given the pressure on councils to build more housing.

iii)   Without taking any meaningful survey of local opinion, the council put the project out to tender. In return for building land, the developer would build build a new 'centre'..the southern hub of the one in Wembley built at a cost of round £100,000.000. GT's tender was accepted.

iiii)  It was not possible for the developers to gain reasonable profit unless they used most of the land, so quotes were submitted which involved removing the present 23 year old library and the 1894 building, built by public subscription and a Carnegie grant, and utilising the open space around the 1894 building.
v)    It should be obvious to all that the scheme is not viable.  The value of the land is, I understand, around £10,500.000.  If this is all the money available to build the new WGL, it is not enough.  The 'southern hub' as the publicity puts it, is to cost about 10% of the Wembley one. It must also provide extra space for the people displaced by the closure of the Six.

Please could the council look carefully at its assets, leave the 1894 building and open space as a genuine focal point on the High Street, redevelop the existing building, put in a competent manager who will not let spaces like the cinema and cafe sit empty and dark for years, and who has a sense of what is genuinely valued by the community, ie. the Bookshop. The treatment of the bookshop is a local, national (see  the Guardian) and international (Zadie Smith in New York Review of Books) disgrace, and shows beyond a doubt that despite the council's tough talk of demanding a commercial rental for any spaces within the new WGL, the council has no idea how any commercial enterprise is run, how much notice is needed to vacate a site, or any other practical matter like re-stocking etc. 

Many have suggested to me that the council is obviously corrupt.  I have always maintained that the bad old days are over.  However, a misguided, incompetent and ill-informed council, however well-meaning, can do as much damage as a corrupt one.  

I beg GT, together with the the Council's Regeneration Team, to take a good look at council assets and come up with a plan which will not result in a really poor deal for the students, library users and citizens of Brent.

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