Newsletter June 2011

In the January newsletter we reported on the planned changes to council services and specific local problems including the threat to Barnet Museum, the hike in CPZ charges, the squashing of the junction improvements near The Church and the stalling of the Town Centre Strategy. Little has changed on any of these matters. A major problem is that council departments are in such turmoil with reorganisation and job losses it can very difficult to engage properly with officers. It could be a long time before we are able to make any progress on various issues. Still, we do have some news to report, both good and bad.

Our AGM is on 14 June. This year we are starting at 7.15pm with an informal gathering where you can discuss local issues with members of the committee. Refreshments provided. The formal business should not take very long. A full notice is at the end of this newsletter.

A Summer Festival for everyone

Bull Theatre, Barnet

In the last newsletter we provided a brief report on this new venture for BRA, which runs from 17th to 26th June. Organising the Festival has taken up a lot time, but we have been pleased with the enthusiasm expressed by residents in support of the idea, and the willingness of so many people to contribute by staging events. In total we have some 40 events arranged over the 10 days, with an emphasis on family entertainment. Copies of the Festival brochure are being delivered in the local area. The Festival Programme page also has this information, and any additions or changes to the programme will be posted on the same page.

Once we have had the chance to draw breath we will consider whether we should aim to make this an annual event. Your comments would be most welcome.

You can see us with our stall at the Barnet Countryside Centre, Byng Rd, on Sunday 12 June and at Ravenscroft Park Family Day, on Sunday 19th June

Museum battles on

Although the council has now withdrawn all revenue support, the worst fears have not been realised – there has not been any attempt by the council to seek eviction nor, as yet, any attempt to impose a commercial rent (which would be unaffordable). At the request of the council the Museum is in the throes of preparing a business plan. We hope that this will lead to a compromise that ensures survival. The same cannot be said of Church Farm Museum, Hendon, which has now closed.

Parking – residents take on the council

A group of residents in East Finchley has launched a legal challenge to the hike in CPZ charges. Recognising that a lot of our members live in the High Barnet CPZ areas, we decided to ally BRA to the cause. The cost of High Court action will be high and an application has been lodged to put a cap on the costs in the event of the case being lost. Whether the case proceeds will depend on the outcome of the capping application. If the case goes ahead and is won, the council will have to bear all the costs.

The group are appealing for donations to raise £15,000 in the event of a defeat, which will be returned if not needed. Find out more at http://barnetcpz.blogspot.com The group has already had one small victory: they spotted that the legal notice announcing the increases in CPZ and parking charges was incorrect, and the council was obliged to delay the increases for over two weeks. This did create extra time for residents to renew their permits and obtain visitor vouchers at the old prices.

Empty parking spaces Cars parked in St Albans Road, Barnet

The new charges are however now in place and we have noticed one effect of the hike in pay-and-display charges – a long line of parked vehicles now appears each day stretching up St Albans Rd beyond the built-up area. We have noted some 25% of the spaces in Stapylton Rd car park empty on some days, 35% empty in Fitzjohn Avenue car park, and Moxon St, previously invariably full, has been 20% empty. And we may see even more parking bays unused as the £310 business permits expire and workers are faced with a renewal charge of £500.

Another chapter in the continuing saga of our council seemingly in a state of open warfare with residents in the whole area of parking management is the decision to remove free bays in Controlled Parking Zones. You might think this means more parking reserved for residents and their visitors – not a bit of it. The Vale is in parking zone CA-D which operates from 2pm to 3pm only Mon-Fri, a control put in to stop station commuters swamping the area. For the remainder of the weekdays and weekends anyone can park for free in the ‘residents only’ bays and on the single yellow lines. Also within the zone are a few free bays where anyone can park at any time, until now…….

Controlled Parking Zone sign

There are three free bays at the southern end of The Vale which between them take about 15 cars. Many of these spaces are used by residents in Mays Lane, thus reducing the problem of parked cars obstructing the main road. The Council has announced in a Traffic Notice that two (should they have said three?) bays will be converted to Pay and Display 8am to 6.30pm. As these will be the only charged bays for half a mile or so in any direction who on earth is going to pay to park there? On the other hand, unwitting motorists seeing the controlled period on the signs at the entrance to the zone may miss the small signs for these bays indicating the variation in controlled hours. So will this be another source of fines preying on innocent confusion?

Another unwelcome planning application

Magistrates Court, Barnet

We have previously commented on our failure to get the former Magistrates Court listed, so it is no surprise that a planning application has been made for demolition and replacement with a block of flats and retail units. We consider the proposed replacement building to be far too big and – to put it politely – it lacks any empathy with the surrounding buildings. This is a highly visible spot and whatever is built here could have a major influence on future redevelopment.

