Sunday, 19 November 2017

Ditch the Dump! Dollis Hill protests at being made a 'rubbish sandwich' by Barnet Council


148 residents have objected to the locating of a waste transfer facility on the Edgware Road near residential properties and a school. The 'dump' is just within the Barnet boundary but will affect Brent residents. There are no comments support the proposal on the Barnet Council planning portal. LINK

Alison Hopkins has submitted the following comment:

I object in the strongest possible terms to this damaging and wholly unnecessary planning application. This is on the grounds of proximity to housing and schools, vastly increased traffic and congestion, air pollution and noise and environmental damage. 

Over the decades, we in Dollis Hill and Brent have been ignore and side-lined by Barnet Council. Our objections to the disastrous changes to road layouts, the massive increase in traffic, both cars and lorries on our roads, and to the destruction of our community by Barnet Council have been ignored.
There is no benefit to anyone living in Brent of ANY of your plans. Using the word regeneration to describe them is laughable if it were not so tragic. 

Barnet and its Brent Cross development partners have carried out a few so-called consultation exercise here. These have not only been meaningless, but have also resulted in the production of documentation which has gone from misleading to outright lies. 

The dump – and let’s not call it a waste transfer facility, that’s camouflage – is not needed. The only reason that the current WTF is being moved from the eastern side of the railway line is so that Barnet and the Brent Cross partners can build expensive housing with a high return to overseas and other investors. The current WTF is in a non-residential area and waste is moved out to landfill by train. Barnet claim that it’s not as bad as the original plans, as it’s “smaller”. Well, it’s far worse than the current dump, which at least makes some pretence to environmental care by using rail. However, the current dump also emits pollution and is a source of considerable stink to residents. 

These plans call for a WTF – dump, let’s use the word again! – on the doorstep s of thousands of homes in Brent, and across from an infant’s school. These are less than fifty metres away. And of course, the dump is also directly next door to the Fellows Place development, a major housing development recently given consent by Barnet. 

There will be thousands of heavy refuse trucks entering, and thousands leaving. The processing and compaction will cause noise and dust and dirt. Nano particulate pollution has been proven to cause the most damage to small children - those small children who will be forced be neighbours of the dump. 

The Edgware Road is already at the highest pollution levels in London. The refuse trucks and lorries will add to this.


Barnet propose to site this dump as far as possible from their residents as they can and as close to Brent as they can. It will not be their voters who suffer, it will be us. 


And, given that this waste goes to landfill and recycling plants well outside London, why on earth does it need to be so close in? The answer is that it doesn’t. it is sited to suit the Brent Cross development – that regeneration that means we get messed up roads and ruined neighbourhoods. 

The current WTF already causes a stink in warm weather which can be smelled from some distance away – moving it to close proximity to homes and schools is utterly unacceptable. 

What is also horrifying is the fire risk: I quote from the Chief Fire Officers Association: “Waste fires are a consistent issue for the waste and recycling industry, with the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) estimating that there have been around 250 incidents of waste fires per year for the last decade, with an estimated cost to fire and rescue services of around £16 million a year.” The proposed dump is directly opposite two petrol stations. 

The North London Waste Authority themselves originally opposed this site on the grounds of proximity of schools and houses. Those houses and schools haven’t moved, so why the sudden withdrawal of those objections? 

Between this dump and the massive aggregate crushing plant proposed for a few hundred yards further south, we in Brent are a rubbish sandwich. Barnet need to LISTEN to us, not ignore us!
 Another resident comments:

Yet another senseless proposal by Barnet Council for the creation of a rubbish dump, coincidentally located at the very edge of the council limits. The location of the planned waste dump is also just outside the Low Emission Bus Zones announced by the Mayor of London LINK. Just in time, improvements in air quality introduced by this low emission zone will be immediately counteracted by a step increase in the number of HGV coming in and out of the proposed dump. Good job Barnet Council, you are continuing to actively work against the best interest of your tax payers and those from neighbouring councils.

For these reasons, I object to this application. Hopefully the committee will have some common sense and will put the health of tax payers ahead of other interests.

To comment go to LINK



Thursday, 16 November 2017

25 metre tall lattice phone tower proposed for Welsh Harp

Click on image to enlarge
An application has been submitted to Brent Council for the erection of a 25 metre lattice tower phone mast at the Welsh Harp (Brent Reservoir).

The tower, which will rise above the nearby trees, will have six antenna and 2 dishes as well as associated furniture at ground level and a concrete compound at the base.

