Newsletter October 2017

The Mayor of London has published his draft housing strategy, aiming to build 50,000 new homes a year. It is a radical plan and comes with the statement that “it will mean medium rise developments across a much broader swathe of London”. It doesn’t say that ‘medium rise’ can be up to 10 storeys (which we think is high rise, certainly in the context of a low rise suburban area). This ambition is qualified by saying that building more densely in the right places will improve access to jobs and services within walking/cycling distance of local amenities and public transport, reducing reliance on car ownership. The massive developments proposed for the Pentavia, National Institute for Medical Research sites and the North London Business Park do not fit this model, all being characterised by a complete absence of nearby amenities and public transport being just limited bus services. So it is pleasing that the Mayor has so far been true to his vision and supported the Council in rejecting the NLBP scheme. The Mayor has also published his draft transport strategy with lots of wonderful schemes for new rail lines and curbs on car usage – except there is nothing at all on offer for north of the North Circular Road. If the worst happens life in the outer suburbs could become very grim indeed – just dormitory blocks of high rise flats for workers travelling into the centre, that is assuming they can get there through the traffic jams and overcrowded trains. Anyone interested in either strategy can comment on line via consultation questionnaires.

YET MORE CONTROVERSIAL SCHEMES

single storey wooden building painted whiteThe premises occupied by Barnet Old People’s Welfare at the High St end of Salisbury Rd have been sold by The Spires management for redevelopment, even though the previous owners of The Spires bought the site from the council with the intention of using it to extend the shopping centre. The new owners, SAS Investments are a medium sized residential property developer. They have told us their outline plan is to build ten flats on the site along with ‘community provision’, though this will depend on the outcome of discussions with BOPW. They said they do not build ‘pastiche’, a term often used to denigrate what we (and Prince Charles) prefer to call ‘traditional’. We do not thrill to the idea of a contemporary building in the middle of our well preserved historic town.

Also looming is another potentially controversial development - the long derelict former Marie Foster home on Wood St, which is now for sale The agent’s details report a ‘positive pre-application response’ to the meeting between sellers NHS Property Services and Barnet’s planners. The outline scheme is for 74 flats, apparently up to five storeys, and seven houses. A contemporary design is indicated. The extensions to the former maternity hospital next door were meticulous in harmonising with the splendours of Wood St. It would be outrageous if something comparable is not being contemplated. The area proposed for redevelopment includes a significant green space to the rear featuring a number of mature trees. Of course, the eventual purchaser may well opt for a scheme entirely different to the one discussed with the planners.

And still on the subject of controversial sites, Whalebones continues to loom large. The Trustees held a public consultation event in June though there was no information beyond their earlier announcement that they wished to redevelop part of the site for housing. They said they would consult with the community once plans had been prepared, but they need to be quick if they want to keep to their stated intention of submitting a planning application by the end of the year. The owners of Whalebones House have been conducting their own survey of nearby residents to get thoughts on what they would like to see happen. There is still a lot of hostility to an extensive housing development, or indeed any development at all.

building with central door and two large windowssame building altered to change door to window and windows to doors and add dormer windows and first floor windows

We have previously grumbled about the planning approval for alterations to the locally listed 85 High St to facilitate the creation of two floors of flats above. During construction we noticed that the new first floor windows to the left had been placed way out of line with the approved position. We complained to the Council and were pleased that the developer was required to reposition the window. But the reinstated brickwork is a mess – it looks like the workmen threw the mortar at it from the opposite side of the street. We also hope that the new door will be stained to match the repositioned original, though the workmen seem to have left the site. The paintwork above the first floor was not redone and is flaking. Such is the indifference of some developers to our built heritage or the aesthetics of what they create. Members can make their own judgment from the photos whether these changes ought to have been allowed.

building with pointed roofboarded up shop

The 100-seat extension to the front of the Catholic Church in Union St, is now finished, increasing capacity by more than a third. A more contentious outcome in Union St was the rejection of an application to replace the long-closed shop at no 63A with two flats. This followed the rejection of a previous application to build a single house there. It is difficult to see what might now be done to replace what is a redundant eyesore.

Another contentious planning application is the proposal to replace the car wash on St Albans Rd with a mixed office/residential scheme. It has been rejected twice by the planners and has now gone to appeal. We opposed this contemporary design in a location surrounded by several attractive historic buildings.

