The Government is consulting on proposals that would require Barnet, in common with all other London Boroughs, to substantially increase the target for the number of new homes to be built. Suburban MPs across London have reacted with fury claiming, perhaps without exaggeration, that the proposals ‘risk destroying suburbia and creating the slums of the future’.
A further Government consultation is under way on proposals to streamline the planning system. We are concerned that these proposals would substantially diminish the ability of local planning departments and organisations such as ourselves to influence new developments.
Our response on the first of these consultations can be found on our website. The housing issue and the impact on Barnet is also discussed below. When completed our response to the second consultation will also go on our website. For sure, there are some tough times ahead.
Full horror revealed
In the June newsletter we explained this gross breach of planning approval for 70 High St, with the height and massing of the building way exceeding what was approved. The extent of the difference can now be fully appreciated. The planning approval was for the height of the roofline and the proportions to reflect the original (first photo). What we have is nothing of the sort. This oversize building looks distinctly modern and has clumsy proportions, whilst being a commanding presence in one of the best parts of the conservation area. We are appalled.
We noticed what was happing immediately the roof framework started to appear and alerted the Council. We know that enforcement officers did pursue the developer but he chose to brazen it out. The idea of a temporary stop notice was considered but then dropped. We appreciate the difficulty with stop notices: if the developer eventually won his case the council would be liable for all the costs arising from the interruption to the construction work, which could be substantial. For this reason that most enforcement activity proceeds after a project is completed. But that does have its limitations. It would be deeply disappointing, but we fear the odds may be in favour of the developer not being forced to demolish this building and start again. The Government has acknowledged the weakness in the penalties for abuse and is currently consulting on this, though alas this is too late here.
Saving our streets
In the next item we discuss the unwelcome incursion into suburbia of dense developments of high rise flats. But there is another threat that is just as deadly and perhaps more likely to affect our members – ‘densification’ through conversion of residential houses to flats or their demolition and replacement with a block of flats. Apart from Station Rd and a few roads off we have not had too much of this, but we have already had to fight to stop a number of schemes and applications of this type have been creeping up. But here we have found support from an unexpected quarter.
We thought we were on a loser with an application in Prospect Rd to demolish this detached house and replace it with a block of six two-bedroom flats. The replacement building had been designed to look like a detached house if a little larger, there were other flats in the road which set a precedent for the developer to latch on to, and the location fitted the Mayor’s ambition for densification in locations close to a transport hub or town centre. So there were several points that offered support to this scheme. In recommending approval planning officers also cited the Orwellian newspeak which now defines two bedroom flats as family homes and, so are apparently acceptable as replacements for larger family homes.
We have a lot to complain about over recent Government pronouncements on planning policy but on this occasion Secretary of State Robert Jenrick came to our rescue. Back in March he wrote to the London Mayor criticising the emphasis in the draft New London Plan on one bedroom flats at the expense of family homes, and expressing concern at the loss of existing family homes “particularly where family sized dwelling are sub-divided into flats or redeveloped entirely”. He issued a Direction that this “must be a consideration …when taking decisions relating to dwelling mix”. We alerted the Planning Committee saying the officer’s report on the Prospect Rd application had failed to address this Direction. The Planning Committee agreed and the application was rejected citing loss of a family home. Following this decision we wrote to the planners asking for clarification of the policy in this area. So far our request has been met with silence.
Whilst the Council seems reluctant to come clean on their policy we have another very similar test coming up on Quinta Drive, where a developer is seeking to demolish two detached houses and replace them with two blocks providing thirteen flats. The justification here is less strong than in Propect Rd; there are no other flat blocks to point to as a precedent, and the area is more than 800 metres from the town centre, defined by the Mayor as the limit for areas suitable for densification. As with Prospect Rd we have based our objection on the Jenrick Direction. We have also objected to an earlier very similar proposal in Hadley Rd on which a decision is still awaited.
So what next for housing?
The Government in consulting on proposals that would require Barnet, in common with many other London Boroughs, to substantially increase the target for the number of new homes over the next ten years. The population of Barnet has increased from around 350,000 to 400,000 in recent years and is already projected to go up to 450,000 over the next ten years. The new target would require an astonishing 5,700 new homes a year over the next ten years, which if achieved could increase the population of the Borough from the current 400,000 to somewhere in excess of 500,000. Although some commentators have expressed doubt whether anything like the number of new homes indicated will be needed in London, or indeed could realistically be built, the council is obliged to plan on the basis of the targets being set.