The applicants have told Brent planners that it is not possible to comply with their suggestion of a reduction to 20 metres as this wold weaken the enhanced 3G and new 4G signal carried by the equipment. They also reject landscaping at the base which planning officers had suggested to reduce the visual impact of the tower from Neasden Recreation Ground.

Comments are open until November 27th. Application Number 17/4597 LINK


Cemetery asbestos exposure being dealt with 'seriously and properly' by Brent Council

Carolyn Downs, Brent Council Chief Executive, has responded to Clrr Duffy's call for an independent investigation into the asbestos waste exposure at Paddington Cemetery. LINK

Ms Downs wrote:
The letter to you from Chris Whyte intended to make clear that we will ask internal audit to undertake an initial investigation and that dependent upon their findings we will consider whether to pass the matter to an independent investigator, the police or any other relevant body or whether there is no evidence to support a claim of wrong doing. Pre-judging the outcome of this initial investigation, or any speculation at this stage about who is to blame, is not appropriate or helpful in my view. Internal audit will be able to pull together the relevant documentation, take a view on the matter and make recommendations. If we do proceed to an external review or some other action then this work will be very helpful to the third party involved at that point.

It is unfortunate that you believe residents will take the view that our colleagues in internal audit, who bring to bear their experience and specialist skills to investigate serious internal and external allegations all the time, which in appropriate cases have resulted in many successful prosecutions, would engage themselves in a “cover up”. I disagree. I am very clear that they will investigate this matter properly and thoroughly and this is entirely the right way for the Council to proceed. Even though any proposed follow [up] action which is an executive function will need to be formally reported to Cabinet, reports from internal audit are within the remit of the Audit Advisory Committee which reports to the Council and not the Cabinet. I do hope that you will feel reassured and able to make clear to any residents that the matter is being dealt with seriously and properly by the Council.

Please also note that the attached report is in the public domain already which covers the health risks related to this serious matter. LINK

Rest assured that the council already has been and will continue to be open and transparent about this matter and is mindful of the need to ensure appropriate scrutiny and accountability.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Progress report on Wembley High Road sewer works



A Thames Water spokesperson responding to my  request regarding progress on the Wembley
High Road sewer works and their investigation into the source of the concrete blockage,  today told me:
We are now halfway through clearing the blockage, and have replaced five metres of pipe which has been damaged. We expect that the rest of the blockage will take two more weeks to clear.
We are still investigating the source of the blockage and have not identified who it might be,  and will let you know when we have any details.

Veolia workers warned of potential asbestos exposure at Paddington Cemetery. Duffy calls for independent inquiry.



In a hand-delivered letter Veolia has written to employees advising them of their possible exposure to asbestos contamination at 'the mound' at Paddington Cemetery. Burials on the mound were suspended in May this year and a survery commisioned.

The survey LINK confirmed contamination and Veolia advise employees who worked on the mound over the last year to register potential exposure with their GP. They point out that doctors will not be able to do tests at this stage as it takes many years for asbestos related symptoms to manifest themselves.

Veolia have told Brent Council that they will not be carriyng out any further burials at the mound and the only works will be 'topping out' of sunken graves as this does not require the breaking of ground. Veolia says that Brent Council has committed to having the mound capped with a special membrane installed over the current surface.

Reacting to the news Cllr John Duffy (Labour, Kilburn) has written to Carolyn Downs, Brent Council CEO to call for an independent investigation into the contamination rather than referral to the Internal Audit Team.

He says the contamination puts the former Brent Council workforce, as well as Veolia's after out-sourcing, at risk. He claims that relatives of those buried on the mound have complained that they are not being kept informed by the council.

Duffy points out that waste contianing over 0.01% asbestos should be treated in a proper facility and that any dumping in the cemetery should be tracable via a waste transport consignment note.

He estimates that treatment of the mound will run into tens of thousands and the total loss to the council including reopening existing graves to inter relatives could total one million.

He calls for ther council to be open and transparent by engaging an independent investigator rather than an internal investigation.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Alleged political interference in Brent's planning decision making process brought to attention of Monitoring Officer


 From Philip Grant (first published as a comment on Andrew Linnie's psot)

Further to Andrew Linnie's post LINK, this is the text of an email I have sent to Debra Norman, Brent's Chief Legal Officer:-

Dear Ms Norman,

I am writing to you in your role as Brent Council's Monitoring Officer, to bring to your attention allegations of interference in decision making over planning applications, which, if true, are in clear breach of Brent's Planning Code of Conduct and Members' Code of Conduct.

You will remember that, on 3 October, you replied on behalf of the Council to a Freedom of Information Act request I had made, about hospitality received on 10 May 2017 by two Cabinet members and two Senior Officers from Terrapin Communications Ltd, on behalf of some of their developer clients. I shared the information provided, and my views on it, in a blog on the "Wembley Matters" site on 5 October, which I believe I drew your attention to.

