Newsletter June 2020

As we were finalising this newsletter many of the shops in our High St were preparing to re-open, something we anticipate with trepidation as it seems likely that some will have closed for good.  As a result of the lockdown there is rather less to report this time, but there is some positive news – the pavement widening is largely complete and we have had successes on a number of planning matters.

We have already written to members on email advising that for this year the arrangements for our AGM will be rather unusual, with much of this newsletter given over to a ‘deemed’ AGM dealing with the business that would otherwise have been conducted at our annual gathering of members in early July.

Our new look High Street

Barnet High Street with widened pavements and newly planted treesThe possibility of widening the pavements along the High St dates back to 2011 when the Council agreed to explore the idea as part of the town Centre Strategy adopted in 2012.  Though not originally our idea, BRA picked up the issue when we learned that Transport for London had a fund expressly designed for such schemes.  Many Boroughs had taken advantage of this but Barnet had conspicuously ignored it. After researching some completed schemes we argued for the commitment in the 2012 document to be taken forward, and indeed in 2014 officers did undertake some initial work.  But in those days the culture in our Highways Department was very blinkered, seeing their role as primarily to keep cars on the move and facilitating parking.  They did not have their heart in it and we were not surprised when it was side-lined.

Following completion of the rebuilding of The Spires frontage BRA put a strong plea to the Leader of the Council, saying that the town centre was still struggling, but combining pavement widening with The Spires revamp offered a real opportunity to make a difference.  Thankfully the scheme was revived and in 2016 proposals emerged that were the basis of the scheme we now have.  However, there was an unexpected and in our view decidedly misleading campaign against the scheme which caused the Council to pause.  We had to battle very hard to keep the scheme alive, and fortunately the Council decided to stick with it.  Updated proposals emerged early in 2018 which essentially was the scheme now being brought to completion.

It has been a long and at times dispiriting campaign but, despite all the setbacks, BRA has never wavered in our belief in the benefits of pavement widening, and we have fought tenaciously to ensure that it would happen.

Since the trees arrived a lot of doubters have started to appreciate the value of the wider pavements.  New litter bins and benches, which have run into supply problems because of the coronavirus, will arrive in due course. Three lamp posts have yet to be moved and the pedestrian crossings at Salisbury Rd and Union St are to be modified.   On the whole we think it is now a job well done, though there are concerns about the welfare of the trees in dry weather as they were planted rather late.

Saving Our Skyline

a field and trees with houses in the distancemore trees with houses in the distance and the church tower

These two views were taken from the south side of Dollis Valley.  The first one is looking towards the hospital and the second one is looking across to the Church.  What is most striking is that the skyline is almost continuously level, with just the Church tower rising above.  We consider this skyline to be a precious asset and should be protected at all costs.  Whilst the hospital rises to the skyline it does not breach it.  The other potentially threatening new build in recent times was the College (2010), initially planned to be one storey taller, which would indeed have intruded on the skyline and obscured the view of the Church.  Fortunately a campaign to remove the top floor, with which we were closely involved, was successful.

church tower again in the distance and lots of treesNow of course we have a new threat – the proposed flats on the station site.  In 1983 there was a scheme to build offices around the station which fortunately never proceeded.  But that proposal led the Council to produce a planning brief for the site.  The key observation was: “Any proposed building should not rise above the line of sight taken from a point on the A1000 at County Gate to the parapet of the school building fronting Meadway.”  The photograph alongside was recently taken from this spot.  Though the trees have certainly grown bigger since 1983 it is evident that the church tower remains the only significant feature rising above the rest of the   skyline (apart from some intrusive but not dominating phone masts).  We have twice asked TfL/Taylor Wimpey to provide visualisations of the proposed flats looking from Dollis Valley and the A1000 so the impact can be determined.  As these have not yet been forthcoming we have asked the Council planners to pursue the matter. And a footnote – the 1983 Planning Brief says that anything over four storeys was considered by the Borough to be a tall building.  How times have changed: today a tall building is defined as one over seven storeys.

