Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Residents and allies win public footpath fight with Harrow School


From the Opne Spaces Society
Local residents, backed by the Open Spaces Society,the Ramblers and the Harrow Hill Trust, have defeated plans by élite Harrow School to move two public footpaths across its sports pitches and tennis courts.  The objectors fought the plans at a six-day public inquiry earlier this year.  The government inspector, Ms Alison Lea, has now rejected the proposals.
Harrow School which spreads over 300 acres, is one of Britain’s most élite institutions.  The annual fees are £37,350 (the average UK annual wage is £26,500).  The school wanted to move two public footpaths, officially known as numbers 57 and 58 in the London Borough of Harrow, which have for centuries run in direct lines across the land now forming part of its grounds.  
Footpath 57 follows a north-south route between Football Lane and Pebworth Road.  The school obstructed the footpath with tennis courts surrounded by fencing in 2003.  For nine years, the school even padlocked the gates across another section of the path but reopened them following pressure from the objectors.
The objectors had argued that Harrow Council should make the school reopen the path, as required by law,but instead the council agreed with the school to move the path around the obstructions.  
Footpath 58 runs in a direct line between the bottom of Football Lane and Watford Road, and the school applied to move it to a zigzag route to avoid the current configuration of its sports pitches.
Alison Lea refused the proposals principally because of the impact of the changes on public enjoyment, in particular the loss of views which the Harrow West MP, Gareth Thomas, called ‘spectacular’ in his evidence to the inquiry.  The paths provide direct walking routes to Harrow-on-the-Hill with its impressive church-spire, whereas the views from the diverted routes were, the inspector said, ‘unexceptional’.
She also considered that the school had exaggerated the benefits of the proposed diversions. 
At the public inquiry, the school was represented by a QC, assisted by a junior barrister; the council was also legally represented, but the objectors represented themselves.  
Appearing as objectors at the inquiry were Kate Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society and Ramblers, Gareth Thomas MP, Harrow Councillor Sue Anderson, Paul Catherall of the Harrow Hill Trust, Brent Councillor Keith Perrin, and local residents Gaynor Lloyd, Christopher Eley, John Parker and Margaret Roake.  Others submitted written objections.
Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and footpath secretary of the Ramblers Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex Area: ‘It has taken local people 14 years of strenuous campaigning against the might of Harrow School to save these footpaths, with their splendid views and sense of purpose.
‘Now we shall press the council again to ensure that Harrow School reopens the blocked footpath 57.  We shall be fortified by the inspector’s decision—the council can no longer avoid taking action to resolve this mess.’
Add sisters Margaret and Dorothy Roake: ‘As residents of almost eighty years standing we can testify that the footpaths pre-date much of the local built environment.  They have been actively used by local people to reach St Mary’s church or the many hostelries and other interesting buildings that make up the village on the hill.  It is natural to set one’s eye on a destination and walk straight towards it.  The proposed diversions are inconvenient and considerably longer.’

Monday, 24 April 2017

Decision deferred (again): Harrow Council debacle over Harrow School planning application

There will be red faces at Harrow Council over a mess up that means that Wednesday's planning application by Harrow school has been deferred.
The application involving building on Metropolitan Open Land had already been deferred last November.


  Manize Talukdar, Democratic & Electoral Services Officer at Harrow Council informed Harrow Hill Trust, who have campaigned against the proposals:

Please note that officers will be asking Members to defer this application as an incorrect version of the report was published in the agenda, in error.
Harrow Hill Trust notified supporters of the deferral on its Change Petition website LINK and commented:
So although it [the planning application]  will be raised at the meeting it will be deferred. Unfortunately as it is being raised, the constitution does not allow us to raise a question even though it is not going to be discussed! 

We have clearly shown many mistakes in the applicant's documentation and the subsequent Case Officer's report, as set out in our letters of 11th June 2016 and 27 February 2017, we noted that the latest Officer's Report published unilaterally scrapped the MOL swap in favour of building on MOL and having an MOL extension. This being in conflict with the application as published and the Supplementary Planning Document (SPD). 

This is all very worrying when we are relying on our Council's planning department to serve the residents.
It seems that Brent is not the only council having problems with its planning department!

