What about Air Quality?

In its 2017-2022 action plan, Brent Council acknowledged the impact of poor air quality on health and the need for action to reduce or eliminate air pollution. In previous years, Brent has consistently failed to meet national air quality targets for two key pollutants, Nitrogen Dioxide and Particulate Matter (PM10). It is estimated that 200 premature deaths occur in Brent each year due to poor air quality. The council officials have accepted that air quality in Brent is poor and recognise that significant intervention is required to improve local air quality for all.

There are no air quality monitoring stations located in central Alperton. The nearest monitoring station is at Hanger Lane gyratory, operated by Ealing Council. Real-time air quality data is published on the London Air website thanks to a research initiative by King’s College, London.

London Air – Brent Council air monitors (Link)

London Air – Ealing Council air monitors (Link)

In Alperton, there are two Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) diffusion tubes located along Ealing Road. The first (ID #7) is at the corner of Bridgewater Road and Ealing Road, and the second (ID #54) is at the corner of Ealing Road and Riverside Gardens.

Alperton NOx Diffusion Tubes
NOx diffusion tube locations in Alperton

Unfortunately, it appears Brent has not published any data from these diffusion tubes on the council website since 2016. It is absolutely critical for this emission data to be published on a regular basis.

Brent Council Air Quality website (Link)

What can I do at a personal level? Use “smarter travel”. This means cycling, walking or using public transport where it is more effective. London has many resources to help people use these smart methods of getting around. Using less-polluting transport is not just about being more environmentally responsible, it is often cheaper and faster too.

When upgrading to a new car, utilize low emission car technologies, including vehicles that run on hydrogen or electricity. Many of these are being trialled in London. Better still, don’t buy a car at all and join a local car club.

Brent’s Tallest Tower is due to rise

According to a recent article in the Brent & Kilburn Times, work is due to start at the Minavil House site in central Alperton. Local residents and workers are interviewed and expressing their concerns about the controversial scheme put forward by developers R55. “People living and working near Minavil House questioned the area’s need for a 27-storey high-rise at a time when public services are stretched.”

Construction soon to begin on Brent’s tallest tower in Alperton [Link]

‘Immoral’ Housing Group Clarion to operate Minavil House

The Minavil site has been acquired by Clarion Housing Group for £109 million from R55. Clarion has been described as ‘immoral’ after residents on the Ranwell West estate in East London were presented with bills for repairs of up to £32,000 each by Clarion. A group of homeowners from the estate is taking legal action against Clarion to fight excessive bills and maintenance charges.

Angry residents hit by £2m bill for repairs by ‘immoral’ housing group [London Evening Standard]

Unbelievably, Clarion received £8m in grant funding for the controversial development from the Greater London Authority. Increasingly desperate to meet targets for so-called affordable housing, Mayor Sadiq Khan and his Deputy Mayor James Murray are apparently willing to hand over suitcases of taxpayers’ money to the developers. In previous years, Clarion has been repeatedly in the spotlight for outlandish pay levels for its executive team.

A Greener Alperton

With growing concerns for air quality in Alperton, locals welcome any effort to expand the green spaces in the area. This attempt, however, is not exactly what is needed:

Minavil Green 3This lovely green fencing has  been erected around the Minavil House site in December. No other work has taken place at all. The developers, R55, are keeping everyone in the dark. Locals are asking; what is the status of the skyscraper plan?

Minavil Green1

Instead of a green fence, locals would welcome a real green space with trees to improve the air quality in central Alperton.

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