Newsletter June 2016

The town centre continues to improve both in shop occupancy levels and presentation, albeit rather slowly, but all eyes are now on the forthcoming changes to the Spires. Planning applications for redevelopment around the town centre are still rolling in, as are innumerable domestic applications, mainly extensions that exceed the permitted development limits, but including some ambitious demolition and rebuild schemes. In recent months we have been very pleased that almost all the planning applications for which we have lodged objections or raised concerns have gone the way we would like. So there is much to report here on planning, along with an update to ongoing concerns over the Ark Pioneer school scheme.

Our AGM is on 5 July 2016, when our guest speaker will be Peter Ridley of the Royal Free NHS Trust, who will be talking about services at Barnet Hospital. A formal notice of the AGM is at the end of this newsletter.

SPIRES REDEVELOPMENT APPROVED

Barnet Spires proposalThe green light has been given for the second phase of the redevelopment of the ailing shopping centre. The intention is that the three new restaurants in the west courtyard will be ready by the end of this year and the two storey single unit in the east courtyard to be ready by the end of 2017. We supported the opposition to the restaurants from residents living to the rear in Salisbury Rd, who fear that noise from extractor units and other activity until late in the evening will be a source of disturbance. The planning approval sidestepped the issue by including a condition that each restaurant will be required to submit a further planning application regarding kitchen extraction arrangements. One possible glitch is that we have yet to be told who the occupier of the new two storey outlet will be. Until it is confirmed that someone has indeed been signed up the rebuild is unlikely to start.

Also unresolved are concerns we have raised regarding parking. 51 staff parking spaces behind Waitrose will be lost to allow the construction of the new two storey unit and there will be no parking places for the additional 78 staff that the redevelopment is expected to require. A travel plan exhorting staff to use public transport, walk or cycle may prove to be ineffectual in practice. There is enormous pressure on nearby roads where parking is still free during the day and we anticipate the loss of staff parking at The Spires will only make things worse. We are also concerned that evening opening of the restaurants may put the streets close to The Spires under pressure when the parking restrictions end at 6.30pm. Stapylton Rd car park, also free from 6.30pm, will absorb much of the demand, but even if The Spires car park remains open until late who is going to pay to park there when adjacent streets are free?

On a different note, we noticed that the separately run Spires car park put up its charges in February, but after strong protests the charges were promptly restored to the previous level, which have applied since October 2014. We remain concerned that the conflict between the interests of retailers and those of the car park operator could continue to threaten the viability of the centre even after redevelopment.

ARK - THAT SINKING FEELING

Ark Pioneer school proposalIn our October Newsletter we set out at some length our doubts regarding the wisdom of creating the new Ark Pioneer school on the site of the Underhill football ground. At our behest MP Theresa Villiers arranged a meeting with representatives of Ark and the Education Funding Agency. At that meeting we learned that the decision to proceed with the school was based on Barnet Council’s assessment of the shortfall of school places across the Borough, with no regard to the needs of the immediate locality, either in terms of numbers or the kind of school that would be most appropriate. We followed this meeting with a letter to the leader of the council, but the response was no more illuminating, again referring to overall needs in the Borough rather than local demand.

In the past month Ark has run two consultation meetings in Underhill, which were essentially a pitch to describe the attractions of the new school rather than an opportunity to explore the wider educational issues. There were a lot of angry people at the meetings who were not getting answers to fundamental questions such as where the pupils will come from, what about traffic, and what will be the impact on other schools. When we went along we did pick up some information which has only added to our concerns – that the catchment area may be up to five miles and for staff numbers eventually totalling 172 there will be just 40 parking spaces on site. So we think two issues are evidently clear – that the vast majority of pupils will be coming from other areas – many long distances, and that the school is much too large for the site.