As a result of my involvement in that matter, I received private email correspondence in early October from several Brent councillors, who shared information with me "in confidence". I responded to them, saying that I felt their allegations and supporting evidence should be passed on to you, as Monitoring Offier. I do not know whether any of them have done so, as they may be concerned about the personal consequences to their political careers if they were to "blow the whistle" on the Council Leader.

I was not intending to get involved further, but information from another FoI request has been shared today on the "Wembley Matters" site, in a blog headed "No records kept of Cllr. Butt's closed-door meetings with Alperton tower developers", which I would suggest that you read at:
http://wembleymatters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/no-records-kept-of-cllr-butts-closed.html

In view of the concerns raised in that article, I felt it only right to ensure that you were made aware of the nature of the information I was given by councillors early last month, so that you can consider what action should be taken to stop the potentially illegal manipulation of Brent's planning process, and help to restore trust in that process, which many Brent residents feel has been brought into disrepute. Even though I cannot give the names of my sources, I believe that the information they gave me was in good faith, and is probably true.

1) It is "common knowledge" among Brent councillors that there is "political interference" with the planning process at Brent Council.

2) A former planning officer and a former legal officer at Brent Council have confirmed that there was direct interference by Cllr. Butt in planning decisions made.

3) At least three current or former councillors on Brent's Planning Committee have admitted that Cllr. Butt has told them how to vote on planning applications - but none of them are willing to speak out publicly.

I will copy the text of this email as a comment on today's blog article (see link above), so that it is in the public domain that this information has been given to you. Best wishes,

Philip Grant.

Give a coat - warm a heart. Coats for the homeless Preston Library & Windermere pub

From Preston Community Library
 
Do you have a good condition old coat to spare? We are collecting them for #WrapUpLondon, who redistribute them in community centres for homeless people. Drop them into Preston Community Library on days we are open [coats only, please, no other clothes], or take them to our friendly local, The Windermere, any afternoon after 2pm.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

If it wasn't Henley, who is responsible for High Road main sewer blockage?


I am awaiting a response from Thames Water on whether their investigations to find the culprit responsible for the concrete blockage in Wembley High Road have made any progress. Henley, who are developing the Brent House site, last week denied responsibility. LINK

I understand that contractors have now dug down 6.5 metres with another metre to go before they hit the sewer. Work is expected to be completed within the month.

A resident reports that Brent Council can expect an increase in revenue with its Smart CCTV car catching motorists going the wrong way through Ecclestone Place's one way system.

Meanwhile a shopkeeper opposite the works told me that his takings were down 50% as a result of the road closure and works.

No records kept of Cllr Butt's closed-door meetings with Alperton tower developers

Plans for Minavil House site in Alperton
-->
Guest Post by Andrew Linnie

It has emerged that, contrary to Local Government Association advice, no minutes or notes were kept of three meetings between Brent Council Leader Muhammed Butt (Labour) and the developers of a controversial £150m tower in Alperton. Not only were there no notes kept, but the meetings took place in a short period before the project was due to be deliberated on by the planning committee, including one meeting the day before the decision was due to be made.

The LGA advises that such meetings, which can be beneficial in allowing councillors and developers to discuss pertinent matters, should take place in the formative stages of a plan. However, meeting with developers and their representatives the day before the council is due to rule on a scheme, especially one of such scale, is unprecedented and brings the entire planning process into disrepute. Councillors are expected to ensure that there is no possibility of predetermination. The final meeting took place on May 23rd of this year, the day before the committee met to decide. The two previous meetings were in the preceding weeks, on April 5th and May 10th respectively. At the latter, Butt and the council’s lead for regeneration Cllr Shama Tatler also accepted lunch as hospitality from the developer’s representatives.

The 26-storey tower is well above the 17-storey limit Cllr Butt and his colleagues promised for the area when they adopted the Alperton Masterplan in 2011. It was opposed by dozens of neighbours, and a petition I arranged, previously discussed on Wembley Matters LINK, gained over 200 signatures. The development was also criticised for failing light tests and being twice the maximum density for the area. Cllr Butt’s colleagues representing Alperton admitted in a letter that many concerns were ignored, but claimed that there was nothing they could do. A freedom of information brought the lack of record keeping to light:

Friday, 10 November 2017

Fairer treatment for those in Council Tax arrears after Brent sign Citizens Advice protocol

The Brent CAB Team
Brent Citizens Advice Bureau has announced that Brent Council and its Council Tax collection enforcement agencies, Equita and Capita, to the Citizens Advice Bureau Council Tax Protocol.

