Newsletter February 2021

With Covid 19 still disrupting our daily lives, it has been difficult for your committee to pursue our usual activities to the full, such as keeping a close eye on the High Street for changes to the shops, watching out for breaches of the conservation area controls and visiting planning application locations.  Nonetheless, we still have a lot to report, and much of that is positive, including a number of new shop openings and successes in opposing unwelcome planning applications.

2020 has been a torrid year and sadly for many people a tragic one, and so far this year the misery has continued.  We do hope that everyone manages to stay safe until the anticipated relief from the Covid scourge finally arrives later in the year after we have all been vaccinated.  Meantime we are continuing with business as usual as best we can.

Chipping Barnet Community Plan

St John's church Barnet in the snowWe contacted members by email advising them that the draft document had been published and how they could read it online and comment if they wished.  There are copies available in the Library and comments can be sent by post.  The deadline for comments is 19 February.  We worked with the Town Team and the consultants hired by the Council to develop the Plan.  The emphasis is on it being a plan that belongs to the community, and we await with interest to see how the wider community responds. 

Back in 2010-12, we worked on the Chipping Barnet Town Centre Strategy.  That led to the extensive works to open up the Churchyard and later to the widening of the pavement on the west side of the High St, along with some minor improvements.  We were conscious that the 2012 Strategy was essentially about planning matters, with traffic and wider community issues not being addressed.  The new Plan has substantially corrected that, though it is disappointing that again traffic is not fully addressed.  But we do have more to say on this later in this newsletter.

The Plan identifies a number of potential projects to be taken forward when funding streams can be identified.  Whenever the Government announces funding opportunities for community projects the timescale for bids is always short.  So a key objective in taking the Plan forward is to have a number of agreed ‘shovel ready’ robust schemes where a funding bid can be put forward at short notice.

Council demands demolition

Three storey building with shop unit not in useWe have previously featured at length the violation of the planning approval for 70 High St (former After Office Hours) with the construction of a hideous building that bears little relationship to the approved plans. We wrote to members by email saying that a demolition order had been issued by the Council.  That had to be withdrawn but a further notice was issued in December.  It is no surprise that the developer has appealed.  We now await the outcome.  As far as we know the Council has not previously demanded that a building be demolished following a planning breach, so we do congratulate them for their boldness in tackling this abuse head-on.

Whalebones refused

Artists impression of new housing street with no pavementsIt was always evident that this was a controversial application, so it was no surprise that it was hotly contested when it went to the Planning Committee in October with a recommendation from Officers for approval.  Although speakers and Councillors on the Committee ranged over a number of issues, in  our view the determining question was whether the development amounted to ‘less than substantial harm’ to the Conservation Area.  Officers, including the Conservation Officer, advised that the harm was less than substantial.  The Committee disagreed – though only just.  The vote was a tie with refusal relying on the casting vote of the Chairman.

Next up is whether the Mayor decides to review the application..   Previously commenting on the application, his officers indicated support for the development except that they asked for an increase in the green areas by reducing the amount of parking.  The Mayor may well go down this route, though as he has just declined to intervene in the refusal for the proposed development on the New Barnet Gas Works site, he may let this one go by as well.  It would then be for the developer to decide whether to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, which is what is most likely to happen.

A good run of planning results

Shop with second floor with enlarged roof and windowsAlthough planning applications have continued to run at a low level, with the exception of one at 111 Hadley Rd (discussed below), we have done well recently with planning applications we have opposed going our way.  We are particularly pleased with the outcome for 128 High St (above Café Nero) where a proposed fourth floor would have been unsightly and set a precedent for additional floors on neighbouring buildings.  We were nervous about this one as we were the sole objector.  However Planning Officers refused the application and thankfully an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate was dismissed.

Shop and restaurant with plain upper floorAnother scheme, which we featured in the October Newsletter, was the proposal to build an extra floor of flats above Pizza L’Antica in Church Passage.  We strongly opposed this, as the flats would only be at the rear and look ugly.  Though the application was refused by the Council, the owner appealed to the Planning Inspectorate.  We were also rather nervous about this one as our objection was one of only two.  To our immense satisfaction, the appeal was dismissed.

Black telephone box with no doorMore good news was the rejection of two applications to place communications hubs on our newly widened High St.  We most certainly did not campaign for this pavement widening just so it could then be filled with clutter.  We objected of course, and knowing that two similar applications elsewhere in the High St were rejected in 2019, we were confident they would be refused, as indeed they were.  One such contraption (pictured) already exists close to the Spires pedestrian crossing.  It is intrusive and is an obstruction for pedestrians, and we have never seen it used.  We are trying with the Council to get it re-sited.

