Newsletter February 2016

Members will be well aware of the overheated property market in central London – not just soaring prices, but new blocks of flats towering ever higher, international investors buying up properties then leaving them empty, and the fashion for digging out vast basements. You might believe that such excesses are not happening all the way out here on the fringes of London. But they are. In our previous newsletter we warned of a property tsunami hitting High Barnet. So it should be no surprise that property developments dominate this issue, reminding us just how much and how quickly our town is changing.

MEMBERSHIP 500 AND RISING

500th MemberWe thought we would share a cheery note before getting on to the usual heavier and sometimes rather gloomy news. In October we recruited our 500th member, Liz Camisa from Arkley, seen here being signed up by our Chairman/Editor Gordon Massey. We have come a long way since BRA was reactivated in 2006 with just 215 members, after being dormant for six years. We have recently had a further surge in new members and the total now stands at 549. A strong and growing membership is vitally important to us. When we meet with organisations we are trying to influence they often ask how many members we have. A figure of 500+ does seem to generate a certain respect. This brings us to reminding those members whose subscriptions for 2016 are now due that an invitation to renew is enclosed with this newsletter.

SPIRES REDEVELOPMENT - INSPIRED OR NOT?

We know that many members took an interest in the consultation on the phase of the redevelopment of The Spires. We summarised comments that members sent to us and passed them on to the developers. The planning application is now with the council (ref 16/0288/FUL) and given the short time between the completion of the consultation and the submission of the application we are not surprised that there are few changes. However the application does acknowledge the input of ourselves and others and fairly reflects the fact that in principle we supported the plans.

The essential components of the redevelopment remain as in the consultation – a large two storey fashion shop along one side of the East Courtyard (lots of interest in who it might be – hmm….), conversion of four shops in the West Courtyard to provide three restaurants, and yorkstone surfacing throughout as used in the previous phase for part of the area. The frontage of the fashion outlet has been redesigned to remove the fussy and not very elegant features which attracted a lot of criticism during the consultation.

Spires Shopping Centre insideThere is a strongly expressed indication that further redevelopment phases will follow and the plans do include some visionary thoughts. The continued conversion of the centre from an enclosed shopping mall to an open ‘street’ is an overriding concept, but what will attract a lot of attention are the ideas for what might happen to the area between the existing shops and St Albans Rd. There are a lot of potentially controversial suggestions here, including the market becoming a street market located along both sides of sides of Stapylton Rd, demolition of the houses in Chipping Close and at the junction of St Albans Rd/Stapylton Rd, and part of the Territorial Army site being redeveloped for further retail provision. Our view is that these ideas are very speculative indeed and they should not be taken too seriously at this stage.

If the planning application proceeds as intended the owners hope to have the restaurants in place by the end of 2016 and the fashion shop open in 2017. Meantime the closure of Burton/Dorothy Perkins and the imminent closure of Take 5 is another step in the long decline of small clothing outlets in the town, and will leave The Spires with seven empty shops – more than on the whole of the High St. The only recent arrival is a short-lease outlet selling assorted household goods. This is a decidedly sorry state of affairs but we fear that things are unlikely to get better until the redevelopment work is completed. We hope there are no major delays to the plans.

LITTLE RED BROOK (with apologies to Chairman Mao)

New terraced houses, Brook Valley Gardens, BarnetBrook Valley Gardens, Barnet

The first phase of the Brook Valley Gardens development is well advanced with several streets completed. It is now possible to get a feel for how the whole site will finally look. The design of the properties is ambitiously modern and is bound to attract mixed views. The absence of soft edges to the properties, the dominance of parking spaces at ground level and the very limited planting does produce a rather austere feel to the area. However many of the properties are much more affordable than elsewhere in our locality, even with prices up to £600,000, and appear to be having no trouble attracting occupants.

But all is not quite what it seems. We were surprised to learn that a local resident who was passing through Hong Kong happened to see a local property newspaper and was amazed to find an advertisement for investment opportunities in ….. yes …. . Brook Valley Gardens. We have been advised that Chinese investors have indeed been buying some of the properties, though as far as we know they are being let. All rather strange, and disappointing given that half of the existing social tenants will have to move away. This is a consequence of the globalised economy – now to be found on a doorstep near you.