The protocol if followed will ensure fairer and timely treatment of those who fall into arrears:
Council tax payers receive a better level of service when local authorities, enforcement agencies and debt advice agencies work closely together.  Early intervention and proactive contact with people struggling with bill payments can help prevent them incurring further charges and help alleviate stress. It can also potentially help reduce both collection costs and calls on local public services, particularly mental health services.
The full protocol is here:


Brent to sell off surplus residential properties

Brent Cabinet on Monday LINK will be asked to approve plans to dispose of surplus Council property 'at the best value that could be currently obtained in the market. The disposals would generate capital receipts to support corporative objectives.'

Some of the properties will be disposed of to the Council's wholly owned company Invest for Brent (I4B). See LINK for background of Invest for Brent.

The property is varied:

8 Coniston Gardens. NW9 OBD - former 3 bedroomed school keeper's house for Oliver Goldsmith Primary School.Will be sold to I4B at market value for use in the privately rented sector (PRS) programme.

67 Woodheyes Road, NW10 9DE - terraced house compulsorily purchased by the Council's Empty Property Team last year.  Will be sold to I4B at market value under PRS scheme.

Property X (address not revealed to safeguard personal data of owner).  Will be sold via an arms-length transaction on the open market to realise funds for payment of the owner's residential care fees.

27 Claremont Road, W9 3DZ - ex mental health hostel handed back to Council as surplus to requirements by Adult Social Care in December 2015. Unsuccessfully marketed for conversion in 2016.  Cost of internal decoration and modernisation rendered many alternative options unviable. Recommended to take to market in its current un-refurbished condition.

3 Kent Road, Stantonbury, Milton Keynes, MK14 6BA - managed by Milton Keynes Council under historic arrangement with Brent.  To be considered for I4B programme in first instance, if not suitable to be sold on the open market for a capital receipt.

18 Alliance Close, HAO 2NG - flat managed by North West London NHS Foundation Trust. Handed back to Council as no longer fit for purpose for client group. Being considered or I4B programme and it not suitable will be sold on open market for capital receipt.

It would be useful to have some further information on how the capital receipts will be used.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Hear Alan Monaghan of 'The Soldier's Song' at Preston Library on Friday


As fuel poverty increases the lifeline Energy Solutions closes

Planet House bathed in Autumn sunshine
Brent Council has confirmed that Energy Solutions, based at Planet House in Birchen Grove, Kingsbury has closed. The Council cuts its £50,000 grant in 2015 despite it having saved its clients in excess of £717,000 in disputed or refunded gas and electricity bills, trust fund applications and ECO funded affordable warmth measures (heating and insulation) since 2012 and contributing to the borough's carbon reduction programme.

I made the case for the continuation of the grant in January 2015 but to no avail. LINK

The charity soldiered on seeking alternative funding and curtailing its activities but finally appears to have decided it couldn't go on, much to the loss of the local hard-pressed community.


 Energy Solutions was based at the end of Birchen Grove in a building that was constructed as a chapel for the lawn cemetery which had been planned in the 1930s but never materialised. I understand that the surrounding area, which includes the Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre (taken over by Thames21 after it too lost its grant) and allotments is still consecrated ground.


A Brent Spokesperson said today, 'Energy Solutions is unfortunately closing down. Brent Council is planning to market Planet House on a leasehold basis.'


Here is a reminder of  Energy Solutions' valuable work. I am sure that readers will join me in thanking the staff for all that they did for the community.




 

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group protest over Kilburn and Neasden Job Centre closures




 Video by Shootroot LINK

The Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group (KUWG) demonstrated outside the Department of Work and Pensions on Monday against the closure of Job Centres including local ones in Kilburn and Neasden.

KUWG said:
 Our local Jobcentres, Kilburn and Neasden, serve one of the most deprived areas in the country. If they are closed then over half of the borough of Camden and around two thirds of Brent will be more than half a mile from the nearest jobcentre, i.e. more than a mile round trip. These areas contain heavily populated areas: a lot of people are going to be affected.

