Bridge Park: Community ready to fight after Brent Council brings forward summary High Court hearing over leisure centre land ownership
PUBLISHED: 17:46 28 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:27 01 March 2019
Community members fighting for the future of Bridge Park Community Centre in Stonebridge must wait for their fate as the High Court deliberates over a day of evidence.
More than 100 members and supporters of the Bridge Park Community Council (BPCC) crowded the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday, leaving with renewed hope that their case can go to trial.
Brent Council accelerated a summary hearing against the Stonebridge People’s Trust (HPCC), and steering group BPCC, to squash attempts to restrict the sale of land in Stonebridge.
In June 2017, the council went into a conditional land sale agreement with offshore company General Mediterranean Holdings, which owns two Unisys buildings next to the leisure centre.
Hoping to halt the sell-off, community group Bridge Park Community Centre (BPCC) applied to the Land Registry to put a restriction on the site’s disposal, a matter that – after being objected to by Brent and then referred to a tribunal – remains unresolved pending the High Court’s decision.
Brent has asked that it be declared the sole legal owner of the site; and that no future restrictions on the sale of the Bridge Park land be considered.
Stephen Cottle, a barrister at the Garden Court Chambers, told the court that the community centre existed because a “very complicated process” back in the early 1980s had been simplified by the actions of HPCC when it decided to establish a community centre on the site of what was then a bus depot.
The £1.8m price for the depot, reduced from £3m due to HPCC’s charitable status, was paid for through funding from the GLA (£700,000), the Department for the Environment (£400,000) and £700,000 from Brent.
He said: “HPCC wanted to establish a community centre in the bus depot. The money could not have been obtained by Brent – it was a very complicated process which required a fellowship and lobbying. There were a number of constraints.”
HPCC had successfully found construction companies to do the work. Mr Cottle added: “There’s no doubt who was in the driving seat taking things forward.”
He cited a letter from Brent’s executive director of housing services sent to a housing association in 1995 which said: “It is not the council’s intention [to take] Bridge Park into ownership or long term management.”
But Katharine Holland QC, representing Brent, was looking to “strike out” BPCC’s application for a restriction on the land sale, saying the local authority was legal owner of the site – and questioning HPCC’s charitable status and beneficial interest, saying it was an unincorporated association, and so not a legal entity.
She said: “This is an attempt to hinder the proposal to sell the property we acquired and have full statutory power to dispose of.”
She accused the BPCC of attempting to “hive off” the land, which she added “must be for the whole community”.
She gave as example a 2013 consultation by the council where 95 per cent chose one or more selections involving change to Bridge Park, and 5pc selected leaving Bridge Park as it is. “That was the result of the consultation process,” she said. “5pc voted to retain Bridge Park as it is.”
Deputy Master Rhys, sitting on behalf of Master Price, said a judgment would not come back that day as he wanted to look over all the evidence.
Brent is working with GMH to build a new community centre on the site which includes a six-lane swimming pool, gym and sports hall as well as some community space,
But BCPP has its own vision of a hub on the 3.5-acre site that includes a supermarket, an education and sport centre, commercial and technology space and a centre for multi-faith gatherings,
Following the hearing, Mr Johnson said: “As a preliminary hearing we felt it went very well. They are looking at throwing out our restriction but the judge is looking at it.
“We want to meet with Brent, we want to work with them. Brent is the one that doesn’t want to work with us. That is why it has taken us to court.
“Bridge Park is for us – it’s for wealth creation within our community so we can stop digging up the graveyards, filling up the prisons, filling up the mental institutions.”
He laughed at the suggestion of “5pc”. “They say 95pc want Brent and 5pc want us? Brent has two meetings – 40 people come then 50 people come to the next one. When we have a meeting 300 people come, then 500, then more than 1,000 people come. So tell me, who is the one the community is supporting if Brent can only get 50 people?”
Jay Mastin, chair of BPCC, said: “Brent has been trying to get our evidence for quite a while now and they are trying for the evidence not to be heard and one way they can do that is to apply for the summary hearing to strike out our case.
“I feel quite confident. We got our point across that we are beneficiaries, we are a charity, we have charitable status and HPCC was central in raising those funds. It couldn’t have been done without [HPCC].”
Shirley Wilson, also of BPCC, claimed: “What Brent is doing is making a big issue about the redevelopment. We are challenging the land sale. The crux of this is set out in the covenant at the original point of sale. Brent removed the covenant in order for the land sale to take place. They couldn’t have gone for any sort of private sale with that covenant in place. It was there to protect the rights of the community. That’s why I’m involved.”
Julius Pottinger travelled from south London. He said: “A lot of us have come over from outside Brent. It means a lot, they need to understand that.
“When the riots happened in Brixton – I am of that generation. I understand what is happening now. This is a fight for justice. If a system is in place to dismantle a community it can happen to anyone.”
Janet Ogundele, said: “This is not just about one community centre in Stonebridge – it’s much bigger than that.
“Just this week somebody was shot in Wood Green, somebody was stabbed in Brixton. The council, the mayor, the police and government ask: ‘What can we do?’ This is what Brent Council is doing.”