Friday, 12 October 2012

A bookshop betrayed by Brent councillors

These are the members of the Brent Executive who took the decision that resulted in the closure of the Willesden Bookshop. Read the e-mail below from a Brent resident who is yet to receive a reply and let the councillors know what you think about their actions:

Dear Cllrs Butt and Crane,

Thank you for the meeting last week. I would like to clarify an issue that I promised to email you about.
I want to reiterate that a huge proportion of people objecting to the current design of the WGCC originally came on board because they do not want to lose The Willesden Bookshop. Schools, families, locals of all races and ages have benefited from its presence over the 23 years it has existed and feel indebted to its influence and mortified by its loss. All blame Brent Council for the fact that it is no longer there.
I will set the record straight re efforts made by Brent Council and its officers to relocate the Willesden Bookshop. 

·  The lease of the bookshop was extended to 31 August 2012. 
·  The Council's Property Department forwarded the proprietor a link to some properties on Dutch and Dutch's website, which he had already seen as he was himself  scouring commercial websites for suitable properties. 
·  They told him the rent on the Parking Shop (which the Council was vacating) was £50,000 - far beyond what the bookshop could afford.
·  Beth Kay showed him a unit on Queen's Parade, which she offered to have fitted out at the Council's expense. However it was far too small and only available for six months.

So, some properties he had already seen via a basic internet search, a shop that was too expensive, and another that was too small with a lease six months short of the minimum required for a business of this kind. That's not 'bending over backwards' to provide a viable alternative. Meanwhile, the lease has not been renewed and the bookshop is now closed.

 I would also like to put right a couple of rumours that originated from Brent Councillors:

·  At no point has The Willesden Bookshop ever been 'subsidised' by Brent Council.  The only subsidy it could be claimed that the bookshop has ever received is one quarter rent's waiver subsequent to extensive refurbishment of the Library Centre, during which the front of the building was boarded up causing loss of business.
·  It has never failed to pay - or been let off paying - its utility bills.

In fact, the Council Property Departement's unwillingness to raise its rent at the last review date was probably because it had already lost the cafe and cinema, and the bookshop was preventing the front of the building from becoming a derelict shell, vulnerable to vandalism. Moreover, the bookshop provided guidance, help and parking permits to library users and, as I've said, always paid its rent. In other words, the council itself recognised that the bookshop was an asset.

Cllr Crane, you have said on several occasions that you feel no love for the old Library building, which you would have happily seen demolished 20-odd years ago. You implied in our meeting that reinstating the 1894 building into the design of the WGCC represents a significant compromise on your part and evidence that you are attuned to public opinion. I ask that you pay the same heed to the wishes of local people over the bookshop. 

The Willesden Bookshop (not just 'a cafe bookshop', ie 4 shelves of art books by a coffee counter) should be included in the plans for the Cultural Centre. Its space allocation has been lopped off the final calculations for the WGCC, along with the cinema and 'dead space', yet is a much-used space and a much-valued one, too! After all, it entirely fits with your vision of regenerating the High Road with highly valued upmarket businesses, and it makes no sense at all, and very bad PR, for the Council to be the perpetrators behind its closure.

Can you please make a genuine effort to save this treasured local business and important building block for the regeneration of Willesden Green.

I have copied in Steve Adams at the Willesden Bookshop, so you can contact him directly. Here is a link to an article in The Guardian that accurately describes the situation and how Willesden residents feel about the bookshop's closure:

 Yours faithfully
 Miki Berenyi

1 comment:

  1. Although the ten members of Brent's Executive listed in this item have ultimate responsibility for the overall policy decision to approve the Regeneration Department's scheme for WGLC, taken at their meeting in January 2012, I think it is a bit unfair to blame them for the way in which that decision has been carried out in practice. The actual day-to-day handling of relations with the Willesden Bookshop lies at the door of Richard Barrett, Brent's Assistant Director for Property & Asset Management. Is it any coincidence that he is Andy Donald's deputy at Regeneration & Major Projects, and was the man who organised the early morning raid to remove the contents of Kensal Rise Library?
    Philip Grant.


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