Following a recent meeting with TfL/Taylor Wimpey we emailed members saying the station scheme remains essentially as presented last autumn.  Some modifications that we requested have been taken on board – the removal of ‘clip’ balconies on the block facing the station approach, steps as well as a slope from Meadway to the station entrance and some extra drop-off points (though in our view still inadequate).  Space will be made for a small bus to stop outside the station entrance though it remains very doubtful whether a service linking the station and the new flats with the town centre/hospital will materialise.  We have suggested that diverting the 384 might be a cheaper option than a new hopper service, but we are not holding our breath.

Meanwhile, encouraged by the Mayor and the GLA, the march to denser and higher developments continues. The latest proposals at Grahame Park are for 2088 flats up to 15 storeys high.  The 2017 scheme rejected by the Mayor was for 1083 homes.  And close to us the revised planning application for the former gas works site in New Barnet is seeking 652 flats in blocks up to ten storeys, with the number of homes nearly double the previously approved scheme that included houses.  We are joining in with the many objections to this one.

Planning applications – a winning streak

Some years ago we had a run-in with the owner of 1 Church Passage (now L’Antica Pizzeria on the ground floor) when wooden cladding was added, which we described as looking like a Swiss Chalet.  After a prolonged battle the cladding was removed. The replacement frontage was not thrilling either for a building in a key part of the conservation area, but we have had to put up with that.  And more recently the owner has applied for permission to build an upward extension to the rear part of the property.  We thought that would look awful, and though we were the only objector, the Council agreed and the application was refused.

Other applications we have objected to which have resulted in refusals include an application to build a ‘back garden’ house in Clifford Rd and a proposal to convert a house in Southfield to two flats.  The Appeal against the planning refusal to demolish a bungalow in Arkley and construct a large block of flats was dismissed.  We consider this to be important as approval could have opened the door to many more such schemes in this area. Another Appeal that was dismissed was the application to put a modern frontage on the former Bentley garage at 151-153 High St.  We, but thankfully the Council more so, put a lot of effort into opposing the Appeal and hope that the owners will now come up with a more sympathetic conversion.  Another proposal we opposed was an application to build a house on land behind Langley Row on Hadley Green.  It was refused but has now gone to Appeal.

Still awaited are decisions on proposals to demolish houses in Hadley Rd and Blenheim Rd and replace them with blocks of flats.  We are still wrestling with 17 Park Rd, where the latest application is to convert two of the four floors to seven flats.  With the potential to convert the upper floors to five or six flats this is still far too many for a property of this size, though a decided improvement on the previous attempts to create up to 36 tiny studios.  Long stuck in the system is the application to build on the Whalebones site which was submitted in July last year, but we believe it should go before the Planning Committee in the Autumn.   Other than this the oldest application on our patch with a decision outstanding dates back to January this year.

After more than three years the saga of the damaged light well covering outside Paddy Power has finally come to an end with the completion of the repair and the subsequent removal of the barriers around the damaged area.

The Planning Committee has continued to function during lockdown using a video link which appears to have worked ok, though currently planning applications are well below normal levels.

Flouting the rules

On previous occasions we have pointed out instances where the requirement for planning approval is simply ignored.  But even where there is approval, often agreed after careful appraisal of the design, we still get problems when what is actually built does not reflect what was approved.  One transgression that still grates is the accountant’s office at 13 High St between the former Emmaus outlet and the kitchen shop, where an extra floor was added some five years ago.  It bore little resemblance to what was approved, and compounded the insult with some very poor workmanship.  Regrettably we did not get to grips with that one, but around the same time we did pursue the deficiencies with the extra floor built above the carpet shop at the junction of the High St and St Albans Rd, a construction we likened to a beach hut.  We would have liked the Council to force a rebuild but in the end we got screens to the front, which to some extent do ameliorate the impact.  But this kind of problem does not go away and recently we have become aware of four more significant transgressions.

building with scaffoldingold picture of the same plot with a half-timbered building

Particularly galling, given the prominence of the location, is the replacement building at 70 High St (the former After Office Hours) now taking shape.  The steel framework is now evident behind the scaffolding and it is clear the second floor will extend up to the top of the buttress of the adjoining building, much higher than previously.  When the planning application was being considered an important requirement was that the roof of the replacement building should be no higher than before, with the proportions of the original building reflected and retaining the pleasing height variations along the surrounding row of buildings.  What is emerging is a building the same height as that on the uphill side, so the gradual fall in height will be lost, the new building will become unbalanced with the second floor more prominent, and it will dominate the adjacent Bull, including the absurdity of the chimney of the latter left at a lower level than its neighbouring building.  This is a travesty of what was carefully agreed.  We have approached the Council with our concerns.