For the record these are the recommendations as currently posted on the Harrow Council Planning Committee agenda page:

RECOMMENDATION

The Planning Committee is asked to:
·      agree the reasons for approval and the conditions as set out in this report in appendix 1; and 

·      refer this application to the Mayor of London (the GLA) as a Stage 2 referral; and 

·      subject to the Mayor of London (or delegated authorised officer) advising that he is content to allow the Council to determine the application and does not wish to issue a direction under Article 7 that he does not wish to direct refusal, or to issue a direction under Article 7 that he is to act as the local planning authority for the purposes of determining the application, delegate authority to the Divisional Director of Regeneration, Enterprise and Planning in consultation with the Director of Legal and Governance Services for the continued negotiation and completion of the Section 106 legal agreement and other enabling legislation and issue of the planning permission and subject to minor amendments to the conditions (set out in Appendix 1 of this report) or the legal agreement. The Section 106 Agreement Heads of Terms would cover the following matters:
.        a)  The area to the west of the application site shown on Plan P.05.12 delineated in black and coloured light green (referred to below as “the MOL extension land”) shall remain permanently open and not be developed at any time in the future except for landscaping purposes approved by the authority or in accordance with policy relating to MOL as set out in London Plan Policy 17.7 or a revision thereof. 

.        b)  The existing buildings which are within the MOL extension land and also those within the area delineated in blue on Plan P.05.12 shall be demolished no later than 15 months after first occupation of the proposed new Sports facility building the subject of planning application P/1940/16. 

.        c)  The area of land delineated in blue on Plan P.05.12 shall thereafter not be developed at any time in the future except for landscaping purposes approved by the authority or in accordance with the policy relating to MOL as set out in London Plan Policy 17.7 or a revision thereof. 

.        d)  Community Use Agreement to be implemented; 

.        e)  Implementation of the Sustainable Travel Plan; 

.        f)  Undertaking that the applicant will work with Harrow Council on Employment and 
Training Initiatives including apprenticeships associated with the proposed 
construction;
g)  Additional Tree Planting; 

.        h)  Local goods and services; and 

.        i)  Monitoring fee - £5,000.00 


RECOMMENDATION B

Appendix 1 - Plan P.05.12

That if the Section 106 Agreement is not completed by 14th June 2017, or as such extended period as may be agreed by the Divisional Director of Regeneration, Enterprise and Planning in consultation with the Chair of the Planning Committee, then it is recommended to delegate the decision to REFUSE planning permission to the Divisional Director of Regeneration, Enterprise and Planning on the grounds that:
The proposed development, in the absence of a Planning Obligation to secure necessary agreements and commitments in relation to the development, would fail to mitigate the impact of the development upon infrastructure and the wider area, contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework, Policies 3.19, 6.3, 7.14 and 8.2 of the London Plan (2016), Policies CS 1 G and Z of the Harrow Core Strategy (2012) and Policies DM 43, DM 46 and DM 50 of the Local Plan (2013), and the provisions of the Harrow Planning Obligations supplementary planning document.

REASON FOR THE RECOMMENDATIONS

Whilst noting the harmful impact on the Conservation Area, the wider benefits to both Harrow School and the wider community are considered to override these concerns in this instance. Notwithstanding this, there are improvements to the Conservation Area and the setting of Listed Buildings, notably:
·      The implementation of high quality landscaping within the area to the south of Football Lane both within the application site and the areas adjacent the subject of the s106 obligation. 

·      The enhancements to the setting of listed buildings including in particular the Head Master’s, Vaughan Library, the Chapel, New Schools and Butler building by reason of creation of openness adjacent to them and by reason of the landscaping proposed, in accordance with covenants in the s106 obligation 
Furthermore the application has demonstrated very special circumstances in accordance with policies relating to development within Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), notably: 

·      The site circumstances, including the significant planning constraints experienced across the School’s estate and the lack of alternative suitable land; 

·      The pressing academic curriculum needs for sports and science; 

·      The very significant sports benefits of the proposal, providing sports facilities in a sustainable location which are of very high quality and sports training facilities for 
young persons in particular; 

·      The provision of significant shared access to very high quality sports and leisure 
facilities for the local community and local schools at no charge to the public purse in an area of high deprivation and need for sports facilities, where there are no comparable sports facilities in the area of such quality. 


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Thousands of French Londoners queue to vote for their new president in Wembley




Wembley Park was pretty busy today with fans arriving for the Arsenal v Manchester City match converging with thousands of French Londoners arriving at the Lycee International de  Londres Winston Churchill to vote in the first round of the presidential election.

