Newsletter October 2019

We do hope our members have a keen interest in planning because there is a lot of it about. So planning does dominate this issue and we do apologise if this makes the read a little more hard going than usual. We have been wrestling with large developments such as The Station, Whalebones, Brake Shear House, the ghastly ‘flatlets’ proposed for Moxon St and Park Rd, as well as numerous smaller schemes where we report on the most significant. We also have the regular round-up of changes in the High St, where as usual the news is mixed, and as ever we feature more neglect and breaches of controls in the Conservation Areas. There is however good news on heritage matters and the pavement build-outs.

Tsunami strikes

Back in October 2015 we warned of a whisper in the planning industry that High Barnet was going to feel the full impact of a tide of investment sweeping out from central London. It has taken longer than we anticipated, but now we can say that we are well and truly in the eye of the storm. Our estimate is that from 2006 to this year some 500 new homes have been created in our area – principally 200 extra in Dollis Valley, 104 at Elmbank and, earlier, 107 on the site of former Park Rd industrial estate. The rest have been made up of a number of smaller schemes principally around the town centre including conversions or additional floors above shops. We are now aware of schemes in the pipeline that could deliver 900 to 1000 new homes should they all be approved. The TfL scheme at the station is by far the largest (up to 450 units), but we also have Meadow Works (68), Whalebones (152), Brake Shear House (58), five schemes in Moxon St (30), along with numerous small schemes around the town centre. We also have the dreadful proposed ‘flatlets’ in Park Rd (36).

The Council is in a bind because the Mayor is demanding 4126 new homes a year over the ten years from now. The Borough has struggled to make the step change to deliver over 2000 homes a year which was achieved last year for the first time. So the idea of doubling that is mind-boggling, especially as sites that might be described as ‘low hanging fruit’ have now been developed or have schemes in the pipeline. The impact of even the current level of building is evident in Colindale, West Hendon and much of the High Rd where rows of high rise flats now dominate the landscape. As part of the Borough’s target, another 1000 homes in our two wards of High Barnet/Underhill seems insignificant, which is why we remain concerned as to what further schemes might emerge.

Given the political imperative to deliver the numbers we are mindful that outright opposition to scheme after scheme is not realistic. Rather than just being negative and confrontational, we often see the best way forward is to secure changes to make schemes more palatable. This also maintains our credibility with the planners so that they are more willing to engage with us, as well as being realistic with members about what might be achievable. One glimmer of hope at the moment is that because of uncertainty over Brexit (sorry to mention it) and the wider economic situation, many developers are hanging back. We rather like it that way, but it won’t last.

Railroading at the Station?

parked cars with yellow brick victorian station buildings in the distanceMembers on email were informed that following the consultation event on the outline scheme for redevelopment (held in the station car park in June) we sent TfL a seven page submission setting out our concerns (still available to view on our website). To briefly recap, the outline scheme is to replace the storage area and all but 60 parking spaces (20 for TfL staff) with blocks of flats indicated to be 6-8 storeys, plus further flats replacing the area of trees at the junction of the High St and Meadway

We asked for a meeting and duly got it, but found that TfL pushed back on every issue that we raised. What we did learn was that another public event is planned for November when a worked up scheme should be on display. We were told the aspiration is to have a planning application in by the end of the year.

What we do know about large developments is that you cannot work up a detailed scheme in six months or anywhere near that. So our distinct impression is that much of the scheme was done and dusted long before the ‘consultation’ in June. We would like to be pleasantly surprised at the event in November, but at the moment fear the worst.

Whalebones – a tough call

artists impression of rough grassed area with pitched roofs behindWe found this one a difficult issue but emailed members explaining why we were supporting this application. Our subsequent submission on the planning application expressing support can be read on our website. We were well aware of a well organised campaign to oppose the scheme and it has been successful in securing over 300 objections. Notwithstanding the strength of the opposition your committee still considers that supporting the scheme remains in the best interests of the wider community, especially given the threat we explain in the last paragraph below, and the future threat from a more relaxed planning regime when the New London Plan is adopted.

The Will of Gwyneth Cowing merely specified that the Park should as long as practicable continue to be used for farming. Apart from a small area used for rearing poultry the farm has been fallow for several years. A lengthy report produced prior to the planning application says that the land could not now be farmed economically.

