This newsletter is a little more optimistic than usual. We have some positive things to say on redevelopment of The Spires and major housing projects. There has been a modest reduction in the number of empty shops, so maybe the much-publicised revival in the economy is starting to have some effect. We have been looking at the crime figures for our two wards and there does seem to be an encouraging trend, though we do have a lot to say on misuse of blue badges.
Our Annual General Meeting is on Monday 23rd June 2014 (details below). Our guest speaker David Howard will be talking about what it might mean for High Barnet as the planners grasp with the biggest issue facing London – the demand for vast numbers of additional housing.
SPIRES FRONTAGE PLANS WELCOMED
Most members will be aware that a planning application has been submitted for a new frontage to The Spires, which will include the retention of the two landmark spires and incorporate a new restaurant in the former W H Smiths outlet to be occupied by Carluccio’s.
Consultation earlier in the year offered artists impressions of two designs, one of which would have led to the demolition of the two spires. Alas the scheme without the two spires was decidedly …er … uninspiring – so bad indeed that we did wonder if it was a deliberate set-up to ensure support for the owner’s favoured scheme. So it was no surprise that the massive public response of over 1000 replies (itself an encouraging sign that residents really do care about the town) was almost universally in favour of the option to retain the spires. Members who attended our AGM last year may recollect that when we took a straw poll the majority present did not feel strongly about retaining the two spires if a good alternative was on offer. It is a shame that no such alternative was put forward to stimulate a meaningful debate on the merits or otherwise of removing the spires. However we do think that the design we now have looks very good. Additional improvements to the shopping centre are also planned, including replacing the floor tiles with stone flags. We have written to the planners indicating our support for the scheme.
We do hope the planners share our enthusiasm for the proposals and proceed quickly to approval. As the first step in what is expected to be a series of incremental changes to The Spires a lot is riding on the back of this scheme. The intention is to have Carluccio’s in occupation by June next year, which is a tall order.
The owners William Pears have been pressed to produce a master plan for the site, but given the long timescale they have, in our view quite understandably, been reluctant to commit themselves to plans that might prove to be wide of the mark in a few years time. They do have some exciting ideas in mind though, including the possibility of a large two storey second anchor store. and maybe in due course an extended Waitrose. We are in regular contact with Pears and will report on anything new that emerges.
SHOCK FOR SHOKU
Our battles invariably take a long time and victories are rare, so we are thrilled that one recent outcome has gone our way. In the Autumn of 2010 the new occupiers of what became Tokyo Jo’s restaurant and later Shoku ripped out the historic shop frontage and installed this modern façade. There was no planning application and the constraints required by conservation area status were ignored.
The council took up our complaint and rejected a retrospective planning application. The owners then appealed to the Planning Inspectorate. At this point our hearts sank as a couple of years earlier the Inspectorate allowed an appeal for alterations to a nearby property made in very similar circumstances. But this time the Inspectorate agreed that the frontage was inappropriate for the conservation area and upheld the council decision that the previous frontage should be reinstated.
Of course, an official decision is one thing, but getting the owners to comply is something else. We await the result of the council’s efforts.
Following the previous decision, when the Inspector effectively said the frontage might as well stay because there was a lot of other rubbish in the immediate area, we sent a very strongly worded complaint to the head of the Inspectorate in Bristol. We cannot claim that this necessarily had any impact, but it is most gratifying that since then all three local appeals investigated by the Inspectorate have been rejected – the proposed demolition of the former Magistrates Court, the alterations to 1 Church Passage and now Shoku. We hope these successes will encourage the council to be even more robust in pursuit of breaches of planning law.
….BUT No1 CHURCH PASSAGE RUMBLES ON
Although a rendered frontage has been applied to the upper half of the building the framing and insulation behind the cladding has remained. We expected the whole lot to go and the original surface reinstated. Alas the wording of the enforcement notice only mentions the cladding, not the additional materials behind. The matter is being pursued with the council but we may be stuck with what we have got.
However the wooden cladding remains on the lower half of the building. We suspect the owner is hoping to deal with this when a new tenant turns up and wants to install a shop frontage to their own requirements. We don’t think this is good enough, and have pressed the council to insist the cladding is removed from the lower half in compliance with the enforcement notice.
