Newsletter February 2020

The new decade brings with it the revised Local Plan for Barnet which is now out for consultation. This will have a major impact on the Borough over the next ten years with the intention to build many more homes, mostly in high rise flats, and increasing restrictions on car use and parking.  A separate major initiative is a Community Plan for High Barnet on which work has now commenced.  There is considerable activity around changes to shop occupancy in the town centre.  We have an update on major development proposals, along with the usual round of planning applications to report on, where pleasingly most decisions have gone our way.

46,000 new homes?

This is the headline figure in the Borough’s draft Local Plan for 2021–30 which was going out to consultation as we went to press.   This figure is based on the Council’s own calculation of anticipated demand for new homes over the next 15 years and was agreed with the London Mayor.   But following examination of the draft London Plan by the Planning Inspectorate the target for London as a whole was considered unachievable and in consequence reduced by 20%.  The target for Barnet accepted by the Mayor has come down to 33,460.  Although this lower figure has yet to be endorsed by the Secretary of State, we are somewhat alarmed that the Local Plan remains based on the original 46,000 target subsequently identified as unachievable.  We will be commenting on this and many other aspects of the Plan over the coming weeks.

Town centre intensification

A major theme of the London Plan,  now translated into the draft Local Plan, is the expectation that much of the new development will be close to transport hubs and town centres (defined as within 800 metres of a town centre boundary).  The aim is that concentrating development around town centres will limit further dependency on car travel.  It is also intended that many town centre developments will be car free.  The five district centres in the Borough, of which we are one, are expected to deliver a minimum of 6,100 homes, and this does not include station developments.  However ……….

High Barnet largely spared

One positive aspect of the Plan is that with the identification of 67 potential development sites across the Borough there is the opportunity for community input on many of them before developers move in and sew up schemes with the planners before the community knows anything about them.  For High Barnet and the surrounding area the Plan identifies just three development sites – the station car park, Whalebones and the Army Reserve Centre.  Of course schemes are already in the pipeline for two of these and whether any of them will come to fruition is another matter.  It is distinctly possible that the Reserve Centre will never become available.  There are a lot of small schemes around the town centre already in progress that are likely to deliver upwards of 150 flats, some of which we report on below.

Tall buildings remain controversial

The Plan does include some positive measures including the provision of parameters for residential conversions and extensions.  There is explicit information on where tall buildings might be allowed, which will not please residents of North Finchley and Finchley Central, where both town centres are identified as suitable for buildings of eight to fourteen storeys.  There is an additional category of very tall buildings defined as fourteen storeys or more, but fortunately these are identified as only being suitable for the main regeneration areas in the west of the Borough, though whether the line on this can be held is questionable (see below re Finchley Central station and the New Barnet Gas Works site).  And as tall buildings are defined as eight storeys or more, there is the implication that up to seven storeys might be acceptable in residential areas characterised by low rise housing.  We disagree and will argue that in such areas there should be a lower limit of four or five storeys.  The plan is thin – very thin – on ideas for infrastructure improvements such as transport and healthcare facilities.

We are writing to members with details of the consultation meetings and how to access the draft Plan.

Community Plan launched

As well as the Local Plan we have another initiative that is intended to contribute to shaping our town over the coming years.   The inaugural public meeting for the Chipping Barnet Community Plan was held on Thursday 23 January at Barnet College.  It was well attended with approximately 80 people there including many shop owners and the wider community.

Barnet Council has chosen Chipping Barnet for this project specifically because it has an active Town Team (which includes us) and wants to engage with the community to develop this.  The appointed consultants, Architecture 00, will lead on developing the strategy and identifying the core projects to be taken forward.

Projects for improvements

There are six themes from which projects are expected to emerge:

  1. Identity and High Street offer - creating a distinctive Chipping Barnet
  2. Diversifying the High Street - supporting businesses and the community in a more entrepreneurial Chipping Barnet
  3. Transport and Movement - getting round and about Chipping Barnet
  4. Heritage, Culture and the Arts - celebrating Chipping Barnet's heritage richness
  5. Greening Sustainability - supporting a greener Chipping Barnet
  6. Youth and Intergenerational Involvement – creating a more inclusive Chipping Barnet for young and old people from all walks of life.