Given acceptance of this, then the future of the site is entirely open, constrained only by it being in a Conservation Area. We have to recognise there is no bar in principle to development in a Conservation Area, though there is an overarching obligation to ‘protect and enhance’. Whilst the farmer has a lifetime tenancy of the cottage, but not the land, there is also no obligation that we are aware of whereby the Trustees should look after the interests of the other occupiers of the site - the Guild of Artists and the beekeepers. Nevertheless, in the planning application there is provision for all three, with the farmer being provided with a different plot of land to continue to rear poultry.

Many of the objectors have raised concerns about protecting wildlife. However much of the wildlife thrives in the densely wooded areas around Whalebones House and the farmer’s cottage, which are not part of the scheme. The area for redevelopment is largely open fields and any wildlife there is essentially a result of the land becoming fallow. Even if the housing scheme does not go ahead, it is difficult to envisage that in the future this area would not involve human activity of some sort. The scheme includes the planting of 165 trees and much of the area of new parkland (which will comprise some 45% of the site owned by The Trust) will be targeted at encouraging wildlife. In addition the housing areas will have extensive landscaping - so there is every prospect that wildlife would fare at least as well after the redevelopment.

Many objectors have also placed emphasis on the statement in the Wood St Conservation Area character appraisal (2007) which said ‘….views in and across the site are highly important aspects of the character of the Conservation Area.’ But on another page this statement is contradicted by ‘It has a heavy tree screen around the boundary so views in and out are limited.’ Since 2007 the screen has become decidedly more dense. Anyone familiar with the location would recognise that the second statement is a reflection of reality and would struggle to argue that the ‘views’ are a significant reason for opposing the application. Indeed the views may best be opened up if the development goes ahead and the whole site becomes accessible to the public.

Including Whalebones House and the land around the farmer’s cottage some 60% of the Whalebones site will remain ’green’. If we are right that the interests of wildlife and views would be better served after the development is completed we consider the ‘protect and enhance’ criteria would have been fulfilled.

Finally, of particular relevance to this application is that the London Mayor has the power to ‘call in’ any scheme for more than 150 homes that a planning committee has refused. This scheme is for 152 homes and, yes, one might regard this as cynical on the part of the developer, but that is the reality of the situation. The developer has indicated that they would ask the Mayor to review if the scheme is rejected. The sting in the tail is that the Mayor has power to ask for ‘enhancements’, which means he may ask for additional affordable housing. We cannot speculate on what conclusion the Mayor might come to, but given what we consider to be the overall acceptability of the scheme we would not wish to take the risk of something worse.

Houses of Horrors

Everyone’s dream home – a flat of 14sqm, just one–third of the national minimum standard and squashed in with dozens of others, many without even a window! A lot of residents have been shocked that these schemes should be proposed but the fact is they are legal under a Government Order of 2015. That allows the conversion of offices and certain small industrial premises to residential without imposing any standards – space or otherwise. Some dreadful schemes have had national publicity, including one in Croydon with a flat that was just 8sqm, and another in Watford that had no windows. So our hearts sank when two such schemes recently emerged in High Barnet.

49 Moxon St (picture left below) is a former factory which latterly has been used for warehousing. It is too large to qualify for residential conversion under the provision for industrial buildings so to qualify the developer needed to demonstrate use as offices. The initial Planning Application was for 107 flats each around 14sqm with a majority inside the main factory building where they would not have windows. Though the developer put up a case demonstrating office use we researched both current use and the planning history, arguing in our objection that that the claim for previous office use did not stack up. The planners took the same view and the application was rejected.

But developers do not give up easily. Part of the building is indeed formed of offices and the developer tried again with an application just to convert this area to 39 tiny flats (though this time they would at least have had windows). The arguments become even mere technical regarding the wording of the 2015 Order, but we still considered the Application fell foul of the provisions and again objected. The planners have taken a similar view and as we were preparing this Newsletter they again issued a rejection. We hope that is the end of the story but we cannot rule out an appeal.

modern red brick warehouse with officesthree storey house painted white

17 Park Rd (right above) is a large Edwardian residence converted to office use with some 30 people employed there. The planning application was for conversion to 36 flats averaging 14sqm each, so very similar to the Moxon St proposals. But this time there was no disputing that the property qualified for office to residential conversion under the 2015 Order, making any objection much more difficult.