With almost all available land in the Borough having been developed, there is a sense of inevitability that when major sites do become available we get proposals for dense high rise schemes, such as those approved for the former Medical Research Centre, the North London Business Park and Pentavia in Mill Hill, and those in the pipeline for High Barnet and Finchley Central stations, Homebase in North Finchley, the B&Q site in Cricklewood, and the New Barnet Gas Works site. What all these schemes do have in common is that they generate a universal sense of outrage amongst residents. Our Councillors are invariably on the side of the public and it was no surprise, despite a recommendation by officers for approval, that last month the Planning Committee rejected the Gas Works application with a unanimous vote of 11-0. One councillor described the scheme as “Bringing Benidorm to Barnet”. But applications could ultimately be decided by the Mayor or the Secretary of State, and on past experience we anticipate that there is every prospect that the local decision will be overruled.
There is no doubt that policy at National, London and Borough level is in quite a pickle as regards setting and meeting housing targets. It is a numbers game, and expectations could only be met across London by building vast numbers of small one and two bedroom flats and also replacing many family houses with flats. The Mayor has been clear about this and has pursued a policy of densification which has brought many more high-rise developments. We know that in Barnet 78% of all new homes in the past ten years have been one or two bedroom flats, and as land has become more scarce alongside expectations of housing numbers going up, this proportion can only increase. But Barnet’s own assessment of future housing need is for just 38% to be one or two bedrooms and the remaining 62% should be three bedrooms or more. On current evidence there is no hope of any of these family homes being delivered. We appreciate there is an enormous problem, but as a starting point we want to ensure the existing stock of family houses is protected. Redefining two bedroom flats as adequate replacement family homes might appear to be a clever wheeze, but it just won’t do.
Planning applications diminish
In recent years, with planning applications running up to five hundred a year in our area, we have on occasions felt rather overwhelmed. Of course the vast majority of applications have been for domestic extensions which we rarely consider, though we have occasionally opposed ones that are intrusive on the streetscape or commit some other significant sin. Those aside, we have been consistently scrutinising some 60-70 applications a year, objecting to around one-third of these. But in the first nine months of 2020 we have examined just 23 applications and opposed 12 of these (including Prospect Rd, Quinta Drive and Hadley Rd discussed above). The downturn in the economy, apparent late last year, and then the effect of the coronavirus, have no doubt been the main causes of this reduction in activity. Many members will no doubt share our relief that after something of a frenzy of development proposals we are experiencing a respite. But if the Government attempts to shake up the planning system and impose much higher housing targets come to fruition, future applications will probably rocket beyond those of past years.
In the previous newsletter we described the successful battle to stop the conversion of the former garage at 151-153 High St to a mix of housing and shops with a distinctly modern frontage. Defeating this was a struggle as officers had recommended approval. And after refusal by the Planning Committee it went all the way to appeal. Thankfully, reason has prevailed and the developer has come up with a new proposal to convert the listed no 151 back to its original incarnation as a house, which looks good. We are less thrilled with the proposal for 153 which will still retain a shop on the ground floor. But this is far better than what we first saw and we have decided not to oppose.
The owners of the long established Savoro hotel and restaurant are proposing to expand the hotel side of the business including an extension at the rear, increasing the letting rooms to 19. Sadly the well-regarded restaurant would disappear. We are sorry that the owners of The Painted Pot at 188 High St feel they cannot continue with their business. They have applied to convert the property to residential use. We are not happy with the idea of losing this retail outlet so we have lodged an objection. The shops to the north of the High St as far as (but not including) the former Bentley garage are classified as being in the primary retail area, and to lose a shop here could make this location less attractive to shoppers and damage the adjacent businesses. We are also concerned that converting the building to residential without reducing the ground floor windows to domestic proportions would result in an incongruous appearance for a house. This has happened with conversions elsewhere, e.g in Alston Rd, but in a highly visible location in the conservation area the appearance should be correct.
