Brent Councillors enjoy Property Developers’ Hospitality

Information has come to light showing the close relationship between certain Brent Councillors and property development firms active in the area. The explosive information is the result of freedom of information requests by local campaigners.

On 9 May 2017, Councillor Muhammed Butt and several other councillors enjoyed the hospitality of Terrapin Communications, a PR company representing the interests of various property developers including R55, the company behind the Minavil Tower scheme. The councillors enjoyed a free 3-course meal while meeting with the developers from the construction industry. The stated purpose of the hospitality was “to engage and enable developers to better understand the Borough and our aspirations” for social housing and quality of design. More to the point, however, the developers clearly hoped to influence key decision makers of the Council.

Exactly why R55 feels the need to be represented by a “Public Relations” company like Terrapin Communications is unclear. It is interesting to note that some senior staff at Terrapin have previously worked at Bell Pottinger, the disgraced PR firm which has gone into administration this year following a scandal in South Africa.

Furthermore, it has emerged that Councillor Butt, the leader of Brent Council, has met with R55 staff on three separate occasions in the weeks before the critical planning meeting on 24 May 2017, where R55’s application was approved. One of those meetings took place on the day immediately before the decision.

Buttdevelopers
Why did Councillor Butt meet with R55 staff?

What was discussed in those meetings between Cllr. Butt and R55? Unfortunately we will never know because no notes or minutes were taken. This is despite guidelines from the Local Government Association (LGA) which recommends the keeping of notes to ensure transparency.

In light of this information, the crucial question is whether the Council leader directed the members of the Planning Committee to cast their votes in favour of R55’s application (16/2629). If so this would cast doubt on the integrity of the Minavil  House decision and the Council’s planning process more widely.

Related links:

Cllr. Butt and hospitality from a property PR company (Wembley Matters)

Concern over openness after no minutes taken in Brent Council leader’s meetings (Brent & Kilburn Times)

 

Pantomime Villains

Demolition of the old Minavil House is due to start in November. Local residents and business people are braced to live and work next to a massive building site for the coming two years which will see the rise of Brent’s tallest building. The new high-rise ghetto will spoil the Alperton skyline for decades to come.

So, who is responsible for this dire state of affairs? As pantomime season approaches we have identified a number of candidates in the piece.

  • Councillor Muhammed Butt, the leader of Brent Council, who is ultimately responsible for the the big decisions taken by the council.
  • Alice Lester, Head of Planning, and her colleagues in the Brent planning department who pulped the Alperton masterplan and ignored the many concerns raised by local people.
  • Peter Mahoney and Nicholas Francis of R55, the developers behind the brazen plan to build a 26-floor skyscraper in a low- and medium rise neighborhood.
  • Lidl, owners of the site, which allowed the land to lie derelict despite obtaining planning permission with an earlier proposal in 2014.
  • Alperton councillors (Cllrs Allie, Chohan and Patel) who failed to turn up to the critical planning committee meeting on 24 May where the tower proposals were waived through without much critical questioning.

It’s not clear that this story will have a happy ending.

Mayor refers final decision back to Brent Council

On 17 July 2017, the Mayor of London published his final decision on the Minavil House tower plans:

“Having now considered a report on this case I am content to allow Brent Council to determine the case itself, subject to any action that the Secretary of State may take, and do not therefore wish to direct refusal or to take over the application for my own determination.” Mayor of London’s Final Decision

In the associated report, GLA’s Final Report, it is acknowledged that the tower plan negatively impacts a number of neighbouring sites, including Venice House, 243 Ealing Road, 300 Ealing Road, 360 Ealing Road, Alperton House, the Boat public house and the nearby Grand Union Canal. The petition signed by over 210 local people opposed to the plans is recognized.  The GLA officers have failed, however, to enforce any changes that would align the scheme with the original Alperton masterplan.

 

It appears that the promise of a high proportion of subsidized housing has trumped all other considerations.

Unfortunately, a promise of subsidized housing is not worth very much. In a recent case, the proportion of subsidized homes at the Battersea Power Station development was cut by 40%. The Mayor of London does not have the powers to ensure the developers keep their promises made in those glossy brochures.

Call to halt construction of high-rise buildings

By Pippa Crerar, The Evening Standard, 27 June 2017

Ministers faced calls today for a moratorium on all new tower block construction in the wake of the Grenfell disaster, until their safety can be guaranteed.

The influential Housing and Finance Institute think tank said the future of existing high-rise blocks should also be reviewed to consider whether they should be demolished instead of repaired.

The HFI report, authored by former Government housing adviser Nathalie Elphicke, called for a dramatic rethink on the number of tall buildings that are shooting up across the capital.

Ms Elphicke, chief executive of the HFI, said: “Following the Grenfell tragedy, we must urgently review the future of high-rise tower blocks in our cities.

“Not only should we enact an immediate pause on the construction of new blocks that haven’t yet started, but we should actively consider whether we would be better off simply demolishing the existing buildings identified as being at risk instead of repairing them.” She claimed one million new homes could be built in London by 2022  without putting up new tower blocks. Instead, homes could be built at greater density and in low- and mid-rise developments, with a shift in focus beyond the centre of the capital.

Link to full article: Stop building new tower blocks until safety can be guaranteed

Grenfell Tower blaze

At least 78 people are confirmed dead in a huge fire that ripped through a west London tower block, Grenfell Tower in north Kensington. The death toll could still rise.

Up to 600 people are believed to have been inside Grenfell Tower’s 120 flats when the blaze tore through the 24-storey building in the early hours of 14 June. Several residents are still unaccounted for and many families are homeless.

The tragedy is a timely reminder that large towers cannot be safely evacuated in case of an emergency.

Grenfell Tower blaze

Simon Jenkins of the London Evening Standard commented:

“Fires in towers are very infrequent, and the failings at Grenfell may result from an outdated design. […] But towers are claustrophobic. They are gated anti-communities. Nor are they an efficient use of urban space, since their lifts, escapes and servicing consume ever more of their volume the higher they go. Yes, the modern city needs denser living but it can find plenty of that nearer the ground. Grenfell should force a rethink, not just of safety but of planning.”

Simon Jenkins: Grenfell should be a warning on the basic issues for tower blocks

Are the politicians and planners taking notice?

Alperton people oppose Minavil House tower plans

This is the post excerpt.

On 24 May 2017, the Brent Council Planning Committee approved plans for the construction of a massive building on the Minavil House site in central Alperton. This approval flies in the face of objections from many Alperton residents and local businesses.

Concerns have been expressed regarding the excessive height of the building, the land use, scale and design, quality of accommodation, impact on canal and transportation. At 26 storeys, the proposed tower would be the tallest building, by far, in the area.

Minavil26
26-storey skyscraper plan in Alperton

During the public consultation, this design has been described as “monstrous”, “excessive” and “unsuitable” for the needs of local businesses at Wharfside and the wider neighbourhood. Going ahead with this tower, in violation of the original Alperton masterplan, would set an unwelcome precedent in Brent.