Yet another rejected scheme subject to appeal is the proposal to add an extra floor of flats to Wessex Court in West End Lane, which we and residents opposed mainly on the grounds of overdevelopment.

half-timbered building with no roofnew block of flats with bay windows

The redevelopment of the former After Office Hours has been in abeyance for a long time pending a legal agreement with the Council for the partial closure of the High St when required. Members who regularly drive past there must be grimacing at the thought. It will be a tricky job as there is no rear access and the redevelopment involves the complete demolition of the existing building, which has now commenced with the removal of the roof and the interior. On Alston Rd the new block of flats is approaching completion – definitely pastiche, or traditional depending on your point of view. Not a stunning piece of architecture but we consider it ok as do most residents we have spoken to, though the front doors look ghastly..

Around the High St developers have been falling over themselves to convert floors above shops to flats, or to add additional floors for residential use such as nos 85 and 108-112. But some proposals are beyond the pale. We opposed recent applications to build flats above the rear at no 5A (Eurofood and Wine), no 20 (Lux Lighting), and no 133 (Kentucky Fried Chicken), and were pleased to see all three refused.

H&M OPENS

new H and M clothes shopmarket stall, bandstand and pizza van

It’s been a long wait, but the most ambitious retailing endeavour in our area since The Spires was first built is now a reality. A lot hangs on how well it does, though the first day was very promising. The shells of the two restaurants are now ready but The Spires management have been tight lipped about potential occupants. If they are struggling to get takers that is not good news. The bandstand site has perked up with the regular presence of a pizza van plus a Portuguese cake stall and a French cheese/deli stall on Saturdays. The main market remains at a low ebb - the sooner the stalls join the new arrivals on the bandstand the better.

UP IN SMOKE

Never a favourite of ours, to put it mildly, Guns and Smoke was repossessed by the landlord in August, presumably because of non-payment of rent. They were also in deep trouble over their alcohol licence which they lost a short while earlier following a string of infringements. The Council had continued to try and get the signage changed which never had planning approval. A prosecution was pending but we assume this will now be dropped. So we wait and see who comes next, keeping our fingers crossed that the presentation will be a lot more sensitive to the immediate surroundings.

….. AND MORE SHOP CLOSURES

shopsanother shop

There is a lot of unease that the economy may be heading into recession with high streets already feeling the chill. This may be why we have noticed a number of unwelcome closures of late. At the top end of the High St we have three empty shops in a row – the long closed plumbing shop has been joined by the closure of Fashion and Wine and the De Vere Letting Bureau, though the latter has moved into a nearby first floor office. On the opposite side Elixir hairdressers has proved to be very short-lived. Further down, opposite the Church, Barnet Superstore has closed, due to be replaced by a second branch of Costa Coffee, with the proposed new frontage likely to be a world better than what is there now. We hope it fares better than Expresso Workshop at the bottom end of the High St which has proved to be very short-lived.

2K argentinian steak housesushi aaki coming soon

Other High St changes include the Japanese restaurant Soku reinventing itself as an Argentine Steak House called 2K. There are steaks of all sizes up to 500g, though that could cost you £40. But Japanese foodies will still be able to get their fix. The closed cafe at the entrance to the Brake Shear House site is advertising the imminent arrival of a sushi bar with …er… bubble tea (answers on a postcard please).

village food centre turkish shopAt nos 108-112 in the middle of the High St, a rather surprising and certainly ambitious move is the intention of the Turkish grocer to expand into the two empty shops alongside. Quite how they intend to fill this enormous space is most intriguing, though we believe a bakery is likely. It does seem as though this enterprise is doing well, and maybe the more exotic offerings than we have had in more traditional greengrocers is a route to reviving this long declining sector. The whole block has approval for a rebuild including two floors of flats above the shops and new shop frontages, so it may be that the occupation of the three shops will only be temporary.

SHOULD THE ARK BE SCUTTLED?

artists impression of a new school landscaped with stepsA new planning application for the Underhill Stadium site was submitted in August. We were delighted to see that the junior school and nursery had been dropped, a major part of our objection to the earlier scheme, leaving just a 6 form entry (FE) secondary school which would reduce numbers by about one-third. This has ameliorated many of the earlier environmental concerns and the argument that the school was too big for the site. But having looked afresh at the proposals we have concluded that the school still ought not to be built, and accordingly have yet again objected. As before the public reaction has been very negative with several hundred objections lodged.