Mobile phone masts are having a hard time. Unfortunately the latest 5G generation tend to be much taller than their predecessors, now typically 20 metres high. An application to erect one behind Barnet College was refused though it has now gone to appeal. On Wood St close to the Elmbank development there was an application to replace an existing 12 metre pole with one 20 metres tall to be located on an island in the middle of the road. This too has been refused. In both cases the residents of nearby properties took exception to having these tall masts so close. There is a sting in the tail. The Government has indicated they may allow these masts under Permitted Development Regulations, which in future would effectively prevent residents from objecting.
Over the past year we have featured the saga of 17 Park Rd, where the owner initially wanted to convert these offices to 39 tiny flats using the much criticised Permitted Development Regulations. This relaxation in controls has resulted in some 200,000 office to flat conversions around the country, many offering the most awful accommodation. The Council officers did well to bat off four planning applications, each with a minor variation in the number of flats. But they have finally relented on an application to convert the two lower floors to seven small flats. We anticipate there may be another application to put another six flats on the two upper floors. But if we do end up with 13 flats, though far from desirable, that would be way better than the 39 first proposed.
Members may recollect an application last year, using the same Regulations, to convert the industrial building at the bottom of Moxon St to 139 tiny flats, most without windows. It wasn’t the absence of windows that scuppered the application but, as we spotted, the fact that the building did not fit the requirements set out in the Regulations. This application attracted national publicity and may have been instrumental in influencing the Government to recently change the Regulations, which now say that all flats must have adequate natural light. Unfortunately they did not use the same legislative opportunity to specify minimum space standards, but they have now caved in to public pressure and have announced that this too will be corrected.
Still in Moxon St, we now have the prospect of another commercial building proposed for conversion to residential use, with two options under consideration. No 50 is currently empty and there is planning consent to construct flats at roof level. The first proposal would be to convert the building to the ‘co-living’ concept. This would offer a first home to some 50 young professionals in a social environment, which could especially appeal to young people coming to London for their first job. The individual flats would be small but the building would include extensive communal facilities including a kitchen/dining area, work areas, a gym and a cinema. We have expressed concern to the developer that 50 young people may not live harmoniously with the neighbours in what is a quiet residential street, and if professionals cannot be attracted the building could slide down market to become an unappealing house in multiple occupation. The second option is a straightforward conversion to 45 flats. As yet there is no planning application but we are keeping in close touch as to how this one proceeds.
One of our least favourite landlords is the owner of the building housing Pizza L’Antica in Church Passage. Some years ago he put wooden cladding on the front leading us to liken the results to a Swiss Chalet. He was forced to change this, though we remain less than enamoured with what was eventually approved for the upper floor. He has planning permission to add an additional floor at the front, which we would not mind as the building would sit better with its neighbours if it were higher. But this year he applied to add an additional floor at the rear. He evidently knew it would not look very good by saying it would be hidden by the new development at the front. We did not buy that and objected on the grounds there was no guarantee the front extension would be built. The Council agreed and the application was rejected.
The controversial Whalebones scheme should be going to the Planning Committee shortly after members receive this newsletter. All has been quiet on the station car park scheme since we had a zoom meeting at the end of April with TfL and the developer.
Less ugliness to see
Long standing members may recollect the battle we had over ten years ago regarding the butchering of the former Crown and Anchor pub. We had regarded this building as one of the most attractive in the town centre conservation area. The ground floor windows and part of the tiled area were ripped out and replaced with a modern façade. It was particularly galling as these changes were approved by a planning officer, though we did subsequently get an apology for their error. Not content with the damage inflicted, the occupiers, Lesstax2pay, then added metal shutters and erected hideous signage in addition to that which was approved. The Council did respond to our complaints about these, though it took several years and an imminent court case before the offending items were removed.
Lesstax2pay has now moved to an office at the top end of the High St, this time without a street frontage we are pleased to say. Their inelegant signboard has gone which has made a big improvement to the appearance of this building. So we now wait to see what might happen next, though we doubt whether anyone will try and restore this building to its former glory.
Our changing town centre
We have previously featured the new construction schemes pictured below, but with work much more advanced we thought it was worth featuring them again.
