Newsletter October 2010

Matters have largely gone rather well for us over the summer: lots of interest and new members from our stalls at the events in Ravenscroft Park and the Environment Centre, the newly opened College looking rather splendid, the arrival of a Farmers Market, good progress with the work on our Town Centre Strategy, and the possibility of a diminished threat from a new supermarket in New Barnet. But, as ever, we have some things to report that are not so good.

Barnet College

Barnet College, High Street, Barnet

We do consider that the new College building is a fine addition to the town, a credit to the management and architects. Also perhaps a little bit of credit should go to ourselves and other residents groups who secured significant changes to the original plans. The arrival of the students has brought a buzz back to the lower end of the High Street, and hopefully will provide a stimulus to the businesses in the immediate area, many of which have evidently struggled from the double impact of the recession and the lengthy closure of the College. We do hope there will not be a return of the previous problems of unsightly littering, especially around the bus stops; something we will watch closely.

Tudor Hall, Barnet

The redevelopment has opened up the view of Tudor Hall (the front is to the side when viewed from Wood St.) and it is now possible to admire this fine building in all its glory. What has not appeared is the promised – or threatened depending on your point of view – high wall to the front of the Tudor Hall. We will endeavour to find out what if anything is now planned.

There is one niggle. The Town Centre Strategy Board has discussed street furniture and the council has taken on the task of looking at what unnecessary clutter might be removed. This initiative has by coincidence been supported by a recent letter from Eric Pickles, Environment Secretary, to all councils similarly urging them to address this issue. One area identified by the Strategy Board as particularly unsightly is the maze of bollards, traffic lights and railings at the junction to the south of the Church. So what have Barnet Council done ...yes, they have added to the clutter by erecting rather ugly railings along the footpath fronting the College. We believe the railings are there to stop cars pausing to pick up students leaving the college. However the visual impact of the new buildings has been impaired and students are congregating along the length of the railings, with attendant cigarette ends and litter, as well as making the pavement difficult for pedestrians to negotiate. Consultation on the merits of the railings would have been welcome.

Not one market but two!

Some years ago we put a lot of effort into pressing the owners of The Spires to consider a Farmers Market on the bandstand site. That all came to nought, but we are delighted that the owners have since had a change of mind, with a market appearing on the first Friday of the month since July. The range of fare on offer is excellent and we urge members to have a look if you have not already done so. Unfortunately the market fixed for 1st October was cancelled because of the poor weather, although one brave stallholder did turn up. The next date is Friday 5th November 2010.

The publicity has left something to be desired but so far the organisers and stall holders have told us that they have found it worthwhile. If it continues to do well we understand there is a possibility of the market becoming fortnightly or even weekly.

The 5000 signature petition mentioned in our last Newsletter, asking the owners to improve the surface of the Barnet Market site, was duly submitted by the Friends of Barnet Market.... and nothing has happened. Meanwhile, the planning permission granted five years ago for the proposed redevelopment expires in November, but we understand the owners have applied for an extension.

Around the Town Centre

The economy has perked up compared to the deep recession of 2009 and this seems to be reflected in our town centre, where we have had few recent losses, and thankfully fewer empty shops. However we were sad to see Windsor Classics depart from The Spires, the kind of speciality retailer that we need to provide an attractive retail mix. Chi-Chi, the ladies accessories shop also in The Spires proved to be short-lived and the shop is currently empty.

New Fish and Chips, Barnet

Much more positive is that the long boarded up restaurant on the corner of Moxon St has been acquired and should shortly open as a fish and chip restaurant and takeaway. Further up the High St there is a planning application to convert The Grapewine in Exchange Buildings into a restaurant.

Sebright Arms, Barnet

The Sebright Arms in Alston Rd has had a much needed uplift to the decor and has reinvented itself as a gastropub. The White Lion in St Albans Rd was closed recently and we wait to see whether it will re-open under new management.

Barnet Council declined to fund the provision of hanging baskets this summer but they did appear thanks to local sponsorship. Whilst a welcome softening to our traffic blighted High St., it is the case that the number of hangers is very limited and the overall impact is rather muted. Your editor recently visited Normandy and saw really stunning floral displays in most of the towns and villages. It can be done here; Hatch End near Harrow looked very colourful this summer with an extensive display of hanging baskets and flower tubs.

An important event for the diary is the annual Xmas Fair on 5 December 2010 when the High Street will as usual be closed to traffic.

