Submission to TfL on High Barnet station housing (November 2019)

HIGH BARNET STATION SCHEME

BRA COMMENTS FOLLOWING EXHIBITION 8-10 NOVEMBER

These comments reflect the collective view of our Committee.

We do consider the scheme is a major improvement on the initial ideas we saw in June. We are pleased you have concluded that building around the Meadway junction is not viable and that there are improvements on offer regarding access to the station and for residents to move on and off the site. We do however have continuing difficulty with a significant number of aspects of the scheme and these concerns are explored in more detail below.

STATION ACCESS - PEDESTRIANS

Though we remain firmly of the view that some form of mechanical means for pedestrians to move from the station to Meadway should be introduced, we reluctantly acknowledge this is not going to happen as part of this scheme. The widening of the pedestrian ramp including a stepped section should be a significant improvement, though we do ask that a handrail should be included, perhaps between the slope and the stepped sections, that the area is very well lit and the sloping section includes a non-slip surface. We do have reservations regarding the proposed refuge part way along the ramp. At the moment it is common for beggars to accost people on the ramp and that can be intimidating at quiet times. An unintended consequence of providing a refuge could be to encourage this activity.

Easing the slope of the pedestrian footway up the approach road is also most welcome, especially as that will be linked to re-siting of the northbound bus stop, though we still do not really understand how changing the grading will be achieved. The additional pedestrian crossing further south on the A1000 is also welcome to facilitate the movement of residents on and off the site.

Though pedestrian access will be much better, we consider more still needs to be done and here we suggest the idea of a hopper bus linking the station, the new housing, The Spires and the hospital. In the absence of a mechanical means of leaving the station forecourt such a facility could be of immense benefit to people with mobility impairment, visitors heading for the hospital, and residents of the estate wishing to travel easily up to the town centre. We understand TfL has been looking into the idea of local hopper buses elsewhere in London and we strongly urge that the concept be explored for this location.

STATION ACCESS – VEHICLES

We note the intention to create a number of parking spaces for commuters which will be allocated by demonstration of need based on criteria such as mobility problems or difficulty of access for residents travelling from a relatively short distance away. But we are concerned that demand may significantly exceed the number of spaces likely to be made available. Provision may also be insufficient on dark evenings when people returning from central London find walking out of the forecourt area to the surrounding roads decidedly intimidating. It is perhaps unusual for a tube station area to have the potential to be threatening because of isolation, but that is a fact particular to High Barnet and why parking may be more important than elsewhere. So we ask that the number of parking spaces is examined with a view to an increase and thought given to maximising the efficient use of spaces. We are mindful that many TfL staff spaces are often empty, so maybe they could also be made available for public parking in the evenings once the last shift has gone on duty.

We support the creation of a one-way road into and around the site. But we anticipate the road will be quite busy so steps must be taken to facilitate pedestrian movement around the site that is separate from the road. The plans indicate a shared space for pedestrians and vehicles. Moving vehicles should mitigate any sense of isolation for residents and also offer a greater sense of security, though steps will need to be taken to ensure residents or others do not use the access road as somewhere to park cars as we have seen on other developments.

The widening of the approach road and one-way should make traffic management much easier, but we remain concerned that pick-up/drop off provision will be inadequate and this needs to be explored further to ensure there are sufficient bays.

THE STATION FORECOURT

We appreciate the intention to make what is currently a very unappealing frontage area to be more welcoming. In that regard the small convenience store and the removal of the staff parking should be positives, though we do have concerns that a shop might struggle to be viable. However we are convinced the proposed community building would not be viable. Various community facilities are available in the town and they are likely to continue to have more appeal to local organisations than travelling to a location on the edge of town, not least because parking will be available. Returning commuters are unlikely to linger and there are unlikely to be a sufficient numbers of residents on the new development to support the facility. The proposed seven storey block adjacent to the forecourt will be particularly overbearing and would have a much reduced impact if it was lower at the northern edge.