New technology is having a bad time here, with phone masts also struggling to get accepted as we reported in the October Newsletter.  Two have recently been refused in Wood St and Mays Lane though the one behind Barnet College initially refused has now been allowed on appeal.  We do recognise that the world has to move on and we are rather ambivalent about these installations. Unfortunately the latest 5G masts are a lot taller than their predecessors.  The need for them is not in doubt, but when close to someone’s home they can be very intrusive and can spoil the skyline.  When it comes to objecting to these planning applications we tend to stay neutral and leave it to nearby residents to oppose if they wish.  We have previously pointed out the Government is considering allowing phone masts under permitted development rules so they can by-pass the planning application process.  This would be another example of permitted development initiatives riding roughshod over the rights of residents to comment on developments that affect them.

In our two previous Newsletters we reported on the saga of 151-153 High Street, the two houses that many years ago had been converted to create the recently closed Bentley car showroom.  We had to fight hard to secure refusal for an initial proposal that would have resulted in these historic properties having distinctly modern frontages.  We found the revised scheme presented by the developer to be acceptable and this has now been approved.   We would like to acknowledge the extensive involvement of Cllr Sowerby and the Council’s Conservation Officer in securing this most satisfactory outcome.

One refusal we had nothing to do with, as we did not object, was an application to add a third floor to a house in Galley Lane.  This was the first application in our area seeking to add an extra floor to a house using the new permitted development rules introduced last year.  We had doubts whether there was any basis on which to object as the grounds to oppose are very limited under the relaxed rules.  However the Council planners did pull a rabbit out of the hat and found grounds for refusal, principally its bulk and the impact on the character of the road.  This is a good start in challenging applications based on legislation that we consider to be yet another threat to our suburban streets.

Another satisfactory outcome was a refusal to allow a ‘back garden’ development in Wood St.  Being in a conservation area it would have struggled for acceptance, but a lot of objections including ours probably put the nails in the coffin.

We had reservations about the scheme to convert the industrial building at 50 Moxon St to 50 ‘co-living’ flats aimed at young professionals.  Residents in the locality, understandably fearing excessive disturbance, lodged a lot of objections to the planning application.  The planning application has been withdrawn as perhaps rather fortuitously the owner sold the building to the Education Dept., we understand for use as a special needs school.  We do think this is a much better re-use of the building.

Back again

Large house with bow windows, white front and red brick sideThe owners of 17 Park Rd just don’t give up and we are perplexed by their latest application.  They have made several planning applications seeking to convert this building to over 30 tiny flats by exploiting the lax permitted development regulations introduced in 2015.   They have been knocked back four times by the Council, but as reported in our October Newsletter, they did secure approval to convert the two lower floors to seven flats. Now they are back again, this time seeking to convert the same two floors to 15 tiny flats, which more or less takes us back to the earlier rejected applications.  In the June Newsletter we reported the Government has introduced a requirement that all such developments must ensure that the flats have ‘adequate natural light’.  Though there is no definition of ‘adequate’ we have looked at the building and consider the light to some flats would be very poor.  Our objection is based on this.

This coming April a further change to the regulations will require that all flats in such developments must conform to national minimum space standards.  This should put an end to the scandal of sub-standard tiny flats with poor or even no natural light being packed into conversions of redundant offices or industrial buildings.  Of course, this should never have been allowed in the first place.

Thumbs down for showroom scheme

Artists sketch of three floor building with shop unit on ground floorThis scheme refers to the large now closed Bentley showroom opposite 151-153 High St (discussed above).  We always thought that it would be difficult to re-purpose this large building, so it was no surprise when a planning application appeared for complete redevelopment with shops at ground level and flats above, as shown in the simulated drawing.  We have no issue with the principle of such a development, but alas the design has left us cold.  Over three floors the scale is out of keeping with the rest of the High Street in this area and will be over-dominant.  The frontage is also distinctly modern which is out of keeping with neighbouring buildings in this conservation area.  So we have objected and wait to see how the Planning Committee responds.  Given the rather painful experience of the developer for 151-153 opposite we are astonished the developer here has not taken notice of that.  If they had consulted us before finalising their scheme they might have saved themselves a lot of trouble.

A defeat in Hadley Rd

We maintain constant vigilance when it comes to the loss of family homes for conversion to flats or demolition and replacement with a block of flats.  Across the Borough it is frustrating that there is a distinct lack of consistency in decisions by Planning Officers, Planning Committees and the Planning Inspectorate alike.  In the October newsletter we reported on the Planning Committee refusing applications to demolish detached houses in Quinta Drive and Prospect Rd to make way for blocks of flats, both of which we objected to.

