Newsletter June 2012

We do have our ups and downs around the town and recent events are no exception. No one can have failed to notice the continuing pressure on our High Street shops with more closures to report, especially branches of a number of national chains located in The Spires. But against this gloomy backdrop there is a lot on the up side to give cause for optimism: the works around the town centre, courtesy of the Mayor’s Outer London Fund, are just about complete; the market is set for a facelift; a major redevelopment of The Spires seems increasingly likely; a breakthrough on parking; some new shops opening, and a significant victory in relation to the redevelopment of the former Magistrates Court building.

Our AGM is on 26 June 2012. The formal business should not take very long and the bulk of the meeting will be devoted to a presentation on the proposed redevelopment of The Spires. This could lead to a major transformation of our town centre so do come along just to listen or to have your say.

Spires redevelopment plans unveiled

Spires BarnetAs the first of a series of steps to radically expand and revitalise The Spires shopping centre a planning application has been submitted to Barnet Council. This proposes to link the now closed W.H. Smith’s shop with the upper floor immediately above (which previously housed a gym). This will produce a much larger retail unit than anything else in our area other than Waitrose.

The next phase is even more ambitious, which is to create a very large two/three storey outlet along the south side of the front courtyard. This proposal will involve the demolition of the Fern Rooms on Salisbury Rd, but The Spires owners have agreed to re-house Barnet Old People’s Welfare as part of the scheme. A planning application is expected shortly.

Further extensive redevelopment, including the expansion of Waitrose and improved linkage to the market, is also anticipated. If all this comes to fruition we will have a radically different town centre in a few years time. To learn more about what is envisaged do come to our AGM on 26 June.

Planning Inspectorate on side at last

We had grumbled on several occasions that the Planning Inspectorate based in Bristol has in our view been misguided in allowing appeals for developments previously rejected by Barnet Council. On one occasion the Inspector’s decision was justified along the lines that as we have so many botched buildings in the High Street why worry about another one! We wrote a strong letter of complaint to the Inspectorate about that. Maybe they took note….

Magistrates Court BarnetThe Inspectorate has upheld the council’s decision to reject the proposed replacement building for the Magistrates Court. The Inspector’s comments are worth quoting:

“.... no pretence to reflect the predominant building form or roofscape in the vicinity of the junction, which is characterised by tiled hipped roofs. small gables and dormers. The [building] would create an impression of excessive scale, bulk and prominence on this sensitive corner neither a landmark building of sufficient distinction and innovation nor reflecting the scale and character of buildings in the vicinity.”

These comments are a sad reflection on the unwillingness of so many developers to show any sensitivity towards the environment in which they plan to build. We have been here before, and what a pity we did not have this judgment before the ghastly Crompton House was built a couple of years ago a little further up the High St. It has many of the failings that feature in the Inspectors comments above.

Still, we do have a significant victory, and a big thank you is due to all those members, organisations and people living close to the site who put in objections. This does show that when enough people are united in a common purpose they can make a difference. Of course, it does seem inevitable that a further replacement scheme will emerge in due course, but it should be a world better than the previous one. Meanwhile, the old building is available for letting if anyone can find a use for it.

Townscape improvements near to completion

St John the Baptist Church BarnetThe works funded through The Mayor’s Outer London Fund are coming to a close. No doubt many members have been following the transformation of St John’s Churchyard. Alas the heavy rain in April caused major delays to the work, and was still unfinished as we went to press. But the final product should create a most appealing public space and be a major asset to the town. Other improvements, including 25 trees, new heritage style litter bins and the removal of guard rails have all contributed to a substantial uplift to the appearance of the High St. We grumbled when the new guard rails appeared in front of the College a couple of years ago, and now they have gone, along with all the other guard rails around the crossing, the College frontage and the Church can be much better appreciated. The council are continuing to work on plans to re-vamp the junction in front of the College so in due course the appearance of this area should be even better.

Opticians BarnetOver the years we have commented extensively about the poor frontages to many of our shops so we were particularly keen to involve ourselves in the re-vamping of six shop frontages as exemplars of how the High St ought to look, with the aim of presenting outlets that have simple, clean lines in restrained colours. Facing St Albans Rd three shops in a row - Flairline, Barnet Opticians and Smokers Paradise (now The Paper Shop) all received new signage and a repaint. It is also gratifying that the nearby Cutting Room also repainted the frontage in restrained colours to a matching style. Viewed from a little way along St Albans Rd the whole row of facing shops on the east side of the High St now looks very pleasing indeed, although the pillar on the opticians is still awaiting a repaint as we write.

Cover shop BarnetIn the lower half of the High St two shops, Chudys and Cover - along with Café Pacino in Church Passage - were similarly treated along with the provision of new awnings. The next task of course, and decidedly more difficult, is getting other shops to create more tasteful frontages that will contribute to the overall kerb appeal of the town. Unfortunately it seems to be entrenched in the minds of many traders including, it must be said, many of the national chains, that the bigger and brasher the signage and frontage the better. This can send out a message that the High St is aiming downmarket, quite the opposite of the message that The Spires and Waitrose are seeking to achieve.