We mentioned above that work is progressing on the new flats on the former British Legion site in Moxon St.  A transgression has been spotted here by a very alert member.  The materials being used and design features are falling way short of the approved specification.  He has raised this with the Council and we await the outcome. 

wenzel's the bakers side in Union StreetThe arrival of Wenzel’s has been well received.  We may have had some influence on their decision to come here.  When Victoria Bakery closed we wrote to Wenzel’s suggesting there may be an opportunity for them to take it over.  They did not go for the closed bakery, but did acquire the freehold of the adjacent former Clarks shop at auction.  Shortly before the lockdown they moved very quickly to complete the fit out.  Thought the resulting appearance is quite smart it is decidedly modern for an outlet in the conservation area and the work did not have planning consent.  As an organisation with a large number of outlets (some 30) they must have known better.  We asked that they submit a planning application but they did not agree to do so.  If a large business such as this gets away with flouting the rules other traders could feel emboldened to do the same. In the past we have had similar instances of the requirement for a planning application being ignored and this has resulted in some very poor frontages.  Via the Conservation Area Advisory Committee we have asked the Council to consider demanding a retrospective planning application.  Most unfortunate is the graffiti that has appeared on the newly painted side wall.  Alas during the lockdown, along with fly-tippers, the graffiti artists have had increased opportunities to keep up their mission to despoil the environment.

Another transgression was a conversion of a house in Kenerne Drive to three flats.  No-one alerted the Council at the time, and as the applicant could prove that the conversion took place over four years ago the Council has had no option but to issue a Certificate of Lawfulness.  We have previously featured similar instances and residents do need to stay alert so this kind of abuse of the planning system can be stopped.   By contrast, we were pleased to see an application to convert a house in Woodville Rd from two flats back to a single house.

New builds shaping up

building site with a big diggerSeveral new build schemes around the town centre are starting to shape up, though some have stuttered since the Covid lockdown.  As the photo shows, The Fern Rooms have been demolished in readiness for constructing a block of flats on the site.  This is one where we fought a long battle to get the design changed after one of our Committee members described the original proposal as a ‘pile of boxes’.  We did have some influence on the approved design so we do hope it comes out ok.   The building will include a community facility of some kind.

A giant crane being used to construct the new care home on the former Marie Foster site now towers over the town centre.  In Moxon St the block of flats replacing the former British Legion building is beginning to take shape.  Also in Moxon St groundworks have begun on the two blocks of flats that will flank the British Legion.

The large scheme on the Brake Shear House site is expected to start in August, initially with the demolition of the existing buildings followed by an archaeological survey.  The conversion of the floors above the former Londis to flats has continued at a snail’s pace.

row of shopsThe fitting out of the new flats above the Village Food Centre had been stalled for some time before the lock down.  So it is no surprise that we have been struggling with our efforts to get the owner to say whether the promised new shop fronts here will ever happen.  In the meantime the occupants of the Food Centre have changed part of the frontage to create a new entrance.  Had they applied for planning permission (which they didn’t) we would have pressed for the new frontage to match that as approved for the new build scheme.  One positive outcome though is that the oversized middle sign has gone and the replacement now matches the size of the other two, which does look a world better.

Car hire site approved

white building boarded upIt has been a long struggle but the Council has now approved the conversion of the former White Lion pub to a car rental outlet (Enterprise).  The pub will become the site office and the former tyre depot alongside will be demolished to provide a car parking area.  A car hire facility should be well received by residents.  It should also link nicely with the proposed Premier Inn, though at the moment there is still silence on when or if that will go ahead.

