Whalebones Park Redevelopment Proposal
The planning application submitted in September 2019 proposed to redevelop this site providing 152 homes along with a public park and various enhancements.
We have throughout been mindful that the Whalebones site is an open space and in the Wood St conservation area, so there are significant sensitivities surrounding any proposals for redevelopment. There is no bar in principle to development in a conservation area, but in considering whether to approve a scheme of this kind the Council must take into account planning law which requires that any development must ‘protect and enhance’ the area and there must be ‘less than significant harm’.
The site itself is former farmland which has become fallow apart from a small area used for rearing poultry and buildings used by The Guild of Artists and beekeepers. The site is owned by the Gwyneth Cowing Trust. The site does require maintenance and the trustees have said they are running out of money. They have made it clear they wish to dispose of the site and wind up the Trust. A lengthy report included in the planning application advises that farming could not be continued other than at a loss.
So we concluded that change was inevitable. Though the introduction of housing is controversial, we are not aware of any viable alternative scheme being put forward over the years since the Trustees made their intentions known. If the site were to be transferred into private hands there is every possibility that a new owner could in the future bring forward a development proposal.
Against the background above we considered the scheme to have many positives:
- There is no current public access to the site so it does not benefit the community - other than the sense of having a green ‘lung’ within a built-up area and knowing it supports wildlife.
- The housing development would occupy some 55% of the site but this would be spaciously laid out with a lot of greenery included.
- Some 40% of the site would become a public open space including landscaping, a wooded walk and children’s play area. The privately owned Whalebones House and the woodland surrounding it was not part of the scheme. With that included some 60% of the overall site would remain undeveloped. There would be extensive wooded areas and key ecological concerns are addressed including the provision of bat boxes.
- Greening across the site will include the planting of 165 trees.
- Views to the south towards Totteridge will be retained.
- The Guild of Artists occupy a rapidly decaying building on the site. They, along with the beekeepers would be housed in a purpose-built replacement building which should guarantee their long-term future.
- The architecture was of a high quality.
- The maximum height was four storeys and that is at the lowest point on the site. The buildings would be the same height or lower than the adjacent Elmbank site.
- Two-thirds of the frontage facing Wood St would be parkland and extra tree planting along the Wood St boundary would make the site invisible from Wood St except at the entrance. Thus the site’s role in providing a visible green separation between High Barnet and arkley would be maintained
- Highways said the impact on traffic would be negligible.
- Tenure would include 40% affordable, which should be a positive for workers at the adjacent hospital.
We concluded that overall the scheme met the ‘protect and enhance’ criteria, especially the extensive open space which should be a major positive for the community, and any harm to the listed building or the conservation area would be less than substantial. Thus we supported the development.
Officers recommended approval of the planning application. When it was considered by the Planning Committee the vote was tied, but refused on the casting vote of the chairman. The reason for refusal was that there would be ‘substantial harm’.
The developer appealed to the Planning Inspectorate but prior to the hearing the Council changed its mind, decided that the harm would be ‘less than substantial’. It was generally assumed that the Council’s decision would clinch the matter and approval by the Planning Inspector would be little more than a formality. But surprisingly the Inspector decided to dismiss the appeal in a decision dated 1 November 2021. The text of the decision can be seen by going to the Planning Inspectorate website and entering reference number 3273189.
We have found some of the Inspector’s reasoning difficult to follow, for example he considered the view of the site to be of more value to people leaving the hospital than the opportunity for them to cross the road and make use the proposed public park. We have however decided not to undertake a detailed critique of the decision as there would be no particular point to doing this. We now wait to see what the Trustees and the developer intend to do next.
Barnet Residents Association