London has been variously descibed as the 5th or 6th largest French city outside France. One could not help wondering about the future of these families in London post Brexit.

The queue to vote stretched all around the streets surrounding the Lycee, formerly Brent Town Hall, and voters mingled with bemused locals waiting for buses outside the school.

No campaigning is allowed on voting day so it was not possible to gauge levels of support but the queue was calm and quiet, some chatting, others textings and quite a few deep in a book as they shuffled along.  Security appeared to be low key but effective after recent events.

Pupils of the Lycee had a busy trade in cakes at their stall in the school car park.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Brent Council patches up after crack up


Former councillor Paul Lorber, now apparently prospective Liberal Democrat candidate for Brent North, drew attention recently to the  deteriorating state of the expensive paved road outside Brent Civic Centre in a letter to Carolyn Downs, Brent Council's CEO. See Brent Civic Centre 'vanity road' cracks up

Close up of damage

He asked why the road had not been tarmac as the Council had stipulated for footways in the borough despite repairs, via replacement of paving stones, being a more sustainable and aesthetic strategy.

The answer to his question is now visible outside the Civic Centre.

Residents' views on Wembley Stadium events & capacity increase now on record

Wembley Matters drew attention recently to the fact that the Minutes for the March 23rd Planning Committee failed to record the content of residents' representations against Wembley Stadium's application to increase the number of full capacity events at the stadium. See Residents' views absent from offical record of Wembley Stadium Planning Committee meeting

This omission has now been rectified. This is an extract from the re-written minutes:
Dr Ruth Kosmin spoke on behalf of Barnhill Residents’ Association (BHRA) objecting to the proposal, including on the grounds that the cost benefit analysis submitted was inadequate and should not be taken into account. 

Dr Michael Calderbank objected to the proposal on behalf of Wembley Park Residents’ Association, including on the grounds that it is unnecessary and inappropriate to amend the current cap, impact on amenity of residents because of anti-social behaviour, and insufficient mitigation measures. 

Denise Cheong representing Wembley Champions spoke in objection to the proposal, including on the grounds of failure to meet obligations under the current condition in terms of infrastructure provision, impact of full event days on existing road and public transport network, strain on local businesses and residents, all leading to detrimental impact on quality of life.
D Bablas on behalf of Wembley High Road Businesses Association spoke in objection to the proposal, including on the grounds of impact on some of the businesses as leisure time shoppers are deterred from coming to the High Rd; parking problems exacerbated on event days; impact of additional people on quality of High Street environment. 

Fatema-Karim Khaku representing BHRA also spoke in objection to the proposal, including on these grounds: submitted transport study was inadequate; there was a lack of empirical evidence and robust analysis; failure to properly consider impact on the tube network; overall, unacceptable impact on the transport infrastructure. 

In accordance with the provisions of the Planning Code of Practice, Councillor Choudhary, ward member, stated that he had been approached by members of BHRA. Councillor Choudhary objected to the proposal on the grounds that it did not contain adequate information to assess the environmental, transport and business impacts. He added that in addition to increased anti-social behaviour, the proposal would put a strain on the road network in the area. 

In accordance with the provisions of the Planning Code of Practice, Councillor Stopp stated that he had been approached by local residents. Councillor Stopp stated that the potential benefits of the proposal would be outweighed by the costs to the area including fear of anti-social behaviour and increased litter (evidenced by the increase in the caseload from his constituents) and undesirable precedent.
Interestingly the written statements of Cllr Butt and Sheth, read out to the Committee by the head of planning, are still not included.

Friday, 21 April 2017

After closing half its libraries Brent Council agrees Memorandum of Understanding with volunteer libraries

The Brent Council Cabinet is set to approve a Memorandum of Understanding on Community Libraries at its meeting on Monday.  In 2011 the Council closed 6 of the borough's 12 libraries in what they called the Libraries Transformation Projects. Local residents launched campaigns to keep four of the libraries open: Preston, Kensal Rise, Cricklewood and Barham. Neasden and Tokyngton libraries, the former in a very needy area, appear to have gone for good.

The SOS (Save Our Six Libraries) campaign was faced with the dilemma of campaigning for the retention of securely financed, professionally staffed libraries or keeping a local facility going through a volunteer system and fundraising. Some campaigners thought that keeping some kind of service going temporarily would make it easier for a future administration to restore the library.