Once projects are identified the Town Team and the Council should be in a prime position to bid for funding streams as and when they become available.

You will hear more about the Community Plan over the next few months including a public exhibition in April.  We will keep members informed of its progress.

More town centre housing

building site with men working in a holeanother building site

Demolition of the garage and former British Legion building in Moxon St (first picture above) is the most visible indicator of major changes now taking place in the town centre involving the provision of new housing.  Three blocks of  flats - thankfully low rise - will occupy these sites.  After various false starts the concrete foundations have now been laid for the replacement building for the former After Office Hours, though work now seems to have stopped yet again.  Assuming the project is completed,   as before there will be a bar on the ground floor, though we are less enamoured by the eight tiny flats that will be on the upper floors.  Tenants occupying the Brake Shear House industrial site have all been given notice so we anticipate work will start soon on the 68 homes plus workspace.  Hoardings have also gone up around the former Fern Rooms in Salisbury Rd so we anticipate that redevelopment will also soon start.

The commencement of work on the new care home on Wood St has at last seen the demolition of the former Marie Foster buildings (second picture above).  For many years these buildings were probably the worst eyesore in our area and we doubt anyone will lament their passing.

Station scheme now with the planners

We have kept members on email informed on progress with the scheme to build flats on the station car park.  Between June and December we had a number of exchanges with TfL and the developer when we pressed on several issues, with many of our requests accepted.  Over that period the proposal to build around Meadway was dropped and the height with blocks of up to ten storeys originally indicated has come down to six/seven.  The effect of these changes has brought the number of proposed flats down from 450 to 292.

A number of less significant changes include making the station access road and its continuation around the new housing one-way, increasing the number of drop-off bays, a wider ramp up to Meadway with both steps and a slope, easing the gradient for pedestrians on the access road, and cosmetic changes to the flats including the omission of ‘clip on’ balconies on the most prominent blocks.  Of course the loss of most of the parking remains a major feature of the scheme, with just 27 public bays proposed, though our request that these be allocated on a need basis is being considered.  We are hopeful that our request for a hopper bus to serve the station and the flats will be looked at in a positive light by TfL, though past experience on bus matters suggests we will struggle to make progress on this.

As we have said before, we would much rather not have this scheme at all.  But against the background of the London Plan for vast numbers of new homes and the Mayor’s intention to largely eliminate station parking everywhere, we see little prospect of stopping the scheme.  The developers are keen to submit a planning application as soon as possible but we suspect that the pre-application discussions with the planners have not yet been concluded.

It is worse elsewhere

Meanwhile, if we think we have problems, the Finchley Central station scheme, though pared down a little from the original proposal to construct 600 flats including one block of 27 storeys, still aims to build 560 flats in blocks up to 20 storeys high.  And for the former Gas Works site in New Barnet the developer wants to tear up the approved scheme, which was for 371 homes, including a number of houses with blocks of flats from four to six storeys and a single eight storey block in the middle. They are now proposing to build 692 flats in thirteen blocks ranging from seven to fourteen storeys.  We understand the Council planners pointed out that New Barnet is not included in the areas identified in the draft Local Plan as suitable for tall buildings and the planning assumption should be a maximum of seven storeys.  But the developers say they have been encouraged by the GLA to go much higher to achieve a greater density.  This, alas, is a familiar story across London where, as at Pentavia in Mill Hill, attempts by councils to limit the height of developments have repeatedly been overruled by the London Mayor.

Pavement widening slow - but sure

Barnet High Street after the widening of the pavementsWe have always been at the forefront of promoting this scheme, an effort that has taken some ten years to come to fruition since the idea was first raised, but it is now possible to take a view on how it is impacting on the town centre. There were a lot of negative comments about the pace of work which indeed went on interminably throughout the autumn, and then work was suspended to allow for the Xmas Fayre in December.  The provision of street furniture etc. is expected to happen in the early spring when it will next be suitable for planting trees.  We are assured all work will be completed by the end  of March.

