Newsletter October 2012

Our AGM in June doubled the best turnout of previous years, with our room at the Wesley Hall squeezing in over 70 people. Everyone had come to hear about the plans for the redevelopment of The Spires. Richard Hulme of Savills gave a very comprehensive overview of what we can expect over the coming years, and was very willing to answer questions. A summary of what was said was circulated to members on email, and can also be found on our website.

Changes around the town have been less dramatic over the summer, but we do have positive news on a number of fronts including the Magistrates Court building, parking, the presentation of shop fronts, and the arrival of a new brewery! The re-activation by the council of the Town Centre Strategy Board has also created an opportunity for us to pursue issues left over from when the Board was suspended in December 2010.

Magistrates Court frontage saved

Old Magistrates Court, BarnetIn the previous newsletter we reported on the Planning Inspectorate’s rejection of the planning application to demolish the Courthouse and build a modern block of flats. A revised planning application has now been submitted which proposes to retain the whole of the façade and incorporate it into a residential development. The rear of the building, which mainly consists of later additions, will be demolished, and we see little merit in trying to save that part of the property. We have indicated to the council that we are satisfied with this revised proposal.

We commented last time that the rejection of the previous proposal represented a major victory for community action. All the effort now looks very worthwhile. We are particularly grateful to member Elizabeth Butt who spearheaded the campaign, and we would like to reiterate our thanks to all those members and other local organisations who lodged objections to the original planning application.

‘The Bench’ – love it or hate it?

Toy Galaxy Barnet Cycle Galaxy Barnet

Your editor looked at the Churchyard Gardens as the works approached completion and thought how delightful it all looked – nice landscaping and an open feel, especially when viewed whilst walking along Church Passage. And then, the following day IT arrived – a giant artefact that changed the whole complexion of the area. Was it an art installation? – no, it was just somewhere for us all to sit; not all at once, but not far off given its size. ‘The Bench’ had arrived, immediately becoming a major source of gossip around the town. It is, well, so different, so distinctive, that it can do no other than provoke strong opinions. But whatever we all think, it looks like it is here to stay so we might as well get used to it. Who knows, maybe one day it will become a much-loved local icon.

What we cannot dispute however is that the bench is being well used, and the area is showing every sign of becoming a town centre focal point, the prime objective of the refurbishment scheme. The only downside to this popularity is that litter bins quickly fill up, with litter overflowing onto the landscaped area.

The Attic, BarnetThe works have had the effect of opening up the whole area, with the view across to Wood St particularly appealing, especially so following the extensive refurbishment of Hatherley House. It is also possible to appreciate the attractiveness of the buildings on the High St that face the gardens, although the shops at this location have less than attractive frontages and rather let down the area.

The metal framing for the flowerbeds and the litter bins has also had a mixed reception. Apparently this ‘rusty’ look is currently in fashion in landscape gardening circles. If we had known this, some us might have preferred to delay the job to see what will be in vogue next, though we should perhaps be grateful that garden gnomes are no longer de rigeur.

Gravel slopeA further concern is the sloping gravel path at the south-east corner of the site, alongside the High St. Perhaps this was special gravel designed to defy gravity and stay in place. But of course this is not happening and gravel is spilling onto the road. We have raised this concern with the council and trust the problem will be rectified before most of the gravel disappears.

Otherwise, the works commissioned as a result of the grant of around £500,000 from the Outer London Fund, as detailed in the previous newsletter, are almost complete. What remains to be done is the replacement cladding to the pillar at Barnet Opticians, which looks decidedly awful and spoils what is otherwise now an attractive run of shop fronts. A dispute between the council and the contractor has caused the delay, but we gather this is now resolved and the work should be done very shortly. Some of the trees died but these have been replaced by the contractor. Residents and traders groups are exploring with the council the possibility of further use for the brackets used to hang the Olympic banners along the High St.

Slow recovery keeps shops empty

Over the past year we have reported in detail the large number of shop closures in the town. The good news is that we may be over the worst. Apart from the previously announced closures in June of Clinton Cards and the second branch of Santander, we have since had no further losses, though Shoe Zone are proclaiming a closing down sale. The take-up of empty premises has progressed very slowly indeed, a clear indication that our town centre has remained in the doldrums, thought there are signs that the situation may now be improving.