A further development concerns Totteridge Academy which has recently been taken over by United Learning, another education provider with a range of schools across the country including several former struggling comprehensives in London. The new Head is from the Ark Academy in Wembley, which perhaps reinforces our view that we are heading for two adjacent schools with an educational ethos that pitch in the same area. With Totteridge having consistently failed to fill all its places the appeal of two similar schools does not augur well. It still remains difficult not to conclude that the Ark Academy is the wrong school in the wrong place.

MORE CONTROLLED PARKING?

Parking by staff and visitors to Barnet Hospital in the surrounding streets has long been a source of irritation for residents so it is no surprise that the Council is now consulting to see if there is demand for a Controlled Parking Zone. The area under consideration is very extensive, bounded by all streets north of Wood St/Barnet Rd as far as Quinta Drive, Quinta Drive itself, Whitings Rd, and Bells Hill including all streets off.

We have said that if controls go ahead a new CPZ should be created, not an extension of the existing area C, which in our view is already too large and was set up to deal with a different problem – shoppers and workers travelling to the town centre. It is quite possible that different controlled hours will be required to deal with parking close to the hospital. The one caution we extend to residents being consulted is to be aware that most fines for infringing the CPZ controls are incurred by residents themselves and their visitors. Living in a CPZ can be restrictive and most people having experienced one would probably say go for it only if parking is otherwise impossible, and then ask for the shortest controlled hours you think are necessary. A CPZ is most certainly going to create difficulties for staff and visitors to the hospital, so we will be looking to the Trust management to address the problem.

THUMBS UP FOR BRAKE SHEAR HOUSE PLANS

Brake Shear House proposalWe have to eat some humble pie on this one. In our February newsletter we said the developers were being very rigid in wanting to stick to the plans they put forward for public consultation. But in March they came back with revised plans, and we were delighted that they had indeed taken account of our concerns. The proposed block of flats is now four storeys not five, and the idea of the site being gated has been abandoned. Landscaping is also much better. The planning application should be decided very soon. A number of the businesses on the site have already relocated or are in the process of doing so, with several moving quite considerable distances. The loss of these local businesses is a matter of regret. But this is a phenomenon occurring all over London where the push for more housing is paramount. Despite our misgivings we could not see any mileage in opposing the change of use for the site. The drawing pictured above shows the view from the bottom of the site towards the High St.

PLANNING APPLICATIONS STILL POURING IN

We try to be selective with the planning applications that we oppose and recently we have had a good run with the outcome for those applications we have objected to. We objected to a new block of flats behind Londis and that was refused. Proposals on Sunset View, which is in the conservation area, one for demolition and rebuild with a much larger house and basement, and one for a rear extension, were both refused. Pictured below, a rebuild from a house to flats at the junction of Mays Lane and Fitzjohn Avenue was refused, and, also pictured, an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against an earlier refusal for a similar scheme at the junction of Manor Rd and Manorside was dismissed.

House on cornerHouse on corner

An application to add an extra floor above 74-78 High St was also refused, though we thought it was ok. The complete demolition and rebuild of 70 High St (After Office Hours) has been approved. We thought the revised application was a world better and did not object. The construction of 114 homes on the Elmbank site (former nurse’s homes) was approved and construction is now under way with the old buildings already demolished. Parking on site will be run by a separate management company including powers to issue fines. With most properties having just one parking space there are fears of an overspill into nearby roads. Construction is expected to take 24 months, though they aim to have a show house open in November. 24 of the flats will be sold to a social housing provider or on a shared ownership basis.

108-112 High Street, BarnetThe intention to rebuild the frontage 108-112 High St is to be welcomed. A planning application was lodged proposing new shop fronts and an extra floor for the addition of flats above. Though a world better than what is there at the moment (indeed a bare continuous brick wall would look better) we did have reservations regarding the height and design of the proposed frontage and so lodged an objection. The application has been withdrawn but no doubt revised plans will follow soon. A scheme for 1-7 Moxon St (currently Checkalow Tiles) proposes a new frontage part commercial/part flats with houses behind. We consider the design of the proposed frontage to be wholly inappropriate for this part of the conservation area and have put in a strong objection to the planning application. Opposite on Moxon St the closed garage and the linked former car wash site on Tapster St are similarly proposed for a part commercial/part flat development, with designs we consider to be far more acceptable.

