High Barnet Station Housing Proposals (July 2019)

Transport for London (TfL) are proposing to redevelop land around High Barnet station, including most of the car park, to provide up to 450 flats. We have sent a lengthy submission to TfL making it clear that we consider the scheme to be deeply flawed. We anticipate having a dialogue with TfL over the coming months and will be keeping our members informed on progress. The submission can be found below.

PROPOSED HOUSING DEVELOPMENT AT HIGH BARNET STATION

COMMENTS FROM BARNET RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION

1. We recognise that this scheme, like many at other station locations, is being developed in the context of the aims of the New London Plan which seeks to provide far more homes across London, with the emphasis on intensification around town centres and transport hubs. That said, developments should not lose sight of the impact on the wider community, the need to provide the right kind of homes, and that people will be happy to live in them. We are far from convinced that the emerging proposals fit the bill in respect of these considerations.

2. Much more work needs to be done to address the context in which this development will take place. So far only limited information has been provided on what the housing development might look like, but from what we have seen so far we have identified a number of issues which should require further examination. These are:

  1. The effect of the development on the wider area (paras 3.1 -3,2)
  2. Will people want to live there? (para 4.1 to 4.2)
  3. Building at Barnet Hill/Meadway junction is ill-considered (paras 5.1 to 5.6)
  4. No proposals to improve station access (para 6.1 to 6.9)
  5. On site facilities are not needed (para 7.1 to 7.2).

3. THE EFFECT OF THE DEVELOPMENT ON THE WIDER AREA

3.1 NO SENSITIVITY TO AN HISTORIC AND ATTRACTIVE ENVIRONMENT

Over many years High Barnet has evolved from a self-contained Hertfordshire market town, with a substantial amount of light industry, to a predominantly commuter suburb. This change has accelerated in recent years, and along with this there has been a modest increase in population. But the essential character of the area has not changed. The town centre and areas to the north are largely protected by two conservation areas. Surrounding the town centre are a variety of housing developments, predominantly Victorian and Edwardian closer to the town centre, with 1930s/50s housing further out. A map of the area from 100 years ago shows that the street pattern and housing close to the town centre has barely changed. The tower of St John’s Church dominates as it did 100 years ago. All the housing is uniformly low rise and there are significant attractive views to the south and looking north from across the valley and up the hill to the town centre.

3.2 DESTROYING THE SKYLINE

A large, modern high rise development will be a major, possibly overwhelming, intrusion into the attractive established topography of the area. The outline plans indicate a complete absence of any sensitivity towards the local environment in this context. This is particularly true of the proposals to construct flats around the junction of Barnet Hill/Meadway where they will dominate the skyline (addressed further below). But the car park/storage area is also in an elevated position in relation to the valley below, so here too every effort should be made to keep buildings as low as possible and constructed with materials that make the impact as muted as possible.

4. WILL PEOPLE WANT TO LIVE THERE?

4.1 EXCESSIVE NOISE, POOR OUTLOOK AND POLLUTION

The carpark/storage area is sandwiched between the railway line and a very busy main road. The railway does not just involve the noise of passing trains but has a dozen immediately adjacent sidings with substantial numbers of movements early morning and late at night. The main road carries traffic 24 hours a day, we believe totalling some 24,000 vehicles. So noise is going to be a major factor in the lives of people living here. The intention to provide triple glazing is an indication of an awareness of the problem, but does this mean residents will largely spend their time in hermetically sealed flats with all the attendant risks of damp and poor physical health? The view to the railway side features a prison-like fence with razor wire on top, and there appears to be an electricity sub-station also surrounded by a heavy fence topped with razor wire. These are features which will add to the potential for the environment to have a negative impact on the well-being of residents. We do not foresee any easy answers to these issues but for residents at lower levels tree screening might mitigate problems with outlook, noise and, on the road side, pollution.

4.2 INADEQUATE ACCESS

As there will be no provision for cars the residents in the car park/storage area will be reliant on foot, cycle or buses to move around locally. The majority of journeys will involve accessing High Barnet town centre. As these areas are currently configured the only foot egress for residents would be via the station forecourt and up a steep incline, whether via the station ramp or via the station approach road and up Barnet Hill. Accessing northbound buses will similarly be very difficult. Getting out onto Barnet Hill and cycling uphill to the town centre is never likely to appeal to more than a minority. Thus we have the prospect of residents experiencing a sense of isolation, with attendant risks to their mental well-being. We consider that the access issues for residents are essentially the same as those for the majority of station users so we also address possible remedial measures below in the context of station access.