WHALEBONES PARK UNDER THREAT

Whale Bones, BarnetWhalebones Park, Barnet

Whalebones Park is the expanse of land running from the junction of Wood St and Wellhouse Lane to the boundary of the site of the derelict nurses homes behind Elmbank Ave. Whalebones House and the woodland surrounding it is in private ownership but the rest of the site, mainly used as a farm, is owned by a Charity, The Gwyneth Cowing Foundation. The trustees of the Charity have approached the Council asking for the site to be designated as suitable for housing, and we believe they have been in discussion with housing developers. The site is in the Wood St conservation area and previous attempts to build on the site have had planning permission refused. We have approached the trustees asking for a meeting but so far they have been unwilling to talk to us. It is early days, but we anticipate there will be considerable local resistance to any proposed new development. We should make it clear that the house owner, the farmer and the Guild of Artists who have a building on the site are not parties to the approach to the Council.

We did broadly support the proposed redevelopment of the adjacent nurses home site to provide 114 new homes (classified as brownfield land and not in the conservation area). The planning application has been deferred pending further consideration of the proportion of ‘affordable’ homes (21% proposed), the adequacy of parking provision on the site, and access to/from the main road.

PROTECTING FAMILY HOMES

There is a constant danger that the pressure to create ever more flats above the shops in our High Street could spill over into our established residential streets. The Council has a policy of protecting family homes and continues to resist their conversion to flats except in limited locations – for example very large houses on main roads which families are less likely to want, or in areas where the wholesale conversion to flats has already taken place and families no longer find the area appealing. In our area, apart from Station Rd, house-to-flat conversions have been few and they invariably occurred before the current policy was adopted.

But owners and developers keep on trying to mutilate our houses. We do have our differences with the Council planners but in this area they remain firmly on side. A recent application to convert a terraced house in Mays Lane to two flats was rejected saying it would result in ’poor and substandard form of residential accommodation’. A similar application in Milton Avenue was rejected saying it would be ‘… out of character with the area which largely comprises houses in single family occupancy’. An application to enlarge a detached house in Manorside and convert it to six flats was also rejected saying it would be ‘…unduly bulky and an overly prominent and incongruous feature in the area, out of character with the host property and general locality … poor and substandard form of residential accommodation to the detriment of future occupiers’. A rather different application in Plantagenet Rd proposing to demolish business premises and build flats on the site was again rejected on the grounds that it offered sub-standard accommodation.

We are grateful to the Council for being so firm. But we have noticed how few objections from nearby residents there were in response to these planning applications. The Council are doing a good job, but indifference or complacency in response to undesirable planning applications could ultimately be the undoing of our attractive residential streets. We do need residents to step up to the plate and let the Council know when they are not happy. It is easy to register an objection on-line.

There is also an ever present threat of unauthorised conversions by unscrupulous owners simply ignoring the planning process. This is where vigilant residents can play a part. If a house near you is being converted to flats it is probably illegal. You can check with the Council or contact us and we will advise what to do.

SMALL CHANGE IN THE SHOPS

Caffe Nero, BarnetBurrito Shack, Barnet

After the Christmas and early sales trading we braced ourselves for more shop closures. But this year, apart from Dorothy Perkins/Burton, Take 5 and Sportec, we appear to have escaped unscathed. Before Christmas we said goodbye to Harris & Hoole but they passed on the lease to Café Nero. Otherwise the only recent openings have been Tax Assist Accountants near the station and the Burrito Shack in the premises previously occupied by 89. The ‘Shack’ really does look like a shack, which seems odd to us but presumably this is all part of a sophisticated marketing strategy. 74 High St, formerly Home & Tidy, is to become an undertakers. The proposed frontage should be a world better than what we have now.

NOT COMING TO A BACK GARDEN NEAR YOU

A further blight is the sale of large back gardens to developers for new properties to be constructed. The Council has a policy of resistance but the applications still come in. In Leicester Rd there was a recent proposal to demolish a family home and replace it with a block of four flats to the front and a further four flats to the rear of the garden. On this occasion residents responded in force and the 41 objections would have helped the Council in issuing a firm refusal. There is an a similar application in Lytton Rd, but worryingly only four objections have been recorded. The decision is still pending and we will be watching this one very carefully.

BASEMENT BLUES AND OTHER EXTENSIONS

Yet another blight. It’s not just multi-millionaires in Belgravia who want to mimic the lifestyle of voles and dig out enormous basements under their houses. Apart from the risk of property foundations being disturbed, a particular hassle for neighbours is that work can go on for up to a year. We do know of one basement extension in our area that was approved by the Council a couple of years ago, but in recent months the idea seems to have gained momentum. In the last three months we have noted five such planning applications. One that involved a proposed car lift has been refused, but one other with a basement car park has been approved, and as we write the other three are awaiting a decision. We believe the Council is less than enamoured with the basement concept, but they are obliged to decide applications on the basis of planning law.

