In this issue we have a lot to report, so apologies if members find some of the text somewhat heavy going. We discuss anticipated changes in the High St, the market and the Spires car park that open up some exciting possibilities. On planning we have the usual mix of good news and bad news, as always overshadowed by the potentially major changes to our environment arising from so many sites being identified for redevelopment. Also less welcome is the closure of the police station though it had been signalled for some time.
ALL CHANGE FOR SPIRES CAR PARK ….
We have long complained about The Spires car park charges. We were well aware that the owners were at loggerheads with operators Legion over ever increasing charges and reduced usage. So no surprise that Legion has now gone. New operator NCP took over in December and immediately reduced the charges to the level charged by the Council for short-term parking. Usage has increased by 1000 cars a week. The changeover did coincide with the closure of the market car park (see below), so some of The Spires increase would have been displacement from there, but it is a most encouraging start. New payment machines will take payment by cash, card or phone. One downside is that NCP has a policy of not offering any blue badge concessions which has caused some upset.
We have been told that the current charges were an ‘opening offer’ and may soon go up – but ‘only slightly’. A number plate recognition system is also planned, so anyone who overstays but has not got a windscreen penalty notice will not escape – they will receive a fine through the post. Consideration is also being given to a possible season ticket scheme to allow commuters to park on the top floor.
…. AND FOR THE MARKET
We expect the market to move soon to the bandstand site, with a target for an Easter opening. This will link to the opening of the teenage market which will utilise the same stalls. Congratulations should go to Bob Burstow for his achievement in raising the funds to get the teenage market underway (including a modest contribution from us). Drainage and power were still to be installed when we went to press, but we are assured there are no plans to demolish the bandstand. The market should have more adventurous offerings, reflecting the regular cheese and cake stalls that have occupied the Bandstand on Saturdays over recent months. Should more space be needed, thoughts have turned to exploring the possibility of locating additional stalls on the adjacent Council owned open space.
Given the decline of the market over recent years this move is something of a final shot to try and ensure its survival. There is a lot of goodwill around, not least the support and encouragement from the management of The Spires, who have employed an advisor from the very successful Borough market. We are keeping our fingers crossed that a thriving market emerges with offerings to suit all tastes and pockets. And we should not forget the enormous effort put in by Friends of Barnet Market to keep it alive. Without their efforts it would have disappeared years ago.
Meantime the existing market site has been offered for sale and we understand there is a buyer in the frame. It seems unlikely the prospective buyer was influenced by the offer of a free BMW as part of the deal (pictured but now gone). So we can expect a redevelopment proposal to emerge in the near future, something we will be scrutinising very carefully. And no doubt the residents of Chipping Close will be keenly watching for what ideas emerge to ensure they are not adversely affected. What we can now safely conclude is that any idea of The Spires shopping centre expanding beyond its present footprint is well and truly dead.
NATIVES REVOLT OVER ‘PILE OF BOXES’
Photo copyright Lipton Plant Architects 2017
Over forty objections have been lodged in protest at the proposal by SAS Developments to erect a futuristic looking block of flats in Salisbury Rd, in our view rather accurately dubbed by a member as a pile of boxes. We have submitted an objection (which is on our website) based on the unsuitability of such a design in the heart of a town characterised by historic street patterns of Georgian and Victorian architecture. Thanks go to those members who supported our view and submitted their own objections.
The contrast with the recently built OWCH development in Union St could not be starker. The latter was carefully crafted to blend in with the area, with the slate pitched roofs especially effective. SAS told us in advance they ‘don’t do pastiche’, so we feared the worst. Well, we don’t do developers with rigid ideas who have no sympathy with or connection to the local environment. They parachute in, do their worst, and then depart. There is a lot of potential to develop the appeal of our town by promoting its historic character, so intrusive buildings such as this proposal will only serve to destroy that vision. We now await the response of the planners.
As ever, planning applications continue to pour in and we have continued to monitor those around the High St, conservation areas, and others that could have a significant impact. In the year to September 17 we scrutinised 52 such applications and objected to seventeen. Fifteen of these were duly refused and only two approved (the Ark school and 141 High St of which more below). The council also refused eleven of those we scrutinised but did not object to. Contrary to what residents might think, the Council does take a robust approach to assessing applications and we do appreciate this given the pressure they are under.
The rebuilding of After Office Hours was approved in 2015 but has yet to proceed. Not content with a bar at ground floor and seven flats above on this small site, the developer has submitted a further planning application for an extra two studio flats at the rear. Fortunately there are no proposed changes to the approved new frontage which we influenced to ensure it would be in keeping with the conservation area. Another scheme that has been in limbo since 2015 – changes to the Old Fold Golf Course - has finally been approved. An embankment will be created parallel to St Albans Rd using spoil from building sites. A requirement is that all the spoil will be brought in from the north and not transported through the centre of town; something we will be keeping an eye on. The diseased poplar trees that flank St Albans Rd are to be removed but will be replaced with extensive new planting.
