Newsletter October 2021

Our High St is on something of a roll at the moment, with a falling vacancy rate and some interesting independent shops having arrived or imminent.  The Medieval Festival was successfully delivered after some wobbles over funding.  And after three years of endeavour on our part the Council has taken steps to tackle the scourge of fly-tipping on St Albans Rd.  As usual, on planning matters we have some successes and some gloom to report.

We do hope as many members as possible are able to attend our Special General Meeting on 3rd November 2021 – details at the end of this newsletter.

Lights, cameras, action!

Steel pole with CCTV cameras, lights and solar panelsYellow sign with stylised camera and saying CCTV in operationWe wrote to members on email expressing our delight that our three year campaign to get CCTV cameras along St Albans Rd had finally come to fruition.  We have been ably supported in our endeavours by our MP Theresa Villiers and Councillor Longstaff, but even so it has been a long struggle.  The solar-panel operated cameras are a first for Barnet, so it is fingers crossed that they will work properly, bearing in mind that most fly-tipping occurs in the dark.  There are three cameras mounted on a single pole as shown in the photograph.  One snag – the cameras have not yet been activated.  Even so, there was no rubbish present when we last looked.

Tall steel fence by the side of the road with trees and grass
By coincidence the Wrotham Estate has erected a new fence at the rear of the footpath where a lot of rubbish has been thrown into the field behind.  Apparently this initiative arose from the tenant’s concern about the welfare of horses kept in the field.  The vast amount of accumulated rubbish that had been thrown into the field has been cleared, which must have been a mammoth task.

We have resisted a suggestion that yellow lines also be introduced here as many key workers in the town centre make use of the free parking.

Park Rd tiny flats allowed

Looking along a dingy alley with a white house on the left and a close-boarded wooden fence on the rightAfter several rejected applications and a number of approvals the owners have finally secured approval for 25 tiny flats in this former commercial building.  We tried various arguments to try and stop this gross overdevelopment, but the owners were able to exploit the poorly drafted permitted development regulations allowing the conversion of offices to residential use. Since April this year it has been a requirement that such conversions should conform to minimum laid down space standards, but the application pre-dated this requirement so they have got away with it.  We did push the Council on another requirement that all flats should have adequate natural light, but they appear to have bought into a consultant’s report commissioned by the applicant that all flats would have adequate natural light.  This appears to have been based on theoretical calculations relating window sizes to internal area.  As the photograph shows, a number of the windows to the flats will be down a dingy side alley with trees only a few feet from the windows.  It is absurd to conclude that these flats will have adequate light and it is most disappointing that the planners did not make more of this.

Planning applications slow down

With more than 8000 a year, Barnet has the second largest number of applications in London and more than Liverpool and Manchester combined.  At times we have felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of applications that have warranted examination, though lately there has been something of a lull in our area.  But, as we report below, as usual we have had a mix of successes and disappointments.

three storey block of flats in red brick with flat roofThe most unwelcome application in recent months was the attempt to add two extra floors to Richard Court flats in Alston Rd, taking advantage of the newly introduced permitted development regulations.  There were numerous objections including from ourselves.  Fortunately the Council did find reasons to refuse the application, even though the grounds for doing so are limited.  Like Barnet, councils around the country appear to universally find this type of proposal abhorrent, with many being rejected.  But some refusals have recently been overturned on appeal, so we might not be out of the woods yet on Richard Court.  There have been reports in the national press of the misery inflicted on occupiers whilst work to add additional floors has been going on, and the value of some flats has been reduced.  In Australia there is provision for existing flat owners to be compensated.  But here a Government obsessed with ramping up numbers of new homes is unlikely to be bothered with such niceties.

Substantial house in red brick with half-timbered effectOne major disappointment was 28 Prospect Rd, where demolition of this attractive house and replacement by flats was allowed on appeal.  We have consistently argued that as very few family houses are being built every effort should be made to preserve the existing stock.  There is no shortage of small flats being built.