The difficulty in securing approval was a result of Barnet’s pub protection policy.  It is now necessary to prove the property is no longer viable as a pub before an alternative use can be considered.   Though in principle we do support this, one negative is that a property can sit abandoned for a lengthy period, as we have seen here.  It is however important that everything possible should be done to preserve pubs: in our Borough numbers have declined from around 140 ten years ago to fewer than 80 now.

Spires car park –sense at last

Although NCP can be a pain when it comes to their rigid approach to penalty notices, our campaign to persuade them to change the method of charging was realised in February.  We have long thought that paying in advance for a set time period is not conducive to encouraging people to have a relaxed approach to the time they spend in the town, and it inhibits staying around for a relaxing coffee.  So we were pleased when in February the system changed to paying on departure for the time spent.  Enforcement is by way of number plate recognition.

384 bus to extend to Edgware

We have previously reported on the review of bus services in the area undertaken by TfL, with the only outcome being the proposal to extend the 384 bus to Edgware.  This reflected recognition that throughout the Borough east-west public transport links are poor.  But the proposal attracted considerable opposition because it included removing the diversions in New Barnet, notably that serving the Bevan Estate.  Also added to the proposal was a re-routing of the eastbound bus from Strafford Rd to Salisbury Rd to eliminate navigational difficulties in Alston Rd, particularly when two buses meet head-on at the junction of Strafford/Alston.  This add-on proposal generated strong protests from residents in Salisbury Rd.  Despite the opposition TfL has decided to proceed with the proposal, with the changes expected to happen in September.  Meanwhile many residents in Salisbury Rd have continued with their protests so we may not have heard the last word on this.

Shops picking up - then lockdown

We registered 28 empty shops in February, which was something of a low point, but there was some reason for optimism.  We believed ten had been let and only nine were being advertised as available for letting.  The casualties were also declining with Carphone Warehouse and Decoy in The Spires, plus the previously reported Bentley garage and Foxtons, the only losses since the New Year.  Estate agents Andrew Ward moved from their shop at the top end of the High St but remain in the studio in Hadley House.  Mirror Mad on St Albans Rd was sold, with the new occupant expected to be a hardware shop.  Spizzico has been closed for some time, said to be for refurbishment, but we have not seen any evidence of work going on.

another row of shopsBy contrast, many new openings had just started or were imminent before the coronavirus struck. The four newly converted outlets in the former Emmaus showroom were let very quickly: Unique Gallery, Upper Cutz barbers, La Gustosa coffee shop and Ider furniture.  The barbers and the coffee shop are competing in a crowded market in an off-centre location so we do hope they survive.  The other two are the kind of specialised shops more suited to secondary locations.     We are disappointed that Unique Gallery has put a heavy shutter on the front, which detracts from the otherwise rather pleasing appearance of this row of four, where frontages and signage   are both uniform and restrained.

another row of shops with a half timbered gable endOn the opposite side of the road the former lighting shop and the former gallery next door have also had takers, with Mantrella (wedding dresses) and  Body Street (gym) occupying two of the units.  When lockdown stuck the third shop had still to be occupied but had a sign saying Arnold’s Collectables was going to be the new occupier.  Again these are all the kind of specialist outlets that should be well-suited to a secondary retail location. The frontages are also tastefully presented.

And we have had other pleasing openings: Yokoso - a new Japanese restaurant in the former George’s café - is another indication of how tastes are changing, with more varied and exotic fare replacing the traditional cafes. Your editor had the good fortune to dine at Yokoso before lockdown and found it good and reasonably priced.  It is currently offering take-away meals so hopefully it will survive.  Slof, selling pre-owned children’s clothes, opened in the former Pink Shop, though in due course the building will be demolished as part of the Brake Shear House scheme.  Kronos and Rhea, a ‘zero waste’ shop selling a wide range of foodstuff  has opened in the former Reni’s café outlet.

The speed with which some of these outlets were let suggests that landlords may be taking a more realistic view of what rents are achievable.  We have long considered that rents in High Barnet were too high compared to neighbouring areas.  So if we are now on a downward trend that should be good news indeed.  And of course outlets such as these will also benefit from the abolition of business rates for 20/21.

