Whalebones Planning Application August 2019

This planning application (council ref 19/3949/FUL), proposing to redevelop the site providing 152 homes, comprises some 160 documents. We have undertaken a detailed appraisal of the proposals and have identified the following key points.

We are mindful that the Whalebones site is an open space and in the Wood St conservation area, so there are significant sensitivities surrounding any proposals for redevelopment. There is no bar in principle to development in a conservation area, but in considering whether to approve a scheme of this kind the Council must take into account planning law which requires that any development must ‘protect and enhance’ the area.

The site itself is former farmland which is now lying fallow apart from a small area used for rearing poultry and used by The Guild of Artists and beekeepers. The site is owned by the Gwyneth Cowing Trust.  The site does require maintenance and the trustees have said they are running out of money. They have made it clear they wish to dispose of the site and wind up the Trust.  A lengthy report included in the planning application advises that farming could not be continued other than at a loss.

So we accept that change is inevitable.  If it were to be kept as an open space or used for another purpose a proposal would have to be put to the trustees that they would find acceptable.  We are not aware of any alternative scheme being put forward over the three years since the trustees made their intentions known.  If the site is transferred into private hands there is every risk that a new owner could in the future bring forward a development proposal.  We cannot see any way that the Council would take on the site unless they too could ensure it would not become a financial liability and they would want to contract out the management.

We consider the scheme has many positives:

  1. There is no current public access to the site so it does not benefit the community - other than the sense of having a green ‘lung’ within a built-up area and knowing it supports wildlife.
  2. The housing development will occupy some 55% of the site but this will be laid out very spaciously with a lot of greenery included.
  3. Some 45% of the site will become a public open space including landscaping, a wooded walk and children’s play area. The privately owned Whalebones House and the woodland surrounding it are not part of the scheme. With that included some 60% of the overall site will remain undeveloped.  There will be extensive wooded areas and key ecological concerns are addressed including the provision of bat boxes.
  4. Greening across the site will include the planting of 165 trees.
  5. Views to the south towards Totteridge will be retained.
  6. The Guild of Artists occupy a rapidly decaying building on the site. They, along with the beekeepers will be housed in a purpose-built replacement building which should guarantee their long-term future.
  7. The architecture is of a high quality.
  8. The maximum height is four storeys and that is at the lowest point on the site. The buildings will be lower than the adjacent Elmbank site.
  9. Two-thirds of the frontage facing Wood St will be parkland and extra tree planting along the Wood St boundary will make the site invisible from Wood St except at the entrance.
  10. Highways have said the impact on traffic will be negliglible.
  11. Tenure will include 40% affordable, which should be a positive for workers at the adjacent hospital.

We would have preferred the housing to include more family homes and fewer one and two bedroom flats (99 of the 152 homes on site). But we are conscious that more houses would mean more of the footprint being developed, and given the many positives of the scheme we have chosen not to press on this.

We have concluded that overall the scheme meets the ‘protect and enhance’ criteria, especially the extensive open space which should be a major positive for the community, so we are supporting this development. We are also mindful that if this scheme is rejected, given the pressure coming from Government and the Mayor for Councils to deliver far more housing, we could find that at a future date a far less agreeable development proposal could emerge.

Barnet Residents Association