The bulge in births which created a shortage of places at junior level has now abated and there is evidence that European families have been going home because of Brexit concerns. So with this fall in demand it is no surprise that the junior school has been dropped. It is true that a bulge will carry through to secondary level, but a proper official analysis showing the extent and how long it will last has still not been forthcoming. The Council argued there will be a shortfall of 23FE at secondary level across the Borough. This was based on GLA population predictions, and having looked at these figures we do not disagree. BUT, closer examination reveals that for the seven wards closest to the Underhill site, which might reasonably be regarded as the maximum extent of the catchment area, the extra demand will be no more than 5FE. The under-subscribed Totteridge Academy could absorb 2FE, so the shortfall will be up to 3FE by 2020. However, looking further at the GLA figures we found that after 2020 numbers of secondary age children are predicted to fall, and by 2035 the demand for places across the seven wards should be lower than current levels. By then there would be an enormous over-supply of places in the area such that either the Ark Academy or Totteridge Academy would probably no longer be viable.

Much of the extra demand at junior level has been dealt with by creating extra temporary classes at some schools, but this appears not to have been considered at secondary level as we believe it should be. Of course, the Ark Academy could in all probability be filled both in the short term and the long term by shipping in children form a wider area, especially from the west of the Borough where the growth in demand for places is predicted to be far higher. But is this fair on the children who should have the opportunity to go to school locally, and is it sensible to add to the enormous and growing traffic problem that blights much of the Borough? We think not. A school similar to the Ark is needed, but it should be built much further west. Our objection to the planning application is on our website.

On a more cheerful note, we were pleased to see that Totteridge Academy achieved a major improvement in GCSE results this year. There is every hope that at last a corner has been turned now the school is under fresh stewardship in the form of the United Learning Academy group.

EXTENSIONS ARE NOT A FREE FOR ALL

Now a cautionary tale. No-one can have failed to notice the many extensions and loft conversions being added to houses in our area. Many of these are built under ‘permitted development’ rules, where there is no requirement to obtain planning permission (there is a guide on our website). But no-one should go ahead without being certain that their extension is lawful. One owner recently built a two-storey rear extension without seeking planning consent. Neighbours complained and the council demanded a retrospective planning application, which was then turned down. At best the owner is faced with an unsellable property, but the Council could enforce demolition if the owner does not do this voluntarily.

MERRIE HIGH BARNET

The Monk pub undergoing alterationsYe Olde Mitre Inn has always seemed to us to be a phoney concoction of a name, more redolent of Disneyland than real history, though the pub’s historic connections and physical features are genuine enough. The Monk on the other hand is a relatively modern building, though the site has a historic connection to monks on a pilgrimage to Ely Cathedral who stayed at the night shelter – or holt – that once stood there. Hence the pub’s former name Monken Holt. We took a dim view when new owners Greene King diminished the historical significance by just calling the pub The Monk. Greene King never replied to our complaint, but perhaps they did take notice as they are now intending to revive the former name as part of a major refurbishment. But when we complained maybe we over-egged the history bit as they now want to call the pub ….. yes …..’Ye Olde Monken Holt’. So here we go again with retronaff devaluing real history. One positive note is that the proposed new hanging sign is expected to proclaim ‘live sports’, so maybe there will be a nod to history with regular sessions of Bear Baiting and Cock Fighting.

NEW OFFICES WELCOME BUT …..

squat commercial building on a sloping roadSaxon House at the lower end of Moxon St, now empty, was an industrial unit used as warehousing, with two occupiers providing around 30 jobs. Planning permission has been granted to convert the building to offices with the potential for up to 170 occupants. With a lot of office space in our area being lost to residential accommodation these additional work spaces should be most welcome. But there is a snag – there will be no increase on the 21 parking spaces currently provided. We are concerned that Moxon St car park could be overwhelmed and the short-term visitors who use the town centre squeezed out. Nearby traders have told us that since the council introduced a four hour time limit, including one hour free, it has made a significant difference to their trade. Unfortunately commuters have been creeping back by simply buying two lots of four hour tickets. We have previously asked the Council to rectify this by imposing a ‘no return after four hours’ condition, but it has not yet happened. This is now imperative before the new offices come on stream.

HIGHWAYS MATTERS

The Chipping Barnet Area Committee decided that the proposal to permanently close the turning from Wood St to the High St should not be pursued but officers have been directed to produce a scheme to improve safety at the Wood St pedestrian crossing in front of the college.