So when a similar application to demolish a detached house in Hadley Rd appeared we objected to this one feeling reasonably confident that it too would be rejected.  We were not unduly concerned when Officers recommended approval, as they did the same on the two previous applications.  But this time the Planning Committee accepted the Officer recommendation and allowed the application.  A key argument put forward by Officers was that the road was characterised by a mix of flats and houses.  This is an important consideration as planning guidance says that demolition of a family house will not normally be allowed in roads characterised by houses.    But our estimate is that just 13% of properties in Hadley Road are flats, which we contend means it is characterised by houses.  We are pressing for clarification.

Enterprise Car Hire approved

White painted closed pub with cleared building site fenced offWe had a battle over the former White Lion pub and its surroundings on St Albans Rd, where we campaigned to fight off a proposal to build a modern office block and houses on the site.  That was won.   A further application to convert the pub and surroundings to a car hire facility was fine by us, but that had to negotiate the council’s pub protection policy. This resulted in this scheme taking nearly two years to secure approval.  But it does now have the go-ahead, including converting the upper floor of the former pub to a flat.  Work has now started on the site with the demolition of the former tyre depot next door.  We look forward to this useful new business arriving soon.

Smartened up at last

Car wash building with shabby paintThe same building all repainted

At least one long-running eyesore has been sorted – the former CYMA garage at the top end of the High Street.  We have previously reported on our attempts to persuade the owner to deal with the rapidly deteriorating fabric of this building.  As well as being a rare example of a surviving 1930s purpose-built garage (sadly our attempt to get it listed failed), it is also potentially something of a town showpiece, being in prominent sight of anyone driving into the town from the Potters Bar direction.

Having finally run out of patience we teamed up with Hadley Residents Association and complained to the Council enforcement team, asking if they would take up the issue with the owner, perhaps with a dilapidation order.  The Council duly obliged and the owner finally agreed to comply.  The difference in appearance can be seen from the before and after photos above.  It is a shame that new plastic windows have appeared, but as they had previously been fitted to part of the building we considered we would have to live with that.  It would also be helpful if the car wash was rather better presented with a reduction in signage clutter.  Hadley Residents Association did pursue this some time ago as none of the signage had the required planning consent, but the Council did not press the matter.

Is the tide turning?

There was much rejoicing when the Planning Committee unanimously turned down the proposal to build 652 flats in blocks up to ten storeys on the site of the former Gas Works in New Barnet.  Our friends in the New Barnet Community Association did sterling work in pointing out the deficiencies in the scheme.  But given past experience, there was every expectation the Mayor would call the scheme in for review, then most likely reversing the Council decision, perhaps even demanding yet more housing to be added by increasing the height of the tower blocks.  But it has not happened.  He has decided not to interfere.  Of course the developer may appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, but the Mayor’s decision is a significant reversal of his previous approach to many such schemes.  Also encouraging is that the Planning Committee has also unanimously rejected the proposed development of the Homebase site in North Finchley to provide 307 flats in blocks four to nine storeys high.

There has been a similar reaction to these dense high-rise developments in neighbouring Enfield where the Planning Committee has rejected a scheme to build 162 flats on the site of Arnos Grove station car park.  In Harrow, the Planning Committee there has similarly turned down a scheme to build flats over Canons Park station car park.  The Mayor may be in some difficulty if he considers calling these in for review as he has direct responsibility for TfL.  He would in effect be adjudicating on his own application.  We are closely watching for what happens.

One feature common to the four applications above was that Officers recommended approval.  It does appear that Councillors on Planning Committees are far more in tune with residents than their officers when it comes to these alien dense high-rise developments being imposed on low-rise suburbia.  Our Councillors should be congratulated for making a stand. 

But it is not all good news, schemes have been approved by local councils to build dense blocks of flats on derelict TfL land in next to Acton Town station (852 Flats in ten blocks up to 25 storeys) and Wembley Park station car park (454 flats). Looming are planning applications for station car parks in Cockfosters, Finchley Central, Stanmore, Rayners Lane and of course here in High Barnet. 

But there are other straws in the wind.  The developer engaged to build flats around Colindale station has pulled out, leaving TfL to decide if it wishes to continue with just the redevelopment of the station.   

Though it is too early to detect a definite shift in thinking, the momentum behind the political initiative to build across London thousands of small flats in high-rise blocks may be waning.  These schemes have met with fierce resistance across the suburbs, supported by many councillors and MPs including our MP Theresa Villiers in a prominent role.  The algorithm conjured up by the Communities Department, which would have imposed on Outer London Boroughs a requirement for thousands of extra homes on top of already demanding targets, has been dropped in the face of a Parliamentary revolt, where again Theresa Villiers played a significant part. 