In amongst the people who can't use the internet are hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their disability benefit because they aren't disabled enough for the Tories. They may be able to walk just 200 metres, or sometimes panic when out and get lost, or nor be able to plan a journey to places they don’t know, or have epilepsy. They may be seriously depressed or suffering from brain fog brought on by medication or illnesses like Fibromyalgia. They may be recovering from cancer or waiting for a heart operation. They may have variable conditions that mean that they can't guarantee being able to go out at all on any particular day.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Air pollution UK-Client Earth taking Government back to court for the third time

From the Greener Jobs Alliance
  
The GJA welcomes the decision by Client Earth this week to take the Government back to court for the 3rd time over its failure to respond effectively to this public health emergency. LINK  
 
Unions need to add their voice to the call for action. The legal action was launched just after the release of yet more reports showing that pollution is at unlawful levels in most local authorities in the UK. The GJA calls for employers to take responsibility for the pollution generated by their business activities. There should be a legal duty contained in a new Clean Air Act making it a requirement on large employers to measure the emissions they are responsible for and draw up a clean air plan for their operations. This then needs effective enforcement. For example, construction companies are already under an obligation to show they are controlling pollution yet the lack of enforcement, often caused by staffing cuts, means illegal levels of particulate matter are contaminating workplaces and neighbourhoods alike.

The National Education Union NEU) has taken a lead by producing guidance this week in conjunction with the British Lung Foundation. LINK   

Unions can also put pressure on their local authorities to do more. For example this week Battersea and Wandsworth TUC issued a press release calling on the council to honour its policy commitment of ‘campaigning to national government towards a non-diesel economy’. This has been backed up by a huge citizen science campaign across the borough highlighting the illegal levels of pollution in Wandsworth.

Finally, the GJA is running a series of ‘Air Pollution as a trade union issue’ workshops across the regions. The first will be held in Manchester on Dec. 1st and the second one will be in Leeds on January, 26th, 2018 (contact gjacoms@gmail.com for details)

The murk behind Brent Council's Bridge Park deal that was opposed by the community last week

Bridge Park Complex with Unisys on the horizon


The Kilburn Times LINK today reports on a heated consultation meeting regarding the redevelopment of Bridge Park, Stonebridge, and the surrounding area including the Unisys landmark building. There were demands for the land sale to be halted.

The newspaper quotes Jay Martin of the Bridge Park Community Council as saying:

This is not a consultation, it's a fait accompli. It looks like this deal has already been done and decided. There are moral questions and legal questions to answer. There's the possibility that this whole thing might end up in a judicial hearing. 

 The moral and questions that Martin refers to are presumably directed at Brent Council's off-shore partners in this development.

The late and sorely missed Cllr Dan Filson who, while a Labour councillor, had a strong streak of independence, responded to Cllr Pavey's suggestion that tax havens had to be tackled at national level rather than local government, with this comment on Wembly Matters LINK:


I must say I was surprised that whilst mentioning the two companies involved were neither incorporated nor registered in the UK, the Cabinet paper did not mention that they were registered in tax havens namely Luxembourg and the BVI, nor that the leading shareholder in the holding company was a convicted fraudster. A quick Google search revealed this.

Possibly the council officers preparing the report felt these issues did not matter given the safeguarding phrase that the decision of Cabinet would be subject to meeting financial scrutiny (quite how these financial checks would succeed given that they had not succeeded in the months leading up to Cabinet was not made clear!).


The wider issue of the ethics of dealing with tax haven companies wasn't touched upon at all nor the fraudster angle. I understand Councillor Pavey's position that it needs government action to deal with tax haven companies (to say nothing of persons being company directors of overseas companies who, by my book, should be disqualified from holding any positions of trust in any company trading or owning land in this country).


However Brent can have its own policies; but what should they be here? The land south of the North Circular Road at Stonebridge Park has been a derelict eyesore for a couple of decades. Brent can engineer development here by intervention using such land as it has as a bargaining tool. If we take the ethical route and don't treat with tax haven companies will we get better or worse terms from other companies? Conceivably could Councillors be surcharged for not getting "best value" in a deal? Will any action happen on this site at all for another decade?


I don't know how I would respond on these issues. My disappointment was that no attempt has been made to address them before this particular decision came to Cabinet despite the identity of these 2 companies being known for some time, years even. So the Cabinet was obliged to agree to a deal involving these two companies without a financial appraisal in front if it and without a stated policy on dealing with tax haven companies. It leaves an unpleasant taste.
Ex Inspector of Taxes, Philip Grant, LINK revealed a link with Quintain:

 When offshore companies are involved, that will always raise suspicions about who is really behind them, and whether tax avoidance may be involved, although in this case you can read a little about GMH on Wikipedia:-

'The General Mediterranean Holding (GMH) is a financial holding company established in 1979 in Luxembourg City, in southern Luxembourg, founded by Anglo-Iraqi businessman Nadhmi Auchi.


GMH is a diverse business group with activities in Banking & Finance, Real Estate & Construction, Hotel & Leisure, Industrial, Trading & Pharmaceuticals, Communications & IT and Aviation.'