5. BUILDING AT THE BARNET HILL/MEADWAY JUNCTION IS ILL-CONSIDERED

5.1 THE TREES ARE TOO VALUABLE TO LOSE

We have already commented that any development here will have a major negative impact on the skyline. Seen from various vantage points the skyline along Barnet Hill is a continuous line of trees. The only building partly visible is QE Girls, which unfortunately is a decidedly unattractive building, but it is largely screened by the trees fronting Meadway. If these trees are removed and multi-storey flats are built in their place, these buildings plus QE Girls will dominate the skyline. Because of the precipitous fall to the rear there is no way that these buildings could be disguised by further planting. Furthermore, the wooded areas immediately to the north and west of the station are highly valued and have a positive impact on the ambience of this edge of town area. There is little greenery beyond here going up the hill apart from a few small street trees. . Perhaps because there is so little human access to the green patch fronting Meadway it is a haven for wildlife including Muntjac deer having been seen. The trees are believed to have been encouraged here to keep the ground stable (see below). In more recent times the trees have been recognised as playing a vital role in combating pollution. Barnet is committed to a programme that involves a net gain of trees in the Borough and tree planting next to major roads – not removing them as this scheme proposes.

5.2 POLLUTION MUST BE CONSIDERED

In the Borough of Barnet the A1000 Barnet Hill is identified as An Air Quality Focus Area. Such areas are identified by the GLA as having high levels of pollution and high human exposure. High exposure is particularly the case at the Meadway junction where many vehicles sit idling at the traffic lights there. Most station users walk here as do all the pupils at the adjacent QE girls school. And there will be significantly more human exposure further down the hill with the new development and with more station users switching from cars. For major developments a preliminary Air Quality Assessment should be undertaken before designing the development to inform the appropriate land use for the site. We are not aware that such as assessment has been undertaken.

5.3 THE GROUND IN THE AREA IS UNSTABLE

We do know that a recent sizable development about a mile away had major foundation problems, though we do not know the cause of this. Our understanding of the geology is that the area immediately around High Barnet station is London Clay. We are told this can have a propensity to produce areas of bedrock that is not as stiff and firm as might be expected. This potential problem is compounded by the sub-surface of Barnet Hill road consisting of made-up ground that was put in place to ameliorate the original steep incline. We understand It has shown signs of slippage and needs continual monitoring. Similarly the embankment to the south of Meadway is also made up ground. For both of these areas we have always understood that the trees are essential to maintaining stability.

5.4 DISTURBING THE HISTORIC STREET PATTERN

The buildings running down the High St are of variable height but the overall pattern is of the buildings descending in height broadly in conformity with the slope of the hill. We regard this as an important feature of the town that has evolved throughout its history and should be preserved. This feature was noted in the rejection of a planning application some years ago that sought to replace a two storey building with a block of flats of four storeys. So a block of flats at the Meadway junction rising to several storeys would fundamentally disturb this recognised historic street pattern. To the west of Barnet Hill the existing development continues to a point just opposite the station building. If there is any development opposite the height should take its lead from the height of these buildings.

5.5 OVERLOOKING OF QE GIRLS SCHOOL IS NOT ACCEPTABLE

Any flats built along Meadway will directly face QE Girls school and thus will present problems of overlooking, mainly towards classrooms which could be very disruptive, but also the school swimming pool. No housing proposal should contemplate such overlooking.

5.6 TOO MANY DIFFICULTIES

To cover the likely high cost of the foundations we are sure that any residential development in this area would have to be several storeys high, which would conflict with the concerns we have expressed above regarding the impact on the town and the wider area. Furthermore, such is the importance of the trees that they should not be disturbed except perhaps at the margins to improve station access. Any replacement planting associated with the proposed development could not remotely match the loss of what is there now. We consider these concerns are sufficiently substantial that the proposals to build in this immediate locality should be abandoned.