Carluccio’s crashes out

cafe with outdoor seating, blue parasols and the remains of part of a church spireIn recent years the Carluccio’s chain has struggled.  We thought our outlet might be lost in a retrenchment undertaken about a year ago, but with the chain going into administration following lockdown, the package of 30 outlets that has been bought by a new owner does not include ours.  A lot of people found the food uninspiring, and though the daytime snack trade did ok (in your editor’s opinion the coffee was excellent) it did consistently poorly in the evenings.  Whilst it will not be much missed as a restaurant, the loss of this outlet is potentially a catastrophe for the town given its prominent location. The  casual dining sector has been in decline for some time, partly from too many players in the field and partly because many have not been good enough (remember Prezzo?).  But despite all the gloom surrounding this outlet we have had indications that a new tenant may be in the offing.  We do hope so.

We have also picked up indications of other outlets in The Spires being offered for letting, suggesting some current occupants will not be re-opening.  But we wait to see the true extent of the damage when shops re-open.

And finally – things to cheer us up

banner across a suburban street -- we (heart) NHSgoose house in the middle of a pond with Egyptian geese

The Thursday evening ‘Clap for the NHS’ events were well supported everywhere.  In Carnarvon Rd the residents extended their appreciation by stringing banners across the road.  Those taking their permitted daily exercise outing on Hadley Green were able to follow the progress of a family of Egyptian Geese, which included seven goslings.  All appear to have made it to adulthood but we do hope they will have the good sense to be gone by Christmas.

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING 2020

As a consequence of the coronavirus epidemic we will not be holding an AGM this year.  Instead we are conducting a ‘deemed’ AGM by supplying members with the agenda and documents that would have appeared at the AGM.  Confirmatory approval of the matters appearing here will be sought at the 2021 AGM.

AGENDA

  1. Chairman’s report
  2. Minutes of AGM held on 10 July 2019
  3. Presentation of accounts
  4. Election of officers and Independent Examiner

1. CHAIRMAN’S REPORT

This year we are unable to hold the AGM in the usual manner but rest assured that the BRA committee has endeavoured to operate as near to normal as possible throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Looking back over the last 12 months we have achieved some significant wins in yet another busy year.

Planning

In the last year we have examined 56 planning applications and objected to 21. Of those we objected to 18 were refused and only three allowed. Of those allowed we were aware that under planning law there was no real basis for rejecting two of them, but we objected on a point of principle.  These were the proposed replacement of the telephone box outside KFC with a communications hub and the proposed House in Multiple Occupation in Bruce Rd.

We strongly opposed the proposed conversion of the former factory in Moxon St to tiny bedsits, many with no windows, and we were especially pleased when it was twice refused.  This application attracted national attention (The Times - 13 March 2020) and may have influenced the Government decision to change the permitted development rules to stop such conversions in future. Other important wins concerned several attempts to convert offices at 17 Park Rd to tiny flats (though this is still ongoing), and the replacement of a bungalow in Arkley with a large block of flats.

We have put considerable effort into the emerging plans for seven blocks of flats on the Tube Station site for which a planning application is expected shortly.  We also carefully examined the proposals for housing on the Whalebones site which on balance we decided to support, but the planning application has yet to go before the Planning Committee.  Although in the conservation area, the land is agricultural, not Green Belt as many people have assumed.

Conservation areas

As you are no doubt aware High Barnet has two conservation areas around Wood Street and Monken Hadley.  It is therefore particularly disappointing that some developers don’t recognise how important it is to retain the character of locality and we continue to see flagrant breaches of planning law.

However, one major victory was the refusal for the application for a modern frontage to 151-153 High St (former Bentley garage).  We galvanised enough support to ensure it was it heard at Planning Committee where it was reported that “the proposal would result in substantial harm to the overall significance, character and coherent appearance of the Grade II listed building and detract significantly from the character and appearance of the Monken Hadley Conservation Area...”.     As we should credit the Council in doing a terrific job in successfully opposing the subsequent appeal. 

Our tenacity in policing the conservation areas continues to prevent attempts to make unsuitable alterations to our precious heritage buildings.  We do work closely with the Conservation Area advisory Committee and the Council on this. 