Despite all the difficulties, including substantial opposition when the scheme was first proposed, we are in no doubt that the ambience of the High St has already been changed for the better.  We have picked up many positive comments and are sure the scheme will be well regarded once it is completed.  By comparison it is now evident how unpleasant the experience is walking along the cluttered narrow pavement on the opposite side, where at the very least we would like to see new paving.

Unwelcome applications refused

The dismissal of the appeal on the application to construct 57 one and two bedroom flats in two blocks of 3/4 storeys on the Meadow Works site near Greenhill Parade is a major win for the community.  The Planning Inspector took the application apart, citing negative impact on the character and appearance of the area, the harmful effect on local employment, the negative impact on outlook and privacy for adjacent houses, an unacceptable high level of housing density for the size of the site, and a lack of 3/4 bedroom family accommodation.  This is a devastating critique of a proposed development of a sizable block of flats and provides a precedent for residents to challenge similar schemes elsewhere.

shop with scaffolding over the roofWork continues on converting to flats the floors above the former Londis, and a decision is awaited on an application for an additional floor, which we have opposed.  There is however good news that the application to increase the size of the already approved new block to the rear of Londis, which we also opposed, has been turned down.

We objected to a similar application to add  a fourth floor to the front of 128 High St (above Café Nero) and were pleased that the planners refused this one as well. Construction is underway following a previously approved application to add a fourth floor at the rear and construct replacement dormers to the front.  The appeal against the rejection of the conversion of a ‘shed’ in Puller Rd to residential was dismissed.

There is a new planning application to construct a four storey block of flats in Tapster St by demolishing part of the old print works which we think should be ok.  A previous application to convert the upper floors of the Former Shaketastic was decidedly unappealing, especially with regard to the treatment of the ground floor shop, and it was withdrawn after we objected.   A further application has been submitted which looks rather better, though we are considering the merits of a proposed additional floor.

We do welcome the revival of the planning application to convert the former White Lion pub and surrounding land in St Albans Rd to a car hire facility.  The earlier application fell foul of the Council’s new pub protection policy which required that the premises had to be marketed as a pub for at least twelve months.  That period has now expired with no offers to buy.   Though the loss of this once popular pub is a matter of regret, a car hire facility, which should provide up to ten local jobs, ought to appeal to residents who might find a convenient hire site an alternative to owning a car in an area where on-street parking is so difficult.

Protecting family homes

Attempts to convert or replace family homes continue to trickle in.  We opposed an application to convert a house in Fitzjohn Avenue to two flats and it was refused.  A recent application is to demolish a house in Prospect Rd and replace it with two flats, which we intend to oppose.  The saga of 17 Park Rd continues – this is the attempt to convert offices to tiny flats which we featured at length in the October newsletter. We are losing count, but reckon there have now been seven applications for small flats ranging from 20 to 36.  The Council keeps turning them down and we are struggling to understand why the owners are persisting with repeat applications instead of going to appeal.  There is an approval for conversion to eight flats and we keep hoping the owners will curtail their ambitions and be content with that.

Communications interrupted

Particularly cheering was the rejection of the applications to site three communications hubs at various locations on the High St.  Our strong objection to these featured in the October newsletter.  Also, still on the topic of communications, the Council rejected the application for a 60ft 5G mast at the rear of Barnet College.  Although a lot of the objections were about the disputed potential for health risks, the rejection was based solely on the visual impact on the surrounding area.  We had mixed feelings on the matter and in the end neither supported nor opposed.  Another proposed mast on Wood St has also been refused.

Barnet Council has written to BT about the neglected state of their phone boxes around the Borough, asking that they clean them up or remove them.  We suspect BT are hanging on to them so in due course they can replace them with hubs similar to the one outside Carluccio’s.  To get approval for the planned new hub outside KFC (still to be installed) they agreed to surrender two old phone boxes.

Whalebones still undecided

The Whalebones application was submitted in July and we have previously explained to members why we support the scheme notwithstanding the large number of objections.  The Mayor’s representatives have made comments asking for more green space and Barnet Highways have also questioned the proposed roundabout on Wood St.  We did ask the developer how they intended to respond to these comments but the reply was non-committal.  All has gone quiet so we assume the developer and the planners are in continuing discussions.

