We have heard a lot of concern expressed over recent shop closures though not all is doom and gloom. Anti-social behaviour by a small group of adults has become a source of public anxiety as we discuss below. Planning applications continue to exercise our minds with Brake Shear House and the Premier Inn foremost amongst our considerations. We also have news on several other issues including bus services, some parking changes, fly tipping and a possible rethink of the layout to the Church junction.
BRAKE SHEAR HOUSE SCHEME DISAPPOINTS
Two years ago we worked closely with the then developer for the Brake Shear House site, such that they came up with a proposal that we decided we could live with, including the removal of one floor from the flats which we pushed hard for. The approved scheme was for 8 town houses, 32 flats in a single block, plus some replacement employment space.
But the developer did not proceed and sold the site on to Shanly Homes. Shanly did not keep their promise to consult us and have now submitted a planning application for a much more dense development of 68 flats in four blocks up to five storeys, though retaining the employment block from the previous scheme. We are decidedly unimpressed. The flats will protrude over the skyline as viewed from King George’s Fields, something we consider sacrosanct and was carefully addressed on the previous application. The flats will tower over the adjacent Belgravia Close and Hyde Close. And with just two 3-bed flats and 66 one or two-bed flats this is the wrong mix of properties. There is a woeful under-provision of parking spaces. Being one of the larger available development sites in our area BSH offers a rare opportunity to provide genuine family homes - an opportunity that is being lost. The full text of our objection is on our website.
PREMIER INN – A SECOND APPLICATION
In our June newsletter we reported on the planning application for a 102-bed hotel on the market site submitted by Premier Inns. Although many people had reservations about the viability of the hotel and were concerned about the impact on traffic, parking and pollution, we considered that these concerns were outweighed by the injection of a major commercial venture into our struggling town centre, and thus we decided to support the application in principle. We were also of the view that development of this site was inevitable and the only realistic alternative would be a block of flats at least as large, something we perceive as potentially having a negative impact in the very heart of our town centre. We were however concerned about the potential for disturbance to the residents of Chipping Close from the hotel entrance half way along the Close, and the bedroom windows facing the houses in this narrow road were intrusive. We pressed on these matters and the Planning Committee rejected the application for just these reasons.
A revised planning application has now been submitted with the key changes being the removal of the hotel entrance from Chipping Close to Bruce Road, along with the relocation of the restaurant entrance from the corner of Chipping Close to the middle of the St Albans Rd frontage. Obscured glazing will be provided for all the bedroom windows facing the Chipping Close houses. Other measures include closing the bar/restaurant to non-residents at 11pm and no music to be played. Our suggestion that noise dampening paving should be used for the walkways surrounding the hotel has also been taken on board. We do believe these measures offer significant improvements on the initial proposal. We also endeavoured to have the building reduced in size including removal of the fourth floor, but Premier stuck to their guns, claiming that without 100 rooms minimum the project was not viable. So having reluctantly conceded on this we now find no reason to object.
A SOCIAL PROBLEM
The in-boxes of our MP, Councillors and the Police have been bulging with complaints about anti-social behaviour around the ‘mound’ near the Stapylton Rd bus station, along with rough sleeping around the library. The individuals concerned are also seen around the bench in Church Passage. For some time all-day alcohol consumption and loud conversation seem to have been their main pastimes – annoying but not actually threatening. But more recently there have been instances of aggressive behaviour towards members of the public and disorderly conduct amongst themselves. Residents living in Carnarvon Rd near the library have been disturbed during the night because of noise and the library garden has been used as a toilet, sometimes in full view of passers-by.
The Police have previously tolerated the mound being used as a gathering place so they have known where the individuals are, and consider they are less intrusive there than being elsewhere around the town centre. They have been banned from The Spires for some time though the management there find it is a constant battle to keep them out. But following recent incidents there is recognition that something more needs to be done. We believe the Police are exploring the possibility of obtaining a Court Order to exclude the offending individuals from part or all of the town centre area. This may be far from easy. We know that some individuals are living in flats above shops in the town centre. Many residents do feel sorry for those individuals who are homeless and some have given them money or food. The best solution would of course be to get them into the care of voluntary organisations or social services, but persuading them to accept help can often be very difficult to achieve. Dealing with the behaviour of those who have homes here may be an even greater challenge.
HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION (HMOs)
HMO is a term used to describe a dwelling occupied by a number of unrelated people sharing facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms. Many are well run and provide valuable cheap accommodation for people of limited means, but they are also often associated with slum landlords. Unregulated establishments of this kind have long operated under the radar, with nearby residents often fearful that less desirable individuals could end up in occupation and become a nuisance. Barnet requires that any property with four or more persons in two or more households where facilities are shared must now be registered with the Council, who can then ensure compliance with regulations. This new control is aimed at driving slum landlords out of business or upping their act. The regulations expect that as far as possible each household should have its own kitchen and en-suite, but the minimum requirement is for five people to share, and the minimum size for a bedroom is 6.5 sq metres. So with imaginative alterations a lot of people can be fitted into a single property. In our area we do not have many HMOs, but with the cost and shortage of housing, landlords have been showing renewed interest, with no fewer than five properties recently coming onto our radar.
The following recent planning applications have come to our notice, with decisions awaited on four of them:
The Lanthorn, Plantagenet Rd – This was a proposal to convert and extend a detached family house to provide eight rooms, some for two people. The Council rejected the application concluding that such a property was not suitable in an area of family housing and the external alterations would not be in keeping with the character of the area.
150 Bells Hill – This is a long established unregulated HMO which has been a source of nuisance for nearby residents. The landlord has submitted a planning application to change the property from an HMO to four flats. Along with local residents we have submitted an objection and hope the Council will take a view similar to the decision on the Plantagenet Rd application.
81 Quinta Drive – This property was formerly used as a care home for six residents and two carers. At some point it drifted into becoming an HMO. We objected to an application in 2016 to convert this detached house into four flats; it was refused but then allowed on appeal. But now there is a retrospective application to retain the property as an HMO with eleven bedrooms housing twelve people. We have objected to this one as well, for reasons similar to the objections to the schemes above.
Cotswold Lodge, Stapylton Rd (pictured) – this decidedly down-at-heel property has long been divided into four flats. The new owners have applied for planning consent for an external refurbishment that will enhance the appearance of this notable building, including demolition of the decidedly dismal modern extension with a replacement to closely match the original. The proposed internal arrangement is rather more controversial by seeking to provide two one-bed flats and eight individual letting rooms. We have not sought to oppose the changes but have asked that residents should not be allowed CPZ parking permits.
2 Bruce Rd (pictured) – This proposal involves conversion of the former antique shops but excludes Dory’s Café which is a separate freehold. There has been some astonishment that the plans involve the retention of two small shops and the creation of nine letting rooms in this tiny building. But we have scrutinised the drawings and all seems compliant.
Though we recognise there is a place for HMOs in society and accept that our area should offer some HMO provision, we are concerned about the volume of these and the tiny flats that are appearing. The five properties above could house over 40 people. In recent times there have been several conversions around the town centre providing several small flats and others are on the way. We are concerned that a deluge of such properties could have a negative impact on the character and the quality of life in our area.
PLANNERS STAY ON TOP
Protecting and indeed improving the appearance of our conservation areas is a constant battle. We have previously featured 189-191 High St (pictured left above) and the replacement frontage and windows (all modern and plastic) installed without planning consent. After we complained the owners submitted a planning application for a new ground floor frontage and to re-install the wooden windows above. The new frontage duly appeared but not the windows. So we complained again. This resulted in another planning application, this time to retain the UPVC windows. This application has been rejected, so we now expect the original commitment to re-install wooden windows to be honoured. The ground floor is now being used as a gym, which we do not mind at all. The horse in the photo was waiting for its owner who was in the Monk pub. How times change. In your editor’s younger days the children were parked outside the pub, though usually placated with a packet of crisps. The horse was not so lucky.
Meanwhile (they never seem to learn) directly opposite at no 230 (pictured right above) a modern shop frontage was also installed, again without planning permission. This was particularly remiss as the occupiers are professional construction consultants and thus should have no excuse for ignoring or being ignorant of planning law. So yet another complaint from us resulted in the Council demanding a retrospective planning application and we are pleased that this too has been refused. The similar business next door – ‘Plan and Build’ have got planning approval for a replacement frontage and signage to replace the rather ugly temporary arrangement shown in the photo. Provided it happens the new frontage should look rather good.
On the wider front the Whalebones application for a housing development is still awaited. As yet there is no decision on the application to build 57 flats up to four storeys on the Meadow Works site. The other big local scheme now looming is a proposal by Signature Senior Lifestyle to build a residential care home on the derelict Marie Foster site in Wood St. In July they ran a public consultation on the outline plans and have now made a number of modifications to partially reduce the height and the impact on neighbouring properties, along with additional greening. A planning application is imminent.
