Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Philip Grant's latest submission on Willesden Green proposals

Although Philip Grant is not a member of Keep Willesden Green he has made a number of thoughtful and trenchant contributions to the consultation process as an individual.  This is his latest submission. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Keep Willesden Green or individual members:

Willesden Green Library Centre redevelopment – Philip Grant’s views as part of the further consultation exercise, September 2012.

The way that the views of many members of the public were ignored and misrepresented in earlier consultations up to April 2012 has left a deep suspicion of Brent Council, Galliford Try Plc and their agents in the minds of local people. We have been assured that this further consultation exercise will be a genuine one, and I sincerely hope that this will prove to be the case. I will set out my views under two headings, one dealing with a fundamental issue and the other on a detailed design including the 1894 Willesden Green Library building.

1.  Should the existing Willesden Green Library Centre be demolished?
The current proposals from Brent’s Regeneration Department and Galliford Try are drawn up on the basis that the existing WGLC should be demolished, and replaced by a new Cultural Centre on a smaller site and a development of 90+ private homes. There are several reasons why this approach is not the best one to follow.
1.1  Although the existing WGLC needs some refurbishment (toilets and plant need updating, in particular), it is only 23 years old, and was planned to last for at least sixty years. Knocking it down would be both costly and wasteful. It would surely be possible to redevelop the existing building, retaining those parts (like the library, Museum and Archives and their education room, special exhibitions space and art gallery) which still work, and to redesign the rest of the space (adding an extra “light weight” floor if necessary) to provide the extra One-Stop-Shop and Council offices necessary for the proposed “hub” for the south of the borough. Most or all of the cost of this work could be funded from a smaller private housing development built on most of the existing car park.
1.2 The current proposals would mean building over the existing open space situated between the remaining section of the 1894 library building and the front of WGLC. That space is the subject of an application for registration as a Town Square, which would mean that this land cannot be built on. Galliford Try (and Brent?) have objected, but the application appears to be valid and well-founded. The open space is much more relevant to Willesden High Road than the planned space at the back of the proposed new Cultural Centre would be. It would be better for Brent and their development partner to accept the continued existence of this public open space, and proceed on the basis of retaining the existing WGLC building, rather than facing further delay and uncertainty by fighting the wishes of the local community again (as they did unsuccessfully with their original plans to demolish the 1894 Willesden Green Library).
1.3  I realise that this major about-face in the plans for redeveloping Willesden Green Library Centre is not what Brent and Galliford Try had in mind when they entered into their Development Agreement in February 2012, so that the terms of their relationship would need to be renegotiated. I believe that this would be the best option, and hope that it will be given serious consideration. If the Town Square application fails, and the two parties go ahead with plans to demolish the existing WGLC and build a new Cultural Centre, then my second section below applies.

2. Detailed design including the 1894 library building.
I hope that all parties are now clear that the section of the 1894 Willesden Green Library which was retained as part of the 1980’s library redevelopment should not, and cannot in law, be demolished. If a new Cultural Centre is built, it must retain at least the original walls and roof of the Victorian building. Here are my views on the details of such a design.
2.1  Several sketches showing possible ways of connecting the original and new buildings were displayed at WGLC during August 2012. I think that the idea which works best visually is the one labelled “Gallery”, showing a glass roof sloping down from the new building to the back of the 1894 library. There are two possible problems with this which I would mention, which will need to be addressed in the detailed design. The first is the need to deal effectively with the large amounts of rainwater which would run down the glass during a heavy “cloudburst” shower; the second is the need to be able to keep the glass clean, and to remove leaves (from the plane tree) and other debris, to allow good natural light from the glass roof into the entrance foyer below.
2.2  I believe that the best use for the 1894 library building as part of a new Cultural Centre would be as a community gallery. Part of this (perhaps alongside, and viewed from, the entrance foyer) should be a small permanent display from Brent Archives and Museum showing the history of Willesden Green Library, and of this part of Willesden High Road from Victorian times, so that the significance of the old building and the continuity of public services here from the 1890’s to the present is introduced to the Centre’s 21st century users. Most of the gallery space would be used for temporary exhibitions, which visitors could enjoy in their own right or during their visits to the Centre for other reasons. These would need to be co-ordinated by a pro-active overall manager of the Centre, but could include displays by local artists (BAR, or other exhibitions as currently staged at WGLC), small “taster” exhibits to draw attention to larger exhibitions available in the Museum, Archives or other galleries upstairs, displays linked with Library activities (such as author talks, which could actually be held in the community gallery) etc.
2.3  One of the reasons given for not retaining the 1894 library building in the original plans was the need to “connect” the new Centre with Willesden High Road. I have mentioned this idea before, but would repeat my suggestion that the original doorway into the 1894 building should be “un-bricked”, and the door reinstated with a plate glass window which would give a full height view from the High Road, through the community gallery and into the main Centre building. The design (aside, from the 1893 elevation drawing) of the doors could be printed on film and attached to the window, as if etched, to give an impression of the original building, and for safety reasons. I believe that this would help to attract passers-by to come in and discover what was on offer to them at the Cultural Centre.

Philip Grant
19 September 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.