Pizza Borsalino, BarnetOn the High St Pizza Borsalino has taken over the former Chicken Cottage (not a Polish restaurant as we previously indicated), though the recently added canopy proclaiming ‘fast food’ rather tarnishes the appearance and is not the best advertisement for the town either. Next door the former Abasi will shortly open as a household goods shop called Home and Tidy (probably offering opening discounts). The former Gift Shop facing St Albans Rd has been carrying a notice for some time saying it is to become a Chinese medicine outlet (which would make three) but our latest information suggests that this is unlikely to happen. We have also seen a planning application to change the London Gold Factory premises into a café, to include a new frontage. This looks much more attractive than what is there now, so we do hope it comes to fruition.

The Spires car park, top floor, BarnetIn The Spires the empty unit in the central walkway has been taken by Entertainment Exchange and seems quite busy. The empty kiosk opposite Waitrose is about to open as Living It Up, a nails and beauty parlour. The former W.H.Smiths at the High St entrance has become a temporary outlet – a ‘pop-up shop’ in current parlance - Books For Free, which is expected to remain up to the end of the year. This initiative seems most laudable, but we do worry what impact it might be having on Waterstones. Although four units in the eastern courtyard and two in the western courtyard are empty as we write, several prospective tenants are believed to be in the pipeline.. There is still scope for one or two more pop –up shops until such time as all the units are likely to be re-let.

The promised refurbishment of The Spires car park apparently with a budget of £600,000, is currently in progress. The top floor should reopen very soon, having been resurfaced, thankfully eliminating the enormous lakes that formed in wet weather. The bays and walkways have much more user-friendly markings. An uplift of the other two floors will follow. From 8 October the car park will be operated by Legion in place of Britannia Parking. We must wait and see if this will herald any changes to the charging structure.

Smarten up there!

We have previously had cause to comment on the poor presentation of many of our shops, which does nothing to attract shoppers to the High St. We have tried approaching landlords and agents but that has almost invariably drawn a blank. The notion that a little vision and more effort to improve the appeal of the town might be a worthwhile investment does not appear to be on their agenda. It seems that as long as the rent is being paid, nothing else matters. It is this lack of vision that has, for example, saddled the centre of the High St with no fewer than seven charity shops, a dominant presence unlikely to attract better retailers to the town. We have a lot of middle and bottom end restaurants and discerning diners tend to go elsewhere. We know from a study assessing towns and their appeal to retailers that High Barnet ranks very low. Unless landlords grasp this and do something about it, the future is bleak. We should add that The Spires management are an exception. They are more than aware of the problem and they are working on a number of fronts to try and attract better quality outlets. They have previously refused lettings to down-market retailers.

Meanwhile we continue as best we can by approaching new and existing retailers to try and persuade them to present their shops as attractively as possible. The occupier of Pizza Borsalino willingly shared his plans for the new frontage and the result is a world better than what went before (Chicken Cottage). We are in discussion with Foxtons regarding the frontage to their new outlet on the corner of Moxon St (unlikely to open before next year), along with the shop next door which Foxtons say they will be refurbishing and letting.

We have also been in consultation with Home and Tidy on their plans for signage and a new frontage to follow later. We think the signage is fine, but we are far from pleased that the police apparently advised installation of a solid shutter – we have been working to get these removed from properties in the conservation area. We have also approached Cancer Research regarding the shabby state of their frontage and been told that an uplift will take place next spring.

High Barnet Mild or Bitter?