At the bottom end of the High St there is an application for an extra floor for offices above Jetline Holidays. This suggests an expansion of the business which is good news for local jobs, but we are aware that neighbours to the rear are unhappy. At 35 High St (Conservative Club) there is an application for an extra floor at the rear to facilitate a mixed office/flats development. In Union St work has ceased on the conversion of the former Town Hall from offices to flats after the alterations to the frontage overstepped the mark on permitted development rules. A retrospective planning application is under consideration.

One domestic application to attract our notice is at 33 Puller Rd where an outbuilding at the end of the garden is proposed for residential use. This could set a very unwelcome precedent for our area and we have objected along with a number of nearby residents. There is a very similar application for retrospective approval for conversion of an outbuilding to residential in Montague Close off the High St.

We could not end this piece on planning without reference to ‘Guns and Smoke’. The bad news from the appeal to the Planning Inspectorate is that the frontage will be allowed to remain, but the signage has to go. Next of course - the council has to enforce the ruling.

SHOP OCCUPANCY STABLE ……

Along the High St just six shops are advertised as available to let and the former Chipping Café, renamed Roseland, is for sale having never opened under its new name due to the illness of the owner. The long closed Pizza Borsalino has re-opened as …..another pizza restaurant. The interior looks much more appealing than the previous effort so we hope this new venture fares rather better. The Fruit and Veg shop has moved into the new unit next to KFC, whilst its former home in the centre of the High St is to become an ‘International Supermarket’ according to its advanced publicity, though we suspect it might be just another convenience store in an already crowded market. We are told that Sportec has been taken over by Sports Direct, though as yet the tatty frontage remains in place. At the bottom end of the High St Flexible Resourcing Solutions has closed, alas not flexible enough it seems, and the temporary occupant of the former Chudys is having a closing down sale, as is Divine House in St Albans Rd. The Spires is looking rather grim with eight empty shops but we presume lets are on hold pending the imminent redevelopment.

....... BUT TOO MUCH REMAINS SCRUFFY

We have commented before on the poor presentation of some shops and the premises above them. There have been some welcome improvements. HSBC and Barclays have been significantly smartened up, and the floors above Sainsbury’s have had a makeover, though the new windows look worse than the ones they replaced. The centre of the High St still remains the least presentable – notable blots on the landscape include the dismal row incorporating Sportec and Toy Galaxy mentioned above. Theresa Villiers approached the council regarding the state of the shop next to Foxton’s and we understand that an improvement order has been issued. We are writing to the owners of the buildings occupied by Store Twenty One and the Willow charity shop asking that they do something about the windows above.

Foxtons, BarnetStore Twenty One, Barnet

Snappy Snaps and Victoria Bakery, BarnetThe comparison with the finely presented Victoria Bakery next door makes the shoddy presentation of Snappy Snaps stand out all the more. It has been like this for a long time and our approaches to the occupying franchisee, Snappy Snaps HQ and the Landlord have all proved fruitless, though we are told that that the occupier is responsible for the maintenance of the whole building. The best we can suggest to members is that if you have reason to use this shop do mention the poor state of repair.

Graffiti has also become something of a problem on the east side of the High St over the last year or two. Youths have been accessing roofs via fire escapes with the kind of results seen in these two photographs.

Graffiti on roof, BarnetGraffiti on parapet, Barnet

One resident told us he raised the problem with the police but he got the impression they were not interested. This could be a result of service ‘reorganisation’ which has seen a reduction in police numbers and the loss of our nine-officer Safer Neighbourhood Team. A few years ago, when the team was in operation, an outbreak of graffiti was dealt with by the culprits being identified through local intelligence and visits to their homes soon put a stop to their activities. We will be raising the issue at the next meeting of the policing Community Action Panel.