A further disappointment was the approval for change of use for the former Arthur Murray dance studio in the centre of the High St.  We opposed the planning application, but permitted development regulations now make such a change of use easy to achieve.  We are saddened to see the loss of this long-standing local facility.  The sprung dance floor was very well regarded and these days it is not something likely to be replicated elsewhere.  We would not be surprised if an application follows to convert to residential use.

two storey white building with gable front and parapetWe opposed proposed alterations to 159 High St and the planning application was refused. This was the second attempt by the owner to alter the fine façade of this building, which in our view would have ruined the appearance.  Other battles we have recently successfully fought in this immediate area re inappropriate redevelopment proposals were at nos 151-153, the former Bentley garage and the former Statons office.  In all these cases we considered the proposals were far from being in keeping with the Conservation Area.  Hopefully the owners have now got the message that being in a Conservation Area means that owners are not free to alter or replace buildings just as they please.

white semi-detached house with drive and garageAnother refusal was for a proposal to convert 13 St Albans Rd into a House in Multiple Occupation.  Applicants for HMOs have to demonstrate need, and with a new HMO in Bruce Rd recently opened we correctly anticipated the Council would turn this one down.

Approval has been given for a number of houses on part of the Meadow Works site, which we supported.  We are in discussion with the owner regarding plans for refurbishing the remainder of the site which is expected to remain in commercial use.

Two phone boxes by the railings outside Barnet police stationApproval has also been given for a BT Communications Hub to be installed outside the police station, replacing the two redundant phone boxes there.  The new facility will be placed against the railings so it should not be intrusive. We previously reported planning applications to install two more communications/advertising hubs on the newly-widened pavement in the centre of the High St, which would have been most intrusive.  They have been refused, but are now subject to an appeal.  We are still awaiting a decision on the even more intrusive application to put advertising banners on the lamp posts along the High St.  As here, there have been numerous objections to similar proposals in other town centres but they do seem to be securing approval, the latest being in New Barnet.

Wenzel's bakery shop
When Wenzel’s acquired their new shop they put in the new frontage without seeking planning permission.  Though the new frontage was decidedly better than the former Clark’s frontage, it was nonetheless somewhat modern and not quite what we would expect in a Conservation Area.  We decided not to complain to the Council, but did write to Wenzel’s pointing out the error of their ways, and asked if they might do something about the awful plastic windows to the first floor. We did not get a response to this request, but as part of a recent refurbishment of the first floor to create a new flat appropriate windows have appeared.  Though we sometimes have major successes, the reality is mainly one of perseverance to achieve a steady accumulation of minor victories such as this.  This building was once a pub called the Hart’s Horn.  It had a fine Victorian frontage, now completely obliterated, and some magnificent chimneys – now just truncated remnants.  A photograph appears in Richard Selby’s book “Barnet Pubs : Another Round” (published 2008 in conjunction with Barnet Museum).

We have long expected that the proposed Premier Inn on the former market site would not be going ahead.  We have now learned that the site, owned by Aberdeen Council, has recently been advertised for sale.  A development proposal will inevitably follow the sale.  We will of course be approaching the new owners to establish what they might have in mind for this important town centre site.  As it is in the Conservation Area there will be constraints on the design of any new building.

We have featured in previous newsletters the saga of the new building at 70 High St and how it does not reflect the approved plans.  The Council issued a demolition order but the developer appealed against this.  The Appeal was heard by the Planning Inspectorate on 28 September and your editor gave verbal evidence on behalf of BRA.  The discussion involved quite a messy tussle regarding just what the Council actually approved in the first place.  The outcome is keenly awaited but we are far from certain it will be a win.

Housing juggernaut rolls on

Barnet has a target of 35,000 new homes over the next 15 years, though the estimated short term five year supply might be falling short.  Against this background the planners have been avidly recommending approval for large schemes around the Borough.  In Cricklewood, on the former B&Q site, approval has been given for 1049 flats up to 18 storeys.  There were over 2000 objections, especially from residents in the adjacent Railway Terraces conservation area whose homes will be dominated by the new development.  The Council has also approved the regeneration of the Douglas Bader Estate in Colindale where, as we reported in the June newsletter, the existing (admittedly run-down) 271 homes will be replaced by 753 new homes, some in blocks up to nine storeys.  Approval has been given for 130 flats on the green space adjacent to Finchley Memorial Hospital, despite an assurance when the hospital was built that this would remain an open space. 