The police crime figures for the first three months of the year show a year-on-year fall in burglary in our two wards, down from 86 to 40, which will be welcome news to residents as we took something of a battering last year. Whilst the extraordinary wet weather may have influenced the criminal activity (burglary cannot be easy in the pouring rain) the police have mounted a number of targeted operations which appear to have had good effect. Car crime and pick pocketing in the High St are also down. We are told by the police that much of the crime is committed by people travelling through the area.
Overall crime for the two wards, totalling 485 for the three months was up a little on last year, but a large proportion of the recorded crime is less serious, notably anti-social behaviour.
BLUE BADGE BLUES
This may look like any car in Moxon St car park occupying a disabled bay and, yes, it was displaying a blue badge. But there is something unusual. Back in February we noticed it was parked there most weekdays and the driver was a male eastern European dressed in clothes that suggested he might a builder. We contacted the council who checked the badge number and found it was issued to a female in Hertfordshire. We were told the council there had undertaken to write to her. So far so good, although we thought steps might have also been taken to apprehend the miscreant using the badge.
Now all that was early March, so now fast forward to May. And yes …. same car, same blue badge still there most weekdays. Over the intervening weeks we again reported the situation to the council on three further occasions, but with no response. We estimate the car has parked in this location on at least 50 occasions. If it had been paying £3.95 a day in Fitzjohn Avenue the council would have reaped nearly £200.
We thought it was time to do more research. We started by asking the Civil Enforcement Officers. They said they had no powers - it was down to the police. Now we know that council officers do have powers to question drivers and where appropriate impound the blue badge. But things are different in Barnet because parking enforcement is privatised. The contract does include an optional section for inspection of blue badges, but it would appear it has not been invoked, presumably because the council would have to pay extra, or maybe it would divert the enforcement officers from the more lucrative task of issuing parking fines.
So, having established the council does nothing, what about the police? Yes, they have conducted occasional spot checks on the highway, telling us that on the last occasion they checked some 30 badges and issued informal warning to five drivers where there was a possibility the badges were being misused. Now we would have expected a rather more robust approach to the potential miscreants, because if 20% of the badges in Barnet are being misused that would amount to 3000 out of the 15000 in issue. But for now we will let that pass. What about the car in Moxon St car park? Oh no came the response, that is private property and the police have no powers there!
So there you have it folks. Grab granny’s blue badge and park for free in Barnet’s car parks. Alternatively, if you feel this would offend your moral sensibilities, just walk along the High St and count the number of blue badges on display, perhaps reflecting on the number of top end cars where the sole occupant is a youngish (usually male) driver. To think some residents consider the parking regime to be punitive.
After an interminable wrangle with the council over lighting the market site has now opened up for short term parking on non-market days. We did have doubts about the wisdom of this as other than Saturdays there is plenty of short-term parking available in town. The pricing doesn’t help either, being more expensive that the council parking immediately opposite in Stapylton Rd.
So no surprise that hardly anyone is using the car park. There were just five cars when we took this picture and that is a typical occupancy rate. We could have suggested to Legion Parking that if they had a competitively priced all day charge maybe the small army of commuters who park for free around the fringes of the town might just be tempted in. But following the 30% price rise in The Spires car park over the previous two years Legion have not been on our Christmas card list, so we said nothing.
ANOTHER PLANNING BATTLE
Developer Plague never goes away. This time the purchasers of the semi-derelict After Office Hours applied to demolish the building and put a modern edifice in its place. Never mind that it is in a prominent spot in the Conservation Area, that it shares the best row of historic buildings in the High St, and that several of them are nationally or locally listed. Worse, whilst a proposal for a shop at ground floor seems ok, they proposed to raise the height to four storeys in order to accommodate fifteen bedsits described as student accommodation. Our information is that there is little demand for such accommodation in the area, so who might really occupy the premises? We recognise that the modern 1980s frontage needs replacement but we expect to see something that complements the conservation area, not clash with or trash it. The case for demolition is on the basis that the building is in a state of disrepair and in danger of collapse. This is no surprise given that there is a large hole in the roof and most flashing has been removed. Where is the owner’s duty of care?
We were galvanising opposition when the planning application was unexpectedly withdrawn. So we now await a further proposal.
MARKET UP AND DOWN
In our previous newsletter we said that the refurbished market had attracted a lot of favourable comment. Since then Saturdays in recent weeks have reached booming proportions with over twenty stalls present and a real buzz about the place. Members who have been back for the first time in years have commented how good it is and they intend to use it regularly from now on. Friends Of Barnet Market worked with the market operator to run a number of events throughout May which proved to be very popular.