A LOVELY JOB – BUT WHY?

We were surprised when contractors arrived to renew the pavements around Ravenscroft Park. And a splendid job too – York stone blocks in two sizes. The locality is quite special even for the conservation area in which it is sited – fine Victorian mansions adjacent to the verdant attractions of Ravenscroft Park itself. The new footway, pictured left below, superbly compliments and enhances this attractive area.

New pavement, Barnetpavement before, Barnet

puddle on pavement, BarnetSo what not to like? Well, just as the work started we photographed the original section of pavement (featured above right) immediately after a heavy downpour. The absence of any ponding of consequence indicated that this section of pavement was perfectly level. We found much the same for the rest of the area where the pavement was being re-laid. So why was this work necessary? We do have pavements nearby with a much higher footfall that are sorely in need of attention. A few minutes after taking the above photograph in Ravenscroft Park we moved along to Salisbury Rd which looked very different. The extensive puddling shown in the photograph is a visible indication of the unevenness which pervades much of the paving on this street. We did raise the state of the pavement in Salisbury Rd at a Residents Forum in July last year, pointing out that as the eastern end of this road has a heavy footfall as an access route to the High St, it should warrant an element of priority. We were told it would be considered in the next Highways programme review, but we have since heard nothing.

black octagonal litter bin, BarnetThis issue reflects our perception of a wider problem with Barnet Highways. Officers do appear to listen and take on issues but actual delivery is in short supply. The modification of the Wood St/High Street junction, on the agenda since 2012, was supposed to commence this March – still nothing. The pedestrian crossing on Wellhouse Lane was supposed to be in place by last December, but still nothing, and all has gone silent over the associated roundabout proposed for the junction with Wood St. We complained about the state of the High St litter bins and were promised they would be cleaned last October followed by a re-paint this Spring – still nothing. We like to think the problem is the consequence of the enormous pressure on the Council’s budget over recent years which we know has resulted in a reduction in Highways staff. But this being so there is all the more reason to ensure the right priorities are identified. More consultation with councillors and residents groups, and more openness on the capacity of Highways to deliver, could go a long way to restoring the ebbing away of public confidence.

HOUSING TARGETS GOING UP .. AND UP AGAIN

Barnet has been working on a housing target of 22,500 over ten years to 2025. Sites have been identified that should deliver 20,000 of these units with the remainder expected to come from conversions, infill and as yet unidentified sites. Our calculation is that our two wards are likely to deliver about 400 of these new units, which should leave us relatively unscathed compared to other areas. But dark clouds are gathering. The Borough target is being revised upwards to 28,000 and may increase again to 31,000. We are aware of major schemes in the pipeline in East Barnet, Brunswick Park and Totteridge wards that could deliver up to 3000 units. We have escaped any proposals in our area for developments on this kind of scale, but a much higher Borough target could find us in the firing line. It is difficult to perceive that we have the scope for any major developments other than building on Green Belt land or green spaces in our Conservation Areas. So we do have a distinct possibility of major battles ahead, with green spaces such as Whalebones Park and perhaps an attempt for a significant incursion into the Green Belt. The London Green Belt Council say that 200 sites with a possible 118,000 homes are under threat in London and the South East. And the Housing and Planning Bill recently put through Parliament threatens to loosen control by local authorities and bypass planning inspectors so that decisions can be taken at ministerial level.

