Bridge Park battle: The 40-year saga of a community facility
- Credit: Jonathan Goldberg
“I encourage the parties to continue to talk, if that’s possible.”
Those were the parting words of Judge Michael Green QC following a nine-day trial between Brent Council and Leonard Johnson.
The battle over Bridge Park Community Leisure Centre, in Brentfield Road, may sound like just another planning application - the council wants to bulldoze a community centre and pledges to build a better one despite local opposition - but this is much more important than that for many in the African-Caribbean community.
That is why it has ended up in the High Court, and on the shoulders of Mr Johnson, founder and chairman of the Harlesden People’s Community Council.
The issue dates back to 1981, when Mr Johnson discovered a bus depot was being sold by London Transport. He had a vision of transforming it into a community centre to help calm tensions and quell the threat of riots.
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In the end he and the community helped Brent Council buy the property - something those in court agreed was a “great achievement” - Europe’s biggest business, sport and educational complex run by the Black community.
Now, 40 years on, the case rests on whether the authority has the right to sell it for redevelopment.
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Mr Johnson’s chances of winning will be for the judge to decide - with questions over the status of the various organisations hanging in the air - but Mr Johnson ploughed on passionately, making the case for the community’s claim to the land.
In 2013, Brent disposed of a covenant on the land, members of the community saying they realised too late to appeal, and in 2017 Brent signed a conditional agreement to sell the land to General Mediterranean Holdings. Mr Johnson and members of the Bridge Park Community Council (BCPP) had a restriction placed a restriction on the sale through the Land Registry and the case was brought to trial.
The judge said an interpretation of legislation, for which the defence was arguing, would have “far-reaching consequences” for other communities and local authority facilities, such as sports centres.
It is sad that the issue has led to a division between the council and part of Brent’s community, while at the same time the authority launches its Black Community Action Plan.
Let us hope that, whatever the decision, this bridge, at least can be mended.