The (publicly available) details do not say in which overseas territory Harborough Invest Inc. is incorporated, or resident for tax purposes.


By chance, I have come across GMH's "agent", Nick Shattock, before, when I was an Inspector of Taxes, and he was a director of Quintain Estates and Developments Plc (having previously been a partner in a firm of City solicitors). That information is on public record, and (of course) I cannot disclose anything which happened when I was responsible for dealing with the Quintain group's company tax affairs, because of Civil Service confidentiality.


As a (past) director of Quintain (the developer behind Wembley Park), it is likely that Mr Shattock has already had dealings with Brent's Strategic Director of Regeneration and Growth, Andy Donald. The report to Cabinet proposes that negotiations over the "deal" between Brent and GMH should be left in the hands of Mr Donald (as the "deal" with Galliford Try over the Willesden Green Library Centre redevelopment was).


Persuaded? Definitely not!
In January of this year Cabinet approved the land deal for Bridge Park nd Labour defeated Cllr John Warren's move at Full Council to have it debated. The is an extract from my report of the meeting:
In the course of the resultant discussion Cllr Warren, speaking to Muhammed Butt, Leader of the Council, referred to 'Your friend Mr Auchi'.  Sir Nadhmi Shakir Auchi is Chairman of the off-shore British Virgin Islands company General Mediterranean Holdings (GMH) which is Brent Council's partner in the redevelopment of Bridge Park.  Muhammed Butt is the lead member for the conditional land sale of the Bridge Park site to GMH.

At the Brent Cabinet on January 16th Cllr Margaret McLennan, Deputy Leader of the Council, said that she was 'thrilled' by the Bridge Park deal. LINK


Auchi is controversial because of a 2003 allegation of  fraud LINK and of course the whole issue of tax havens and tax avoidance is a current political issue with Jeremy Corbyn promising action by a future Labour Government.


Cllr Thomas intervened to call for Cllr Warren to withdraw his statement about 'Your friend Mr Auchi' directed at his leader, as the Council Meeting was being streamed and he wouldn't want a 'wrong impression' to be given. Warren, saying he couldn't remember exactly what  he'd said,went on to say, 'Mr Auchi has connections with the Labour Party. Let me say that. That is what I was referring to.'
The alleged link goes back to 2001 when the Guardian published an article entitled 'A Tycoon, a Minister and Interpol' LINK and involved Keith Vaz MP.



Brent to compulsorily purchase Kenton property - more to come?


Residents of Brent will be aware of the number of empty residential properties in the borough and many voices have been raised urging the council to act to bring them back into use for family accommodation.
The Cabinet on Monday LINK will be asked to approve the compulsory purchase of a residential property in Kenton which has a long history of neglect and is currently squatted. The Council claim that the owner has made no determined and ongoing effort to bring the property back into use.
One might expect the Council if the CPO is successful to refurbish the house and add it to the stock of council housing. However, they appear to expect to hand it over to the private sector: ‘Acquisition by the Council and the subsequent sale and refurbishment will achieve a quantitative and qualitative housing gain.’ This doesn't seem to fit with the justification for the CPO in the report which points to the shortage of social housing while the sale and refurbishment will probably add to the over-priced private rental sector:

·      There is a shortage of social housing creating a greater dependency on the private rented sector and increasing the need for the council to make the most of the empty homes throughout the borough. Empty homes are critical in Brent, we are responding to complex needs for housing and working towards increasing this supply by returning empty dwellings to use. 

·      Brent has acute housing pressure, there are over 19,000 households currently on the housing register.
·      Brent has a culturally diverse population and needs a variety of types of homes – for rent and sale, for single people and for families with children. 

·      Current and future need for homes prompts us to make better use of all our existing housing resources, which include empty properties. 

·      Council tax records show that there are 1259 empty properties within the borough of which 859 properties have been empty for 6 months or more. 

·       Empty properties have a significant contribution to make in Brent’s development of a sustainable community, returning them to use helps to increase the housing 
 supply to meet our housing needs, improves the condition of the area and brings increased revenue through council tax. An empty property is a wasted resource especially when there is a need for housing and a shortage of supply

An additional document makes clear that there are risks and costs attached to CPOs where if the issue goes to a public enquiry additional costs of up to £55,000 beyond the purchase price could be incurred. LINK


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Temporary application for Cricklewood Superhub withdrawn but battle over permanent use continues

The North West Two Residents' Association have published the following update on the Cricklewood Rail-Freight Superhub LINK:

DB Cargo have told residents that they’re withdrawing their temporary-period application to use the site for aggregates for 18 months. They’re carrying on with the application for permanent use, bringing aggregates in by rail and out by road, plus construction waste in by road to go out by rail.