Conservation and Planning

Magistrates Court, Barnet

The empty former Magistrates Court to the south of the High St is outside the conservation area, but in our view makes an important contribution to the streetscape and has architectural merit in its own right. We have therefore put in an application to have the building listed. We fear the likely alternative is for it to be demolished and probably replaced with a nondescript block of flats.

As ever, we remain heavily engaged in a number of planning battles, in particular the continuing abuses of the High St conservation areas undertaken without planning approval. The occupants of the former Crown and Anchor submitted retrospective planning applications for the external signs and the alterations to the ground floor windows. We are delighted that the council has rejected both, but now wait and see whether there will be an appeal to the Planning Inspector. At 90 High St., where the alterations were also done without planning approval, the milk shake counter soon died and the interior partition disappeared shortly afterwards, so we now have the oddity of a single shop with two doors.

Totally Thai, Barnet

At the opposite end of the High St. we have yet another major alteration in the conservation area without planning approval: this time the rather fine frontage of Totally Thai has been ripped out and replaced with a new frontage completely out of sympathy with the historic fabric of the building and the area.

At 39 High St we opposed a planning application for a dormer to the roofline and were pleased to see that rejected. An application has now been submitted for a velux window. We have commented that a modern velux window would set an unwelcome precedent for that area and have asked that the window should be of a style that reflects the conservation area.

D & A, Barnet

We have previously commented on the proliferation of poor signage in our High St., with the big chains often the worst offenders. Boots recently acquired the opticians Dolland & Aitcheson and submitted a planning application for what we considered to be a hideous change to the signage of the premises on the corner of Union St. In our objection we pointed out that a uniform corporate style is not a given and in conservation areas they can be more muted. We provided the council with information on the Boots Opticians in St Albans as an example of more restrained signage, and our efforts in this direction may have contributed to the application being rejected. We wait to see a revised submission.

Boots are not our favourite firm at the moment. The heavy metal shutters recently affixed to the frontage of their main store opposite The Spires are particularly oppressive and reflect a continuing unwelcome trend along the High St. High Streets are struggling everywhere and the last thing they need is to make these areas less appealing to shoppers. Heavy fortifications can be quite intimidating and create a sense of unease about an area. Insurance companies are probably the real culprits here, but shops can make an effort; latticed shutters on the inside of the windows look a world better.

And now for the major disaster… Having judged that out of town supermarkets were killing off high streets the Government stopped them, so that for future expansion the supermarkets have had to look to town centres or their immediate fringes – hence the immense interest in the two sites in New Barnet. However the retail shed at Stirling Corner, formerly Homebase and Comet, has been acquired by Morrisons. As we write the building is being adapted to accommodate a large supermarket. They have dodged the spirit of the planning laws but conformed to the rules: the property had planning permission for retail use so the change is simply one retailer replacing another. There is nothing the Council (in this case Hertsmere) can do to stop it. This is bad news for Borehamwood, Edgware and of course High Barnet. Residents living to the west of High Barnet centre are likely to find it much easier to drive to Morrisons and park for free than bother to drive into High Barnet where parking can be difficult and expensive. We await the impact of the new store with some foreboding.

Town Centre Strategy Board

A lot of feverish activity has gone on over the summer, keeping ourselves and other residents groups fully occupied. We recently sent to members a Council questionnaire asking you to identify your five most important priorities for the Town Centre. There has been a very good response from our members and others who have been consulted.

High Street, Barnet

You may have noticed that the questionnaire had many similarities to the one that we put out back in the Spring. However do not read into this that little progress has been made – the importance of the current questionnaire is to assure the council that the Strategy Board is on the right track. We have fed into the Board various issues that we have addressed over recent years but have been unable to achieve a satisfactory resolution – abuse of the High St conservation area including the poor quality of shop fronts, parking availability and cost, the preferment of traffic in the High St at the expense of pedestrians, the management of traffic around the town, extending the 34 bus to the hospital or Arkley, a town hopper bus, access to the station, and the lease on The Bull. We have pressed for a planning brief for the T. A. site in St Albans Rd. so that if the MOD dispose of the site we are not faced with the kind of situation that occurred in New Barnet where big supermarket chains jumped into a planning vacuum. We have also pushed hard for a planning brief for the area around The Spires, where we can reasonably expect the redevelopment plans to be revived at some stage.

We believe that the Board has a very good analysis of the problems and concerns, but the tough challenges are now beginning with the development of proposed solutions.

Local Development Framework

Not a title to excite public imagination, but this work is very important to the future shape of the Borough. In the last month the Council cabinet has approved two draft documents to go for a second round of public consultation: They go by the titles LDF Core Strategy and Development Management Policies. They are now available on line and in the Library. Be warned they are not for the faint-hearted, running as they do to over 500 pages with much of the content in the strategic stratosphere to the point where it is difficult to perceive anything meaningful.

