Notes on Public Meeting Feb 16th 2012

Keep Willesden Green Public Meeting
Kings Hall 7.00pm
Thursday 16 February 2012

Martin Francis (Chairman): Introduction.

Gill Wood (parent of child at Gladstone Park School) explained the importance of retaining Willesden Bookshop as the only independent bookshop in the area and how it is a valuable resource and a supplier of books to local schools. She pointed out that the bookshop has been an excellent tenant of Brent Council and that other commercial rents in the area would be prohibitively expensive. She drew attention to an online petition to save the bookshop.

Ishani Salpadoru. Questioned the criteria used to allocate space in the proposed new Centre for the children’s library, community rooms, Council offices etc. She pointed out that at the recent Council meeting she attended none of the questions put by the four residents present were answered.

Kate Spence (local resident) expressed her feeling that there is a general feeling of mistrust. She felt that there should be a full public consultation regarding a Planning Brief and to consider what the local residents preferred for the use of the land. She emphasised there had been no Planning Brief prior to the decision being made. Kate explained that English Heritage had been contacted regarding re-designation of its status.

Andy Donald (Director of Regeneration and Major Projects) outlined the project objectives. He talked about the new centre as being a “cultural hub” and how it will be at zero cost to the Council as a result of the deal with developers who will be building private residential properties to the rear of the Centre.
He explained that the agreement with development has been signed. He outlined the stages that have already taken place and said that the Executive had taken the decision to develop the site in February 2011. Mr. Donald showed plans and an architect’s impression of the new Centre. He listed the proposed facilities which include: children’s library, Customer Contact Centre, Museum, Archive, flexible foyer/reception, meeting room, cafĂ©, offices, Data Centre.
He explained that the residents occupying the new flats which will be built will help to regenerate the area.
Mr. Donald explained that there will be opportunities for the public to be involved including:
February 2012 “Pre-booked session with local stakeholders”
March 2012 Public Exhibition and Stakeholders’ Group Meeting
July 2012 Submission of Planning Application

August 2012 Public consultation on planning application.
September 2012 Planning Approval granted or refused.

There followed a series of questions and answers.

One member of the audience wondered if there was an old leaflet in existence advertising the benefits etc of the existing Willesden Library. She also expressed concern about the proposed reduction in parking facilities which would affect disabled people. Mr. Donald replied that he could not answer for any deficiencies in the design of the existing building and the issue of parking will be subject to planning permission.

Another questioner from the floor wanted to know about the amount of space actually devoted to the area for books in the proposed new library centre. Mr. Donald replied that it was about the same as in the existing library.

Another attendee of the meeting asked why the old 1894 building had not been included as an option in the design. Mr Donald replied that it was “not viable”.

Martin Redston
a local resident who spoke said that he was a structural engineer and that in his professional opinion it was quite possible to refurbish the existing library using proper insulation techniques etc. at a fraction of the cost of a new construction. He also said that a new building could easily be built with the 1894 former library left intact and handed out sheets of his own design. Mr. Donald replied that it was not feasible to do up the old building.

A point was made from the floor that as a result of the closure of other libraries in Brent, the Willesden Green Library was now the main library and its proposed temporary closure would mean that that there would be a severely limited library provision in the borough. The reply was that extra provision will be provided at Grange Road and at an (undisclosed) site in Willesden Green.

Another questioner asked why there was such a rush to get it completed by 2014. The reply was that it was for financial reasons.

Simon Watkins asked for a schedule of areas so that existing floor areas could be compared to proposed.
Andy Donald said that the areas for library use were comparable and that the central reception circulation area in the library was not a well designed use of space. Therefore this circulation area would be reduced. The building is to be on 3 floors which will increase floor area. NB. There is a published document of Client requirements for further information on the Council’s expectation of space provision. The new building will include office space for the Council.

There were several people who drew attention to an inconsistency - that one reason provided for redevelopment was because of poor maintenance of the existing building - was the fault of Brent Council itself.

Councillor Barry Cheese explained that “it is not set in stone”. He said that it is signed but “we can talk”.

Councillor Lesley Jones said that the demolition of the 1894 building was part of the developer’s plans. She said that at first she was reluctant for the 1894 library to be demolished but now she was convinced that the new proposal was for the best.