2 Feb 2010

Brent Council Fails Civic Centre Consultation and FOI

Brent Greens have made a formal objection to the Planning Application for a new civic centre for Brent on grounds of inadequate consultation (application still on-line at time of this post).

We have been campaigning for local democratic input on this issue for 18 months. Here is a timeline:

2003: Council Executive commissions a £75k feasibility study. Completed in 2004 by Jonathan Edwards Consulting.

Mar 2008: Council Executive approves plan for Civic Centre and supported by other political parties.

Nov 2008: Anna Woda, Civic centre project director makes presentation to Kingsbury Area Consultative Forum. In response to a question, she makes the following honest admission: "On the subject of consultation, that's right, we haven't". See our press letter.

Dec 2008: Brent Greens make FOI request for feasibility study. First supplied with wrong document. On repeat request, Chief Executive apologises for error and supplies correct document minus some appendices.

Jan 2009: Kingsbury ACF. Residents ask for minutes to accurately reflect the honest admission of November 2008. Council circulates a paper at the meeting stating when they say consultation has occurred.

Apr 2009: Kingsbury ACF minutes still not accurate. Meeting unanimously agrees to wording to correct the omission of Nov 2008, assisted by the chair. Wording transcribed with all present and notes checked after meeting.

July 2009: Kingsbury ACF minutes contain false record of what was explicitly agreed at previous meeting - 8 words deleted and 28 substituted. Chair says that she cannot resolve the issue at the meeting because a resident is pursuing a formal complaint with the Council. However, Council said following day they had not received a formal complaint.

Aug 2009: Resident receives transcript from Council of minute taker's notes of Nov 2008 confirming what was already known about the omission in the published minutes.

Aug-Sept 2009: Extensive coverage of claims of falsification of minutes in local press. Example. Brent Greens organise residents' petition against the threat to Town Hall and the lack of consultation over civic centre proposal.

Oct 2009: Kingsbury ACF Chair refuses to address the question of accuracy of minutes claiming that a complaint was still being dealt with. However, this was neither relevant nor true.

Oct 2009: Brent Greens make FOI request for transcript of minute taker's notes of April 2009, in particular, the part relating to the wording agreed unanimously.

Oct 2009: Extensive coverage in local papers questioning economic feasibility of Civic centre proposal and threat to local jobs and council services, on basis of findings of the 2003 feasibility study itself. Brent Times story. Brent Times lead letter. Wembley Observer story.

Nov 2009: Brent Green and local resident meet with Council officials to discuss why they are not able to comply with the latest FOI request. Council says they no longer have the note in question. Council official says that this is not a conspiracy. Brent Green replies that let the facts speak for themselves.

Nov 2009: Letter in local paper calling for action against uneconomic plan.

2 Feb 2009 (tonight): 7pm, Kingsbury ACF. Minutes not on-line at time of posting.

Appendix. Extract from "BRENT COUNCIL NEW CIVIC CENTRE: OUTLINE FEASIBILITY STUDY 2003" [Obtained by repeat FOI request Dec 2008, italics added]

Page 15 "property costs" section: "Based on the assumptions made, a fair representation of future costs of retaining a dispersed portfolio is £127m in net present cost terms. By comparison a new civic centre shows a net present cost of £142m-£145m, an increase over 25 years of £16m-£18m. In other words, ignoring any benefits, a civic centre is likely to cost more than a dispersed portfolio [the status quo]."

Page 19: "The graph shows that over time the procurement of a new civic centre would cost the Council substantially more than the baseline situation. In fact, it would not become cheaper on an annual cost basis until around 2025/2026."

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