Coming up soon are applications to add further units to the vast number already approved for the Victoria Quarter in New Barnet and the North London Business Park.  Also coming shortly are decisions on the proposal to build flats on Cockfosters station car park, plus a revised application to turn Barnet House into residential units.

There is one major good news story.  Officers recommended approval for 307 flats on the former North Finchley Homebase site, but councillors on the Planning Committee thought otherwise.  An Appeal followed leading to a Planning Inquiry, described by members of The Finchley Society as ‘gruelling’.  The appeal has been dismissed, with the Inspector being decidedly critical of the scheme.  The Finchley Society put in an immense amount of work on the appeal and this is a terrific success for them.  It is heartening that community groups like ours can have such influence on the outcome of major schemes.

In our area, as we have reported to members by email, the big news is that Taylor Wimpey has pulled out of the joint venture with TfL to build 300 flats on the High Barnet station site.  They have also pulled out of the proposed redevelopment of Finchley Central station car park.  Maybe only one cheer though as TfL say they are continuing to explore reviving these two schemes, presumably by seeking a new partner..

After receiving an Appeal, Enfield Council reversed its decision to refuse 162 build-to-rent flats on the car park at Arnos Grove Station.  This situation is very similar to Barnet’s u-turn on Whalebones of which Members on email were advised.  The Whalebones Planning Inquiry went ahead anyway and we will have more to say on this after the Inspector’s report has been published.

One glimmer of light is that the Government has announced the proposed Planning Bill has been put on hold pending a re-think.  Amongst other horrors the Bill was proposing to effectively remove the right of residents to object to planning applications. (Your editor in his role as Planning Policy Officer wrote a lengthy critique which can be viewed on our website).  So we now wait and see if genuine concessions are made, or whether we just get the same proposals cleverly re-packaged.

Redundant or not?

Read brick office building behind stout fenceAt a recent public event Council officers said that there had been contact with the MOD regarding the prospective sale of the Army Reserve site in St Albans Rd, and thus it had been included in the Council’s list of sites expected to be available for new housing sometime in the next five years.

Our MP Theresa Villiers, speaking in the House of Commons, asked the Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quinn: “there was some serious dismay when the Army Reserve Centre in Chipping Barnet appeared on a list of sites for potential housing development.  Will the Minister give me the strongest assurances that the Territorial Army centre will stay in operational use for the foreseeable future?”  In reply, the Minister said: “I am pleased to be able to confirm to my right honourable friend that the High Barnet Army Reserve Centre has a continuing defence use and there are currently no plans for its sale.”  The Council has since commented “We welcome the clarification that the MOD has no plans to dispose of the site in the short-term.  This will be reflected in a modification to the relevant section of the Draft Local Plan”.  So the best we can conclude is that redevelopment remains a maybe ….. or maybe not.

Café Culture keeps on growing

Rise and Shine Cafe with people sitting outside at a tableThe popularity of the outdoor seating provided by recent arrivals Huddle, Nkora and Botannika, in addition to longer established outlets such as Coffee Bean, Costa and Café Nero, shows that a café culture is now well established in the town.  Enjoy Café has reinvented itself as the Rise and Shine Café and has also obtained a pavement seating licence.  Earlier, Burrito Shack became the first outlet along the widened pavement in the centre of the High St to introduce outside seating.  We expect there will be more.

High St on a roll

The big story for 2021 is not what has happened around the High St but what hasn’t – namely just how few closures have occurred.  And as we report below, a raft of new openings are on the way.  There have been comments nationally that a shift to home working and the impact of lockdown has boosted the fortunes of local centres.  In High Barnet we now have the additional advantage that the shake-out of national retail chains is now largely complete and the town centre has been re-inventing itself with emphasis on independent outlets, many providing personal services and hospitality.

Shop with large windowsSmall single-storey empty shop 'sale last day final prices'

The only recent closures have been two long established outlets – The Present and Scrummagers.