Over recent years the Government has relaxed planning law governing house extensions. Using these ‘permitted development’ concessions it is now possible to construct loft extensions and build out sideways and backwards without the need for planning permission. We are aware that as the economy has picked up there have been a lot of new extensions in our area, and some people can be unhappy with what their neighbours are doing. We have put on our website a short guide to what is a permissible without the need for planning consent.

YET MORE FLATS ON THE HIGH STREET

Home and Tidy, BarnetMetro Cabs, Barnet

The planning applications keep on rolling in, the majority having a common theme of packing in above and behind the shops as many small flats as the planners will allow. In and around the High St recent applications include conversion of upper floors and a large rear extension at 46-48 High St (Londis) to create nine flats; a roof extension and alterations to the first floor at 74-78 High St (Emchai) to increase the number of flats to nine (eight years ago the first floor was adapted to provide four flats); rear of 128 -140 High St conversion of offices to five flats; a rear extension to 2 Moxon St (where the taxi office is located) and conversion of offices to flats. A decision is still awaited on 70 High St (After Office Hours) where seven new flats are proposed for the upper floors. The planning application for rebuilding the frontage in Moxon St occupied by Checkalow tiles is expected soon. Nothing yet on the now derelict site in Moxon St formerly occupied by the garage and car wash. This site is owned by the same people who own 60/62 High St (see below) and also own 74-78 High St discussed above. They are based in Hendon, operating under a variety of company names..

As well as those in the pipeline a number of projects around the High St have recently been completed, with mixed results:

……The Good …….

Magistrates Court now flats, BarnetWe can at long last see the completed conversion of the former Magistrates Court to flats. We engaged in a hard campaign, supported by many members, to stop demolition and replacement with a bland block of flats. The finished product fully justifies the effort to save this landmark building. To be fair to the developers, having once accepted the refusal of their original planning application they have done an excellent job with the conversion.

The exterior is essentially undisturbed and we are especially pleased that they did not pursue an earlier idea of building a modern extension to the rear.

A little further up the High Street the renovation of the Conservative Club is complete. Here again the conversion work involving the re-alignment of the roof to accommodate a flat with a dormer window and the conversion of the upper two floors to flats has been undertaken with appropriate sensitivity. A slate roof and renovation of the original windows has preserved the historical authenticity of this attractive building. The Conservative Club continues to function by leasing the ground floor from the developer. In the centre of the High St the frontage and roof above Boots Opticians/Cancer Research has been tastefully altered to provide new dormer windows and a slate roof with sash windows below.

Cancer Research and Boots Opticians, BarnetConservative Club, Barnet

It is perhaps no coincidence that the developer of both of these properties lives in the area, and so has a personal stake in the well-being of the town. Alas the same cannot be said of many developers who have no interest whatsoever in the attractiveness or suitability of the buildings they construct or alter.

Also pleasing, and mentioned in the previous newsletter, is Oakdale Lodge in Tapster Street. There is nothing particularly distinctive about this new block of flats but, having a traditional pitched roof and sash windows, it does blend in well with other buildings around, both old and new.

…… The Bad ……

Insensitive Georgian window replacements, BarnetRarely does a couple of months pass by without someone blatantly disregarding the controls in the conservation areas. This time the owners of 60/62 High St, a large property owning group who should know better, have ripped out the Georgian windows (as seen in the adjacent building) and put in nondescript plastic replacements. As ever, we have complained to the Council and they tell us an enforcement notice has been issued. Similar action has been taken with several other transgressions but as we know the Council struggles to make headway if the enforcement notice is simply ignored, which it usually is. The alteration to 60/62 is particularly galling as the run from no 48 (Londis) up to the Patisserie Joie de Vie is remarkably well preserved above shop level. But as we have previously seen, once a precedent is set we can expect other buildings to be similarly degraded.

Flooring shop, BarnetAt no 141 High St (above the carpet shop) there was a planning application to add an extra floor. We weren’t thrilled with the idea but decided not to oppose the planning application because the design carefully replicated the appearance of the lower floors. The application proudly claimed ‘the construction materials have been carefully selected to achieve a high standard of design. The proposed building materials have been specially chosen to match and complement the host commercial building.’ Pull the other one is all we can say. What has been built is nothing like what was approved. Instead of being curved the extension is constructed in a series of straight lines, the cladding has the appearance of a beach hut and the windows neither match nor nowhere near align with those below. Although not especially visible to people immediately below the building, the full horror is evident from some distance away. Welcome to shanty town. So yet another complaint to the Council …….

