Responding to today’s announcement that the Willesden Green Cultural Centre planning application has been withdrawn, Liberal Democrat Group Leader councillor Paul Lorber said:
This is hardly surprising, given the cack-handed way in which Labour councillors have handled this project. Liberal Democrat councillors warned of problems with the consultation process, timescale and decision-making arrangements when we called in the decision in January.
If the Labour leadership under Ann John had been less arrogant and more willing to listen, residents and the council could have worked together to design the best solution for Willesden Green. Instead an enormous amount of energy and money has been spent and next to nothing so far achieved.
Brent Council now needs to engage in a proper consultation process and, this time, actually listen and respond to what people say. The delay will lead residents to expect substantial changes to the design which take their views into account. Local people will see through any attempt by the council to use the delay to mount a propaganda exercise.
In January 2012 Liberal Democrat councillors called in the Willesden Green Library redevelopment proposals because they considered the implications had not been thought through properly. Reasons for the call-in included:
- Delegation of authorisation of detailed design: Lib Dem councillors argued that it is appropriate that a decision of this significance is signed off by members, especially if the consultation process or other pressures resulted in a need to reconsider elements of the scheme or choose between options – Councillors have now been told that further design work is necessary.
- Lack of clarity in the papers provided to councillors at the Executive meeting about the design and functions of the proposed new building including: a) No information (even in broad terms) about how the available floorspace will be split between the different uses and the projected income from the proposed commercial uses; b) No information about the architectural and design approach to the development or the planning considerations and risks (other the risk of local objections set out on page 54) that the design has to take into account; c) Lack of clear explanation about how the zero net capital cost will be achieved; d) Inadequate consideration of the risk of construction costs being greater than anticipated and the extent to which the additional costs might fall on the council if they are not the responsibility of the contractor; and inadequate assurance about financial control of the project subsequent to detailed design development and prior to practical completion – Issues (a) and (b) proved to be significant issues during the public consultation.
- Consultation strategy: a) The agreed consultation strategy does not include any objectives nor does it specify what scope there is for the current design to be altered in response to the consultation. It is therefore unclear to what extent this is a genuine consultation strategy and to what extent it is simply a public engagement strategy designed to provide reassurance and promote the project to stakeholders; b) There is no mention in the report, recommendation or consultation strategy of reporting back the outcome of the consultation to members (Executive or Scrutiny) to enable consideration of the views expressed – Seven months later, Labour councillors have finally accepted their approach to consultation on this issue was inadequate.