No laughing matter

shop front with a smiley face graffiti high up on the wallWhen the smiley face appeared on the second floor of the newly constructed flats above 108-112 High St (Toy Galaxy) we were not amused and wrote to the owner asking for early action to remove this graffiti.  That was two months ago.  We got a response that it would be dealt with but we are still waiting.  However our reason for writing to the owner was for a more important reason.  When we saw the planning application for two new floors of flats we were less than impressed with the proposal, but went along with it because it included four new traditional shop fronts with much smaller signage areas.  We were particularly keen on this as the frontages that are there now are in our view something of an eyesore.  Well, the flats have been completed for some months but the shop front element has not happened.  All we got back from the owner was a promise that this would be looked at.   Getting the approved scheme completed is likely to be an uphill battle.

Graffiti and fly tipping still a scourge

graffiti on rough boardIn contrast to the absence of any action on the graffiti on the building above, the owners of the Conservative Club building recently removed an unpleasant scrawl within a few days.  It is unfortunate that over the Xmas/New year period there was an upsurge in graffiti around the town such as that in the photo.  Removing it as quickly as possible when it appears is the only way to keep on top of the problem.  Leave it and more follows.

The mess behind 2 Bruce Rd (Dory’s café) which we pictured in the October Newsletter has been cleared.  Disappointing though was the large amount of rubbish dumped in St Albans Rd after the festive season.  It is such a shame we have so many fellow citizens lacking any sense of civic responsibility.  We look forward to seeing some of these people being prosecuted once the promised CCTV is in operation, though it is taking an inordinate length of time for it to appear.

More discontent with hospital parking

 Difficulties with the new hospital CPZ resurfaced with a large number of residents from the Bells Hill area turning up at the Residents Forum held at the Library in January.   The latest controversy was provoked by the decision of the Council to issue CPZ parking permits for up to 100 hospital staff, with residents in Sutton Crescent and Lexington Way fearing they would end up overwhelmed by parked cars as they are closest to the Bells Hill hospital entrance.  They asked that their roads be excluded from those where hospital staff would be allowed to park.  The Council took the issue away to consider.

 Meanwhile, the hospital Trust has submitted a planning application to demolish the now empty former sterile services building to replace it with 86 additional parking spaces, the majority for visitors.  Discussion on the idea of a multi-storey car park on the hospital site rumbles on.

Still on the subject of the NHS, changes are afoot with regard to GP services.  The Wood St Surgery has put in a planning application for an extension at the northern end of the building, with the aim of creating a number of additional consultation rooms.  There are difficulties with this because the building is an important Georgian building in the Conservation Area and there have been objections (though not from us).  It should go before the next Area Planning Committee meeting.  We have also been told that Longrove Surgery in Union St is likely to be moving into the Vale Drive Clinic building. [*** See update below]  The ground floor of Graseby House at the lower end of the High St is now occupied by NHS staff.  The upper floors are still being renovated to provide nurses accommodation.

[*** Update 9 February 2020. We have now been advised by the Practice Manager that Longrove Surgery has no current plans to re-locate and if the opportunity ever arose to move into bigger premises, they would follow correct procedure and engage patients accordingly. We sincerely apologise for any concern this error may have caused to patients of the surgery.]

[*** Update 10 October 2020. See our October newsletter. The move of the Surgery to The Vale Drive Clinic took place on 21 September.]

Staying green - at a cost

green wheelie binThe Council proposal to charge £70 for 23 green bin collections per year provoked howls of protest, but has now been approved.  We have previously reported on the savage cuts to the Street Scene budget over recent years and this proposal is very much a continuation of the search for economies that we have previously experienced. 

Street sweeping in the town centre was cut from two operatives to one Mondays to Fridays along with litter bin emptying by a mobile team at weekends.  We have since had nothing but complaints about litter in the High St.  The Council has acknowledged that there is a problem with service levels and we have been given to understand it is intended to improve the service by using the money raised from the green bin charges.  We are however conscious that the Council has a £17 million shortfall in the overall budget for next year, so we might find any service improvement still falls short of what is needed.

The one consolation is that we have not seen any proposals to move to fortnightly collections for refuse and re-cycling, as has happened in many other local authority areas, though this was a manifesto commitment by the Conservatives at the 2018 local elections.