The Present has closed on the retirement of the owner but we believe a tenant has been found.  Scrummagers has closed to make way for the redevelopment of the building involving the addition of two storeys to provide residential accommodation.  The new building should match the rest of the terrace it adjoins and we anticipate this should be a positive addition to the streetscape.  At ground level a shop will be re-provided.  The former Victoria Bakery is back up for sale, though now with planning consent for residential development to the rear.  The former Children’s Air Ambulance charity shop is also up for sale and the North London Hospice shop opposite the Church has been advertised as available to let.  The Hospice is of course operating out of the larger shop in the centre of the High St so it is no surprise that the smaller shop is closing.  We have already seen a reduction in the number of charity shops in the town and losing one or two more may be no bad thing.

Organic Beauty Studio nails and makeup on sloping pavementThe former Hillside Food and Wine had been empty for some considerable time so it was pleasing to see it let.  The new occupant is yet another provider of personal services, though ‘organic’ appears to be a key marketing pitch.  Your editor must confess to not having a clue about the difference between organic makeup and the ordinary stuff, his only experience of makeup being face painting, but it sounds impressive.

KD phone shop in The Spires should be useful addition to the local offerings, and indeed it is pleasing to see one of the empty outlets in The Spires now occupied.  There are still four empty units though (including the two ill-fated proposed restaurants) which compares poorly with the progress in the High St.

hardware shop with brushes and buckets on displayWe quite liked the signage and black surround of Home Solutions but were less enamoured when the hoardings came down and we saw the shop front had been set back to allow goods to be displayed directly onto the street.  As we then anticipated, it was not long before the goods started to creep across the pavement.  We checked the shop did not have a pavement licence and took steps to ensure the goods were confined to their premises, a requirement they have since appeared to be (largely) observing.

Ringo's piri piri cafe with door openWe previously reported that the former Phone and Vape shop secured planning permission for conversion to a hot food takeaway just before new legislation came in banning such outlets from opening near schools.  We thought it was going to be called Red Wings, but that has morphed into Ringo’s Peri Peri.  Your editor can be quite adventurous in trying out new kinds of food, but must confess to have never been enamoured by Peri Peri.  Somehow, he suspects Ringo is unlikely to tempt him in.

Further openings expected soon include Mantrella jewellers, Zarrin Persian Patisserie in the former PDSA outlet, Gaziantep Patisserie in the former Shaketastic (currently undergoing a major rebuild to provide flats on the upper floors),  the Organic Food Garden in the former Londis, The Library Bar in the former Velofit,  and Nika café in the former Statons.  The long closed Dudleys Pancake House is to become a restaurant.  Harry’s Butchers has applied for permission to convert to a hot food takeaway, though securing approval might be a struggle given the legislation now banning such premises near schools.

What is most noticeable about all these new outlets is the continuing emphasis on hospitality and personal services, with traditional retail largely absent.  Your editor is especially excited at the prospect of two more patisseries, which raises the prospect of High Barnet becoming a go to destination for foodies.

Squatters return and then banished

Three story white building with one window obscured in whiteEmpty premises are always vulnerable to squatters taking them over, especially those in prominent positions where it is evident that a property is unoccupied.  The very neglected former Curry Cottage at the southern end of the High St was occupied by squatters for more than two years until its recent sale and tidying up ready to let.  More recently we have had a problem in the central section of the High St with the vacated TSB building having acquired squatters.  We quickly got in contact with the owners and the Council, asking that steps be taken to remove these individuals.  Our efforts seem to have paid dividends and the squatters have been evicted.  This is an example of how we do try to keep a close eye on the town centre and take steps to deal with any problems that arise.

Smartening up the town

Two people in green hi-vis jackets removing fly postsIn the October newsletter we reported that we had stepped up our efforts to deal with litter and related eyesores.  We recently acquired a set of hi-vis vests and litter picking equipment, which we first put to use towards the end of September.  Our main target was stickers and fly posting on premises along the High St.  The photograph shows our Chairman Ken Rowland and Environment Officer Wendy Marler removing fly posts from the former Foxton’s frontage.  We managed to fill three waste bags.  Similar exercises are planned and we would be delighted to hear from any members who would like to join in.