A second application to build a block of flats on the vacant site behind Londis was rightly rejected. We expect the owners will soon be back with a revised scheme, hopefully with a more agreeable design than what we have seen so far. The proposed additional floor to the Wessex Court flats in West End Lane was lost on appeal but that has been followed with a further application which offers only minor changes. We have objected yet again.
A proposal to convert the offices above Tesco Express to residential was unexpectedly rejected on the grounds of unacceptable loss of employment. Another scheme we have opposed, the very contemporary design for offices and housing on the site on St Albans Rd between the former While Lion pub and the Open Door Centre, has been rejected for a second time on appeal.
As the schemes above demonstrate, planning can be a war of attrition, often ending with the developer securing approval for something that is just about acceptable. We can usually console ourselves that what eventually gets approved is less offensive than what was proposed in the first place, even if we would have preferred something very different, and in some cases nothing at all.
There is something of a pause in the progress of a number of anticipated larger planning applications in our area. The application to build a six storey block on the Meadow Works site has been withdrawn – for now – perhaps a consequence of the many objections, including ourselves. We still await revised proposals for the Brake Shear House site which had been expected towards the end of last year. The long anticipated proposals for the Whalebones site have yet to emerge, but in the meantime residents have formed an action group aiming to preserve this green space. We believe a buyer has been found for the Marie Foster site in Wood Street.
These sizable developments are a challenge in themselves though we are not – yet – faced with the enormous developments threatening the wider area, which have met with bitter opposition from residents. The Mayor has approved the scheme for 460 homes on the medical research site in Mill Hill, though he did demand substantial changes. Planning applications for the very large and controversial schemes to redevelop Barnet House in Whetstone, the North London Business Park site in Brunswick Park and the Pentavia site in Mill Hill are all rumbling on. And maybe these are just the beginning. The Mayor has published his draft London Plan in which he is seeking 65,000 homes a year over ten years from 2019, more than double the current rate of delivery. He is looking to the outer boroughs to shoulder the burden as opportunities for new development decline in Inner London. His expectation is for intensification around transport hubs and up to 800 metres around town centres – and for ‘intensification’ we read high rise. He is expecting 40% of the new homes to come from small sites defined as up to 2.5 hectares – which is where High Barnet is likely to come in. His proposed target for Barnet Borough is 3134 homes a year over the ten years – a total of 31,340 – and this will be on top of those already delivered by 2019 under the current plan. There are challenging times ahead.
BUILD–OUTS BACK ON THE AGENDA
Photo copyright London Borough of Barnet
A year ago the scheme to help regenerate the town centre by widening sections of the High St pavement on the west side met with a lot of opposition, primarily from residents in Union St and Salisbury Rd who were concerned that loading bays were to be relocated in their roads, and others who had a negative perception of the loss of parking bays without any explanation of the reasons for this.
Council officers have now produced a revised scheme, similar to the original, but not including loading bays in the side roads and with the addition of a small build-out on the opposite side. The picture is an artist’s impression of the scheme viewed from alongside the Post Office with Union St the first turning on the left. Ignore the buildings – they too are an artist’s impression and do not reflect the ones actually there. As well as wider pavements, shorter pedestrian crossings and landscaping, with trees and benches prominent, should create a far more agreeable environment for pedestrians compared to the unappealing traffic dominated High Street we have at present. Ten parking spaces would be removed along the High St but it is proposed to create four new ones in Salisbury Rd. Council approval is being sought this month and if agreed the plans will then go out to public consultation. Funding will come from TfL, who have supported many such schemes around London.
PLANNING ENFORCEMENT SHOWS ITS TEETH…
If breaches of planning law go unchecked the result can be anarchy. So it is pleasing that the recent strengthening of the Planning Enforcement team is showing results. In the last quarter of 2017 some 60 enforcement notices were issued across the Borough, twice the number as in the first quarter. These included eight instances of unlawful flat conversions, two unlawful uses of properties as homes in multiple occupation, and seven ‘beds in sheds’. A rogue owner misusing a property can have a significant negative impact on the quality of life in a street. The council is very reliant on the public reporting transgressions and we do urge members to remain vigilant. Anyone having any doubts about a particular property is welcome to discuss it with us by contacting us via our website.
…. BUT TRANSGRESSIONS STILL A PROBLEM
We were disappointed that the planners did not force the demolition of the ‘beach hut’ built above 141 High St, but the owner was required to make significant cosmetic changes to ameliorate the impact. It does look much improved, though it would have been better disguised if the plastic parapet had not been translucent. In the conservation area at the top end of the High St there was planning approval to infill the undercroft at 189-191, in itself something of a loss, but the owner did not have approval to additionally refurbish the frontage with plastic windows and doors. A retrospective planning application for these changes was demanded and then refused. The good news is that we now have a further planning application to put in a very traditional frontage including replacement wooden windows and shop front with a stall riser.