6. NO PROPOSALS TO IMPROVE STATION ACCESS

6.1 NO RECOGNITION OF STATION GROWTH

Reflecting the change in the nature of the area to a commuter suburb as discussed in para 3.1, from once being of secondary importance, the station and the rail service is now at the heart of the economic well-being of the area. Over the seven years from 2010 to 2017 station usage increased by over 50%, reaching around 7000 arrivals and departures each day. And we are sure numbers have continued to increase since 2017. The entrance to platform 1 and the level access to platforms 2/3 via the new walkway date from around 15 years ago. Then the issue was about providing step-free access. Today the issue is about the station handling increasing numbers of users, and in this respect it is evident there are now substantial shortcomings regarding the ability of the station to adequately serve its users. This major problem should be addressed in the context of the proposed redevelopment, not least because many of the considerations also relate to the residents of the proposed housing.

6.2 WILL LOSING PARKING BE ACCEPTABLE?

Station parking primarily concerns commuters. There has been considerable local concern about this but we recognise the situation is more nuanced than at first sight. We estimate that with churn and some cars having multiple occupants the total number of car-borne station users that park there is unlikely to be more than 300. This is a tiny proportion of the 7000 or so people that use the station each day. We also recognise that a significant proportion of these cars will originate from some distance away, thus they contribute nothing to the local economy but do have the negative impact of adding to the heavy congestion that we suffer in the town centre. Because of the compact nature of much of the town many residents do live within easy walking distance of the station and many others have easy access to one or more of the ten bus routes that serve the station. That said, we are aware that for some on the outer reaches of our area - notably parts of Arkley, Hadley Green/Common and the area around the top of Hadley Rd bus services are poor or non-existent, and those residents could suffer significant inconvenience. So before committing ourselves to recognising that the removal of most of the parking would not be a fundamental problem, we would like to see a survey identifying where car park users are travelling from. We understand such a survey has been undertaken for Cockfosters and we ask that a similar exercise is undertaken at High Barnet.

6.3 MEANS OF ACCESS MUST BE IMPROVED

We are however very conscious that from immediate reactions the public will perceive the loss of the car park as a major loss of an important facility, not least because access to the station by other means is perceived as having severe limitations. To secure public support it is essential that something is given back to the community by way of better access. So we expect that the whole issue of station access is reviewed, and done so in conjunction with access arrangements for residents of the new housing, who of course will be heavily reliant on moving around locally by foot and bus.

6.4 THE STATION ENVIRONMENT CAN BE THREATENING

One important consideration that affects all users of the station approaches who have to move by foot for at least part of their journey is that it can be very lonely - indeed intimidating - at quiet times and especially after dark. We know that residents resist using the station at these times because of these concerns. Any review of access arrangements should recognise this and all new measures should ensure that access is not only easier but also safer.

6.5 CYCLING WILL NEVER BE ANYTHING OTHER THAN MARGINAL

We note the intention to provide extensive cycling docks at the station. Like the zig-zag ramp, this comes across as another attempt to buy off the community over the loss of the parking by suggesting other access facilities are being significantly improved, when in reality they would be of little value. High Barnet town centre is well supplied with cycle docks that are little used, as are the cycle docks at the station. The steep terrain around the area is the major disincentive to cycling, especially Barnet Hill. Whilst we appreciate that cycling should be catered for, we do not anticipate that it will ever feature as an important mode of transport in the area, especially as cycle lanes are non-existent and providing them would involve substantial investment that would probable not turn out to be cost-effective.

6.6 LEAVING BY FOOT IS TOO DIFFICULT

By far the most difficult access issue for those on foot is the steep hill going north, whether leaving by the ramp or the road approach up to Barnet Hill road and beyond. For many years residents have agitated for something better but to no avail. The proposed zig-zag ramp is wholly inadequate as a solution - the hill has still to be climbed and commuters travelling downhill to the station will regard the extra distance as an obstacle. People in a hurry to get to work will seek the shortest route, so in all probability they will merely create short-cuts over the intervening landscaping. To properly serve station users and the new residents alike a more radical solution is needed, and we consider this means a covered escalator from Meadway to the station entrance or something equally effective. This would make an enormous difference to the ease by which residents of the new development access the town, and the wider public would see something positive from a development which otherwise is only perceived in a negative light. We strongly urge that an escalator from Meadway to the station entrance is considered as part of the development.