The Brent libraries issue became something of a national scandal and contributed to Cllr Muhammed Butt's overthrow of Cllr Ann John's Labour leadership. In the event Brent's closures were ahead of the field and other councils, of various political complexion, have since closed libraries  citing government cuts as the reason. Currently there is a militant campaign in Lambeth LINK.

Since then there have been attempts by various lead members to reach an agreement with the volunteer libraries with Preston and Barham facing particular difficulties because the Council is the landlord of their premises.

The Officers' report LINK sets out the current situation:


Brent’s community libraries receive no direct funding from Council library service budgets. They are wholly independent organisations. They are not included within the Council’s statutory service, and they have full flexibility to tailor their offer to local need and interest and are eligible for various funding streams as independent organisations.

 The four community library premises are:
·      Barham Library, 660 Harrow Road Wembley HA0 2HB (15 year lease)
·      Cricklewood Library, 152 Olive Road, London NW2 (999 year lease being finalised)
·      Kensal Rise Library, Bathurst Gardens, London NW10 5JA (999 year lease being finalised)
·      Preston Community Library, 2 Carlton Ave East, Wembley HA9 8PL (currently has a temporary lease arrangement).
The MoU (see below) sets out various ways the Council will support the community libraries without committing to any additional expenditure.

The case of Preston Community Library, where uncertainty remains over its premises as Brent Council seeks to redevelop the site, is addressed directly:
 
A temporary lease arrangement is in place until the end of the 2016/17 school year as a short term solution. Long term plans for the site are at the development stage.
 In September 2016 Cabinet agreed to redevelop Preston Park Annexe for new homes and D1 space appropriate for library use. Since then the Council has appointed 5Plus Architects to lead the design of the redevelopment proposals and undertaken workshops with Preston Community Library to understand their long term service delivery needs and spatial requirements. The next stage of the design process will be to translate the findings into a design solution that is supported by Preston Community Library. Further consultation will then be undertaken on design proposals before final decisions are made.



The development of the site will provide a potential long term solution for Preston Community Library. However at present the medium term options for the library are not clear. Officers will continue to work to address this with the library within the constraints of the Council’s property portfolio and market options.

 Council officers recognise the strong social value provided by Preston Community Library and are keen to support the group in continuing to provide a service throughout the transition process
In a curious post on his blog LINK, former councillor James Powney, lead member at the time of the Transformation Project, says:
In Barham, Paul Lorber appears to be trying to play the Council for either financial gain or as part of his political manoeuvrings prior to the 2018 elections.  In Preston, the existing group appears to be given an undue influence that does not sit easily with either the Council's financial obligations or the building's ACV status.  Such arrangements can lead to ugly rumours about the integrity of Council decision making even where there is no legally proven case against them. 
  This is the Memorandum of Understanding:

'Is Trike's grant of up to £1m fair?' asks ex-councillor

It looks as if a proposal by Brent Council to pay the Tricycle Theatre a grant of up to £1m for a renovation project is going to prove controversial.  The grant would replace any ongoing funding that was due from April 1st 2018.

A report LINK  to be presented to Cabinet makes on April 24th makes the case:
The Tricycle Theatre has recently embarked on a major renovation project due for completion in February 2018. Once completed the work will significantly increase capacity and allow the theatre to extend the range of activities that they run. As well as enhancing an iconic cultural venue it will also give a much needed major boost to the economic regeneration of one of the borough’s priority high streets. The Tricycle has secured £5.6m of the £6.6m required to complete the renovation. 


In recognition of the Tricycle Theatre’s economic, social and cultural benefits to Brent this report recommends that Brent Council support the theatre with a grant of up to £1m to enable its ongoing capital renovation project to be completed in its entirety. The Tricycle’s success has meant that while its productions have improved, the venue has not kept pace and no longer meets the needs of the community, producers or performers. This renovation work addresses problems related to insufficient seating capacity, accessibility and helps to mitigate social exclusion. 

Alongside the renovation work within the Tricycle Theatre, Brent Council is considering developing a project to commission improvement works to be carried out on the Kilburn High Road pavement around the theatre. If funding is approved, the improvements will include levelling the footpath and adding street furniture to encourage footfall and dwell time in the area. This broader regeneration project can be seen as complimentary to the ongoing renovation work within the theatre. 