We did try a couple of lines of attack in our objection but what struck us most was that the applicant was a charity – The Moishe and Esther Itzinger Foundation based in Hendon. We established that the Charity owned a number of rental properties around London using the income to generate the provision of grants for various causes. We thought it remarkable that a Charity might seek to make money out of what many people regard as sub-standard properties, though we were discouraged to find they owned other property that appeared to have characteristics similar to the Park Rd proposal. We did write to the Charity with an appeal not to proceed with the scheme but there has been no response (the letter is on our website).

The Council rejected the scheme on the grounds of inadequate parking but another application is now in that has sought to deal with the reasons for rejection. We are scratching our heads for ways that we might frustrate this scheme but we are not hopeful.

Victory in Salisbury Rd

artists impression of yellow brick flats with overhanging frontNow for rather better news. We fought a long battle opposing the contemporary design for the building in Salisbury Rd - dubbed by us as ‘a pile of boxes’ - which aimed to replace the redundant Fern Room premises. Following refusal by the Planning Committee and dismissal of the subsequent appeal, the developer came to us to discuss a replacement design. The discussions were decidedly amicable and a proposal that we decided was a considerable improvement on the original has now been granted planning permission (pictured). Meanwhile. following planning approval the site is now being offered for sale. When (or in the current climate ‘if’) the building appears we are keeping our fingers crossed that residents will agree with us on its acceptability.

The climb-down by the developer for the Brake Shear House site, though not a total victory, has resulted in a revised application that is a world better than the one that the developer initially sought. Planning approval had been given in 2016 for a development of 32 flats in a single block, 8 houses and a building for commercial use. The developer did run a genuine consultation and we pressed for the removal of a floor from the block of flats. With that duly accepted, we decided we were able to go along with the scheme. However the site was then sold on to a different developer and, in 2018, a fresh and very different scheme proposing 68 flats in several blocks emerged. There was no prior local consultation on this one. We considered this new scheme was awful and submitted a six-point objection to the Planning Application. In truth we were rather surprised when, after a long interlude, the developer caved in on all six points, and in June this year submitted a revised Planning Application that had many similarities to the approved 2016 scheme. It includes the original eight houses, but has a larger block of flats comprising 50 units. This larger block did give us cause to reflect and a number of residents in the immediate area remained unhappy. In the end we decided to neither support nor oppose. In the current climate of maximising opportunities to provide as many homes as possible we consider this is one we will probably have to live with. A decision by the planners is awaited.

We were pleased that a proposal to build a house in the Hadley Green Conservation Area was rejected; in Mays Lane an application to convert a house to a Home in Multiple Occupation (HMO) was also rightly rejected; the Black Horse pub applied for a kitchen extension but that was rejected as incompatible with the Conservation Area; and a messy proposal to adapt 150 High St (former Shaketastic) to accommodate flats upstairs was also rejected by the Council planners, though we have no issue with the principle of conversion. As we have said before, when the legislative powers are on their side the planners tend to make decisions which usually reflect our wishes.

Unappealing appeals

After reporting above on the more positive issues around planning we can now return to the more familiar negative territory, starting with Appeals. The Planning Application for 57 flats in blocks up to four storeys high on the site of Meadow Works just south of Greenhill Parade was lodged in May last year. We duly lodged an objection and expected a decision maybe four or five months later. But over a year has gone by and all we have had is silence form the Council planners. We are sure this was not negligence but a conscious decision by the Council not to continue with processing the application, though we cannot fathom out why. However the developer has evidently lost patience and has appealed on the grounds of non-determination.

Other Appeals on applications we opposed and were rejected by the planners include the back garden residential ‘shed’ in Puller Rd; ‘Avalon’ in Rowley Lane where there is a proposal to replace a bungalow with eight flats; and conversion of the Bentley Garage at 151-153 High St to shops/residential (all reported in our June newsletter). We were bemused by the Appeal submission for 151-153 High St which ran to 66 pages. Not to be upstaged, the Council followed with a submission that ran to 17 pages. Feeling sorry for the Planning Inspector we kept our submission down to two pages.