....and Market also set for an uplift

Anyone familiar with the market will be well aware of its decline over recent years and the sorry state that it is in today. Following the sale to the Spires owners, which we reported in our February newsletter, there is now every prospect that steps will be taken to boost the fortunes of the market. A specialist market consultant has been appointed to look at how the site can best be used, and the appearance should change dramatically if, as we anticipate, the site is resurfaced and the hoardings removed.

We have been disappointed with the fortnightly Farmers Market on the bandstand site. Moving from Friday to Saturday should have boosted its fortunes, but that seems not to have happened as the number of stalls continues to shrink. Certainly the fare on offer does not match up to the best that can be found on other Farmers Markets or indeed on some of the speciality stalls on our traditional market. Some very good quality stalls have come once or twice and then given up.

Parking – light at the end of the tunnel?

Over many years we have reported on the myriad of parking problems that afflict our area. Unsurprisingly, it has turned out that our frustrations were widely shared around the Borough. In the recent Mayoral elections Councillor Coleman was heavily defeated in his attempt to retain his GLA seat, with widespread agreement that this was down to his role as the person in charge of the council’s parking regime. Immediately following the election he was removed from his council post and all the indications are that a major rethink of parking policy is now underway. Changes already announced are the intention to install credit card machines in car parks and a £2.20 half day visitor voucher in CPZs.

Parked cars in BarnetWe have, as ever, continued to lobby the council on ideas for change in High Barnet. Imminently expected is the conversion of Fitzjohn Avenue car park to long-stay only, along with a lowering of the charge. Members living in a CPZ will be pleased that after a number of setbacks the challenge to the charges is back on track for a High Court hearing later in the year. If more appropriate pricing is introduced for both public parking and CPZ charges the rather dangerous row of cars in St Albans Rd that first appeared last year may well disappear.

Roads programme cut back

Tarmac footway BarnetOne notable feature of the Borough is that our roads have been remarkably well maintained compared to those of many other local authorities, though we have sometimes questioned the merit of putting so much emphasis on this when other areas of expenditure have been cut. But given the financial squeeze it is no surprise that the programme for road and pavement renewals in 2012/13 is much smaller than in previous years. In our area, only The Avenue and Aitken Rd are to be resurfaced. Connaught Rd is to have parts of the footway renewed and Cedar Lawn Avenue will have the whole of the footway replaced. Also in the programme and now completed is the partial replacement of the footway in Dormer Close, though the cost-cutting is evident in the extensive use of tarmac instead of flagstones. Against this background we were very fortunate that the flagged footway at the south end of Wood St was renewed early in the Spring.

Upsurge in car crime recedes

We only see the detailed figures for High Barnet ward but over the three months to April the overall recorded crime level varied little from historical trends averaging about 80 a month. However, from late Feb to late March there was an upsurge in theft from motor vehicles, with over thirty such crimes recorded, sending the monthly crime total to over 100. Fortunately the numbers fell back in April to more usual levels. We can only speculate whether the mild weather in March and the heavy rain in April had any influence on the figures, but in April an unusually low total of 62 crimes was recorded.

Anti-social behaviour in the Bulwer Rd area has been a police priority for some time, but as this has subsided the priority has switched to burglaries. These have continued all over the area and the police have paid particular attention to raising public awareness in the Wentworth/Puller/Sebright areas.

Chickened out!

Where Chicken Cottage wasIt is not often that we celebrate the closure of a shop, but cheers were heard around the town when the reviled Chicken Cottage recently closed. It has struggled with a number of franchisees but this time they really have given up the ghost. Devotees will now have to go to Edgware to get their fix. We didn’t mind what they sold – well, not too much, but the frontage was utterly inappropriate for one of our most important listed buildings located in the most sensitive spot in the conservation area opposite the Church. The building already looks much better with the signage removed. We believe a Polish restaurant is the intended replacement. The Planning Dept has helpfully approached the landlord and agent to advise on what sort of shop front would be appropriate.

More shop closures .....and replacements patchy

In our February newsletter we reported a large number of closures, mainly branches of national chains. Heavy losses have continued since, especially in The Spires where it was game over for Game, we kissed goodbye to Kiss Cards and it was goodnight vienna for Cremeria Vienna – a shame they could not survive the winter to profit from the recent warm spell with their excellent ice cream. W. H. Smith’s consolidated into a single outlet, though the empty shop facing the High St should now form part of the planned first phase of the redevelopment. Alas another chain to hit the wall is Clinton Cards, expected to close shortly, and The Early Learning Centre in under threat as that chain has announced a retrenchment programme.

The High Street has fared somewhat better. At the south end we have lost Honey Bee café and the aforementioned Chicken Cottage, whilst in the central stretch the Santander branch that was formerly B.& B. is about to close.

