The scale of this project, with its excessive height and massing, and an unsympathetic modern design, would become the defining feature of the town, indeed so dominant that the rest of the town would be overshadowed. Blocks up to five and six storeys are proposed housing a dense development of 250 small one and two bedroom flats stretching from St Albans Road to Salisbury Road. This is unlike anything we have previously experienced in the town centre. Not only will these flats compromise the historic character of the town, they will become the defining feature.
We recognise that the shopping centre needs revitalising, but we believe that there appears to be an unnecessary drive to maximise the number of flats across the development. This leads to issues that threaten the success of the shopping centre itself and risks diminishing the quality of life of those occupying the flats and surrounding streets.
IMPACT ON OUR HISTORIC TOWN CENTRE
Efforts have continued over many years to ensure that the maximum building height in the town centre should be no more than four storeys. As well as protecting the historic character, this has ensured the dominance of the tower of St John’s Church, an iconic structure that can be seen from several directions without any other buildings to interrupt the view. In recent years, reduction in height of the new college and more recently the new flats on the Brake Shear house site have had to be fought for. The design of many other new buildings and adaptations ensured they stay in keeping with requirements regarding height and appearance. When The Spires was built in the 1980s it was low rise and carefully designed so the scale and appearance reflected the traditional appearance of the town and not be intrusive.. Though parts of the town are in conservation areas and thus would continue to be largely protected, the efforts over many years to retain the historic character of the town as a complete entity is now in danger of being destroyed.
THE NEW STREET
We have long been aware that as a retail centre The Spires has struggled and change is needed. We recognise the potential of opening up of The Spires as a 24 hour public street with the specific intention of encouraging more hospitality outlets, especially in the evenings. We consider outdoor seating would be essential to make the best of this. However the height of the buildings along the central ‘street’, arranged in five or six storeys, would have a negative impact on natural light, especially sunlight. The ‘canyon’ could also become a wind tunnel as well a source of amplified noise that could be a particular nuisance to the flats above, especially late evening as most of the flats would be single aspect with bedrooms above the ‘street’. This feeds into our concern that there would be an incompatibility between the needs of the shops and the needs of residents in the large number of flats above. This could ultimately threaten the viability of the shopping centre.
THE IMMEDIATE NEIGHBOURS
Residential properties on Salisbury Road would be blighted by unwelcome overlooking from blocks of five or six storeys immediately to the rear of the houses.
In Chipping Close the properties opposite have been designed to provide a more traditional appearance, reflecting that the old market site is in the conservation area, but the distance across the street falls way short of Barnet’s own requirement that the window to window distance between properties should be not less than 21 metres.
CARS AND PARKING
It is intended to remove the top two floors of the car park and replace them with flats. Because of structural weaknesses there would be have to be a strengthening of the foundations. Further, we understand there is an intention to use some of the spaces for occupants of the flats including disabled spaces. So the public parking spaces could fall to well below 100 from the current 390, a reduction of around three-quarters. Across the town this would amount to a reduction in public parking spaces of over 40%. And during the construction period the car park would have to be closed. This would be a disaster for the commercial well-being of the town centre and Waitrose and the shops in The Spires, in particular.
The Council will most certainly not allow CPZ (Controlled Parking Zone) permits for the flats. It is inevitable more residents than those who might be allowed to park in The Spires would have cars so they are likely to seek to park their cars in peripheral streets not within the CPZ, such as Byng/Wentworth and Puller/Calvert/Sebright roads. This would have a critical impact on existing parking availability in such roads, where parking is already stressed.
Most of the flats would be one or two bedrooms with minimum space standards. Many flats would also be single aspect, which is a breach of the London Plan policy D6 and likely to lead to poor ventilation, poor natural night and overheating, especially flats subject to extensive direct sunlight. The designs, apart from Chipping Close and proposed changes to the facade of the car park, appear to offers nothing distinctive, being just bland rectangular boxes.
We consider that the many potential problems with the flats – small, single aspect, poor outlook, external noise, the risk of overheating and no parking – will not make them attractive to long-term owner-occupiers. There are no incentives for the older people in the area occupying spacious family homes to move there. We believe many of these flats would end up in the buy-to-let sector occupied by short-term tenants.
In and close to the town centre we have had many new or converted one and two bedroom flats in recent years – we estimate some 150, with about 200 likely to come on stream in the near future (notably Brake Shear House, Intec House in Moxon Street and potentially Whalebones). The Council also still anticipates a development of nearly 300 flats on the High Barnet station site. We consider therefore that the argument that these flats in The Spires are essential to the council’s housing need is highly questionable. Especially as the Council’s own assessment is that the need in the Borough is for 68% of new properties to be three bedrooms or more - of which hardly any are being built. By contrast numerous developments of new small flats have been appearing all around the Borough, which should more than meet anticipated need.
IMPROVING THE SHOPS
It would be relatively simple to achieve the proposed ‘street’ by just opening out the entrance at the Stapylton Road end, though it would probably involve moving the lifts. Other improvements are desirable, such as better landscaping, but none of this would be unduly expensive
We acknowledge the 24 hour through pedestrian route from the High Street to Stapylton Road should be of significant benefit as it has the potential to boost the evening economy in the town. The development would also offer extra space for the market to expand if needed, and a community use property is proposed on St Albans Road. But these are mere crumbs when put alongside the many negative aspects of the proposed development that we have identified.