And other issues have come to the fore.  The problems experienced by flat dwellers in Covid lockdown, coupled with the positive aspects of home working, has led many flat dwellers to seek a house with a garden in leafier areas outside London.  We have seen reports that in 2020 the number of flat sales declined by 48% over 2019, whilst house sales declined by just 28%.  And if the 700,000 foreign nationals estimated to have left the UK last year do not come back when (or if) economic activity returns to normality, that will further depress the demand for more flats in London. 

The initiative to build vast numbers of high-rise flats across the suburbs, which would do irrevocable damage to our communities, has not yet been seen off.  But at least the opposition is highly vocal and making itself felt.  This may give the politicians driving this madcap dash for more tiny flats pause for thought.  They must now be well aware that we suburbanites are revolting.

Shrinking Banks

HSBC bank branch BarnetTSB bank branch Barnet

Following the recent closure of TSB, HSBC has announced that their branch will close in September. Despite vast numbers of branch closures that have been going on around the country for many years, High Barnet has until now avoided the carnage.   We have long considered that the presence of so many banks has been a major factor in attracting people to visit the town centre.  Though numbers will now reduce from seven to five (including Nationwide Building Society) this still leaves us far better represented than most towns of a comparable size, and the five left may have a more promising future as they are the ones that have always appeared to be the busiest.

One positive feature of our bank branches is that their buildings have largely been well maintained and their historic features respected.   Being listed, the TSB building is well protected, but we are concerned about HSBC. It is a particularly fine frontage and it would be a shame if it is despoiled by a new owner.

Street cleaning improvements

We previously reported the injection of additional money into the street cleaning service using money raised from charging for emptying green bins.  We have noticed some changes for the better.  The High St area is now scheduled to be cleaned seven days a week including the daily use of a mechanical sweeper and daily emptying of litter bins.  Previously the weekend service was patchy at best.  The areas cleaned daily are described as the ‘gold’ area.  The town centre periphery is described as the ‘silver’ area, and that is scheduled for cleaning once a fortnight.  There is a marked difference between the cleaning regime for the two areas and we do have some concerns that peripheral areas may not be getting enough attention.  We are asking for clarity on which areas comprise ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ and will then consider whether we think some adjustments might be needed.

The Council are aware that fly-tipping is an increasing problem. In 2019 they had 4134 requests for rubbish to be removed, with the number increasing to 5106 in 2020.  These figures are shocking and alas not many miscreants are caught.  Even when they are identified the fines seem to us to be insufficient to act as a deterrent.  However the Council does appear to respond well to requests to have rubbish removed, so we can only encourage members to always report any dumped rubbish they see.  The saga of our attempt to get CCTV on St Albans Rd rumbles on, but the Council say they are still committed if only they can sort out the electricity supply.

Fancy a cuppa?

Small cafe with shutter closedCafe with old church towers and benches outside

A common refrain we hear is that High Barnet has too many cafes.  But if the product is what people want there is no reason why additional outlets should not succeed.  We have lost a number of cafes along the way but others have become well established with a popular following, most recently Huddle which we reported on in our October Newsletter.   We now have yet more arrivals, with Nkora Coffee in the former Tui travel agents at the entrance to the Spires, and Perk in Alston Rd.  Perk follows on from The Tea Room in Wood St opposite Ravenscroft Park (which offers afternoon tea to groups) in re-purposing shops on the fringe of the town centre as cafes.  These outlets are all independents, not chains.   Sadly lockdown has prevented the latest arrivals from getting off the ground but we do hope they all prove successful.

A lot of excitement has been generated by Botannika Brasserie now partially open in the former Carluccio’s, which when fully open will serve as a restaurant, coffee shop and patisserie.  We have had good reports on the patisserie offerings.  Having sorely missed his regular coffee and croissant in Carluccio’s, your editor is especially enthused by reports on the quality of the almond croissants.

With a further lockdown it remains difficult to assess how many outlets may be permanently closed and not surprisingly there have been few evident changes.  We do now have Barnet Hardware in the former Starbucks, and on the other side of The Spires entrance Mantella Jewellers should soon be arriving in the former Willow charity shop.  In The Spires, Shakeaway milkshakes opened briefly in December before lockdown.  We hope they do ok; previously two similar establishments on the High St did not last long.  The building housing the former Spizzico restaurant is under offer, and the owners of 50 High St (former Phone and Vape) have applied to convert the shop to a food takeaway.  The former Chudys is to become a florist, where some very historic features were found during renovation.

