Friday, 28 September 2012

A personal reaction to the latest consultation

A member of KWG has sent in this impression of the recent 'consultation':

I attended a meeting on September 25th  at the “Library Lab”, at Willesden Library under the impression that it was  a Council “consultation” for the public. It was advertised as being   “for you to share your ideas on the future of the WGCC”. 

I found it was no such thing. A girl from the  “Library Lab”, who appeared to be in charge, had a rigidly structured agenda which focused exclusively on the development of the current proposals and wanted to exclude all discussion of whether the public wanted these proposals in the first place.

It was made clear to her by members of the public attending, that they would not accept her agenda for the meeting, and wished to state their objections to the proposed scheme.  Many people there had only just heard about it. 

 On several occasions this person tried to prevent residents from stating their views and from asking questions. She appeared not to have any understanding of how a meeting advertised as a consultation should be run in a democratic country that prides itself on free speech. 

Who was this person? Is she a council officer? If not, why was she running a public consultation meeting about  Council facilities on a council owned site?  What authority did this person have to try to dictate to the public how they could make their contribution to a Borough consultation? Was it even a proper borough consultation? 

What is the Library Lab? And what is its status in terms of the relationship between the electorate and their elected representatives?  The Brent Council website gives no explanation.  It describes  the Library Lab as  “a hub of local entrepreneurial activity in Willesden Green Library Centre, .........part of the New Windows on Willesden project” telling us that “our vision [is] to regenerate Willesden High Road and reduce local unemployment”.   Whose vision? On whose behalf does this organisation  arrogate to itself such grandiose claims? And by what right does it intervene in a consultation that should be between the Borough Council and the electorate?

Council Officer Beth Kay was in attendance still peddling mis-information. The new building will be much smaller than the present one; the developers themselves admit this and it is clear from all the plans.  Many members of the public  pointed out that library space was to be smaller.  Ms Kay now claims that because of consultation feedback the Library space in the building has been increased so that it will be the same size as the current provision. But since the building footprint has not increased  that means that other facilities must be reduced. How is this an improvement on what we already have?

I tried to raise the issue of  the blocks of flats to be built on the car park which will degrade the environment of all the residents whose houses surround the site. This Ms Kay dismissed as a “planning matter”.  It is indeed. It is a degradation of all good planning practice which was designed to prevent town cramming and overlooking.

Ms Kay’s only suggestion was that these plans had been passed by our elected councillors. She  did not seem to appreciate that such a statement amounts to telling us that the scheme is “predetermined”.  That is illegal.

But where were our “elected councillors”?  The room was full of developers and their representatives.  Why were these meetings not run by the councillors? They have abysmally failed in their obligations under Local Government Act 2000 to make themselves “accountable” to the people. They treat the public with contempt, failing to answer any emails, questions or anything else about this wretched scheme. They are not fit to govern. That is why there is such widespread public  anger.

As one attendee at the meeting said, the whole scheme is nothing more than asset stripping. Far from denying this, Beth Kay appeared to agree,  as she replied to the effect that it would not be the first time a borough council had acted in this way. This is shameful. The Council  should remember that these assets were not secured for the people of Brent by their initiative, or that of their predecessors, nor solely at their expense. The Council should therefore be scrupulously careful to observe the conditions upon which our Library was vested in them and to avoid anything which may seem to infringe these conditions.

These meetings have been advertised to the public as consultations under false pretences.  In fact it was intended to allow people to “share your opinions and suggestions” only “on the programming and functionality” of the predetermined scheme for Willesden Green Library Centre.

Having failed to go through the proper planning and consultation process for this “Key decision  ( a statutory designation), the Council is still avoiding any proper public consultation on the principle of this development and ignoring public protest. It is trying to force the public to discuss a scheme it does not want.  That is not consultation by any stretch of the imagination. It certainly does not comply with Brent Council’s stated commitments both in policy documents and in its constitution:

Brent Council Constitution:  “The purpose of the Constitution is to support the active involvement of citizens in the process of local authority decision-making;”  and  “create a powerful and effective means of holding decision-makers to public account;”

Brent Local Code Of Corporate Governance:   –to ensure that stakeholders have confidence in the decision making and management processes of the authority, by conducting genuine consultation, providing access to full, accurate and clear information.

Partners for Brent Community Consultation, Engagement & Empowerment  Strategy  2010 -2014:    Partners for Brent will develop and put in place regular and effective processes which enable all Brent residents to influence and control the services and quality...........  Involve people from the outset and throughout the whole process;

New council constitutions: guidance to English Authorities; Local Gov Act 2000,
7.2 Key decisions which have significant effects within the community.... will need to be identified and properly consulted on.

The Council’s conduct can be seen in the context of a wider malaise afflicting the country’s institutions. From MP’s expenses, civil servants’ abuse of government credit cards, Leveson, Hillsborough, Rochdale – the list goes on and on and is added to almost by the  week.  The Bishop of Liverpool in announcing the findings of the Hillsborough Inquiry spoke for many of us: “It is timely for us to reconsider how people in positions of power, whoever they may be, behave in a transparent and accountable manner back the trust which is so vulnerable at the moment in our society”.

No-one has been killed or injured in Willesden, but a community feels that it is being raped and tyrannised by those who portray themselves as public servants.  It is one more small addition to the bitter disaffection felt by the governed for their “elected dictators”, throughout the land.


  1. Philip Grant has sent this comment:

    Where were the Councillors? -

    Although the meeting was not chaired by a member of the Council, at the 7pm session I was sitting next to Cllr. Lesley Jones (Willesden Green Ward and Executive member). I have seen her, and spoken to her, at a number of "consultation" events about the WGCC plans. I may not always agree with her, but she (at least) is making an effort to understand the views of local people.

    Philip Grant

  2. Umm, I was in communication with Cllr Lesley Jones about an issue and she did not understand my views and didn't really make enough of an effort to understand them either. I was fobbed off basically probably because she did not agree with my viewpoint. I don't call that listening, more like in one ear and out the other.

    The problem with Brent (and probably many other councils) is that there are many ways to listen and engage with residents through social media for example (discussion forum anyone?) but instead we have these consultative area meetings (or whatever they are called these days) that occur once a quarter and the attendees are not exactly a cross section of the community. The council really needs to move with the times so they can truly understand what people's views are and not those of a tiny minority. They council could quite easily facilitate this so that they include as many people as possible. I'm not holding my breath!

  3. The council knows perfectly well what are "people's views" are. This is why they try to keep every decision under wraps until it is too late to change anything. The real problem is the self perpetuating institution that sees the community both as a financial liability and also as a cash raising body. Its a conundrum....and getting worse.


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