Membership

I’m pleased to report that membership continues to grow, and we now have over 750 members.  Renewals are slightly down on last year but that is partly due to the pandemic.  We are hopeful that members will be able to renew now lockdown is starting to be eased.  A big thank you from our Membership Secretary whose job has been made much simpler by members paying through repeating payment systems such as standing order or Paypal, and also quoting their reference number on bank payments.  

High Street

As reported in the newsletter it is particularly pleasing to see that the pavement buildouts are finally edging closer to completion.  It has taken much longer to complete than we first though but once the benches and new bins are installed it will be a major boost for the area especially as all UK high streets will face a big task to rebuild their businesses.  The pavement buildouts are only one part of a package of solutions that are needed to help the high street trade successfully.

Environment

fly-tipped rubbish in yellow builders merchant bagsfly-tipped rubbish in blue plastic sacks

Chipping Barnet has a wonderful heritage (and I’m personally looking forward to the 550th Anniversary of the Battle of Barnet in 2021) but our magnificent green spaces and tree lined roads continue to be blighted by selfish individuals who dump their rubbish anywhere they like.  St Albans Road continues to be targeted regularly by fly-tippers.  We have lobbied the council and have their agreement to install CCTV.  Unfortunately, over 18 months has passed and we are still no further forward.  The pandemic hasn’t helped but this is taking much too long to install.  These cameras are desperately needed otherwise prosecution is virtually impossible.  Hopefully as lockdown eases, we will see the council pick up the reins again.  This is a major blight and one that I’m personally committed to eradicate once and for all.

The future

Shortly most retail shops are going to open and  many are putting in social distancing measures to make it safe for us to return to the high street.   I, for one, can’t wait to get back to meeting friends for a coffee but it’s going to be a difficult transition back to ‘business as usual’.  Hopefully, if everyone follows the social distancing guidelines, we can return to shopping locally and help Barnet High Street get back to some sense of normality.

Finally, I’m extremely proud of the work we do and continually encouraged by our numerous successes. But as always there’s only 7 days in a week. To help us continue to campaign to protect our community we are always looking to bolster our ranks by recruiting new volunteers and committee members.  So if you love the area and want to make a difference then please contact me via the details on the Contact page.

I will also be happy to receive any questions on this report and the other AGM matters featured here.

Ken Rowland

2.  MINUTES OF ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING 10 JULY 2019

[At this point in the newsletter, there is a copy of the minutes of the 2019 AGM which are already on the web site on a separate page.]

3.  ACCOUNTS FOR THE YEAR ENDING 31 DECEMBER 2019

Income and expenditure for the year ended 31 December 2019

      2019         2018  
  £   £
INCOME
Membership income     2608.95 2359.15
Bank interest 15.19 6.24
Total income 2624.14 2365.39
EXPENDITURE
Membership fees 80.00 70.00
Printing 1152.40 872.00
Postage 390.24 357.18
Room hire 90.00 50.00
Donations 600.00
Accounts examiner 40.00 40.00
Website 24.00
Insurance 57.00 57.00
Stationery 71.96 184.18
Poppy wreath 26.00
Volunteer recognition 105.00
Total expenditure 2636.60 1630.36
Surplus / deficit -12.46 735.03

Balance sheet for the year ended 31 December 2019

    2019       2018  
  £   £
CURRENT ASSETS
Current 1860 1878
Capital Reserve 7603 7590
TOTAL ASSETS 9465 9468
CURRENT LIABILITIES
Accrued expenses 10
TOTAL LIABILITIES 10 0
BALANCE 9455
Balance at 1 January 9468 8733
Surplus/deficit in year (+/-)   -12 735
TOTAL 9455 9468

4. ELECTION OF OFFICERS

The term of office for all officers and committee members is to be extended by a further year:

Chairman: Ken Rowland,  Secretary: Anna Watkins, Treasurer: Russell Brooks, 

Committee members: Tim Sims, Melvyn Sears, Gordon Massey, Janet Littlewood, Simon Green, Sean Mitchell.

The term of office of the Independent Examiner Mervyn Jones is to be extended by a further year.