Contact Ken : email address as an image to avoid spam.  The address is 'chair' at this domain (email address as an image to avoid spam).

A trend in recent times has been an increasing number of PVC advertising banners appearing on railings around the town.  In the past these have usually been used to advertise community events such as school fetes and the Xmas Fair.  They are only put up for a week or two, and in our view are a positive and harmless way of promoting civic events.  But what we are now getting are permanent banners advertising commercial ventures, to the point where temporary banners for civic events are being crowded out.  Advertising such as this should require planning consent, which of course rarely happens.  We consider this activity should be brought under control and have asked the Council to do something about it.

A positive end to the Summer

We are keen on civic events that are open to all our residents, especially those that have originated in the area and are run by local volunteers.  The Xmas Fair has for many years been the only such regular local event, but the Medieval Festival and the Classic Car Show both indicate they are now equally established as popular annual events.  The mild September weather proved to be kind to both with good attendances.

Four classic cars driving past Barnet churchA green classic car with a soft top

The Classic Car Show was not without problems. The petrol crisis prevented several cars from participating, so numbers were down on previous years.  The parade along the High St was also hampered by roadworks, but this did not deter your intrepid editor who much prefers watching these vehicles on the move then parked up, not least because the photo opportunities are so much better.  The venue on the top floor of The Spires also proved very positive as the many visitors made good use of nearby facilities, with several of the market stalls reporting an excellent day’s trading.

About seven banners with coats of arms with peacocks and lionsIn previous years we have featured photos of the Battle events on Byng Rd playing fields, but this time we thought we ought to acknowledge the involvement of the town centre in the Medieval Festival.  Some of the banners produced by Barnet Museum of nobles who were present at the Battle of Barnet again appeared on lamp posts along the High St, and others have featured in the display by our Museum in the vacant shop kindly made available by The Spires management.  The Museum has additionally obtained on loan from the British Museum four arrowheads used at the battle and the seal of the Earl of Warwick, apparently removed from his body after he was killed.  We would like to see more engagement in the town with this event; more shops could perhaps contribute with posters and even small displays.

And briefly ……

The complete closure of Barnet police station has long been trailed so it has come as no surprise that the axe has finally fallen.  We anticipate the site will be put up for sale and a development proposal will follow, almost certainly for conversion or demolition to make way for … yes …. yet more flats.  Final closure is expected around the end of November.  One unfortunate consequence will be that the Safer Neighbourhood Teams for High Barnet and Underhill will now be based at Colindale and will have to travel daily to and from the police station there.  Back in June the two teams collaborated to undertake a weapons sweep in the area.

Enterprise car hire based in the former White Lion has established a car club. At present there is only one car available but hopefully this will increase if the initiative catches on.

It seems likely that Grasvenor Infants school will be closing at the end of the 21/22 school year.  The trustees are in the process of consulting with parents.  If this school is no longer viable our earlier opposition to establishing an Infants/Junior school on the Ark Academy site looks to have been well founded.

Residents in Alston Rd have been pressing for some years for the existing short 20mph zone to be extended.  They were again aiming to raise the matter at the Residents Forum on 7 October, which was just after we went to press.  They were being joined by residents from Salisbury Rd who are pressing for a similar limit after experiencing the recently re-routed 384 bus being driven at excess speeds on occasions.  A 20 mph limit embracing all the Victorian streets behind The Spires might not be a bad idea.

We previously reported that the former industrial building at 50 Moxon St had been acquired for a special needs school. A little more information has emerged.  It is expected to be called the Windmill School catering for 90 children with autism.  A planning application is expected shortly.

A very welcome grant of £200,000 has been secured for the renovation of the pavilion in Tudor Park

Front garden with troughs of begonias and hanging baskets of petuniasWe thought we would end on a heart-warming note.  Every year this tiny front garden in Alston Rd, lovingly tended by Alex and Jackie, is a blaze of colour.  It is such a pleasure when walking past to pause and spend a few moments admiring this fine display.  Alas, most front gardens are at best kept tidy with little planting, especially now that many have to carry the burden of finding space for two or three large waste bins.  Even worse, many front gardens that have been converted to car parks are often completely devoid of any greenery.