Another planning application we took a dim view of and objected was a proposal to demolish the detached house at 111 Hadley Rd and replace it with seven flats, introducing a modern property in an area characterised by Victorian family homes. The garden would be largely built over with an expectation that most occupiers would rely on street parking. Once developers gain a foothold with such a development it may be used as a precedent to justify similar schemes – the domino effect – so are pleased that the planners rejected this one.
Other smaller more controversial developments have also struggled to get accepted. The owners of the former British Legion building in Moxon St have approval for four new flats but have twice had applications for six flats rejected. They now appear to have thrown in the towel having recently offered the site at auction. It did not reach the reserve price, which was around double what a local developer considered it to be worth. The addition of an extra floor of flats at Wessex Court in West End Lane has finally been approved after modifications to the plans following the rejection of two previous applications. This is one we have consistently opposed but in the end we struggled to find persuasive reasons to sustain a further rejection. On a rather different tack, we were pleased that proposed back garden developments in Lytton Rd and Barnet Rd (we opposed the latter) have been refused.
The planners have additionally been very good at dealing with applications for excessive domestic extensions – what we would call ‘overdevelopment’, though this is not a term used in planning parlance. Recently there have been refusals in Normandy Avenue (two), Bedford Avenue, Manor Rd, Sebright Rd and Carnarvon Rd. We hope the word gets round that the Council can be tough with such applications. We do not usually get involved in domestic extensions but we did oppose an intrusive extension to one of the ‘Arts and Crafts’ houses in Sunset View. It was rejected, though a more modest rear extension has been approved. Large, ugly and intrusive extensions do degrade the environment and some owners really ought to show more sensitivity
Though relatively minor in the scale of things, an application which we opposed and were pleased to see rejected was for replacement signage on the Black Horse pub. The current signage is decidedly tasteful and appropriate for the conservation area. We considered what was proposed was frankly rather vulgar and excessive in volume and visibility.
We do keep an eye on what is happening elsewhere in the Borough to see what might come our way one day. The application to build 731 flats on the Pentavia site in Mill Hill in blocks of five to fifteen storeys remains undecided. On the North London Business Park site there is a revised application to build 1350 homes in blocks up to nine storeys, along with a secondary school and gym on site. The previous rejected application was for 1200 homes with blocks up to eleven storeys. So really not much change and quite depressing for an area with limited public transport, shopping and leisure facilities.
Looking further ahead we are aware that TfL are looking at their station sites to assess their development potential. High Barnet station car park is already under scrutiny and we fear a scheme may emerge that reduces the number of parking spaces. The Council is also looking at its car parks with similar thoughts in mind, but we have been told they envisage parking being retained at ground level with development above.
HIGH STREET – DON’T PANIC YET
We cannot dispute the concern over the apparent continuing decline of our town centre as a consequence of a number of recent closures. The departure of Superdrug from their large outlet is particularly depressing, only partially relieved by the landlord at least smartening up the frontage and interior in the hope of a re-let. The dismal state of the listed building next door (we are on the case) adds to the impression of decay. Other recent departures have been Reni’s café, Clark’s shoe shop, Shaketastic and the short-lived Velofit cycle shop. There is a ‘To Let’ sign over Maison, so we assume they too are on the way out. We understand that Statons are reducing their presence to a single outlet on the West side of the High St. Unfortunately several of these closures are in the prime retail area in the central section of the High St.
There also remains a major concern over the empty shops in The Spires, with no new occupants in recent weeks (though no departures either, although we recognise Bel Gelato was a close run thing following a short period of closure). The expectation of major retailers moving in has yet to materialise, though prospects may improve with the reinvigoration of the market when it relocates to the bandstand site. Over the summer The Spires management put a lot of effort into making the courtyards much more appealing with various attractions, including using one of the empty shops for table tennis. The effort has been rewarded with improved footfall even if this has not yet translated into improved occupancy.
We have had some welcome new arrivals. L’Antica Pizzeria in Church Passage is gathering plaudits (as is La Vista which opened earlier in the year). Harry’s – butchers, fishmongers and delicatessen - has also had some positive early reviews. We have already mentioned above the new gym and the construction consultants Foster & Co at the top of the High St. ‘The Pink Shop’, with links to the craft shop 89, is a short-lease at the entrance to the Brake Shear House site pending the redevelopment, when this building is expected to be demolished. Although there was a planning hitch we expected that by now Wilton’s delicatessen would be occupying their new premises (reported in February newsletter). The agents sign still says ‘under offer’ but we are concerned that occupancy is taking so long.