We are keeping our fingers crossed that these appeals will be dismissed, but we are mindful that in 2018, of thirteen applications rejected by the Planning Committee and appealed, ten were overturned by the Planning Inspectorate.

Minding the gap

pizza shop and a gap with black hoarding and the Bull TheatreNo, this is not about the familiar broken light well outside Paddy Power (a saga that has been running for about three years and remains unresolved), but a much bigger problem – 70 High St, last remembered as ‘After Office Hours’ which closed in 2011. After a couple of attempts with the design, to which we had an input, planning permission for a replacement building featuring a bar and studio flats above was granted in 2015. Demolition of the old building followed in late 2017, leaving a large gap in the terrace. We believe the required archaeological survey was done but almost nothing else has happened since. A condition of the planning approval was that the contract for the replacement building should have been in place before demolition commenced. It appears this did not happen. The Council lost patience insisting that the works commence immediately or the original building must be rebuilt exactly as it was within eight months. The Council may have scored a win. Builders appeared on 1st October and construction appears to have started. Meantime we do sympathise with the occupants of the Bull Theatre next door who have had repeated problems with rainwater penetration.

white office building with sort of gable - what do you call this?And still on the subject of miscreants, the rebuilding of 159 High St was not quite as indicated in the approved scheme, with the door and detailing to the front elevation not right, for which correction has been demanded by the Council. We didn’t much like the approved scheme but at the time we decided not to oppose. Through our membership of the Conservation Area Advisory Committee we were able to register our concerns about the transgressions.

Staying connected – like it or not

artists impression of Digital 86 inch Smart City Communication Hub -- public phone with big advertising panelThere is a communications hub on the pavement outside Carluccio’s operated by New World Payphones. We have never seen it used and it seems to so serves no purpose other than getting in the way. In the June Newsletter we reported on a Planning Application from BT to replace the redundant phone box outside KFC with a similar installation. We objected but knew it was a hopeless cause as it was a replacement for an existing facility, and indeed the planners duly found they were obliged to approve it. But if that were not bad enough, we now have applications from a different company, JCDecaux, who wish to install three similar contraptions outside Hamilton Chase, High Barnet Dental Care and the Red Lion pub. It is well known that the primary purpose of these installations is to provide the means for advertising. Indeed this company has other contracts for advertising, for example at bus stops. And the darker side of these facilities is that the free call facility can be used for drug dealing. We have lodged robust objections to all three applications, not least because this clutter is the opposite of what the pavement widening scheme is seeking to achieve.

shop with scaffoldingartists impression of the same shop with an extra floor on top

Planning permission was granted some time ago for conversion of the upper floors at 46-48 High St (formerly Londis) to flats, and to add a new two storey building in the empty space at the rear for offices/flats. But as ever developers never like to miss an opportunity, and now we have further applications to add another floor to each building, including a significant redesign of the new building to make it look much more contemporary. We have come to be very wary of CGIs used to demonstrate how a development might look. The photo left above is reality. The plans show the additional floor as twice the height as the top of the chimneys, but the CGI above right shows the extra floor as barely different to the existing height – if anything it is lower. We did not mind the previously approved schemes, but the new applications, as well as being misleading, are frankly ugly and inappropriate for a location in the Conservation Area. We are objecting to both proposals.

Another unwelcome Planning Application was for a Certificate of Lawfulness for a house in Trinder Rd that had been coveted to two flat without permission. After four years the owner can get the change approved as a matter of course and this is what they have now achieved. Had planning permission been sought when it should have, it would almost certainly have been refused. The Council has a policy of protecting houses in areas that primarily consist of family housing; a policy we strongly support. We have said before that if you notice a house near you converted to flats check if it has planning permission. If it does not, the Council will pursue by demanding a planning application which in all probability will be followed by a refusal.

High St struggles but could be worse

Anyone following the national picture will be aware that across the country town centres have continues to have a bad time, reporting a continuing slide in retail sales over the past months. Compared to many places we have done rather well with few closures over the last four months Losses have been the much–mourned Victoria Bakery on the retirement of the owner, the cheese shop in Union St and the Noah’s Ark charity shop. Also closed is the Sean Heaney estate agency, and it was sad to learn that Sean died shortly afterwards at the relatively young age of 48.