DB Cargo might once have hoped that the temporary application could be approved before the permanent one was published and objections came in, but that opportunity seems to have passed. They now want to have more meetings to discuss residents’ concerns and say their aim is for the rail freight facility to have no impact on residents’ quality of life.

More than 680 objections can now be read on the Barnet website and that may not include some that were sent by email. There are also some consultee responses in among the online documents.
Transport for London say they’re supportive of the proposal but require a Road Safety Audit, information on how the development helps reduce emissions and confirmation that the development contributes to improving pedestrian and cycle facilities along the A5. (That last is awkward, as the application took the attitude that cycling on the A5 is bad already and can be ignored.)

Barnet’s Transport & Regeneration team raised over 30 concerns and stated that “until the outstanding issues identified above are appropriately addressed the Transport & Regeneration team cannot support the subject planning application.”

They:
  • identify contradictions and inconsistencies in the application
  • find the turning manouevers using both lanes of traffic to enter the site unacceptable
  • suggest better provision is needed for HGVs turning right into the site
  • are concerned that the access road may become clogged
  • question whether surveys on the A5 and at other facilities are applicable or comparable
  • want to know just how many HGV movements are being proposed as the application keeps chopping and changing
  • are concerned that the application considers some nearby junctions but not the three (Geron Way, Oxgate Gardens and Dollis Hill Lane) with the highest rates of personal-injury accidents
  • query if 9 employees is a realistic assumption if there are 4 plots being let out to more than 1 company
  • and more.
Satisfying these concerns and TfL’s may require not only conducting fresh surveys, modelling and calculations but changing designs including some redesign of the A5. We haven’t heard any firm suggestions for when this might be completed and ready for any further consultation, or when the application might finally go on the planning committee’s agenda.

Click here for earlier articles about the road/rail superhub.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Spurs as both a Property Developer and Corporate Welfare client

I spotted the following blog on  Tottenham Hotspur's ventures into property development and given their stay at Wembley Stadium and our own experience of property developers thought readers might be interested, particularly where there are issues in common.  Thanks to Haringey Defend Council Housing LINK for permission to repost this article:

In a dramatic move, Tottenham Hotspur FC have announced plans for a new property development on land that Haringey Council promised on 9 October to the developer Lendlease.
Spurs say they want to build 330 new homes and a new public square Here is their promotional website: LINK

While Spurs and Lendlease scrap over development sites West of the Spurs Ground, Spurs are losing out over service charges and access to land on the East side of their Stadium, under a separate Lendlease development.

Lendlease were awarded the High Road West site at a Haringey Council Cabinet meeting on 9 October. The Love Lane council estate is to be demolished, and 2,500 high-value new homes built in the area. Lendlease are also the developer on the Eastern side, via the Haringey Development Vehicle.

Cllr Alan Strickland, Haringey’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Planning and Regeneration, promised at a recent Cabinet Meeting to buy Spurs’ land at High Road West, using compulsory purchase orders if necessary.  Will that promise now be carried through, we wonder?

This is the second time that Spurs has appeared as a property developer in its own right in North Tottenham, while continuing to demand ‘Corporate Welfare’ for its new Stadium.
Spurs have a major interest in the Northumberland Park school and the housing estates on the East side of the football stadium, where they are not getting their own way at all.

Their problem is that they expect Corporate Welfare: facilities for free, with added public subsidy.

The Club has a 99 year lease on a makeshift outside broadcast facility in the grounds of Dukes’ Aldridge Academy school , formerly the Northumberland Park Community School.

Spurs has aspirations for a proper, dedicated outside broadcast media facility, and also a Fan Zone, where those without tickets can watch the game on supersize outdoor display screens, and buy food and drink, etc.

Haringey Council, via the proposed HDV, which is to be half-owned and 100% managed by the developer Lendlease, proposes to move the school from behind the Spurs Ground. It is proposed to decant residents from council housing at Haynes Close, Charles Bradlaugh House and Robert Burns House, then demolish those blocks, and then build a new school there (p 1024 of cabinet papers for 3 July 2017, Public Appendices, Items 9 & 10: LINK

This is all to help Spurs out, but would take several years at least. Spurs might be thwarted, even then. A Fan Zone is currently proposed at a new Paxton Square which ‘can provide a robust and flexible paved area that would operate as a fan zone during stadium matches or events’ (p 877).