Black Horse pub, BarnetMost of the local pub news over recent years has, in common with the rest of the country, been a sad tale of closures and conversion to other uses. Many of the survivors have essentially abandoned their traditional role as community meeting places and converted to restaurants. So it comes as a pleasant surprise that the recently closed Black Horse is undergoing a major refurbishment, including a rear extension, and should re-open in November with real ale as the main feature, complete with an in-house micro brewery. Owned by the giant pubco Punch, the pub will be run by Oak Taverns, a small company specialising in traditional pubs. They may have noticed that by far the most successful local pub is The Mitre, which trades on its historic image and real ale. It so happens that the Mitre has also submitted a planning application. This is for internal alterations intended to increase the size of the bar area and provide an internal link to the stable lounge. We do hope there will be room in the town for what seem to be two similarly targeted pubs, and that our other remaining pubs will continue to be supported.

Market upgrade stalls

Following the appointment of a specialist consultant a planning application embracing a number of significant improvements was submitted. The plans include resurfacing, power and water provision, new low fencing, a storage facility and the planting of several plane trees. Alas there is some dissent over aspects of these proposals and we understand consultation is continuing. Most worrying is that whilst all this goes on the market continues to become ever less attractive and stall-holders are drifting away. A number of others could well give up if they are faced with yet another winter with the site in its current condition. The fortnightly Farmers Market, which was also struggling, has now been moved from the bandstand to the market site, so hopefully having all the offerings in a single location will improve the overall appeal.

Some movement on parking, but more needed

The council has moved on a number of fronts to try and ameliorate the public outrage over last year’s hike in charges and the withdrawal of cash payment machines. One positive step is something we have long campaigned for – the abandonment of the same rigid charging structure that has previously applied throughout most of the Borough. In High Barnet the council now has differing charges for each of the three council car parks. Most significantly, Stapylton Rd car park charges have effectively been halved for short-term parking, matching The Spires. The cheapest long-term parking is in Fitzjohn Avenue, reduced from £5.00 to £3.95 all day. Moxon St has had the all day charged reduced to £4.50. Most disappointing is that the Moxon St reduction in short-term charges is only marginal, for example down from £2 to £1.70 for one hour. So we now have an incentive to increase the use of Fitzjohn Ave for long-term parking, and reasonably cheap parking for shoppers at the top end of town. But cheap and more accessible short-term parking at the lower end of town has not materialised and we will continue to campaign for this.

Initial observations since the changes were implemented at the beginning of September indicate some increased use of Fitzjohn Ave but little change at the other two car parks. We need to observe the impact of the promised credit card machines before we can judge whether the changes are having a positive effect.

Problems have eased a little for those living in a CPZ with the introduction of four hour visitor vouchers costing £2.20, still expensive but better than having to pay £4.10 every time a visitor calls irrespective of the length of stay. The High Court challenge to the rise in CPZ permit charges is slowly edging towards a hearing.

More flats on the way……

Tapster Street flats under construction, BarnetTapster Street space for flats, Barnet

Over recent years the character of the area to the east of the High St has changed considerably as industrial and commercial properties have been replaced by residential developments. The large development on the former Park Rd industrial estate was completed last year and two more infill schemes are under way. At the northern end of Tapster St (behind Boots) the shell of a four/three storey block of flats is approaching completion. First indications are that it is a less than thrilling piece of architecture but maybe the completed article will look rather better. The second photograph taken at the other end of Tapster St, just off the High St, shows the site cleared for another block of flats, for which planning permission was granted some considerable time ago.

A lot of these infill developments are suitable uses for land that has otherwise been standing derelict, and bringing more people to live in the centre of town should help our shops. We would however have preferred to see more family homes. A lot of the flats in this area have gone to the ‘buy to let’ market. The number of ‘to let’ signs that we see suggests there may be a limit to the demand for such properties in a part of London where family homes and the associated lifestyle has been the norm.

…… but houses for Dollis Valley

At a meeting arranged by the Barnet Society we met with the new developers and architects of the planned rebuild of the Dollis Valley estate. We have previously commented that the preposterous earlier plan to build 1300 homes, of which well over half would have been small flats, had been dropped in favour of a development now planned to total no more than 636 homes. We were shown the plans for the estate layout and the design of the properties. The layout has a lot to commend it – three roads off Mays Lane will enter the site instead of one as at present, designed to overcome the ‘estate’ image and make the new development blend with the rest of the area, which is characterised by a succession of residential streets turning off from Mays Lane. The properties will in the main be arranged in a traditional street terrace pattern, although they will look distinctly ‘modern’. There will still be blocks of flats, though totalling less than one-third of the total number of properties, and most will have more than one bedroom.