Alas the same cannot be said of Wednesdays. The number of stalls is around half that of Saturday and there are far fewer people around. It could be that the very success of Saturdays has altered the balance between the two days. The operator is looking for ideas to boost trade on Wednesdays. We do hope they are successful so the Wednesday market does not fade away.
HIGH ST PAIN EASES
In early Spring we counted twenty-one empty shops along the High St and in The Spires, a vacancy rate of over 10%, which has been more or less the same for over a year. But there have been just two losses since we last reported – Home and Tidy at the south end of the High St and The Early Learning Centre in The Spires, both of which had been on the cards for a long time. On the positive side we have had six new openings, although a number are on short leases
In The Spires fashion outlets Take 5 and Roman have opened, along with the unnamed ladies shoe shop reappearing. Whilst not the classiest of outlets they do improve the overall feel of the centre. Just three shops remain empty, though Tapestry is expected to close shortly.
A rather optimistic new opening is the revival of Cheap as Chips, the very end shop at the south of the High St. In recent incarnations it has been a smoothie bar and antique/second hand shop. It has reappeared as a convenience grocery store, entering an already crowded market with six other such shops in the High St - two of them immediately adjacent!
In Crompton House at the south end of the High St. a specialist fitted kitchen shop – Schmidt – has arrived, taking up the two shop units that have lain empty since the building was constructed over three years ago.
At the High St/St Albans Rd junction a flooring outlet – 1 To 1 Flooring - has opened in the unit previously occupied by Digi Village. This and Schmidt, both of which appear to be quality outlets, are probably the kind of specialist retailer that have the best chance of survival on the fringes of the High St.
We could hear the groans all round town when the Animal Welfare Charity shop opened bang in the centre of the High St. Once established, charity shops are difficult to displace because they have a relatively low cost base compared to other retail outlets. In this instance the good news is that they only have a temporary lease and the unit remains available for a permanent let. This is our ninth charity shop. The majority are clustered around the centre of the High St – just the area where we don’t want them to be. Getting quality retail outlets in their place in the centre of town is one of the bigger challenges facing our High St.
Gritz has reinvented itself as Hadley Steak House. With the popular Pizza Express just up the road maybe there was too much pasta around at the top end of the High St. However we do think the frontage looks a whole lot smarter.
Over a number of years we have, with strong council support, tried more than once to have the 34 bus route extended from its current terminus to Arkley or to the hospital. The reasoning for this is quite complex, but on this occasion we will not repeat the issues that we have explained in detail in earlier newsletters.
We revived the idea last Autumn when the GLA asked for submissions to their review of bus services. The council was again on our side, not least because of complaints from Arkley residents who has suffered a loss in services following the diversion of the 263 to terminate at the hospital.
Events led to a meeting with John Barry, the Head of Network Development at Transport For London. To our surprise he did agree to come to Barnet for a site meeting, which occurred on 25 April with committee members Helen Massey and Melvyn Sears present along with Councillor Longstaff. Whilst Mr Barry acknowledged the merits of our arguments, he stuck to the TFL position that extending the 34 to Arkley would require 1.5 extra buses to maintain the schedule at a cost of £400,000, and no new money was available. We suggested they might look at the many other services in the area with a view to finding economies that could release the necessary funds. He agreed to look into this but we are not optimistic of a positive outcome.
Still fresh in many minds is the furore that followed the hike in CPZ charges three years ago. That led to the council being challenged in the High Court – and losing. In consequence residential car permits and visitor vouchers reverted to their earlier price levels. But there was one associated charge that was similarly hiked but did not form part of the High Court case – the cost of suspension of a parking bay. The most common reason to suspend a parking bay is to facilitate the placement of a skip.
Skip hire is of itself quite expensive and the supplier’s charge includes the council licence to place the skip on the highway. For stretches of highway with yellow lines or no road markings that is the end of any charges. But if the skip is to be placed in a parking bay its only the beginning…..
For 2010/11 the council levied an initial charge of £60 then £7 a day to suspend a parking bay. But from 2011/12, reflecting the whopping increases in residents’ permit charges, the charge was increased to £60 A DAY, where it remains. A member who lives in a CPZ (as most of us do in High Barnet) was planning major building works that might require a series of skips over a couple of months. He was horrified to learn that it could cost him up to £2500 to suspend the bay outside his house for this period.