So, whilst recent weeks have not been good at all, we reckon over the past year as a whole the town centre has lost or is about to lose thirteen outlets but has also gained thirteen (fifteen if the two additional units occupied by the Village Food Centre are included). What makes the losses appear much worse is that a good number of them were high profile chains – Superdrug, Starbucks, New Look, Clark’s, Prezzo, whilst others were well known long established local businesses such as Flairline, Dudleys, Reni’s and Victoria Bakery in The Spires. Most of the new arrivals have a much lower profile and reflect the continuing shift from retail to services – e.g. two barbers, a gym, two health spas, a dry cleaners and two construction consultancies, which are not exactly the kind of businesses that set the pulse racing. But in the rapidly changing world of retail, if these are the kind of outlets that can sustain a high street, then that is something we have to recognise and embrace.
REVIVAL AND DECAY
The state of the empty shop alongside Foxtons has been a long running saga on which we have previously commented. It has taken a lot badgering by ourselves, our MP and others leading to intervention by the Council, but now all is largely resolved with the boarding to the empty shop replaced, the wooden sash windows above reinstated and the building repainted. Alas we do not see much prospect of the empty shop being re-let as the lease includes the whole of the floor above stretching over Foxtons. And nearby the scaffolding around nos 108 to112 High St has caused some excitement. We rather like it as the scaffolding is much more attractive than what is behind. This is preparatory to the rebuilding of the upper floor as flats. The approved plans include much smarter shop fronts and signage but we do wonder if Toy Galaxy or the Village Food Centre will see the merits of going along with the proposed changes.
With a few notable exceptions, too many of the shops in the row near the station seems to specialise in looking down at heel, so it is pleasing to see the smart makeover of Simplylocal. We would like to think this might inspire Food and Wine to do better but we understand the lease is up for sale. Further along the former Curry Cottage has long been empty and recently occupied by squatters. We have become increasingly concerned, not least because the splendid upstairs windows are fast deteriorating. We traced the owners who are very elderly, which may be why the property has been neglected for so long. They did arrange for someone to go and look and we have been told steps will now be taken to evict the squatters. We are also in discussion on how the property might be improved and brought back into use. The other empty property two doors up has a similarly depressing appearance and is deteriorating. We are in the process of approaching the owners of this one as well
TACKLING FLY TIPPING
Fly tipping is a major public nuisance and at the Residents Forum in September we tabled our concern over the large volume of fly tipping along St Albans Rd just beyond the built up area. To our amazement the offending material was all removed the day of the Forum, so on this one we can congratulate the Council on their prompt and effective response. Since then some cardboard has been dumped but we identified its origins and approached the firm concerned, who have promised to investigate. So things can be achieved by members of the public being vigilant and informing the council. Littering is a related problem and increasingly so since the street cleaning budget was cut. The council does have enforcement officers overseeing fly tipping and littering, and we have seen them around the town centre, but we think there efforts might be better targeted.
BUS PLANS UNVEILED
It’s over two years since our MP Theresa Villiers, Cllr Longstaff and ourselves met TfL and persuaded them to undertake a review of local bus services. We were told of their emerging ideas some months ago and our previous newsletter gave an indication of what they had in mind. We would have liked to have seen rather more initiatives, but two proposals are now out for public consultation:
The 384 bus is identified for radical change by extending it from the existing terminus at Quinta Drive to Edgware, and eliminating a number of the diversions between High Barnet and Cockfosters. This should be a welcome improvement to the acknowledged poor east-west public transport links and would substantially improve the service to residents in Arkley, as well as significantly speeding up the currently very tedious journey to Cockfosters. There is concern over a lack of information on how they intend to re-route the service through High Barnet town centre (eliminating Strafford Rd has been mentioned) so we are asking for this to be clarified.
Public transport to the tube station is acknowledged as a pain for all users, but especially for the elderly or physically impaired, with the northbound bus stop located some distance up Barnet Hill from the station access road. The proposal is to move the stop to just south of the pedestrian crossing at the end of the access road, more or less opposite the southbound stop. This should be a most welcome improvement.
The consultation is open until 22 October and can be viewed at https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/buses/route-384/
AND BRIEFLY …….