One major nugget to emerge is the proposal that New Barnet, previously identified as a ‘District Centre’, should now be downgraded to a ‘Local Centre’. This has major implications for retail development there, and certainly puts a question mark over the proposals for additional supermarkets. If adopted this proposal should put the council in a much better position to reject any further applications from Asda or Tesco.

An important proposal for High Barnet is that in the area from the Church up to St Albans Rd planning changes from classification A1 retail use ( i.e. shops where you buy things) to A2 or A3 ( where you do not buy things but services, such as restaurants or offices) should be resisted. A2/A3 should however be encouraged to the fringes of the town centre. This would formalise a trend that is evident anyway, but concentrating the retail shops in the central area is likely to be the best option for the long-term health of our High St.

But many issues discussed in the documents seem to go nowhere. The council recognises many problems, but the reader can search in vain for any meaningful measures especially on really major issues that are a source of public concern. One example is a reference to the negative impact of ‘off-street car parking and consequential loss of front gardens on the dominant street typologies’ – yet Barnet is probably the most lax Borough in London when it comes to front garden parking, allowing thousands of gardens to be paved over in the last decade alone. We cannot identify any proposed measures to reverse this. Another example is that housing policy should be directed to producing larger family houses, yet we still find the council remains committed to putting 800 new homes on the Dollis Valley site, which cannot be achieved without most of them being tiny flats. The massive development proposed for Cricklewood also includes vast numbers of small flats. If the Council does not do better than this then “Cleaner, Greener, Healthier Barnet” is more like to be “Scruffier, Crowded and Miserable Barnet”

A New Conservation Area?

Victorian street, Barnet

BRA and SPACES (Sebright, Puller, Alston, Calvert Environmental Society) have been examining the merits of seeking conservation area status for the network of Victorian streets behind The Spires. The Barnet Society has also signalled support. This new conservation area would complement and link the two existing conservation areas centred around Wood St and Hadley Green. The idea was inspired by the recognition that the Victorian streetscape of much of the Borough has been irretrievably changed as a result of the Council agreeing to thousands of vehicle crossovers to facilitate ‘garden’ parking.

Fortunately, almost all the properties behind The Spires have gardens too small to accommodate a vehicle, so the area has largely retained the original character of the streetscape. The area has also retained its original street pattern, and the factory in Alston Rd. that prompted a lot of the houses to be built has survived. The research team has identified some 140 distinctive house styles amongst the 800 or so properties in the area, providing a rich legacy of Victorian and Edwardian house building over the period from around 1880 to 1910.

It is recognised that the many properties have had alterations to details such and windows and doors, so any proposed controls are likely to just focus on major issues affecting the front streetscape - demolition, new build, changes to the front roofline and ‘garden’ parking. Work is at an early stage, including how to go about wider consultation to gauge local opinion.

Crime and Policing

On a sad note we have recently said farewell to PC Mat Beuken who has moved to Colindale. Mat had been with the High Barnet Safer Neighbourhood Team since it was established. He was well known to many people in the area and facilitated a very successful and productive link between residents and the local police.

Crime remains at the generally constant – and thankfully low – levels previously reported. A number of domestic burglaries occurred in the summer, and the problem in the High Street of theft from ladies bags is still with us. There is a need for older people to beware of artifice burglary - con-men who trick their way into a property, sometimes claiming that urgent building work is needed, or posing as an official, for example saying they are from a water company and are investigating a leak.

And.......

A little humble pie. In the last Newsletter we reported reduced opening times for the ticket office at High Barnet station. In fact, the changes have yet to happen, and the plans are the subject of the strike days we are currently experiencing.

The Annual General Meeting

Our AGM in June was well attended and we were able to provide a detailed report on the initial phase of the development of the Town Centre Strategy. We also had a lively debate on whether to change the name of the Association, but in the end the vote was in favour of staying as we are.

Melvyn Sears has stood down after a lengthy stint as Chairman but we are pleased that he has stayed on as Membership Secretary. Gordon Massey has taken over as Chairman in addition to retaining his role as Newsletter Editor. Other Committee members remain as before: Susie Neal as Secretary, Janet Littlewood as Conservation Officer, Helen Massey as Planning Officer, Charles Wicksteed as Website Officer. Sylvia Grant has shed Membership but continues as Treasurer. Natasha Mazzoni has joined as a new Committee member.