The Area Committee also considered the response to the proposal to build out the pavements along a section of the High St. The objections from residents in Union St and Salisbury Rd to loading bays being placed there were accepted and so the existing bay on the High St outside Clarks will now remain. There was no resolution on the question of removing parking bays and officers were asked to look at this as part of a revised scheme. Further public consultation is expected, with recognition that this was not well handled when the previous scheme was put forward.

mini-roundabout in white paint with trees in the backgroundThe new mini-roundabout at the junction of Wood St and Wellhouse Lane does seem to be achieving its purpose of making life easier for ambulances and buses to turn out of Wellhouse Lane. But with the roundabout so offset from Wood St motorists approaching from the east are having difficulty in knowing what they should do. Some slowly navigate around the roundabout whilst others drive straight over without reducing speed. We have asked the council to look at the safety aspects as there does seem to be a risk of a collision.

Parking - we have long complained about Blue Badge abuse, especially around the High St, so it was pleasing to learn that the council has created two enforcement posts for two years to address this problem.

A petition from residents along Hadley Green for a 20mph limit attracted 213 signatures and was considered at the Area Committee meeting in July. There were representations from some residents who disagreed. The Council decided against the 20mph proposal, primarily because current policy is only to impose this limit around schools. A number of safety measures were approved, including a new unmarked crossing with a central refuge.

AND BRIEFLY ……..

small digger working on a narrow trench across a roadVirgin Media are now in the midst of fulfilling their promise to bring their own fast broadband service to our area. Unfortunately their system is independent of BT and this means laying their own fibre optic cables along all our pavements and in part also into to the road. This has proved very disruptive for residents and many of the pavements have not been replaced very well. Initial work has included the Fitzjohn Avenue area where residents have been informed that the pavements will be relayed in the coming weeks. We do hope so.

The GLA Regeneration Committee is undertaking a study of the health of town centres, with a report planned for the end of the year. This is a subject close to our hearts and we have submitted detailed comments based on our experience here in High Barnet, which can be viewed on our website.

The redevelopment of the Old Fold Manor Golf Course has been approved after being in abeyance for some two years. The project will involve a large volume of building site spoil being used to create an embankment close to St Albans Rd, though a tree screen will remain immediately adjacent to the road. A condition of the scheme is that the spoil trucks will approach from the north and not via our High St, which we hope will be more effective than the similar conditions imposed on the earlier scheme at The Shires Golf Club opposite.

The crowdfunding scheme for the proposed teenage market on the bandstand site has been successful in raising the target of £56,000, with £30,000 coming from the Mayor of London, £10,000 from the Spires’ owners plus large contributions from the Council and the College. We have donated £500. The money will purchase stalls and other equipment and fund staffing for a year. The intention is to open Easter 2018.

The police recently conducted a series of speed checks on Meadway over four consecutive days for just one hour each day. Over forty motorists doing 31-34 mph were stopped and cautioned and over twenty doing more than 34 mph were fined. Further checks are planned for our area. You have been warned!

Members are reminded that half term is the peak time of year for burglaries with darkened houses in the late afternoon a giveaway that no-one is at home. If you are going away or are out late afternoon do ensure you have the right security measures in place.

row of houses with square chimneysWe were very pleased when New Ground – the Older Women’s Cooperative Housing development in Union St - was overall winner of the prestigious 2017 Housing Design Awards. What you see on Union St is essentially the back of the property. To fully appreciate why this development is so well regarded, including the extensive landscaped gardens, it is necessary to view it from the inside. The property was available to visit on the London Open House weekend 16/17 September. We were unable to publicise it in time but we do hope the opportunity to visit will be repeated.

REPORTING PROBLEMS

close up of a classic wide Barnet kerbstone dislodged by being driven onSome members will recall the ‘Fix My Street’ service operated by the Council whereby problems such as dangerous paving stones, dislodged kerbstones or foliage overhanging pavements could be reported by email. This has been replaced by a similar scheme. Start by going to www.barnet.gov.uk. If you are using the system for the first time you will need to register – go to the top right hand corner of the Council’s homepage. You will be asked for an email address and required to create a password. You will be sent an email with a link to activate your account. Once you are logged on you will find a green button half way down the right hand side ‘Report a problem’.

MEMBERSHIP

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Membership Secretary, BRA, 71 Byng Rd., Barnet, Herts, EN5 4NP. For email addresses, see the Contact page.

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