Whalebones Park remains a major concern. As we reported in the February newsletter, the charitable trust is awaiting a response from the council to their application to have the whole site designated for housing. If approval is received the site is likely to then be sold on to a developer. We believe that the trust are expecting an answer form the council in the very near future, though our understanding is that the council are unlikely to revise their site allocations list until early next year at best.

pole for traffic camera, BarnetPOLEAXED

The council is in the process of setting up cameras on box junctions across the Borough aiming to issue fines that should discourage motorists from stopping in the box when their exit is not clear. In our area the High St/Wood St junction will be one such location, with the camera due to come into force in July. From our observations we anticipate that a lot of motorists are going to be caught – so you have been warned! The camera will be at the top of an enormous pole that has been thoughtfully placed directly in front of the Church. The Town Team has been engaged with the council for several years regarding improvements to this junction, partly with the intention of removing as much clutter as possible to improve the setting of the Church viewed from down the hill, this being regarded by many as the iconic view in High Barnet. So we are less than pleased to see this additional edifice taking us in precisely the opposite direction.

AND BRIEFLY….

Butchers Arms, BarnetA few happenings with local pubs. In our previous newsletter we reported that the White Lion pub had been registered as an Asset of Community Value. The Sebright Arms in Alston Rd has now been similarly registered, though we have learned that the current tenants are planning to leave. Other pub changes have included a makeover for The Misty Moon – now the Butchers Arms, reflecting the former abattoir once located here, though the interior of the pub is little changed. There has been uncertainty over the future of REKS, which has had a chequered history and recently closed for the best part of a year. We understand it is now to become a steak house.

The Council has said that funding for the current financial year has been secured for a feasibility study into the potential for building out the pavements in the High Street, with a view to undertaking the work in 2017/18. So we now have a chance for progress on a project that has been on the agenda for four years.

We attended a meeting organised by Theresa Villiers MP with John Barry, TFL Director of Bus Service Planning. He agreed to a review of services in our area, likely to commence in early Autumn. We would welcome any thoughts members have on current bus service provision in our two wards and any changes they might like to suggest. Contact us via our website or email secretary@barnetresidentsassociation.org.uk

Healthwatch Barnet carried out a survey early this year to test the availability of NHS dentistry in the Borough. 53 dentists were contracted to provide dental check-ups and treatment, but at the time they were contacted just 64% said they could currently offer adults an NHS appointment – 34 in total. The position for children was a little better. The one glimmer of good news is that a survey a year earlier was far worse, with just 24 dentists able to offer an NHS appointment.

After a long campaign, with which our MP was closely involved, BT has agreed to install five of the nine missing cabinets that are needed to provide our area with comprehensive access to fast broadband. It might be two years before they are all in place but as we went to press one was being installed in Salisbury Rd.

Members have often said that they are confused about the extent of the two conservation areas in High Barnet. We have now put a map on our website which members can consult.

The new Borough regulations for Homes in Multiple Occupation come into force from 4 July, when any property with four or more persons in two or more households where facilities are shared will have to be registered and subject to inspection.

We have noticed estate agents talking up the wonders of schools in our area with misleading implications regarding the potential for securing places. One advertisement proclaimed “Several sought after primary and secondary schools including Foulds Primary school and QE Boys secondary school are less than a mile away.” But they ought to have added “but if you live here you won’t have a cat in hell’s chance of getting your children into either.” We do not expect the Ark Academy to be mentioned in such a positive light.


INVITATION TO ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

Tuesday 5th July 2016, 7.30pm
The Bull Theatre, 68 High Street, Barnet EN5 5SJ

(Please note the new venue)

The meeting will open with a report from the Chairman, followed by presentation of the annual accounts, and election of officers. We need to elect Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer and Committee Members (up to seven places). We do have a vacancy on the committee so anyone interested in joining is invited to contact the Chairman via our website.

On completion of the formal business (usually about 30 minutes) our guest speaker will be Peter Ridley, Director of Planning at the Royal Free NHS Trust, which of course now has responsibility for Barnet and Chase Farm hospitals. We have asked that Peter explores recent and proposed changes to services at Barnet in particular, and to allow time for members questions. We will conclude the evening by inviting members to raise with the committee any other issues concerning our two wards.