Saturday, 17 January 2015

Wembley Central Ward, Councillor Sam Stopp's, Speech on 13th January 2015

Thank you, Chair.

I would like to say first of all that I don’t have a personal prejudice against the London Welsh School. We should be immensely proud of Brent’s multiculturalism and I know that the school itself has played its part in this since its inception in 1958.
However, my first duty is to the residents of Wembley Central, and in this case, I speak on behalf of the residents of Prince’s Court. The reality is that, from my many conversations with the residents and others, several clear areas of doubt have emerged with regard to this application.

From my perspective, there are five key concerns about this application: 1) The precedent this application sets for future development, 2) The likelihood of increased traffic and parking issues, 3) The availability of other sites, 4) The lack of community facilities in Wembley Central and 5) The importance of prioritising the state sector in the face of the school places crisis.

First, as the Assistant Lead Member for the Environment, I am very concerned about the precedent which would be set by approving this application. The school has previously applied for free school status on two occasions, and if it did so again and was successful, there is nothing to say it would not significantly expand or one day even be replaced by a larger school.

Of course, once a site is deemed suitable for education, the Department for Education can take the land for educational use and expand it. Furthermore, other applicants might be encouraged to apply to build on our green spaces. With Quintain’s plans to transform the Wembley skyline in mind, preserving King Eddie’s is as important as ever.

Second, there is already a school in the vicinity – Park Lane Primary. With as many as 40 pupils at the proposed new site, many travelling long distances from other parts of Brent and other boroughs, it is inevitable that the number of cars clogging up the area will increase. The lack of parking spaces in this application is therefore seriously concerning, particularly when Prince’s Close is already afflicted by parking issues.

Third, strangest of all is that the site was even suggested in the first place. The school has already existed in various locations, such as Willesden and Harlesden. When you consider the large size of Brent, I find it peculiar that there is literally no more suitable site than this. There is even a more appropriate site within the park at Collins Lodge, which has more space for a playground, does not contain as much greenery and does not back on to residences.

Fourth, when I stood for election in May, I made clear that one of my main aims was to help revive community spirit in Wembley, an area which has seen massive upheaval in recent decades. Given the serious lack of community spaces in the ward, it seems to me that there is a massive opportunity here for a community-run building which would help to foster community spirit in an area that badly needs a place to come together.

Fifth, as I have said – while I am aware that the London Welsh School provides a valuable service to the Welsh community in Brent and nearby, the current crisis in school places means that if we are to prioritise building any schools on controversial sites, these sites should probably be given over to the state sector, for which Brent Council is directly responsible.

In conclusion, I would recommend that this application is at the very least deferred while a more suitable site is sourced. I struggle to believe that, in all of Brent, the only suitable site that the council has been able to find is a green space which should really be benefit the entire community, not just one group. As I have mentioned, there is another more suitable site in King Eddie’s Park alone.

And one final point, if I may. People all over London are rightly concerned about the threat to our green spaces. Where there is doubt in the community that the council is willing to listen to the concerns of residents, a disconnect will arise. I am therefore thankful that this committee has heard from two such residents tonight and I am sure that members will make a decision with their views at the forefront of their minds.

Thank you.

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