CommentPete Firmin

Brent Council declared the best planning authority? They must be joking!

CommentPete Firmin

BRENT COUNCIL’S WEBSITE proudly announces that that is has won the Best Planning Authority Team of the Year award, given by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) on 24th April, at an event attended by 500 planners and architects. “The judges noted how Brent’s planning team excelled in all areas of work. They were impressed with their desire to continually reflect on their performance and look for ways to develop and improve their service.”

Some mistake, surely. Anyone visiting Wembley stadium will be surrounded by a rather ugly, dystopian bunch of very cramped tower blocks, hardly a great advert for good planning. More significant, though, is the state of housing built under the (Labour-dominated) council’s flagship regeneration scheme in South Kilburn.

The scheme, ongoing, has been running for about 15 years. Throughout that time local residents have been raising concerns that the additional housing being built is for sale and therefore doesn’t address the very real need for social housing – and also about the quality of the housing being built.

At about the same time as the council was being given the award, it was announced that all residents of Merle Court had to leave within 18 months, because flammable cladding needs to be removed and major internal works have also to be carried out. Merle Court, while owned by Catalyst Housing, was built in 2012 by Wilmott Dixon in partnership with Catalyst and Brent council as part of the South Kilburn regeneration.

Meanwhile, local councillors and the MP have been flooded with complaints about Argo House, completed in 2016. Many residents, both private and social, report mould on walls, loose cables, intermittent heating and hot water, and a totally unresponsive housing association (Home Group). Argo House is part of South Kilburn regeneration, the developer being Dragon Investments Management Ltd in conjunction with James Taylor Homes.

Enough? No. Again, around the same time, residents of Chase House tweeted pictures of their block, showing neglect and external indications of mould. Chase House was completed in 2013.

These latest examples come on top of previous examples such as another block with flammable cladding, a block which needed a new roof (within five years!), a block built with balconies which were not waterproof, and much, much, more.

Throughout this period, Brent council leadership has refused to engage at all with local activists, including the Labour Party branch and councillors, instead nominating itself for awards for South Kilburn’s regeneration. Like so many others, the panel deciding on the RTPI award is almost entirely made up of architects and planners. No thought of involving those who actually live in the developments they praise.

On the positive side, residents in South Kilburn and elsewhere in Brent are getting themselves organised and beginning to resist the regeneration steamroller.

CWU and Hampstead & Kilburn CLP