At 50 High St the ‘Phone and Vape’ shop is another offender, having put in a new frontage without planning consent. As this is a locally listed building we felt we could not let this pass and duly complained to the Council. A retrospective planning application has been refused so we wait to see what happens next. The former ‘Spice Carriage’ has undergone a major renovation including the creation of flats above. We did persuade the owner to put in more appropriate windows for a building in a conservation area, so something of a minor victory here. The new shop frontage is also much better than what was there previously, though the backlit signage does not have planning consent.
Trying to protect the conservation areas from inappropriate unauthorised changes is a constant struggle, but we do often get there. Members may remember the recent instance of the windows above Paddy Power being changed to modern plastic without consent, and following our complaint the owner was obliged to reinstate Georgian style windows. We don’t spot every infringement and we are pleased to hear from members who see changes being made they suspect might not have been approved.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Photo copyright Philip Davies (Heritage and Planning) Ltd
The Council commissioned a report on signage and street furniture which concluded that Barnet was way behind many other Boroughs in its control of street clutter and the quality of its signage. The Borough’s streets and public places are said to be blighted by an unnecessary accumulation of posts, signs, bins, bollards, guard rails and other items placed with little regard for the wider streetscape. The use of teal blue on signage has been identified as a poor choice of corporate colour as it offers low levels of legibility when used as a background colour on signage. We reckon we can agree with all of that.
We believe the conclusions of the report have been accepted, and as a start in response the intention is to develop a more coherent and integrated approach to signage across the Borough, with particular regard to public parks, street nameplates and Borough boundary and town centre signs. We await developments with considerable interest. The adoption of new standards for signage may not translate into replacements appearing for many years as there is bound to be a considerable implementation cost, but recognition of the current dismal state of affairs is a major step forward.
FAREWELL TO OUR POLICE STATION
A consequence of cuts to police funding has been the closure of numerous police stations across London. Although there will be some part time public contact points here in Barnet Borough we will just have the one 24-hour police station in Colindale for 350,000 residents. There is understandable disquiet about this and the Mayor continues to be under pressure to reconsider.
Here in High Barnet the police station closed to the public in December and once the safer Neighbour Team finds a base elsewhere in the area the building will be closed and presumably then sold for redevelopment.
Pick pockets have been very active in the High Street. Their usual mode of operation is to watch people taking money from one of the cash machines, particularly women who then put their purse in an insecure bag. They follow the victim into a shop and steal the purse whilst the victim is distracted making a purchase.
Burglary varies substantially over time but this last Autumn was not good with 31 burglaries in High Barnet between September and November, twice the number over the same period in 2016. The usual warnings apply that the majority of offences occur in the late afternoon and if you are not at home this is the most important time to ensure that appropriate security measures are in place. There is some good news – anti-social behaviour has subsided and a one-day exercise in the town centre in the Autumn resulted in the identification of seven blue badge offences. There were several arrests for the stabbing in Courthouse Gardens and one person has been charged.
SHOP CHANGES MAINLY FOR THE BETTER
A second Costa outlet came as something of a surprise. It did have planning consent for the new frontage which is a world better than the previous incarnation of this outlet. It has made a significant improvement to the visual impact of this important row of shops in a fine building facing Church Green. It is a concern that this Costa is very small and we fear for its ability to compete with the many other cafes in town. Further down the High Street the short lived Rosewood café has been replaced with La Vista, a more upmarket Italian café with a much more attractive frontage than its predecessor. The late but not mourned Guns and Smoke outlet is to become L’Antica Pizza, which we are told is a superior pizza chain. Successfully running pizza outlets and coffee shops can be tricky: December saw the closure of the nearby Pizza Piccanti, which had struggled to attract customers ever since it opened. Also closed in December was the long established Starbucks which had a prime location next to The Spires.
Eat and drink outlets might be jostling for position but the growth in outlets offering services in personal grooming and healthcare continues, with something of a surge currently in progress. Beauty Zone now occupies one of the recently refurbished shops in Union St, whilst gentlemen are now spoilt for choice. As well as the new barber in the former Spice Carriage (pictured above) another has opened at 35a High St, the former Goldcrest insurance office (Goldcrest has moved upstairs). This brings to seven the number of barbers in town, up from just four not long ago. We wait to see if they can all survive. 85 High St, the recently (badly) refurbished former bank is set to become a dentist. There is a planning application to turn one half of Sean Heaney estate agents outlet into a foot clinic, though surprisingly a previous application for the change of use was turned down. And even in this burgeoning sector there are casualties - the short lived Voguish in St Alban’s Rd is a recent closure.