The only actual openings we have noticed are two in The Spires - ‘Report’, a gents clothing shop, and the long-awaited Do Dough pizza takeaway, plus Spencer and Sener, another estate agent who have taken the former Bairstow Eaves outlet. But there are other openings on the way. Nearly ready is Odos, the Mediterranean restaurant replacing the former Prezzo. Excel Kitchens in the former Flairline premises advertised an opening in September but has still to materialise. We believe the former Superdrug has been let but do not yet know yet to whom. Brothers Kitchen has replaced the Argentine Steak House with some favourable initial reports. The owner of the short-lived Minnie’s coffee shop at the bottom end of the High St has told us he has people interested in taking over the lease. So maybe things may be looking up.

The large premises lower down the High St until recently occupied by Emmaus is being converted into four retail units. We do admire the optimism.

Progress with neglected frontages

We reported previously on our attempt to tackle the poor state of many of the buildings along the High St. At the beginning of the year we approached the owners of sixteen buildings regarding aspects of neglect, principally the deterioration of upstairs wooden windows on buildings in the Conservation Area. So far renovation has been undertaken for three of these buildings – those occupied at ground level by TSB, the Patisserie and the Kings Head – so congratulations to them. Another two – owners of the North London Hospice and the Tesco buildings have said that repairs are planned. So we have an achievement of sorts. For one, 7D High St (former Curry Cottage) the owner has indicated they plan to do nothing so we are exploring whether the Council might be persuaded to take out a dilapidation order. We have heard had nothing from the other ten.

The potential consequences of neglect was recently demonstrated at the Santander building. We noticed that as a result of a window frame rotting a pane of glass had slipped and was in danger of falling out onto the street – and it was located directly above the ATM. The staff had not noticed, though when we pointed out the hazard they did quickly arrange for the window to be boarded up. Santander was one of the sixteen we wrote to at the beginning of the year that have not responded. A large organisation such as this should be doing much better to ensure its premises are properly maintained – and safe.

the upper windows of a red brick building with one window partly boarded uplarge white building with a car wash in front

A further building now a source of major concern is the former Hadley Green Garage at the top of the High St, which is visibly crumbling. The owner has told us that he does not have any funds to undertake the repairs. We are surprised that no funds can be found as there are tenants in the building who are presumably paying rent. We also believe that approaches have been made to buy the property so there should be a way out if the owner is under financial pressure. This is another one where we are looking into the potential for a dilapidation order.

Cherishing our history

We do live in a town with a lot of history, including of course the only battle site within the Greater London boundary. Though we have long had our museum, the historical aspects to the town have always been largely underplayed. So it is gratifying that we have people now committed to putting that right. This could have substantial benefits by way of attracting people to come here and spend money in the shops, and perhaps more importantly create a much stronger sense of communal pride.

Historic Barnet information board with part of St Johns church in the backgroundreenactment of the battle of Barnet -- men in armour wih halberds and flags

The Medieval Festival last year was a major success and, despite the atrocious weather on the Saturday, attendance at the expanded repeat event in June this year was higher. It was reported that numbers of those attending had travelled some distance. So there is optimism that the event will be firmly established as an annual occasion and will continue to grow in size as it becomes better known. Along with the festival, banners featuring the coat of arms of the nobles present at the battle were again displayed along the High St throughout the summer.

And now something more: for which congratulations go to Barnet Museum in securing Lottery funding to provide five heritage information boards around town. All include mention of the battle along with different information on each board featuring key aspects of the town’s history and heritage. And just as we were enjoying these new installations the killjoys in the Highways Dept. decided the one outside the Mitre was a hazard to pedestrians and removed it. This all seems rather jobsworth to us but we are sure the board will reappear shortly, if not in the same spot.

So blips aside, this new focus on heritage opens up the possibility that our town could become a tourist attraction even if only on a modest scale. And some things could help a lot – certainly a budget hotel, along with getting our town centre shops and buildings to be presented much better, which means many of them need to properly reflect their status as being in a conservation area.

