The Spires up for sale

Update: a buyer has been found.

For many years it has been evident that the Spires has been struggling. The rebuilding of the High Street entrance by previous owners William Pears was well received and, we hoped, signalled the potential rejuvenation of the centre. But after the sale by Pears the current owners embarked on an ambitious scheme that ultimately would have led to most of the centre being rebuilt. The partial though still extensive work that was done, destroying the previous cohesive layout and architectural style, has evidently been a failure. High Barnet is now left with a shopping centre in something of a limbo.

With the problems described above, and the added decline in retail due to increase in on-line sales competition, it is understandable why the centre should be considered for at least an element of re-purposing, so it comes as no surprise that the sales brochure that has been produced by Savills contains two schemes that vary in scale and impact.

Artist's impression of aerial view of the Spires shopping centre with blocks of flats of up to six storeys above the shops
This aerial view is an impression of how a partial redevelopment might look

BRA is in no doubt that The Spires remains the focal point of the town centre. Waitrose is the anchor store and undoubtedly a key reason why people visit the town centre. The car park provides over half of the parking spaces in town. Given that the available council parking spaces are (in normal times) invariably full, the loss of The Spires car park could be a catastrophe for the commercial wellbeing of the entire town centre. Thus, we consider it vital that any potential changes to The Spires should be addressed taking into account the impact on the town as a whole.

In 2012 the Council produced a Planning Framework embracing The Spires, the old market site (now with planning consent for a hotel), and the Territorial Army site. This Framework was written in the context of improving connectivity of the retail offer in the town, with an underlying expectation of an element of expansion. With retail in retreat, this Framework document is now outdated. However a revised Planning Framework could again put the Council and the community on the front foot in setting the parameters for any redevelopment.

The recently adopted London Plan urges Councils to produce design guides (a variation on a planning brief) for all potential development sites as a means of heading off potentially unwelcome unexpected proposals that lead to extended conflict.

A few years ago, with our involvement, a planning brief was prepared for the Brake Shear House site. This subsequently proved invaluable in seeing off a most unwelcome development proposal. What is now being built is in conformity with the brief. This has demonstrated how useful planning briefs can be. We believe that a new Planning Framework for The Spires could reap immense benefits and we have urged that as a matter of urgency this should be commissioned by the Council.

The Council as the freeholder is known to be ‘considering its position’. We are also aware that in some areas councils have bought failing shopping centres with a view to repurposing for civic uses. If this might be a possibility, there is a need for the council to fully engage with the community about any potential alternative uses.

April 2021