The justification for levying this charge can only be based on a presumption of lost revenue from parking charges. We doubt if any bay in the Borough earns anywhere near £60 in a day, but in the case of our member the parking bay is Residents Only, for which the income is typically £40 a year for the resident’s car plus occasional income from £1 visitor vouchers, let us say £60 a year in total. In reality there is likely to be no lost income in residential streets because invariably there is plenty of room during controlled hours. Residents would no doubt accept a small levy to cover the administration of providing the suspension notices etc. But however it is viewed, the current charge is nothing less than an outrageous rip-off.
OPEN DOOR WORKS BEGIN
This is a decidedly happier tale involving skips.
Back in October 2011 we reported on the ambitious scheme to raise £1.5 million to buy and renovate the former school building adjacent to Christ Church on St Albans Rd. The object is to redevelop the building to provide a wide range of activities for older members of the community in Barnet. Remarkable progress has been made. The purchase of the building from the Red Cross was completed in 2012. and the first stage of the renovation began in April this year. A lot of this work is concerned with the fabric of the building including major internal repair work, new solid floors, the preparation of new service routes and constructing the shell for new kitchen and toilets. A public meeting to discuss the project is planned for 7 July. Meanwhile fundraising continues. Find out more at www.opendoorappeal.co.uk
SUPER HOUSING NOT SUPERMARKETS
The railway line at New Barnet forms the edge of our patch, but just the other side a major scheme to redevelop the former gas works site is in preparation. This was previously proposed as the site for a new Asda supermarket, but following a spirited campaign by residents the proposal was withdrawn, as was a similar scheme to site a new Tesco supermarket nearby. Both organisations agreed to alternative use as housing.
The gas works scheme envisages 340 units, mainly flats, the majority in blocks of five storeys and one of six. We have been to two public exhibitions and find the overall scheme quite appealing, especially the layout and architecture.
A planning application is anticipated in the next couple of months. Given the upward revision of the GLA housing targets there is a possibility of pressure to increase density and height. We will support colleagues in New Barnet Residents Assn in resisting any such increases, especially as we did grumble about the six storey block. The site has been given the rather twee name of ‘Victoria Quarter’, but that probably is a better selling line than ‘Gas Works Village’.
Following the transfer of emergency service from Enfield, there appears to have been occasions when Barnet hospital has struggled to cope. Member Tim Sims wrote to the Trust following a long wait just after the May Day Bank Holiday experienced by an acquaintance who has a serious condition. The reply acknowledged that in the two days immediately after the Bank Holiday an unanticipated surge in demand meant that waiting times from arrival to admission or discharge went well over the target four hours. The Trust did say that in the two previous weeks the performance against target was 95 – 98%, with the cumulative performance against target for the current quarter to date standing at 96.3%.
We are wondering if the ‘Fix My Street’ service has deteriorated. The council website shows an awful lot of outstanding jobs in our area. We reported flooding in Staplylton Rd car park last October and the drains still remain blocked. We would welcome member’s comments on any recent experience of this service.
Small developments of family homes are still appearing now and then, the latest being fourteen houses in Boardman Close, off Mays Lane. We understand they have sold very quickly.
Phase 1 of the Dollis Valley Redevelopment is now in full swing. The site of the former school is now an enormous building site and the new access road from Mays Lane is taking shape.
When we reported on the renovation of Highlands Gardens, which had a lot of input from community activists, we added that it would be good if something similar happened with the Library garden. A few years ago some residents tried to take it over but got rebuffed. Since then the council has adopted a policy of encouraging community groups to take over council functions. Well, we understand a resident is in discussion with the council and it might just happen. We do hope this initiative comes to fruition.
After an interminable delay planning approval has been given for alterations to the floors above Boots Opticians. This should result in a much better presentation of this decidedly undistinguished building, with the alterations embacing two separate windows at first floor level and two roof dormers, and the replacement of the tiled roof with slates. Some improvements to the sister building alongside are expected to follow.
We submitted a request to English Heritage asking for consideration to be given to Listing the Post Office. They did consider it, but alas the idea was rejected. Still, this fine building is in the conservation area and we would strongly resist any proposal to alter the frontage.
We said in the February newsletter that the planning application to demolish the Jaguar showroom at the top end of the High St had been rejected. An appeal has now been lodged.