Following on from his announcements, the Mayor referred Members to the list of petitions received which included details of a petition objecting to the erection of a fence across College Green Open Space, which at the time of publication had gathered 277 signatures. He advised Members that under the Council’s Petition Scheme the lead petitioner (Mr Jim Hogan) had requested that his petition be referred on to Council for debate, which the Mayor informed Members he was proposing to deal with at this stage in the meeting.
The Mayor therefore welcomed Mr Hogan to the meeting and invited him to present his petition.
Mr Hogan began by thanking Members for allowing him to address the meeting and advised that the current number of signatures his petition now contained was above 300. By way of background, he informed Members that College Green which was located in Kensal Rise, had been established as an open space for over 100 years and was well used by local residents and a local scout group. As a means of further protecting the area from residential development local residents had established the College Green Preservation Society in 1988 and had also supported the location of a Nursery School within the boundary of the open space although the open space was not part of the nursery site.
Despite objections from local residents, a fence had recently been erected across the open space as part of the Nursery School site and he advised residents were now concerned that their access and view across the open space would be further limited as a result of any wider perimeter screen being planned. Members were advised that attempts had previously been made to erect screening around the Nursery site in November 2017 which had subsequently been removed as a result of objections raised by local residents and the scouts group.
Mr Hogan felt it was important to highlight the importance of the open space to the character of the area and well-being of local residents as well as in terms of the limited number of similar sites across the borough and was therefore seeking the support of the Council in terms of maintaining access and preventing the erection of any further perimeter fencing relating to the Nursery School site. Reference was made to the covenant established at the time the land was handed over by All Souls College Oxford as an open space, recognising the rights of neighbouring properties and stating that the land could not be used in any way to cause nuisance or grievance to those properties. In addition concerns had been raised regarding the impact that any additional perimeter fencing may have from a planning perspective in relation to sightlines, traffic safety, loss of outlook and character and on the site in terms of its protected open space status and in terms of nature conservation.
Members were advised that the representatives from the Nursery had not been willing to meet local residents in order to discuss their concerns, so the petitioners were now seeking Council support in their attempts to secure a written agreement preventing any further screening of the open space.
The Mayor thanked Mr Hogan for presenting the petition and then invited a representative from both the Labour and Brent Conservative Group to contribute to the debate.
Councillor Nerva, speaking on behalf of the Labour Group, thanked Mr Hogan for requesting the debate and felt it was important for Members to focus on the key issues. These included:
· that the open space referred to was not common land with unreserved access;
· the erection of the fence had been in response to safeguarding advice around the creation of a protected safe space for young people using the nursery. It had not been designed to deny local residents or the scouts group access to the open space;
In terms of a way forward he had noted the accompanying social media campaign but hoped local residents and the Preservation Society would also be willing to engage outside of the petition in any meetings facilitated by the Council in an attempt to address the issues raised.
Councillor Warren, speaking on behalf of the Brent Conservative Group and as a ward councillor for the area in which the open space was located, felt that the support being sought from the Council by the petitioners was a responsible and reasonable way forward. Whilst recognising the safeguarding issues raised in relation to the Nursery he felt the erection of the fence also raised safeguarding issues about use of the space by a beaver cub group given the restricted sightlines. In terms of a way forward, he urged the Cabinet Member, to take account of what he felt to be the conciliatory representations made and arrange a meeting between local residents, the Preservation Society, scout group and Nursery in order to facilitate further constructive discussion and address the concerns raised about future access to the open space, which he pointed out had been the main objective of local residents all along.
The Mayor thanked Councillors Nerva and Warren for their comments and then invited Councillor Mili Patel, as Cabinet Member for Children & Young People to close the debate and respond to the petition.
Councillor Patel thanked Mr Hogan for his presentation and advised that whilst the focus appeared to have now moved from concerns regarding the erection of the fence to potential perimeter screening, it was important to recognise the reason for the fence having originally been installed. This had been to address safeguarding and security concerns relating to use of the Nursery site by young children. She informed Members that the Council had liaised with both the Scout Group and Preservation Society regarding the specification and location of the fence prior to it being erected and felt it would have been helpful if local residents and the Preservation Society had attended the final liaison meeting before it had been installed.
In terms of safeguarding, Councillor Patel took the opportunity to highlight how seriously the Council treated these issues. Whilst willing to facilitate a meeting to bring all sides together in order to try and find a way forward she also felt there was a need to be clear, in order to address the concerns being raised, on the reasons for the fence having been installed from a safeguarding perspective.