HEIGHT AND MASSING

In relation to the valley spreading to the west this is an elevated site so anything built here will have an accentuated impact on the landscape, with the impact more pronounced to the southern end of the site. And it still remains a fact that a dense flatted development of the height proposed will be alien to the High Barnet environment. The New London Plan expected to be adopted very soon includes at Policy D1 a requirement to take careful account of the characteristics of the local area. e.g D1B(1) ‘…buildings…that positively respond to local distinctiveness …with due regard to existing …. street hierarchy, building types, forms and proportions.’ And D1B(11) says ‘…respond to the character of a place by identifying the special and valued features and characteristics.’

In consequence we do believe that a development of this kind is inappropriate for the area, but if it must go ahead the overall height should be no more than five storeys. It may be possible to compensate for the reduced height by spreading the footprint of the blocks (see next para). No visualisations of the views from various points were available at the exhibition. We would particularly like to see visualisations looking uphill from around the Everyman cinema and from across the valley looking east towards the site. We would also like to see such visualisations showing the proposed six/seven storey scheme and an alternative of five storeys.

The blocks do appear to be decidedly close together giving the impression of a continuous whole. We do recognise the difficulties of the site in achieving a satisfactory layout, particularly because of the presence of the electricity sub-station and the TfL staff building. We recognise that moving the sub-station would not be feasible but ask that the potential to move the staff building be looked at again. An obvious re-siting would be to move it to the station forecourt where staff cars are now parked. It is our understanding that the TfL building is not used to anything approaching its capacity and we are sure the station building could be used more intensively. So it should be possible to provide the necessary staff facilities partly in the station building and in a significantly smaller new building on the forecourt. Moving the staff building would remove an ugly visual impediment to residents of some of the flats, but more importantly allow greater flexibility in the design of the flat blocks including the potential to spread the footprint. It might also be possible to move the shop into this building giving it a location that could improve its commercial viability.

THE FLATS

We appreciate the provision of these flats may offer positives for singles and couples for whom commuting is very important. And whilst mixed tenure and the provision of family homes is often key, we remain concerned that this is not a suitable location for children. New London Plan policy H12(6) says ‘… a higher proportion of one and two bed flat units is generally more appropriate in locations which are closer to a town centre or station or with higher public transport access.’ So this policy points to maximising one/two bed units for this scheme.

DESIGN

We appreciate the intention to maximise dual aspect for the flats but the architecture is monotonous and even rather oppressive, though in part this is because the blocks are very close together. We also oppose the colour of the brickwork which is at odds with the prevailing red brick in the area and very in-your-face. We have some new houses at the foot of the hill with brickwork of a similar colour and they are completely out of place. We request brickwork that is more subdued and blends with that prevailing in the area. We also much prefer inset balconies to the clip-on balconies as the latter can look very messy if used for storage. This would be particularly unattractive on the block overlooking the station approach road. Would some Juliet balconies be an acceptable alternative? And it is our understanding only one lift and one stairwell is planned for each block. This does raise questions re safety and access if the lift is not working, and suggests that in these circumstances the lower the height of the blocks the better.

GROUND CONDITIONS

We have had comments regarding the groundworks in what was for many years a railway goods yard. All the land behind the retaining wall to the south is made-up and there must be a possibility of pollution from the former railway activity. We have no suggestions to make regarding these issues but do wish to record our instinctive feeling that the difficulties could be underestimated and we expect there should be a thorough engineering assessment accompanying the planning application.

SUMMARY

The issues discussed above where we have continuing concerns are, in summary:

  1. Height should be no more than five storeys.
  2. The TfL building should be moved to allow the footprint of the flats to be spread.
  3. The public parking provision should be increased and under-used TfL spaces be considered for public use later in the day.
  4. A hopper bus should serve the station and the flats.
  5. The development should be largely, and preferably, wholly one or two bed flats.
  6. The road around the flats should be clearly separated from pedestrian movement.
  7. Pick up bays should be increased in number.
  8. The ramp should feature a handrail, strong lighting and a non-slip surface.
  9. The design of the flats should be more appealing and include more muted brickwork.
  10. Clip-on balconies should be minimised and inset balconies provided wherever possible.
  11. The community hub should be removed from the scheme.
  12. The planning application should include a detailed submission regarding ground conditions.

Gordon Massey
Planning Officer
Barnet Residents Association
November 2019