And more of the same. At 13-15 High St (was Ioannou accountants) this formerly quietly attractive two storey building has been utterly butchered with the removal of the variable height parapet and two bland upper floors substituted, including what looks like a portacabin on the roof. The whole of the building will be used to house flats. When Crompton House was built next door we commented on the awful roof ‘box’ and feared that this would set a precedent for similar indignities to be inflicted on the High St, and we take no pleasure in being proved right. We also now have three buildings in a row with exactly the same roofline, destroying the attractive falling gradient of the rooflines that previously characterised the lower end of the High St. We blame the planners for approving the height and the ‘box’, but to make matters worse yet again what has been built is not what was approved. The second storey was to have windows that replicated those on the first floor and the attractive parapet was to be replicated above the second floor. What has been built is characterless square windows to the second floor with the parapet above just a plain straight line. There has not even been an attempt to match the brickwork. Another shoddy outcome where cheapness is evidently more important than any concern for appearance. Do take a look.

…… and The Ugly ……

Former bank, 85 High Street, BarnetAt 85 High St (most recently Specs Direct) an application to convert the upper floors to flats, involving major alterations to the frontage, was approved by the Planning Committee much to our dismay. As this is a locally listed building and in the conservation area we would have expected that resisting alterations to the frontage should be sacrosanct unless there was a cast-iron case for change. Alas this did stop the plans being approved and we do consider the proposed alterations will be detrimental to the appearance of this building. And we have an unfortunate precedent for future proposed changes to ostensibly protected buildings.

THUMBS DOWN FOR BRAKE SHEAR HOUSE PLANS

This scheme featured at length in our October newsletter. We emailed members with details of the public consultation meeting in Tudor Hall organised by the developers, and were very pleased to see such a good turnout at this busy event. The developers should be given credit for giving the public the opportunity to scrutinise and discuss their plans before they put in a planning application. Indeed the plans on view had been worked up in considerable detail – and that was the problem. There were no alternatives on offer and the more we discussed the plans with the developers the more we realised they were firmly locked into what they had come up with. In the end we wrote to them saying we didn’t like the plans at all. We wait to see if they go back to the drawing board or submit a planning application with the proposals unchanged.

BURGLARIES ALERT

There has been another upsurge in burglaries in our two wards. In the Met Police area only 6% of burglaries are solved and in Barnet the figure is even worse at just 3%. So if you are burgled it is almost certain that you will not recover any of your lost possessions. But it is still important to report the crime. The police do carefully record the locations of burglaries and endeavour to focus their resources on known ‘hot spots’. They should visit all burglary victims and offer crime prevention advice including alerting residents in the immediate area. If someone is willing to take on the task of co-ordinator, Neighbourhood Watch can still be useful.

AND BRIEFLY ……

We were told that the proposed pedestrian crossing in Wellhouse Lane would be in place by Christmas. We checked back and realised the Council didn’t say which Christmas. We live in hope.

The possible remodelling of the High St/Wood St road junction including changes to the pedestrian crossing outside the College is being progressed. In the spring the experimental closure of the turns from Wood St to the High St and vice versa should commence and run for up to six months. We are aware that some members have reservations about these closures and we would welcome comments once the experiment is in place.

Though Council parking spaces around the town centre are consistently full at peak times there are still issues that need to be considered, especially the continued presence of commuters in spaces which could better be used for short-term parking. We have put a paper on our website that sets out our views and, yet again, are trying to get the Council to look at the issues that we wish to see progressed.

The application to register the White Lion pub as an Asset of Community Value was successful. The former tyre depot next door is now a car wash on a short lease, suggesting the owners may be waiting to see if the White Lion comes up for sale. We are examining whether BRA might seek to get The Bull Theatre registered.

The planning application for a rear extension to Barnet Museum was rejected much to the surprise of many. The Museum recently suffered the death of its highly-regarded curator Gillian Gear, and has still to secure agreement with Barnet Council terms for its continuing tenancy of the Wood St building. We wish the Museum team well in the face of all their difficulties.

The proposed move of the market to the bandstand did not take place as we anticipated as not all the traders were happy. We gather it is still being considered, but in the meantime one of the three long-standing fruit and veg stalls has ceased trading.

The council are considering a consultation with residents in Elmbank Ave and the Well Rd area, and possibly Bells Hill, on whether they would like a Controlled Parking Zone. There is a major problem with all-day parking by hospital staff. We have concerns with the potential knock-on effect if a CPZ is agreed. There would inevitably be some displacement of cars to other uncontrolled roads close to the hospital and patient parking could become even more difficult.

The buildings for the 25 flats that will form the Older Women’s Co-operative Housing scheme in Union Street are well advanced. We look forward to the completion of this innovative scheme and learning how it all works out in practice.

Graseby House, currently providing accommodation for sixty students with a spa on the ground floor, is to be sold by the College for redevelopment as ….. no surprise here …… flats.