Dealing with traffic congestion

The east end of St John's church Barnet in the snow January 2021 Many residents would love to see the main roads through the town routinely looking as empty as this, but as we all know heavy congestion is the norm.  Down the years we have made a number of attempts to engage with the Highways Dept. in the Council to discuss this issue, including asking for consideration of  some measures that might improve matters.  Apart from some work on possible changes to the major junctions at each end of the High St, which came to nought, we have always been rebuffed.  Thus traffic management in the area has seen no appreciable change for many decades except for the limited free parking that we negotiated some ten years ago.  But policies and personnel change, and the momentum may now be moving our way.  No Council can ignore the nationwide concern with pollution and the need for a greener agenda, which has put impetus behind a shift from car to other modes of transport, lower speed limits and the creation of traffic-free streets.

We have commented above on our disappointment that the Community Plan is rather underwhelming on traffic matters, but we do have another string to our bow.   We raised this whole issue at the last Residents Forum in 2020, specifically arguing that a sensible starting point could be a comprehensive traffic survey.  The Council has now agreed to a meeting which should happen very shortly.  It could be another false dawn, but this time we do feel there is cause for optimism that there may now be some fresh thinking.

Not coming to a road near you

Close up of a small but deep pothole with muddy water in a tarmac roadIt is thin gruel for our area in the Highways programme for the 21/22 year.  Resurfacing is planned for almost the whole length of Wood St, Cedar Lawn Avenue and Orchard Rd (off Fitzjohn Avenue).  There will also be some patching in the High St, Moxon St, Stapylton Rd and Cromer Rd.   Footways are expected to be renewed in Queens Rd and Brook Place. And that’s it.  As ever there is, of course, a programme for filling potholes.

Maybe coming to a road near you

 Resident permit holders only Mon - Sat 8am - 6.30pmThe Council has adopted a modified approach to new CPZs whereby future requests will feature consultation over a much wider area than just that requested by residents.  This is to reflect the reality that once a CPZ is established displacement of parked cars almost invariably leads to residents in adjacent streets then applying for inclusion.  There are 59 CPZs in the Borough with 22 having just a one-hour restriction.  Highways have commented that for many this one–hour period is not long enough, indicating that we can expect a number to be reviewed.  We anticipate that a lot of residents would be less than thrilled with having controlled hours extended in their roads.

And briefly …

The Council are examining whether to charge for car parks in parks.  We have free parking in the car park behind Courthouse Gardens, though it is so tucked away few people know of its existence and it is largely empty.  Charging is unlikely to promote better use.

Still on the search for income the Council are considering allowing solar panels and battery stores in little used areas of parks and other open spaces.  In our area they have alighted on Highland Gardens as a prospective site, though without more details it is difficult to assess the potential impact.  Needless to say the initial public reaction has been far from favourable.

The application for a Judicial Review of the 384 bus being diverted along Salisbury Rd was rejected. Though the diversion is very unpopular with residents in the road it looks likely to now be permanent.

The Banners representing the nobles who fought at the Battle of Barnet will again appear in the High Street in the Spring.  Sadly Covid has put paid to the ambitious events planned in the Spring for the 550th anniversary of the battle, but they have been re-scheduled for 11/12 September.

We try not to carp on too much about what is wrong in our area, but we have been told of some fishy anti-social behaviour around the Brewery pond on Hadley Green.  Numbers of anglers have been turning up there and making off with their catch, presumably for home consumption.  We know the authorities have bigger fish to fry, but hope they can reel in the offenders and give them a good grilling.

Finally, on a rather sad note we should also mention that over in New Barnet the owners of the popular French restaurant Chez Tonton have decided to call it a day and retire after 37 years.

Our Committee

In the October Newsletter we put out an appeal for volunteers to join the Committee.  We are pleased that two people who came forward have now been recruited:  Barry Henderson has taken on the role of Planning Officer and Wendy Marler is our new Environment Officer.  As a consequence, Gordon Massey has relinquished the Planning Officer role though he will continue as a committee member with a new role as Planning Policy Officer, dealing with Government legislation proposals along with scrutiny of the emerging London Plan and Local Plan.  He will also continue as Newsletter Editor.  Sean Mitchell has switched from Environment to Highways Officer, relieving Chairman Ken Rowland of that role.

Our Chairman has also been active in recent months establishing a BRA Facebook page and has recently clocked up 1000 followers.  We have been rather slow to develop our social media presence but appreciate it is important for the future.  With this in mind we are now seeking a Social Media Manager to further expand activity in this area.  Any member who might be interested in taking on this role is invited to contact Ken at the address given on the Contact page.

[The printed version of the newsletter includes at this point some information about membership renewals not relevant to the web version.]