The provision of vehicle crossovers in Barnet – a critique

The Barnet Local Plan (Core Strategy) Development Plan Document emphasises the Three Strands approach with the second Strand being the ”enhancement and protection of Barnet’s suburbs” 10.7.1 says “… characterisation study identified the SEVERE (our emphasis) impact off off-street parking and consequential loss of front gardens..”, leading us to Policy CS5 which states “..protect and enhance the gardens of residential properties..” This was primarily in the context of back-garden development, but in the light of 10.7.1 it should equally apply to front gardens. But the only attempt at meaningful measures is in in the Development Management Policy document at 2.10.7 saying “Changes to front gardens …such as paving over…can cumulatively affect the character of an area, often in a harmful way. The council expects changes to front gardens to consider the wider impact on character… “ In other words – no control measures are to be put in place, we merely have an exhortation to residents which is reflected in the guidance on crossover applications. The result, as is widely evident, is that few residents pay any heed to this advice. Indeed, for smaller frontages, mainly terraced housing, the provision of space for a car, waste bins, and footways from pavement to front door and connections to car and bins makes room for planting impossible. If there is a genuine desire to protect front gardens, as the council states in the Local Plan, then much stronger measures are evidently needed.

The sole reason for the wholesale loss of front gardens is to provide hard standing for vehicle parking. Here we bring in the policies of Highways. When we first enquired why the council apparently favoured crossovers we were told:

‘It helps to maintain the road and improves the traffic flow.’ We considered then, and still do that these arguments were absurd except perhaps on main roads. Maintenance is facilitated by notices and barriers – whether vehicles are normally present is irrelevant, and on residential roads parked cars create obstacles that reduce rat-running and slow the traffic – something most residents would regard as a positive.

The second and most significant argument put to us was that ‘except in limited circumstances the 1984 Road Traffic Act conveys a right to a crossover’. Puzzled that some councils allow few crossovers we researched the issue and learned that in 2000 a High Court judgement in a case brought by Westminster Council overruled the 1984 Act by concluding that councils could take other factors into account. Thus factors such as the negative impact on the streetscape or the loss of communal parking are valid reasons for refusing crossovers. Neighbouring Brent and Camden are councils which have used the 2000 judgement to put restrictions in place that have reduced crossovers to a trickle. The impact of the policy adopted by individual councils may be seen for numbers of crossovers constructed over the three years 2008 to 2010 (Obtained under FOI requests):

Islington 23, Camden 28, Brent 43, Hammersmith &; Fulham 119, Harrow 827, Barnet 850, Enfield 2623. So whilst Barnet is not alone in having a liberal approach to granting crossovers these figures demonstrate that if a council has the will the numbers can be curtailed.

Brent’s policy is particularly instructive (quoted in part)

“… the following will be resisted …where they would detract from the character of the area:

  1. The loss of paving, front walls, railings or hedges of character and common to the street ..
  2. Hard-surfacing occupying more than half of a front garden area
  3. Forecourt parking where this would detract from the streetscape or setting of the property”

But despite the high-quality housing in Barnet that ought to warrant protection, astonishingly Barnet has gone further in the opposite direction. Until 1991 crossovers were allowed without restrictions, but it was recognised that ‘parallel parking’ allowed for shallow frontages resulted in excessive loss of kerb space to parking and vehicle movements obstructed the footway. Restrictions were brought in requiring that cars should cross the footway in a single movement, should park at 90 degrees to the road and (to ensure the latter) the property should have a minimum of depth of 4.5 metres to facilitate the hard standing area. This ‘4.5 metre’ rule protected smaller properties, especially the large number of Victorian terraces in the Borough.

In 2007 the 4.5 metre rule was abandoned to facilitate parking for small ‘green’ vehicles such as smart cars and electric cars. In questioning the then Head of Highways about the sense of this proposal we were assured there would be no return to parallel parking, but got no answer as to what controls would be exercised if the green car disappeared and the facility was abused by parking larger cars. The requirements to move from the highway in a single movement and park at 90 degrees to the property, and that the vehicle should not overhang the footway were retained. Our concern was that areas characterised by shallow frontages such as those found in High Barnet and East Finchley would suffer a degrading of the streetscape as a result of this change in policy.

We have followed a number of crossover applications for shallow frontages and in no instance have we found that a ‘green’ car prevailed. In two instances we noted that a smart car appeared to support the crossover application but was disposed of immediately following the construction of the crossover, and in another there was no pretence of ever obtaining a smart car. In all three of these cases the impact on the streetscape of destroying small frontages was severe - front walls wholly removed and the gardens completely paved. In two cases the occupiers have claimed the kerbside adjacent to the crossover as a private parking space, so no help for ‘maintenance’ or ‘traffic flow’ as the council apparently desires. In the third case the occupier had openly admitted the intention of parking a larger car but pressure from neighbours stopped that. However this crossover is in a CPZ and currently what should be a communal parking place in a street where parking is under pressure is lost to a yellow line in front of the unused crossover.

It is a fact that small green cars have not taken off. The policy designed to facilitate them is at best not achieving its aim and, at worst - and indeed what is largely happening,- is being manipulated to provide parking for larger cars or to allow occupiers to claim the kerb space for themselves. A suspicion is that the council was well aware of what would happen which raises the question of why it went down this route. One possible explanation, given Highways evident enthusiasm for crossovers, was that the number of crossover applications was tailing off so extending crossovers to shallower frontages was a way of keeping the numbers up.

Policies do require that the hard standing should be constructed in such a way that water does not run off onto the Highway. In practice many homeowners ignore this and hard standing areas continue to be constructed without adequate drainage.

A further issue, and again a concern ignored by Barnet, is that the puncturing of the kerbside with a series of crossovers, each removing just a single car from the road, often reduces the overall available parking space. This is evident, for example, in parts of Fitzjohn Avenue and Bedford Avenue in High Barnet. Westminster will not consider a crossover unless the loss of a single kerb space facilitates the removal of at least three cars off road.

Every other council that we are aware of has retained a minimum depth requirement of 4 to 5 metres for the hard standing area. Given the extensive high quality Victorian and Edwardian terraced streetscapes that we have in the Borough it is deeply disappointing that protection policies have not been put into place as other councils have done. At the very least the discredited ‘green car’ policy should be abandoned and the 4.5 metre rule restored.

Gordon Massey

Barnet Residents Association         October 2013 (revised March 2014)