6.7 DROP OFF/COLLECTION BY CAR IS INADEQUATE

Drop off/collection by car/taxi is already difficult as a result of the restricted area around the forecourt and the limited waiting area. The approach road is often overloaded now and significant demand continues into the evening. We suspect in part this demand is fuelled by the difficulties of leaving the station on foot and the allied sense of insecurity after dark. With the withdrawal of parking and continuing increased usage of the station we anticipate that demand for this facility will continue to rise, and making this easier would again be an evident way to demonstrate to residents that there are compensating measures to counteract the withdrawal of parking. One possible improvement would be to remove the footpath from the station approach (see next section) and then widen the access road to enable short-term waiting areas to be created down each side. The turning area is tight but should be much less difficult without cars accessing the car park, though thought will need to be given to ensuring delivery vans can reach the new housing as this is now a routine feature of contemporary living.

6.8 NORTHBOUND BUSES ARE TOO FAR AWAY

Though the southbound bus stops at the Meadway junction and part way down Barnet Hill are well placed to serve station users and the residents of the new development, the same cannot be said of the one northbound bus stop which is sited in a wholly inadequate location. We suggest this bus stop is located more or less opposite the southbound bus stop with the two connected by a pedestrian crossing sited as near as possible. The crossing should be reached by a new path from the station entrance located a little further south than the station road approach. Apart from much easier access for residents and station users alike, pedestrians would also be separated from the road traffic accessing the forecourt, unlike the existing path. And with more activity in a tighter space any sense of isolation or intimidation should be substantially reduced.

6.9 MAYBE BUSES SERVING THE SITE?

Another idea that has been around for a long time is to find a way of getting a bus, or buses, to serve the station forecourt. It might be possible to achieve this by diverting buses onto the site where the storage yard entrance is currently located, and then out via the station entrance road. But we do recognise that achieving two-way traffic in this way would be immensely difficult. Another possibility may be a small hopper bus from the station to the town centre and hospital, and maybe further afield to better serve those areas we have mentioned that would have difficulty accessing the station other than by car.

7. ON SITE FACILITIES NEITHER NEEDED OR WANTED

7.1 LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE

When the nearby Dollis Valley (now Brook Valley Gardens) estate was built there was only one entrance to the site and it was considered that community facilities were necessary. So indeed provision was made for a community centre, a school and four shops. But because of the isolated nature of the estate the community centre was used solely by estate residents, the school struggled to attract children from outside the estate and the shops failed, ending up boarded up. When the regeneration was being considered the residents pressed for the estate to be integrated into the wider community. There are now three roads into the site; the school has been re-provided elsewhere enabling the estate children to be more integrated into the community; the community centre has been re-provided off-site and so attracts people from a wider area; and there are no shops, with the estate residents shopping in the same locations as the rest of the surrounding community.

7.2 DO NOT REPEAT THE MISTAKE

We have drawn attention to the Dollis Valley experience as we see parallels with the station site housing. It is patronising to assume what people might want and very mistaken to address the needs of the site residents in isolation. Misjudged facilities can have a very negative impact. For example stations can become locations for undesirable activities and an adjacent ‘community square’ could easily lend itself to becoming a focus for such activities. Far more important is to do everything possible to ensure the station site residents are fully integrated into the High Barnet community. The town offers a wide range of shopping and leisure facilities, work opportunities and community activities that do not need to be replicated. But to achieve this integration ease of access to High Barnet town has to be very much better, which we have already dwelt on at length.

8. CONCLUSION

8.1 In this paper, in part because we do not have sufficient information, we have refrained from commenting on the overall number of properties proposed for the site, the size of the proposed units (though the limitations of the site suggest it would not be good for children), and the mix of tenure.

8.2 But from what we do know or have perceived the scheme comes across as an attempt to pack as much housing into the site as possible with no meaningful consideration being given to wider issues, of which there are many as we have identified in this paper. Our expectation is that these matters should now be given due consideration to ensure that the scheme is as acceptable as possible to those who will live there, those who use the station, and the wider community.

July 2019