Brent’s former chief says community had ‘aspiration’ to buy freehold of Bridge Park
PUBLISHED: 15:20 24 July 2020
Brent Council would not have been able to buy an empty bus depot in Stonebridge without the input of the community who fought for it, a court has been told.
Lord Michael Bichard told the High Court on Friday that Harlesden People’s Community Council (HPCC) was an “important part of the money being obtained” to buy the land in order to build the Bridge Park Community Leisure Centre in the 1980s.
The dispute, between Brent Council and defendants Leonard Johnson, former founder of HPCC and Stonebridge Community Trust (HPCC), centres around the centre in Brentfield Road being destroyed.
The plans are part of the council’s conditional land sale agreement with General Mediterranean Holdings agreed in 2017, which HPCC is against.
Lord Bichard, chief executive of Brent Council at the time, said the project was “a great achievement” and that he attended many meetings with Mr Johnson, with whom he had a good relationship.
Referring to events in the summer of 1981, Stephen Cottle, cross examining for the defence, asked about a “near riot” in Stonebridge.
“There was a great deal of concern, not just in Brent but in other boroughs around the country at that time,” Lord Bichard said. “The Brixton caused great concern and Brent was an area that many people thought at the time would be in danger or vulnerable to similar riots, with vast amounts of damage occurring.”
He added: “There’s absolutely no question that HPCC played a very positive role.”
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The court heard that the community knew about London Transport’s projected sale of the bus depot before it happened and Lord Bichard’s first meeting with Mr Johnson was at the site.
Inspired by the HPCC project he requested that London Transport not put the depot sale on the open market, which he agreed gave Brent “a material advantage”.
The court heard that Brent was able to obtain Urban Aid grants from the government for the project,
Lord Bichard denied that the council was a “conduit” for the money but said “they [HPCC] were an important part of the money being obtained”.
The counsel showed him the preface of a report he signed as chief executive which referenced the “long term aim of the community to buy the bus depot.”
Lord Brichard: “The aspiration was that some time in the future when it became self financing that the issue of ownership should be addressed.”
Mr Cottle said: “My clients were going forward on the principle the council had no objection to that.”
Lord Brichard replied: “At the time the council priority was to acquire the site and to ensure an initiative was established which was supported by and managed as far as possible by the community. At some time in the future everyone’s aspiration was that the ownership should be transferred but that was not a key matter for debate at that time.”
The case continues.
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