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Brent's Alex Hearn: ‘We want decent streets’

Alex Hearn, regeneration officer for the London Borough of Brent, explains the local authority’s different approach to social housing projects

What schemes are you working on at the moment?
We have six developments at different stages of delivery. These include a 153-home scheme by PRP, which has just finished, and a 133-home project by Rick Mather, which is currently nearing completion on a former roundabout on London’s Kilburn Park Road. We have also been working to get planning permission for a redevelopment of the Bronte House and Fielding House tower blocks [229 homes] by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and Alison Brooks.

What is your future focus as a local authority and where could architects help?
The nuts and bolts of the programme are about providing new homes for residents and we will continue to need good architects for this. But we’re not interested in replacing one estate with another. What we want is to create decent streets that lead to places where you can work, learn, shop and play. We’re delivering new public spaces and have some things in the pipeline for health and education projects. We’re also doing some temporary-use projects on sites that are awaiting development. Instead of paying to board up the sites with hoardings, it makes better sense to use them in a way that is good for the local people and generates interest in what we’re doing.

How have the past 12 months been for yourselves in terms of pushing schemes forward?
Busy. In 12 months we’ve progressed planning applications for nearly 370 homes on two difficult sites, agreed the disposal of 208 homes to a developer partner and gone through a compulsory purchase order.

How do you ensure design quality remains throughout the delivery of a scheme?
We employ them architects up to RIBA Stage D and then sell the development and the permission. The development agreement requires them to build what has been designed and approved by the local planning authority, and there is a procedure for considering changes.

Are you looking for architects for any projects?
There will be plenty of work over the next few years but, as ever, we are bound by local-authority procurement regulations, which don’t always favour the smaller practices. We often have to move quickly, so we can’t spend six months going through an OJEU process to get a design team. We used the old Design for London framework last year and look forward to the Greater London Authority renewing it as there were some very good practices there. For temporary-use projects, we’re interested in speaking with small and young practices that might have barmy ideas but can get on and deliver them.

What is your favourite Brent project in recent years – and what is your favourite regeneration project elsewhere?
Despite all the big things being built in Brent at the moment - not least in South Kilburn and our new Hopkins-designed Civic Centre in Wembley my favourite is South Kilburn Studios. Amazing what you can achieve with next to no money and the involvement of very talented people. 
Outside of the borough I’m a big fan of AHMM’s Anne Mews in Barking – good bricks, windows and straight lines. 

What are you most proud of achieving?
Being able to see people moving into their lovely new homes.  It proves the model works and now we are up and running we can keep going and going. 

What kind of help, in terms of regeneration, would you want central government to give you?
Cash. 

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