There is a residents association based on the estate and it is proper to let them take the lead on the details of the development. We are endeavouring to limit our involvement to assessing the wider impact on our area. One issues does concern us. On the fringe of the estate is the South Underhill Social Club – the only alcohol licensed public meeting place in the area. There is a possibility that it will be closed and the site subsumed into the new development. Users of the club are unhappy about this and we would like to see the plans modified to ensure that this or a similar facility survives.

Council revives town centre initiative

Ever since the Town Centre Strategy Board was suspended at the end of 2010 we have lobbied the council to have it re-activated. A lot of good work was done, leading to the Planning strategy adopted for The Spires, the market site and the TA site. The work also informed the subsequent bid to the Outer London Fund for the improvements undertaken over the past year. But some areas were barely addressed, particularly the potential for environmental changes in the High St, parking provision, and traffic management. We have taken a particular interest in traffic issues, and following the first meeting of the Board in late September we have submitted a discussion paper for consideration by a separate working group. A copy of the paper is on our website: High Barnet - Traffic Movement around the Town.

The Strategy Board is chaired by High Barnet Councillor David Longstaff. As well as council officials membership includes representatives from BRA, Barnet Society. Hadley Residents Association, SPACES, Friends of Barnet Market, Barnet College, The Spires, Waitrose and Barnet Traders Association.

Boost for road repairs

In the June newsletter we grumbled about the cut-back in the highways maintenance programme, so it came as a pleasant surprise when in July the council announced that an extra £3.5 million had been found. In our area the additional works will include carriageway resurfacing in Underhill (the road of that name), and sections of Bells Hill and Galley Lane. Footway relaying is planned for sections of Mays Lane. Residents living in a CPZ will appreciate that none of these works are in their areas, though they might rightly suspect that the funding could be coming from the hike in CPZ charges.

For minor repairs, members may not be aware of the council runs a service called Fix My Street, whereby problems such as potholes, graffiti, overflowing litter bins, dislodged kerbstones, fly tipping, broken bollards and overgrown foliage can be reported on-line. Access the council’s website Home Page (www.barnet.gov.uk) and click on ‘Report it now’. On the next page click on ‘Report a streetcare problem’. You can then access a map of your own area showing problems that have been reported. If you have identified a problem that does not appear on the map this can then be reported online. Though it sometimes can take a while for the council to get around to actioning some of the reports they do largely get dealt with.

NEW SUBSCRIPTION RATES

It was agreed at the AGM to increase subscription rates by £1. This is the first increase since re re-activated the Association over eight years ago, necessitated by the substantial hike in postal charges earlier this year.

MEMBERSHIP MATTERS

At the recent AGM members of the committee elected for 2012/13 were Gordon Massey(Chairman/Newsletter), Susie Sharpe(Secretary), Sylvia Grant (Treasurer); Melvyn Sears (Membership Secretary), Janet Littlewood (Conservation), Helen Massey (Planning), Carole Warnakulasuriya (Town Centre Shops), Eamonn Rafferty (Police Liaison), Charles Wicksteed (Website).

We publish three newsletters per year and keep in touch with members on email with information on important local events and major planning applications. If you have any comments on matters raised in this Newsletter or if you wish to alert the Committee to local issues that might be of concern please email the webmaster (address at foot of page) and he will pass your message on. This indirect route for the initial contact is just to avoid spam; don't let it put you off, we are always pleased to hear from local people or those with an interest in Barnet.

Some members have asked to receive newsletters by email; anyone wishing to do so should send a request to the Membership Secretary via the webmaster.

We are always pleased to welcome new members, so do share this newsletter with friends and neighbours in our area and encourage them to join. The annual subscription is £4 single, £6 family or £6 corporate. Please do not send cash through the post. For existing members renewal invitations for 2013 will be sent with the February newsletter.

Membership Secretary, BRA, 71 Byng Rd., Barnet, Herts, EN5 4NP,