At the Residents Forum in September we also asked for an update on the proposed improvements to the safety of the pedestrian crossing from the College to the front of the Church. Members will no doubt recollect there was a scheme that involved closure of the turning from Wood St to the High St that runs past the Church, abandoned last year when a pilot closure met with a lot of public opposition. To our surprise Highways have now said they are in the early stages of considering a more extensive scheme that would involve the replacement of the traffic lights with a roundabout. We did say there are other traffic pinch points and maybe a comprehensive review of traffic flows through the town might be a good idea. So something radical may yet emerge. Watch this space, though we expect it is likely to be a long wait.
A long running eyesore has been the hole in the pavement outside Paddy Power, caused by the collapse of the basement lightwell. According to the freeholder this was caused by a Council cleaning machine, so apportioning blame may be the reason why there has been no resolution. We were cheered when the freeholder recently submitted a planning application to fill the hole with concrete. But the planners said it was a matter for Highways, who said it was a matter for …….. the freeholder. So in some despair we wait to see what happens next.
And a similar matter is the wrecked cabinet at the end of Church Passage, the unfortunate outcome of a car leaving the road in haste some weeks ago. It took a long time for protective barriers to appear and nothing else has happened. We were given to understand that the cabinet was not in use, but a nearby shopkeeper checked and found it was used to control the High St CCTV, which of course is no longer working. We view this as a rather serious problem and do hope that now pressure has been applied repairs will happen soon.
CAMRA recently did an audit of pub closures across London. Barnet has been one of the worst hit Boroughs with numbers declining from 135 in 2001 to now just 80 (with more under threat). In our area we reckon we have lost seven over this period (Albion, William IV, Alexandra, Green Man, Crown and Anchor, Red Lion (Underhill), and most recently the White Lion). Of the twelve remaining several are essentially restaurants: Hadley House, Red Lion (High St), The Arkley and The Gate.
The new ‘hospital’ CPZ is now in force in ten roads, though not without some controversy. There was some confusion over the possible inclusion of four additional roads, but these are now planned to be added to the scheme early in the New Year. Some residents do consider that the operational hours of 8am to 6.30pm are excessive and felt there was inadequate consultation on the hours to be adopted. The Premier Inn developer has offered to part-fund a review of CPZ area C, which indeed is years overdue and something we are keen on.
The proposal to widen the High St pavement between the Post Office and The Spires, a scheme we strongly support, rumbles on. A decision by the Council was expected by the end of July, but we believe surveyors have found difficulties below ground which is probably the reason for delay. We participated in the public consultation by helping to staff a display in the former jeweller’s kiosk in The Spires. The overwhelming response was in favour though a minority of residents were strongly against.
More cheering is the acquisition of Graseby House by the NHS. After it ceased to be used for student accommodation we expected it to be sold for conversion to flats. But the intention to use the ground floor for NHS offices and a walk in advice centre, with nurses’ accommodation above, is much more appealing. The accommodation will need upgrading to provide en-suite facilities. Planning consent has been secured so the changes should happen soon. We have asked that the ground floor windows be changed from opaque to clear to reduce the rather deadening impact the building has on the High St.
It must be eight years since we tried to persuade the council to make better use of underused parking bays in Hillside Gardens and around Ravenscroft Park. But everything comes to those who wait - or just keeps pestering as we have done. The Council has now substantially reduced the parking charges in P&D bays in these locations, including one hour reducing from £2.00 to £1.30 and the all-day charge from £7.00 to £4.55. These changes are very timely now that the hospital CPZ has reduced free parking in the area. The next task is to persuade the council to create more dual-use bays in these areas where the resident only bays largely remain empty during the day. We also asked for this eight years ago … but when it comes to Barnet Highways we know they like to tease us and keep us hanging on in anticipation.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
Over 50 members were present at our AGM on 9 July to hear an engrossing presentation from The Spires Manager Shaun Wall. After ten years at the helm Chairman Gordon Massey stood down and Ken Rowland has taken his place as well as keeping the Highways brief. Gordon remains on the committee as Planning Officer and Newsletter Editor. Other committee members remain unchanged: Anna Watkins (Secretary), Sue Russell (Treasurer), Melvyn Sears (Membership Secretary), Janet Littlewood (Conservation), Tim Sims (Healthcare), Simon Green (Policing), Steven Ramsay (Design). The full minutes are on our website.
Sue Russell has indicated that she wishes to stand down as Treasurer in the near future so we would be pleased to hear from anyone who might be interested in taking on this role. Accountancy skills are not necessary but the task does require familiarity with using spreadsheets. Contact the chair at the email address on the contact page.