Residents of a quiet North London neighbourhood have been left ‘horrified’ over plans to turn the community buildings in a local park into a hotel and shop. More than 1,000 people signed a petition to stop the work, with some now calling for ‘community action’ to physically prevent the development from going ahead.
Barham Park in Sudbury, Wembley, was the home of successful business owners, the Barham family, from around 1895 to 1937. It was the home of Titus Barham and his wife from 1913 until his death in 1937, where he had arranged to hand over the property and gardens “for the enjoyment of local people”. Officially classed as a village until the 1920’s, residents say it has retained that ‘village feel’.
The park is now managed by Brent Council, on behalf of the people of Brent, through the Barham Park Trust. The five trustees of this charity are members of the council executive and headed by council leader, Cllr Muhammed Butt.
The trustees want to spend £3.2 million on “renovating and reconfiguring” a group of mock Tudor buildings in the park, which are currently occupied by charitable community-based organisations providing community services, including a library, art studio, veterans social club, and an association of Nepalese Gurkha. There is concern about what would happen to them if the plans go ahead.
Jane, 67, has been renting out one of the park’s 29 art studios from the current tenant, Acava, for the past year and “loves it”. She is deeply concerned about the plans to commercialise the community buildings. Jane told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “I can’t believe it, it’s appalling. I really don’t want that to happen, it’s difficult to find art studios as there aren’t many available.”
“This one’s great because it’s got a bit of history behind it, it’s beautiful and it just lends itself to the work. It’s part of the whole community. Jane says the location is “unique”, she believes shops and hotels would detract from the view and it would become “just the same as everywhere else”.
According to the trustees, the commercial development is needed to help pay for the building’s necessary repair work and fund the upkeep of the park by making it “more cost effective to run”. Architectural plans, commissioned by the trustees and costing £25,000, suggest the buildings could be turned into a mixture of a boutique hotel, Airbnb, offices, a café, and shops.
As well as changing the landscape, the development could also mean the loss of several community spaces, which Jane calls “essential” to people in the area. She feels the current tenants are being “forced out” and fears losing the buildings, particularly the library, could result in the loss of some important local history.
Jane said: “Whilst I’ve been here I’ve got more and more interested in the history. It has to be preserved. [The development plan] is just to make money, it’s not a service that we need. We have enough shops and hotels already. I’m not even sure what a boutique hotel is.”
Gathered in the area where the Barham family’s former manor house used to sit, Vinod, 49, and his friends were chatting and playing games as they do every day. The group have been coming to the park together “for many, many years”, Vinod explains that it has changed a lot since he first moved here in the early 1990’s..
He said: “The cleanliness, the litter, it’s all got worse. There’s more fly-tipping so you’ve also got more rats coming. We know about the development plans and we are not happy, having a shop and a hotel will only make things like the littering worse.”
Vinrod says any commercialisation of the park would “spoil the environment completely”. He said: “People will come and go without caring much for the area. […] Already there’s newspapers and food left everywhere – there’s bins provided but they don’t use them.
For community and historical reasons, Vinrod believes keeping the buildings as they are is “hugely beneficial” to the local area. He said: “It would destroy the history of the park so no one will know what was here before, we should be keeping our history. It’s just about money, it will be good for the council but not for local residents.”
As well as the commercialisation of community buildings, there are also plans to demolish two existing residential properties in the park and replace them with four three-storey, three-bedroom homes, much to the fury of residents and the Barham family.
Resident Douglas Lee, 65, said he was “horrified” to hear of the development plans in the park, calling them a “red line you must not cross”. He believes allowing this to get ahead could start a domino effect for further projects. Douglas said: “The park is for the good of the people, to change that would be an absolute disgrace”.
He added: “Once you break that commitment, it starts to be one building over here and another one there. [The council] are breaking the good will of the people they represent. I think it’s time for community action, we should physically stop any development.”
Douglas thinks all of the community groups need to be supported and described the idea of putting a hotel in the park as “crazy”. He said: “People are unhappy with this because they are beautiful buildings, those and the surrounding environment really compliment each other.”
Sudbury’s local councillor and director of the Friends of Barham Library – the library’s charitable trust – Paul Lorber, has called the plans “ludicrous” and is campaigning to stop them. Having lived in Sudbury since 1980 and been a local councillor on and off since 1982, Cllr Lorber says he “knows how important this place is to people”.
He said: ““I’m a resident, I pay my council tax to maintain parks – whether it’s this park or any of the other parks in the borough – so it’s perfectly reasonable that part of my council tax goes towards maintaining Barham Park.”
He added: “The council, for some reason, has taken the view that this park has to be entirely self-funding because it’s held under this charity umbrella. I think that’s totally wrong, there should be a base cost that the council contributes.”
With the rent taken from the current tenants, as well as the park playing host to a number of events throughout the year, Cllr Lorber suggests there is in the region of £100k of income being generated. He claims this should be enough to pay for the everyday maintenance and for anything else money can be raised through available grants.
Friends of Barham Library helped to raise £30k to build the park’s pond, as well as supporting the council to get £100k for the silver jubilee garden. The trust says it doesn’t want to “continuously be battling” with the council and claims that if local people are properly engaged with then they will contribute to maintaining the park.
The hotel would be for people attending Wembley stadium but Cllr Lorber thinks this is excessive for the 25 events staged there each year. He said: “For three-hundred or so days a year there will be no demand so it’s going to be empty. It’s ludicrous.”
Cllr Lorber said: “As soon as you start commercialising the park, it will have an unfavourable impact on it. It will impact the park as high streets are impacted. You only have to go to Sudbury town unfortunately these days, the bins are overflowing, there’s rubbish everywhere, there is dumping – we don’t want that in a public park and it’s almost an inevitable consequence.”
He added: “People are upset about all of the building work that goes on, the tower blocks, this is a haven from that. That’s why it’s so important to preserve it and not destroy it. My boys first learned to ride their bikes in this park, it was the first library that they went to so of course I am passionate and bonkers about this park, it means so much to people.”
At a recent meeting of the Barham Park Trust (September 5), the council’s director of environment and leisure, Chris Whyte, emphasised that the plans are “entirely hypothetical” at this stage and simply give an overview of “what might be possible at the site”.
He added: “It also gives a commitment about what is needed to fund such a development and whether that is possible. It also gives a true and meaningful commitment to undergo a proper consultation with tenants once it’s agreed that funding might be available and we have a valid project that we can take forward.”