Crompton House, Barnet

The design bears a certain resemblance to the recently completed Crompton House a little further up the High St. The council turned down that scheme but it went ahead after a successful appeal to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol. So it is going to be difficult to get this latest scheme modified. The best hope is that a large number of objections are lodged which might then have an influence when the almost inevitable appeal arises. Members on email will be sent a separate communication advising how to put in an objection.

We have commented previously on the negative impact that shutters to shop fronts have on the appeal of the High St. We lodged an objection to a planning application from ‘After Office Hours’ to fit shutters to the frontage immediately adjacent to the pavement. This property has a particularly wide frontage and as the business is closed for much of the day this would be particularly unappealing in a sensitive and highly visible location. Fortunately the planners agreed with us and the application was rejected.

There is little progress to report on other planning issues that have featured in previous newsletters and remain unresolved. The possible renewal of the Market redevelopment scheme should go before The Planning Committee in June. MP Theresa Villiers has expressed her opposition to renewal and has asked to speak at the meeting. More next time on this and other issues we are continuing to pursue.

Some improvements to the town centre

Andrews estate agents

We have previously grumbled about the deterioration to the frontage of Andrews, so it is gratifying to report that both the shop front and the adjacent pilasters have been renovated. Some of the workmanship is questionable but the overall effect is very pleasing, especially when observed from across the street. This is an excellent example of a shop front sensitively presented in the context of the whole building. This, along with the improvements to Lloyds Bank and the former Woolwich/Barclays does make the High St look a little less down-at-heel. At the other extreme, when declared by the council to having the worst shop front in High Barnet, Snappy Snaps welcomed the news on the basis that even bad publicity is worth having. It might be difficult to persuade them to abandon the awful corporate yellow but just cleaning the frontage would help.

With reports that around one in six High St shops in the UK are empty we are lucky that currently there are only six empty shops in our High St – about 3%, and there have been very few changes recently. The loss of O2 in The Spires is unlikely to be mourned as we are well provided with phone shops. The arrival of Twinkle Toes in The Spires has provoked both comment and amusement, but we are just speechless.

There has been a lot of publicity recently about declining High Streets and the Mayor of London has taken an interest, with the possibility that some funds may be made available for streetscape improvements. Barnet Traders Association are exploring the possibility of putting in a bid and we will try and assist them in this endeavour.

Town Centre Strategy still stalled

Territorial Army Centre, Barnet

The loss of momentum linked to the turmoil in the council continues, though there has been some progress on two key issues – planning briefs for The Spires area and the Territorial Army site on St Albans Rd. Council officers have done some initial work and we are contributing to its further development. There is every reason to believe that at some stage a proposal to redevelop The Spires will emerge. So it is important that the council has an established view of its expectations for the shape of any future redevelopment. The same concerns apply to the Territorial Army site. Although the MOD is not known to have any plans for disposal, cuts in the military envisaged over the coming years could make this large site vulnerable. Having planning briefs agreed should avoid High Barnet getting into the same mess as New Barnet did when Asda and Tesco suddenly pounced.

Park Rd estate nears completion

It is a long time since we mentioned the planning application to build houses on what had become a derelict corner of High Barnet. We supported the principle of the redevelopment whilst raising some concerns, with the notable success that one storey was removed from the height of the blocks of flats.

Park Road, High Barnet

With most of the 107 properties built it is now possible to take a view on the overall impression created by this development. We have to confess to not being thrilled with the architecture. The layout of the site is well thought out but the blocks of flats lack any features of distinction, and the small windows and very flat frontages to the houses lack visual appeal. Still, this site is not prominent from a visual perspective, and with land in such short supply the provision of new homes in the area for people of more modest means is to be welcomed. A show house is open.

Last chance to comment

The development of the council’s long term vision for the Borough – the Local Development Framework – grinds on and a revised version is currently out for consultation, deadline 22 June. It can be viewed in libraries or on the council website. Many of the changes from the previous draft are recorded as being in response to objections from BRA, though our initial impression is that we still likely to have a lot of concerns to raise yet again. More next time

Burglary a continuing concern

The rise in burglary continues all across our area. Incidents occur at all times of the day, usually to the rear of a property and entry is often achieved through windows left open in the warm weather. Car crime is also a problem in the Tudor Rd/Lytton Rd area. The High Barnet Community Action Panel continues to meet regularly and over twenty people usually attend. Sadly the panel in Underhill has not met for some time due to lack of support. Anyone wishing to get involved should contact the Secretary and we will put you in touch.