The council is being asked for a grant of up to £1m because the Tricycle Theatre has aspirations of achieving some of the shortfall from elsewhere including through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The theatre has passed HLF’s Stage 1 but in order for it to progress and receive HLF funding (expected to be circa £450k) it needs to be recognised as a cultural heritage asset on Brent’s ‘Local List’ of Heritage Assets. The building is deemed to meet the criteria for the List and this report recommends its inclusion. 


Recommendation(s) 

To approve a grant to the Tricycle Theatre of up to £1m representing the difference between the existing and potential HLF funding sources secured for the renovation of the theatre and the amount required to complete the renovation.  

To approve the grant detailed above on the basis that it is a one off grant that replaces any ongoing grant due to be awarded to the Tricycle Theatre by Brent Council from 1 April 2018. 
To approve the appointment of the Tricycle Theatre on to the Local List as a cultural heritage asset thus enabling the theatre to progress with its application for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
In a letter to Carolyn Downs, Brent CEO, former councillor Paul Lorber presents his misgivings:
Until a few years ago the Council had a Grants policy which provided support for various Cultural and Festivals activities run by our diverse community. This Grant programme was scrapped by a Labour Administration on the grounds that it was costly and unaffordable.

Since the scrapping of those Grants the Leadership of the Council has been lobbied to reinstate  part of the Grant by Community Groups operating in Brent - these requests have been denied.

It is surprising to find that a Grant of between £500,000 and £1 million is now being offered to the Tricycle Theatre without a proper and a fair Grant bidding process being followed.

The justification for this is very weak as clearly the Tricycle have once again overstretched themselves and bouncing the Council into meeting their shortfall. This is not the first time this has happened as previous projects were overspent and the Council called on to bail them out.

Many of the activities used to justify the grant do not require an expanded building and could just as easily be carried out in other premises - include all the surplus and available space at the Civic Centre.

The report states that 20,000 people from all over London visit the Tricycle each year. The Hindu Council in Brent would like part of the Grant for Navratri reinstated (it used to be £67,000 per year and even £500,000 paid to them equals to 8 years worth) as over a 9 day period of this Festival around 30,000 residents take part. Eid in Brent used to attract many thousands of residents too.

Irrespective of the above there is a fundamental principle of fairness and equality at stake here. It is simply not right to deny large sections of the Brent Community access to Grant funding and then award up to a £1 million to an organisation just because they pursued an over ambitious project for which they had not secured sufficient funds in advance.

If money is suddenly available then it should be distributed fairly through a properly organised Grant making process accessible to everyone equally.

In view of the above I call on you to defer the decision on this item on the 24th.
Carolyn Downs replied:
The report regarding the Tricycle Theatre is entirely lawful and has been placed on the agenda for cabinet to decide in line with all rules etc. Accordingly I will not seek to defer the item from Monday's meeting. 

If you disagree with its content it is far better that you seek to make your views known at the Cabinet meeting by requesting of the Chair that you be permitted to speak on the issue. The Leader, if alerted in writing in advance, usually allows members of the public to address the cabinet. Otherwise you could email Cabinet members along the lines that you have emailed me. 
Lorber responded with an FoI request:
Can you please treat this email as a FOI request and arrange for the following questions to be answered.
1. Who has carried the Equality assessment on respect of this Grant and what conclusion have their reached on the issue of a Grant being granted to one cultural organisation in Brent while Grants not being available or denied to other organisations.

2. When did the Tricycle Theatre request a Grant from the Council - was it before or after they became aware of the full cost of their project and shortfall in grant funding or has the Council been involved right from the outset?

3. What assessment did your officers carry out of the proposed works and whether they represent value for money and are affordable in view of the past record of the Tricycle in respect of large capital projects.

4. What is the published policy of Brent Council for considering Grants requests of this type and how is this policy publicised. 

5. Provide a list of all meetings between the Council (Councillors and Officers) where the Tricycle project was discussed and a request for a Grant made including a list of everyone who attended each meeting.
6. Which Council Budget is the Grant being paid from and which Council Tax fixing meeting agreed this Budget.

7. Please list all requests for a Grant made to Brent Council in the last 12 months and confirm how each request has been responded to.

Unfortunately I am not able to attend the Cabinet Meeting hence my questions in advance. As someone who was around when proposals were made to cut grants to a large numbers of Groups a few years ago I am concerned at the selective way that a substantial Grant us now being handed out without a proper Grant process which ensures equality of opportunity.