But this is a tiny area, just a few yards across, pinched between the back of the stadium and new high rise housing blocks, which could be 20 or more stories high (see image on p 1020).  It is more like a Paxton postage stamp. It is not dedicated to Spurs, but would be a public square with other suggested uses as well as the fan zone.  Presumably, makeshift barriers would be needed on match days, and its capacity would be inadequate for Spurs’ needs.

Spurs’ hoped-for Outside Broadcast Space is just an ‘Optionality’ which is ‘associated with the regeneration of Northumberland Park’… ‘The HDV will work with Tottenham Hotspur FC to find a suitable design solution for their outside broadcast space requirements. During the 100 day launch programme HDV will and consider alternative design solutions [sic].’

Nothing too definite, nothing at all on the indicative ground plans, and nothing until after the HDV has been launched.  While the HDV plans to build housing blocks right up to the back of the new Stadium.

For Spurs to have the Fan zone and the outside broadcast space they wanted, some of the developer’s proposed high rise housing could not be built, in a ‘neighbourhood that will target young professionals and creatives who are seeking a vibrant and active place to own or rent in a higher density environment’ (p 875); and p 1024 suggests that new housing built on the school playing fields would include 140 homes for tenants and resident leaseholders moving from Haynes Close/Charles Bradlaugh/Robert Burns.

Spurs wants facilities which would deny to the developer some of their potentially most lucrative residential sites.

Spurs may also have to pay hefty service charges for extra security, refuse and crowd management costs in the public realm on match days (p 945). 

These charges are  something really new – although locals have long complained bitterly about the hidden costs and inconveniences of the Spurs games. 

Spurs have erred badly by  designing a stadium which does not have the external broadcast and external fan zone facilities which they actually need.

    What next?

Maybe Spurs are using their development plan in the West as a bargaining ploy to get what they want in the East.  Maybe they do really want to build in the West. 

But either way, it is the community that will lose out from housing demolitions, and from house price and rent increases, that will drive local people from the area.

    Spurs as both a Property Developer and Corporate Welfare client  

Spurs are already acting as a property developer at the 500 White Hart Lane scheme, which gained planning consent on the casting vote of the Chair of the Committee Cllr Natan Doron (who is a leading Spurs supporter) on 12/09/16 for 144 dwellings, as well as employment and retail spaces. LINK

This Freedom of Information Request deals with Public subsidy to Spurs LINK

We know that Spurs asked Haringey Council and the GLA for £30.5 million towards the cost of the podium at the front of the new stadium, and in April this year this money was seemingly about to be made available from dedicated housing funds: LINK

The Council has denied that the money was ever paid: LINK

Leaving unanswered questions: LINK

Brent Council spent £12.7m on temporary workers in 2016-17

Brent Council's contract with Reed for temporary workers (contingent labour) comes to an end next year and officer's recommend a new 'hybrid' contract with Comensura Limited.

The report by Mildred Phillips, Head of Employment Services LINK states:
Temporary workers represent an important part of the Council’s workforce. The use of temporary workers enables staffing levels to be quickly flexed in line with peaks and troughs of overall workloads. Temps are sometimes used to fill vacant posts before and during restructures to manage the risk of redundancies. They are also used where permanent posts are hard to fill.
In 2016-17 Brent spent £12.7million on temporary staff and the report envisages that the new 3 year contract with Comensura would total £38.1million for the period with fees totalling £2.7m over the 3 years - an expected saving of £0.2m. This projection implies that no reduction in the use of supply staff is envisaged although one would expect a Labour council to be keen to give its labour force all the advantages of permanent status.

Interestingly Tower Hamlets Council, currently with Comensura, are moving to Adecco Group Services for their contract. Adecco were unable to fulfil the 2012 contract with Brent Council due to 'shortage of resources', however Comensura may also have its problems.

The Tower Hamlets Cabinet Report (May 2017) LINK states:


Comensura have around 200 agencies within their supply chain. In recent months Comensura have had some issues maintaining their relationship with some of these agencies. This is mainly due to the reduction of agency fees for particular roles whereby Comensura have agreed reduced rates with the Council to deliver further savings. The rates have not always been agreed with the supply chain agencies, who later notify Comensura of difficulties in the supply of particular roles because mark ups are too low. There have been instances where current workers have left because of reduced agency margins. E.g. in the last six months Social workers, Para Legals, Civil Enforcement Officers. This poses a concern for the council in that we may lose certain categories of assignments.

Presumably Mildred Phillips would have checked with her counterparts in other London boroughs when considering the Comensura award.

Two of the documents associated with this report are 'restricted' i.e. the public and non-Cabinet members cannot see them, but it would be interesting to know more about the wages and conditions of workers once Comensura and its supply chain have taken their share of the fees paid by the Council.