Bentley Garage a sad loss

empty car showroomThe move of the H R Owen Bentley dealers to Hatfield has long been signalled and has now happened.   There is no doubt that this business brought a bit of class to the town, and even though your editor never got beyond pressing his nose to the showroom window he will definitely miss it.  The large showroom has blacked-out windows making it a particularly depressing sight, and it could prove to be very difficult to find another occupant for this large building that can only really serve as a showroom.  The second smaller showroom on the opposite side of the road continues in use for the moment, but it too is expected to be vacated very soon.

boarded up shopAnother high profile departure is Foxtons estate agency, though this was hardly surprising.  It only needed a glance at the properties for sale in their window to realise they never made any headway in the local market.  Unfortunately we now have a legacy of a building with a decidedly unattractive frontage – indeed we think it now looks rather better without their harsh interior lighting and  the windows blacked out.  When Foxton’s put in their planning application for a new frontage we expressed our discontent and asked for a deep stall riser to make it look more traditional.  We thought we had got agreement but what we asked for never materialised/.

But closures could be worse

Other casualties over recent months have been relatively few:  Regis hairdressers in The Spires where the chain has gone into liquidation; The Pink Shop which is due to be demolished as part of the redevelopment of Brake Shear House; and Hillside Food and Wine near the station, which was predictable as it looked incredibly shabby once the other convenience store next door was refurbished.  After a period of confusion when it appeared to be opening weekends only, The Cheese Shop in Union St finally succumbed.

And several openings expected

Smart Cutz hairdressers next to two empty unitsWe reckon there are 28 empty shops around the town centre, but of these only nine are currently advertised for letting and we believe another ten have been let but not yet occupied.  The remaining nine are not available for one reason or another including refurbishments, and in the case of the former Clarks the building owners have gone into liquidation, with the building going to auction in February. 

Of the lettings we know about, two are in the former Lux Lighting premises with one due to become a wedding dress shop and the other a gym (yes, another one which will bring us up to three in the town).  On the opposite side we are told that three of the recently constructed four units in the former Emmaus shop have been let.  As yet only one is occupied and that is a gents hairdresser (yes, another one) and one is going to be a café (er…yes…another one).  The former Reni’s café is to become a zero waste shop, which should be in tune with residents concerned about the environment and packaging waste.  We are told the former Superdrug has been let, which if correct will be very welcome as this empty large outlet in such a prominent High St location is something of a blight on the town.   Minnies coffee shop near the station is expected to reopen when the occupier recovers from illness.

And not before time

Santander bank all repairedThe saga of Santander’s windows began back in June when we noticed that a pane of glass in the rotting window directly above the ATM looked like it was about to fall out.  We alerted the bank staff and the window was promptly boarded up.  But it was evident that all the windows were in an advanced state of disrepair, something we wrote to Santander about over a year ago.  After the emergency boarding up nothing further happened and then a complete window subsequently fell out, fortunately with no-one below.  This time Santander did respond and we now have a fine set of replacement windows replicating those removed.  The tardy response could have resulted in a serious accident and we reckon Santander have been very lucky.

TSB bank looking smart in whiteAnother very welcome renovation is the listed TSB building.  It took a long time, partly as we understand there was a dispute with the builders.  The end product which included renovation of the parapet and windows and complete re-rendering looks excellent.  A planning application was submitted late last year to renovate the similar building next door and convert the upper floors to flats.  We did put a lot of effort into persuading the owner that something needed to be done, so it has come as a disappointment that the planning application has now been withdrawn.  We are asking the owner why this has happened and what is now intended.  The ground floor shop. Maison, was expected to close some time ago but is probably hanging on until the future of the building is sorted.

The Council has indicated that in response to our request they aim to proceed with a dilapidation order for the former Curry Cottage, although the frontage was recently cleaned.  We have continued to be concerned about the state of the former Hadley Green garage and have now similarly asked the Council to consider a dilapidation order.

Ward boundaries to change

The Boundary Commission has completed its review of Local Government boundaries.  For Barnet as a whole the number of councillors will remain at 63 but the number of wards will increase from 21 to 24.  Boundaries will be revised to provide for about 4000 – 4500 electors per councillor, which will result in 16 larger wards with three councillors and eight smaller wards with two councillors. 