With many shops empty since last year it is evident that traders are not queuing up to take up the vacated space. The expected conversion of After Office Hours to a restaurant has not happened, and indeed the property was recently illegally occupied by squatters who ran ‘rave’ parties.

Toy Galaxy Barnet Cycle Galaxy Barnet

Rather more cheering in the central area is the appearance of Toys Galaxy in the former Blockbusters shop, and the former toy shop is now Cycle Galaxy. The signage on the toy shop is rather larger and brasher than we would like but is better than what was there previously. Behind the hoarding the former Oceans chip shop and the adjacent former photo shop are being converted to a Foxtons estate agency.

Anabellas Barnet At the south end of the High St. Anabella’s interior design shop has appeared in the former funeral directors, bringing a distinct uplift to the quality and appearance of an otherwise rather dour end of the High St. In The Spires the former La Senza is now Pynk, a fashion shop. We understand that the recently arrived Premier Model Gallery in St Albans Rd is taking on a longer lease, so the temporary signage should now be replaced.

Although the state of the economy and the council’s ill-advised parking policies have created many of the woes in our town centre, a discernible pattern is emerging. National chains in small outlets seem to struggle, and we have had more than our fair share of failures of this kind of outlet. Small chains or independent specialist shops that create a niche market appear to be surviving better. National chains do seem to do better in large outlets so it does make sense for The Spires to now pursue a strategy of fewer but much larger outlets.

Confusion surrounds new planning rules

Planning tends to be at the heart of what BRA does and we are rather fatigued from trying to keep up with the immense changes now taking place. The new National Planning Policy Framework has reduced thousands of pages of planning guidance to just over fifty. The Localism Act potentially creates new opportunities for communities to have a stronger input to the planning process, although the hurdles are daunting. The Portas Review, now accepted by the Government, introduces some fresh ideas for revitalising town centres.

A whole industry of planning experts is now issuing guidance and interpretation on what this all means and we have attended a number of events. The jury is out on whether the real effect of all these changes will have as much impact as first thought. For the immediate future, we are seeking to persuade the council to revive the promised High Barnet Town Centre Strategy, suspended last year until the implications of the Localism Act could be assessed. We have now listened to the council’s views on this, and concluded that the best way forward for the immediate future is to stick with completing what was started. What was done on the Strategy will need some updating, but the only areas we consider to still need detailed assessment are parking, traffic control and pedestrian movement.

Summer cheer – if it doesn’t rain

Punch and Judy Barnet

We have again promoted a Summer Festival for High Barnet, though with some changes from last time. We have opted for fewer events, with a concentration on outdoor activities mainly aimed at families. No doubt many members will have seen the leaflet, which was widely circulated from late May. Highlights include on 24 June an open garden and miniature railway at 130 Wood St: on 30 June a repeat of the highly successful Soulstice music event featuring DJs on three sound stages; an afternoon of family entertainment on 1 July in Ravenscroft Park: and also on 1 July a picnic and jazz event on Hadley Green. A full list of events is on our website. You can come and say hello at our stall in Ravenscroft Park on 1st July.

Red Cross building sale goes ahead

We have previously featured the initiative to purchase the redundant Red Cross building alongside Christ Church in St Albans Rd. We are delighted that the purchase has now happened, thus saving this fine building from the possibility of demolition by a developer. Substantial funds will still be needed to renovate and convert this very dilapidated property, so it will inevitably be some time before the vision of providing sevices for the elderly in the community comes to fruition. For more information go to www.opendoorappeal.co.uk.



INVITATION TO ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

Tuesday 26th June 2012, 8pm, The Wesley Hall, Stapylton Road, EN5 4JJ

The formal business will commence at 7.30pm with reports from the Chairman and presentation of the annual accounts, followed by election of Officers. We need to elect Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer and Committee Members (up to seven places) – All current members of the committee are offering themselves for re-election but we are seeking additional members - see separate item on Committee vacancies.

A vote will be taken on a proposal from the Committee to increase subscriptions by £1 to £4 single and £6 family/corporate to cover increased postal costs.

After the formal business is concluded we have a presentation from Richard Hulme of Savills on the scheme to redevelop The Spires site.

COMMITTEE VACANCIES

We are always on the lookout for new committee members and would particularly like new recruits to fill the following posts:

High St oversight:
We are looking for someone to regularly walk the High Street (say every couple of weeks) to identify shop closures, sale or to let signs, new openings and changes to frontages, reporting as necessary to our Planning and Conservation officers.
Police Liaison:
To attend the High Barnet Safer Neighbourhood Team meetings (mid-week evening every 6 weeks or so), reporting to the Committee on crime trends and specific issues of concern.

Anyone interested in either of these posts please contact the Secretary, or the webmaster at the address below.

If you have any comments on matters raised in this Newsletter or to alert the Committee to local issues that might be of concern please contact the Secretary or the webmaster.