Where is the Premier Inn?

artists impression of new  red brick hotel with restaurant on ground floorConstruction was due to start in September. We have written three times asking for confirmation of the start date and also seeking a dialogue regarding the potential difficulty arising from the proposed HMO in Bruce Rd (see previous newsletters on that). All we have had back is ….. silence. Others have written with the same result. We do feel decidedly miffed as we put a lot of effort into supporting the Planning Application which involved pressing for changes and meeting with some stiff opposition. We remain of the view that a budget hotel in this location could be an enormous boost to the economy of the town centre. Losing it would be a major blow. We would also then have the prospect of the site being sold on, almost certainly for housing, which raises the spectre of a replacement scheme that we might find decidedly less agreeable.

Another glimpse into the future

We regularly mention planning policy matters to fill in the background to what is happening on the ground. The dreaded New London Plan remains on course to be adopted later this year, though we understand the target of 660,000 homes over ten years has recently been judged to be unfeasible and may be cut by 20%. We also expect Barnet’s draft Local Plan to emerge at the same time with the keenly awaited information on how the Borough expects to fulfil the housing target of over 41000 new homes over the next ten years (though this may now also be cut by 20%). We emailed members about the Borough’s draft Growth Strategy which is a precursor to the Local Plan. As we pointed out to the Council, the basic figures in the draft Strategy indicated a population growth of about half of what could be the case if 41000 new homes are built. This is a rather fundamental matter when it comes to wider matters of public infrastructure, health and education provision, etc. That said, there are some good ideas in the Strategy around support for town centres, stimulating employment and a rather novel thought that the large green area in the centre of the Borough might be considered for designation as a Regional Park.

Current planning control relaxations are bad enough, but the Government is obsessively ploughing on to introduce more. Further relaxations will soon be allowing an extra two floors on blocks of flats without planning consent, and owners of detached houses may be given freedom to extend upwards by two floors (which we interpret as an expectation that such buildings would then be converted to four flats). Make no mistake, when planning relaxations have been introduced in the past there has invariably been a deluge of people taking advantage of the opportunities created.

And briefly …….

dumped fence panels and other rubbish at side of roadFly tipping along St Albans Rd seems to have reduced of late and efforts continue to be made to keep it as clear as possible. The proposal to install CCTV is still being processed by the Council. Meanwhile another problem has arisen on the plot of land at the back of 2 Bruce Rd (with Dory’s Café at the front). It is quite a mess, with reports of rats having been seen. We cannot establish who owns the site. The owner of 2 Bruce Rd, the Spires and the Council all deny ownership and we cannot get a response from Premier Inns. The Council may step in and clear the mess.

pavement under construction, kerb stones in placeNo-one can have failed to notice the snail’s pace of progress with the pavement build-out on the High Street. So far we have mainly just seen the replacement of the existing paving, but finally the actual widening has begun. So it now possible to get a sense of just how different the experience of walking along this section of pavement will be. The main difficulty causing the delay – and it has been a big one – is that the original plan to move the lamp-posts forward proved not to be feasible because of existing services below ground. But the Council has now found a different way to anchor the lampposts and we can expect the first ones to be moved very soon.

Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice in Byng Rd opened on 25 September with widespread publicity across London where it is the only facility of its kind. The £8.5 million cost was raised almost entirely through charitable fundraising, including of course contributions via their recently departed shop in the High St. It is a terrific achievement by all those involved.

We reported last time on the fund-raising campaign to establish a working farm in the grounds of Totteridge Academy using the name ‘GROW’. We were pleased to learn that the target has been achieved and look forward to this novel venture becoming a popular community venue

We had the best turnout ever at our AGM on 10 July with over sixty members present. Chairman Ken Rowland reviewed the past year, reporting another pleasing rise in membership which now stands at 730. Councillor David Longstaff spoke about the Streetscene service with a lot on interest shown in litter collection and dealing with fly-tipping. Planning Officer Gordon Massey led a discussion on the scheme to build tower blocks on the station car park site which exercised the minds of many of those present. The minutes of the AGM are on our website.

On Sat 19th October we aim to hold one of our regular stalls in The Spires just outside Waitrose. We are pleased when members turn up and make themselves known to us. So do come along and say hello.

Membership Matters

Renewals and standing orders

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E-mail communications

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