The framework for the 100-bed care home in Wood St (first above) is well advanced. The immense size of this building can be appreciated by a stroll down Cattley Close which runs alongside. The demolition of Brake Shear House and ancillary buildings for a mixed development of houses, flats and workspaces is almost complete, revealing attractive views beyond. An archaeological survey is to follow, so it will be some time before construction starts. Not pictured are the schemes in progress to construct new blocks of flats in Park Rd behind the former Londis, in Moxon St, and in Salisbury Rd, plus the conversion of the building behind Dory’s in Bruce Rd to a house in multiple occupation. Also of course we have the notorious 70 High St featured above. Work is also about to start on two blocks of flats on the former garage and car wash sites in Moxon St/Tapster St.
We would have loved to have featured the approved Premier Inn being built, but that remains in limbo. We understand that Whitbread remain committed to the scheme but the developer is having difficulties with funding the construction. We still expect the proposed Enterprise car hire on the site of the former White Lion pub to go ahead. It was stalled for a year because of the council’s new pub protection policy. We do support this policy in principle but as we have learned here there can be a downside. Work remains stalled on the flats above Village Food Store on the High St where little has happened since late last year, though the owner has now been persuaded to remove the graffiti on the frontage that appeared a year ago.
The 384 still causing controversy
Whilst we welcome the extension of this route to Edgware, the new route using Salisbury Rd continues to cause problems. With a continuous run of parked cars on both sides and no passing places, residents did warn of what might happen. And indeed there have been several instances of vehicles and buses meeting head-on, including ambulances on call. About two weeks into the new arrangements a bus driver proceeded along the road despite a delivery van occupying the middle of the carriageway. The two vehicles went nose to nose followed by a farcical stand-off lasting over an hour. Though the innocent party, the van driver eventually reversed half way along the road. Whether this and other incidents provoke a rethink by TfL remains to be seen, but we know the route is unpopular with the drivers. A judicial review has been launched by a resident and has cleared its first hurdle.
Shops faring better than feared
Surprisingly, in recent months we have experienced a remarkable number of new openings. So we start at the top end of the High St where Huddle Caffé has been the most talked about new arrival. Your editor was very partial to the coffee in Carluccio’s and was devastated when they closed down. Happily he has found an excellent substitute in Huddle, with the added bonus of being able to sit outside in the warm weather we have enjoyed in recent months. We have also had good reports on the food. The interior is rather small so we do hope they remain viable over the winter months. Though the café market is rather crowded, this successful launch demonstrates there is always room for outlets that offer what people want.
Odette has moved into the premises of the former Sean Heaney estate agent and Becca, another hair and beauty salon, has moved into the premises vacated by Odette.
To complete the arrivals at the top end of the High St we have HK Architects. This property had been empty for some years with the renovation taking an age to complete. Kronus and Rhea opened earlier in the year; it was mentioned in our June newsletter but we did not include a photo, so here it is.
All these new outlets bar one have in common that they are services, not retail, a trend we have frequently commented on in recent times. What is pleasing is the outbreak of good taste in the presentation of the frontage and the signage for these outlets, something we similarly commented on in the June newsletter for the several new outlets at the lower end of the High St.
But of course every silver lining has a cloud …….
Phone & Vape has recently vacated no 50 High St. We engaged in a long battle over the inappropriate frontage they installed there. They eventually secured planning approval for a replacement frontage but have left without the work being done. So when we learned they were opening in the centre of the High St our expectations of a tasteful frontage were low, but as it turns out not low enough. Of course we want all businesses to succeed and this one should be providing a useful service, but we do wish they had made more effort with the frontage. The building this shop sits in is attractive and deserves better.
Whilst many members find charity shops very useful, they have often commented that we have had far too many, with their heavy presence in the centre of the High St sending a clear message that this was not a thriving town centre. For many years we have had more and more openings and no closures, so we have been surprised by something of an avalanche of departures. Ark Hospice, PDSA, and Willow have gone. Age UK has a sign saying they are closed. North London Hospice opposite the Church also remains closed, though we are not sure if this is permanent following the recent opening of their furniture store in the former Superdrug. As we anticipated, the Superdrug shop proved difficult to let because of its size, so we are pleased a use has been found.