These changes will affect our area where we have members in two wards, High Barnet and Underhill.  The changes planned to our wards are:

  • The area around Hadley Rd currently in High Barnet ward will link up to the northern part of the existing Oakleigh ward to form a new ward called Barnet Vale.
  • The area at the western end of Underhill ward including the northern end of Quinta Drive and roads off will move into High Barnet ward.
  • Both High Barnet and Underhill wards will in consequence be smaller and their councillors will be reduced in number from three to two.

Our constitution defines the area we serve as that embraced by High Barnet and Underhill wards, so we will need to consider how we adapt to these changes.  Fortunately we have some time to decide what to do as the new boundaries will not come into force until the local elections in May 2022.

Open Door phase two launched

We anticipate that by now many members will have experienced the café and other community facilities in the Open Door building (next door to Christ Church) which opened in 2017.  Following on from the success of this initial phase, the John Trotter Trust has now commenced fundraising for the £700,000 needed for the final phase of the development.  Grants totalling £100,000 are already pledged by the Laing Family Trusts.

This second phase will see the creation of a new first floor in the building to be used for the food bank currently located in Christ Church, the establishing of an advice centre, and a room for a wider range of uses.  The kitchen on the ground floor, now operating at capacity, will be extended.

And Briefly ……

The Market has been doing rather better of late with some additional stalls, notably a well-received bread stall, which does offer some compensation for the late-lamented Victoria Bakery.  The long-promised provision of electricity to the site got underway early in January and this should provide a welcome boost to attracting more traders.  The market operators have said they plan a relaunch when the work on the site is complete.

We continue to be told that the proposed Premier Inn on the former market site is still planned to go ahead.  Apparently, difficulty in settling on a construction contractor has been the source of the delay.

Some time ago we raised the issue of poor lighting on the Stapylton Rd pedestrian crossing.  Although the new LED light on the Library side has definitely improved matters, the lighting on The Spires side remains poor.   At the Residents Forum we pressed again on this and the Council took the request away to consider.  A separate request to consider a Pelican crossing was not taken forward.

Also at the Residents Forum a petition was presented asking for traffic calming measures in Hadley Rd and adjacent roads which the Council agreed to consider.

You are in a restricted area subject to a public spaces protection order. Prohibition. Any person drinking alcohol, or in possession of any container (sealed or unsealed) reasonably believed to contain alcohol, must not refuse to stop drinking or must not refuse to hand over the container(s) when required to do so by a constable or an authorised person. Penalty - Fine up to 500 pounds.Prompted by problems around the Library and behind The Spires, a Public Spaces Protection Order has been introduced for the whole area surrounding the town centre which will remain in force for two years.  Offenders can have any alcohol confiscated and could be fined, although the latter would be hard to enforce as many offenders are rough sleepers.  The main objective is to discourage this activity in the first place.  We have had a previous Order, but that expired two years ago and was not renewed.  The notice has been affixed to a number of lampposts around the town.  The one pictured is on Wood St near the Black Horse pub.

The opening of Odos restaurant in the former Prezzo outlet was trailed in our October newsletter and has now happened.  We have had some reports indicating that the quality is very good indeed, though some residents have blanched when they have looked at the prices.  We have also had positive reports on Brothers Kitchen which opened a short while earlier (and is much cheaper).  We have long maintained that a more extensive quality restaurant offering is something that could contribute immensely to the local economy, so we do regard these latest arrivals as most welcome.  Following a major refurbishment under new ownership the Hadley Hotel in Hadley Rd has re-opened to positive reviews. A planning application for a fourth floor to provide additional accommodation was refused.

New LED bulbs have been installed in the street lamps in several roads in our area.  There is general agreement they are much brighter than the old sodium bulbs, though some residents find them too bright.  Lamps directly outside bedroom windows may need shields adding.

The Repair Café held in the Wesley Hall proved to be very popular and another one is being held in the same venue on Saturday 29 February 11am to 3pm.  There is free training and consultation on mending broken bicycles, textiles and other household items.

The popular Classic Car Show, now an established annual event, will be held on 17 May this year.