Invitation to Special General Meeting

Wednesday 3rd November 2021

7.30pm

The Bull Theatre, 68 High St

The Committee are proposing a number of resolutions concerning the area served by the Association, changes to membership categories and a modest increase in subscriptions.  It was intended to deal with these proposed changes at the July AGM but as a consequence of the meeting having to be conducted via Zoom it was decided to postpone the constitution changes to a later date.

AGENDA

  1. Introduction and overview of the reasons behind the proposed changes
  2. Discussion and voting on the resolutions 1 to 9 below
  3. Any other business

Resolution 1:  Amend Clause 1 of the Constitution - delete “for the High Barnet and Underhill Wards (formerly Hadley and Arkley Wards)”.

Resolution 2:  Amend clause 2 of the Constitution - delete “of the High Barnet and Underhill Wards of the London Borough of Barnet (“The Designated Area”),” and substitute “in High Barnet and the surrounding area”.

These two resolutions are proposed as a consequence of ward changes that will come into effect in May 2022.  The eastern portion of High Barnet ward and the northern half of Oakleigh ward will be merged to form a new ward called Barnet Vale.  The Committee proposes that rather than adjust the constitution to fit the new wards we cease to define our operational area by rigid ward boundaries and instead adopt a more flexible approach, whilst identifying High Barnet as the focal point of our activities.

Resolution 3:  Insert new clause between clauses 4 and 5 “At the discretion of the Committee the Association may make financial donations to local organisations”.

The committee has occasionally agreed to make donations to local organisations, e.g. most recently The Medieval Festival. But there is no formal authority in the Constitution permitting such donations.  This new clause is to correct this omission.

Resolution 4:  Amend Clause 6 of the Constitution - delete “Individual” and insert “Household”, delete “the designated area” and insert “High Barnet or the surrounding area”.

We currently operate three forms of membership – Individual charging £4, a family concession charging £6, and Corporate charging £6.  But the cost of servicing all addresses is exactly the same.  To simplify matters and to reflect the reality of servicing costs, the Committee proposes that in future a single form of membership irrespective of how many people are in a household should apply.  Corporate membership will be retained.

Resolution 5:  Delete Clause 7 of the Constitution.

A consequence of abandoning a designated area as proposed by Resolutions 1 and 2, any member will be able to vote at General Meetings irrespective of where they live.

Resolution 6:  The Committee proposes that for all new members the annual subscription shall be £7 from 1 November 2021.

Resolution 7:  For existing members paying £6 the subscription shall be increased to £7 on first renewal after 31 October 2021.

Resolution 8:  Existing members paying £4 will be allowed a concessionary rate with the subscription increased to £5 on first renewal after 31 October 2021.

Resolutions 6,7 and 8 propose to increase subscription rates.  We have not increased subscriptions since 2011, whilst printing and postage costs have continued to rise.  For new members joining from 1st November the subscription will be £7 for all households.  For existing family members £7 will apply on first renewal after 31 October.  For existing individual members paying £4 the concessionary subscription of £5 will apply on first renewal after 31 October.  Thus the increase for all existing members will be £1.

Resolution 9:  Amend clause 10 of the Constitution – delete in line 2 “five” 2 and insert “seven”

As our areas of activity have expanded we have found that limiting the size of the committee to ten has been somewhat restrictive.  This change proposes increasing the size of the committee to twelve.

The Constitution can be viewed on our website

We do not expect the meeting to be unduly long so members are cordially invited to stay on afterwards for an informal gathering where drinks and snacks will be provided.  We anticipate completing all proceedings by 9.30pm

Joining Barnet Residents Association

Having a large and engaged membership gives us the necessary authority in speaking for the area when dealing with the Council, property developers and other organisations.  Please bear this in mind if you receive a reminder to renew your membership.

To support recruitment please share this newsletter with friends and neighbours and encourage them to join.  The annual subscription, shortly to increase if approved at the EGM, is £4 for a single household, £6 for a family, or £6 corporate.  For those wishing to join, a cheque through the post to our Membership Secretary with their name and address on the back is sufficient, or for full details visit the membership page.