Many of our businesses have been commendably stoical in the face of adversity and have proved remarkably adaptable in coping with contact restrictions. We feared a flood of permanent closures following lock down but the damage appears to have been limited. We are sorry to see the departure of Cover, a well-regarded outlet for outdoor clothing. Also sad is the announced closure of the TSB Bank on 21 January next year. In addition, eight businesses that closed during lockdown have so far failed to reopen, but we wait to see if these closures are permanent.
The long signalled concentration of Statons into a single outlet has left a stretch at the top end of the High St looking decidedly forlorn, with the former car showroom alongside also empty. We have had a slow contraction in the number of estate agents and with advertising now largely on-line the need for estate agents to have a High St presence is looking increasingly questionable. Sean Heaney and Andrew Ward have both moved into offices and no longer have a shop window. But there is always someone who will chance bucking the trend. Spencer and Sener have moved into the former Bairstow Eves outlet near the bottom end of the High St, and very smart their frontage is too.
On the positive side, as well as the openings already mentioned, K&S DIY shop has opened in the former Mirror Mad on St Albans Rd. The former Starbucks is being fitted out and we understand it will be a hardware shop. A planning application has been approved for the former Velofit at the junction of St Albans Rd to become a gym. There is also an application to re-open the long closed Chudy’s as a florist. Rumours swirl around the possibility of the former Carluccio’s becoming a restaurant, but we still await confirmation. And still on the topic of food, The Kings Head pub now has a Thai kitchen and Harry’s Butchers is offering hot kebabs.
BRA came together with other members of the Town Team to see how they could help the High St post lockdown. Using the Love Barnet brand, the result is a comprehensive on-line directory of local retail businesses. It has extensive information on what each has to offer, with contact details including how to order online. The lists can be sorted by category e.g hairdressers, restaurants, etc. We do think this is a most helpful boost for our High St and hope as many people as possible make use of it. We strongly recommend that members take a look: www.lovebarnet.co.uk
Cleaner streets may be coming
Although many residents complained about the introduction of charges for collecting green bins there has been a positive side. This is now generating income of £1.1million per annum and the intention is to plough this money back into the street cleaning service, which has clearly suffered following cuts in earlier years. The main features of the improved service are:
- In town centres the aim is to clean prime areas on a daily basis including the use of a mechanical sweeper. Peripheral areas will be cleaned fortnightly.
- Residential roads should get two deep cleans a year, three or four weed spraying treatments per annum, plus leaf clearance on roads with trees over a twelve week period in the autumn. For heavily parked roads experiments will be conducted with alternate side cleansing, with cars on the opposite side being required to move on cleaning days.
- There will be a number of Borough-wide dedicated teams dealing with trunk road cleaning, fly-tipping, graffiti and emergencies.
From a staffing low of 77 full-time equivalents numbers have already gone up to 97 and should increase further to 115. We have frequently observed deficiencies in the street cleaning service so all this looks very positive. Anyone wishing to see the plans in detail should look up the meeting of the Council Environment Committee on 9 September.
And Briefly …..
2021 sees the 550th anniversary of the Battle of Barnet. The team that brought us the highly successful Medieval Festivals in 2018 and 2019 had to cancel plans for 2020, but they are working on ideas for something bigger and better for 2021. As well as the major weekend event on Byng Rd playing fields they are exploring the possibility of smaller events in the town centre. Members may have seen the fundraising stall in The Spires on 19 September. There may also be a one-day event in April to mark the actual date of the battle which would simultaneously be celebrated here and in the City of London where Yorkist King Edward mustered his forces before marching to Barnet. Of course, all this is dependent on problems with the coronavirus disappearing or substantially diminishing to allow large public gatherings to take place.
The Consultants employed by the Council to produce a new Community Plan for High Barnet have put back the unveiling of their proposals, originally planned for August, until later in October. The expectation is that they will come up with five projects that can be taken forward quickly by the community in partnership with the council.
In our February Newsletter we reported that Longrove Surgery (pictured) was moving to The Vale Drive Clinic. This provoked a furious reaction from the Surgery and from the Primary Care Trust, both saying there was no truth in the story. Though we were confident of our source we felt obliged to send grovelling apologies and published a correction in an email to members. And so, with that having been put right, the move of the Surgery to The Vale Drive Clinic took place on 21 September.