Photo copyright VIVENDI ARCHITECTS LTD
Most exciting is the impending arrival of Wiltons Greek Patisserie in the former Store Twenty One outlet just along from Salisbury Rd. The photo is of their sole existing outlet in Chase Side. On the opposite side of the road the somewhat exotic Algerian-run Village Food Centre is in the process of expanding into the two adjacent shops. The enormous expansion of this business seems very ambitious but we assume they must have been doing very well from their existing shop. Hopscotch is now selling quality teas alongside its niche market of old fashioned sweets. Add in the more adventurous offerings from the new cheese and cake stalls on the bandstand site on Saturday and there seems to be something of a revolution taking place with the quality and range of the food offer in the town. Maybe we could see High Barnet emerging as something of a gourmet food destination – which would be another indication of how the town centre is slowly engaged in the process of reinventing itself.
Other changes have included Annabel’s at the bottom end of the High street being replaced by the somewhat similar Home Décor and Design. At the top end of the High Street no 226 – formerly Fashion and Wine – has become a Surveyors office though they have yet to obtain planning consent for change of use. Parry Jones chemist has had a major facelift and looks much better for it. Another new outlet in preparation is a dry cleaner in the former hairdressers just north of the St Albans Rd junction, which might prove a challenge for the two established dry cleaners in the High Street which have long been free of other competition.
Not everything that happens in in the High St is as positive as we would like. We were disappointed when The Painted Pot got planning permission to remove the Georgian style ground floor windows and replace them with plain glass. A once very attractive frontage is now distinctly bland. The appearance is not helped by the window frames being dissimilar in size, though we are pleased that the stall risers and door have been retained.
At nos 98/100 on the corner of Moxon St the saga of the dreadful state of this building continues with various twists and turns. The freehold ownership of the whole building, sold at the time Foxtons moved in, is somewhat murky. Foxtons insist they just rent their shop area. Their understanding is that the owner does not want to do anything to the shop until a tenant is found – which is bizarre reasoning as the chances of anyone taking on the shop in its current state must be nil. A dilapidation notice issued by the Council some time ago on the boarded up shop frontage recently expired with nothing having been done. Meanwhile, the upstairs windows were close to falling out and in December a member of our committee alerted the Council. They responded quickly by boarding up the windows and not long afterwards replacements appeared, though we do not know if this was done by the owner or the Council. But as this building is in the conservation area planning consent should have been sought to replace the wooden sash windows with the modern plastic ones that have been installed, and in all likelihood they would have been refused. So: a complicated mess.
The overall shop vacancy rate in the town centre is around 7%, which is fair compared to the national picture but still well short of full health. The absence of any takers for the two restaurants in The Spires is especially disappointing, but we are aware that the expected kind of outlets, the branded middle market chains, are in a sector going through a tough time at the moment.
BUS REVIEW GRINDS ON
It is well over a year since TfL agreed to review bus services in the High Barnet area, but we have now seen some emerging thoughts. It is considered that existing services have the capacity to meet increased demand arising from new developments such as Elmbank and Dollis Valley. But it is recognised that connectivity might be improved, particularly western links towards Mill Hill and Edgware, as well as further links to the hospital. The Church junction is identified as the main pinch point causing delays to buses and a survey is planned to see if bus priority might be introduced in some form. We wish them luck with that one. The poor bus links to the station are also recognised, though the feasibility of a bus diverting to the station forecourt is not mentioned. However the possibility of moving the northbound stop on Barnet Hill to a location closer to the pedestrian crossing near the station’s lower exit is an idea identified for further exploration. We did ask for services to the western side of Underhill to be reviewed, including the possibility of a bus running the length of Mays Lane, but this has so far been ignored. But it is still early days in TfL’s thinking and we anticipate a lot more exploration of ideas will continue before any changes are made.
AND BRIEFLY …..
The controversial Ark school on the Underhill football ground site was approved by the Planning Committee on a 6-5 vote. We strongly opposed the scheme mainly on the grounds that there was insufficient demand for extra secondary places in the north-east corner of the Borough, and we remain convinced that is the case. We also opposed a junior school on the same site and take some comfort from this having been turned down.
A deal has been reached whereby the Physic Well will be refurbished by the Council and then handed over to Barnet Museum. After many years of uncertainty it is pleasing to know that this important local landmark should now have a secure future.
The Virgin Media project to bring fast broadband to our area got underway in the Autumn in Fitzjohn Avenue and part of Mays Lane. In the October newsletter we commented on the disruption arising from the need to dig up the pavement outside every house. The good news for residents on Fitzjohn was that following completion of the works the entire pavement was re-laid. We wait to see whether other streets will be so lucky, especially so as the council programme for pavement renewal is almost non-existent for our area. Meantime the Virgin project seems to have slowed down somewhat.