Whenever a new Controlled Parking Zone is introduced there is invariably a knock-on effect for streets on the boundary where free parking is available. This has indeed happened as a consequence of the new ‘Hospital’ CPZ and consultation is now being undertaken with a view to further expanding this CPZ into surrounding streets. To alleviate pressure on hospital parking the Council has agreed to a number of permits being issued allowing hospital staff to park in the CPZ.
Following a request from residents it is expected that the parking controlled period in Normandy Avenue, currently just one hour, will be extended.
We know that many members are exercised by the heavy traffic passing through the town and regularly ask us if anything can be done about it. We are sure that better management could reduce congestion in the High St as well as the number of vehicles using residential streets as rat runs. We have tried to engage with the Council on the issue on a number of occasions in the past but they have always shied away. Some design work was done to consider improvements to the High St/Wood St junction and the High St/St Albans Rd junction, but both initiatives were abandoned without reaching any conclusion. We thought it was time to have another go and at the Residents Forum in August we put forward our analysis of the problems and again asked for a comprehensive traffic review. It was agreed that a meeting would be convened between officers, ward councillors and BRA to consider the current traffic issues.
The redundant phone box outside KFC has disappeared. There is planning permission for a modern replacement and we are surprised it has not appeared. So there is hope that BT has had a change of mind, especially as there is a similar installation outside the front of The Spires. These installations are really no more than a vehicle for advertising. A year ago we were involved in the successful opposition to proposals for three new such installations along the High St, and thankfully the applicant appears to have given up. Less welcome are new planning applications from the same company to change from paper to digital three existing advertising installations on the High St. Your editor finds the moving images on these digital screens most irritating, but sometimes we have to grit our teeth and accept the world has moved on.
Recent newsletters have feature at some length the pavement widening in the High Street. So this time we will just keep to a brief mention. The eight attractive new benches have been very well received, and the Museum Information Board on the history of the town placed on the pavement outside Health Matters is a further positive addition. Cycle hoops have also appeared. Litter bins have started to be delivered and all should soon be in place. So after nearly ten years of endeavour on our part we are almost there.
The Council is considering an ambitious scheme to create cycle lanes the length of the A1000 from East Finchley up to Monken Hadley. They are currently consulting on the first phase from East Finchley to North Finchley. It is expected that would be implemented and assessed before the second phase is considered. We expect any proposal for our area would involve reducing the uphill carriageway on Barnet Hill from dual to single which could have a significant impact on the flow of traffic. We are also struggling to see how cycle lanes might be provided along our High St with its widened pavement.
We do endeavour to keep an eye on civic amenities of both major and minor importance. The Noah’s Ark hospice had two reserved bays in the Moxon St car park and following the closure of their office last year the bays remained unused. We recently drew this to the attention of the Council and the bays are now available for public use. Though hardly momentous, reclaiming these bays is helpful in a car park that is often full because of the free hour – a concession we do like to remind people was negotiated by ourselves.
We raised the problem of fly tipping with the Council in January last year. They have since been doing rather well clearing up the mess that appears all too frequently. The CCTV we asked for is still on the cards, though frustratingly it has been ‘imminent’ for some months.
We have ten places on our committee, but it is not easy to recruit new members and we have been running with nine for some considerable time. Three of our committee have also been with us since the Association was relaunched in 2005 and are starting to get a little long in the tooth. We are now sorely in need of some new blood to ensure we remain a force in shaping the future of our town.
Engaging with a range of civic matters and finding that it is possible to make a difference can be very rewarding. Much of what we do is well suited to someone newly retired looking for activity which is both mentally stimulating and enables involvement with many other community minded people. However we do also have committee members with full-time jobs and they are still able to make a meaningful contribution. There is an expectation that each committee member will take on responsibility for a particular area. Our activities primarily range over matters concerning planning, conservation, highways, parking, environment, health and policing. We see our role as putting forward the views that reflect the interests of ordinary residents; we do not need to be experts in the areas with which we engage, and it is surprising how quickly people pick up the essentials. In normal times the committee aims to meet every six weeks, usually at a location in Union St, but currently we meet by Zoom.
If after reading the above anyone who might be interested in becoming an active member of the committee is invited to contact our chairman Ken Rowland. Ken can be contacted via the details on the Contact page.