Newsletter June 2013

When we published our February Newsletter we thought winter was coming to a close – we were wrong about that. We thought that approval of the planning application to redevelop the market was imminent – we got that wrong as well. We also thought that the worst was over on shop closures – wrong again. We were however right to anticipate the sale of The Spires. This cheered us somewhat, as did the Sunday Times feature in March which listed High Barnet as one of the 30 best places to live for families. The much reduced traffic as a consequence of the work on the gas main alongside the Church was a reminder of how much more pleasant our High St could be.

Church, little traffic, Barnet High Street, Barnet

This issue includes notice of our AGM on 2nd July 2013, which should be of particular interest to members concerned about the future of The Spires and the market.

All change at The Spires

William who? This was the universal reaction to hearing the name of the organisation that has bought The Spires, including the market and Fern Rooms site. After much scrambling around the internet we learned that William Pears Group is a long established property company with assets of over £2 billion. They tend to stay under the radar because they are a private company, but the owning family feature as number 36 in the Sunday Times Rich List. We are encouraged that the new owners are property specialists and have said that they will directly manage the site themselves. The previous set up, with UBS bank as owners and Savills as managers never really seemed to quite work.

Especially pleasing was the willingness of Pears to immediately meet with representatives of town groups. They were represented by Asset Manager Charlotte Dunlop, who has agreed to talk to us at our AGM. It was evident at the meeting that a lot of background research has been done, with new architects in the process of being appointed. The various planning applications previously lodged with the council, which we described in the February newsletter, are being reviewed. We are particularly hopeful that, subject to the council moving on the long-outstanding planning applications, early attention will be given to improving the market where things have got desperate, with the number of stalls down to just four on occasions.

Another spate of shop closures ….

We had a bad spell earlier last year when several shops closed down, but that was followed by a welcome lull that lasted until this January. We knew that a number of businesses were hanging on until Christmas, but with retail sales generally poorer than expected, it is no surprise that closures have again been on the rise.

The most prominent casualty has been the Bathroom Trading Company at the south end of the High St. Also to the south Osaka Sushi and estate agents Ellis and Co have gone – the latter not surprising. With Gerrards and Foxtons recently arriving in town we might well see a further shakeout in this sector.

Bathroom Trading closed, Barnet Optician and The Attic, Barnet

Opposite the Church The Attic closed and Western Union moved out to a more central High St location. The two buildings that include these two have for some time been looking tatty at ground level and now look even worse. This is a great shame as the two buildings are architecturally pleasing and above ground level the original features including sash windows remain intact. An uplift could do wonders for this sensitive spot in the conservation area opposite Churchyard Gardens, and maybe then the shops might attract better quality tenants.

A particularly sad loss at the top end of the High St is Digital Village, which wasjust the kindofniche outlet that might have a better chance of survival than more mainstream businesses. They are still operating, but from a warehouse which presumably has lower overheads. Also at the top of the High St Grapewine has closed, perhaps not surprising as theofferings were nothing better than the mainstream products available from any supermarket. The Spires has had a relatively calm few months, only losing the short-lease fashion shop Pynk, though the evidently temporary free bookshop and the empty former Clinton Cards and the O2 shops still cast an element of gloom over the whole site.

…. but some bright spots

We have no new shop openings to report apart from the long–anticipated Foxtons estate agency. They acquired the freehold of the building, including the shop next door, but found it to be in a far worse state than anticipated. They ended up completely gutting the property, which accounts for the later than expected opening date. Reactions to the appearance of the shop have been very mixed, though it is undeniably much better than the previous near derelict mess. We are endeavouring to find out what they intend to do with the still boarded-up adjacent property.

Jetline Holidays, BarnetOther changes reflect the reality of a shrinking High St offering. At the very southern end of the High St Jetline, who moved from Colindale in December lastdoes have a front counter but is not a conventional travel agent. They are a family owned business offering holidays and cruises. They operate nationwide using catalogues and other media as the primary basis of their business. Employing a couple of dozen people they are a welcome addition to the area. The adjacent Magistrates Court Office has been converted to flats with two commercial outlets on the ground floor. Crompton House, BarnetHaving been near-derelict condition for some years, the building now looks very smart, with the entrance to the flats particularly well presented. The doors to the commercial outlets are rather utilitarian and spoil the overall appearance somewhat, and given the problems with nearby outlets they may struggle to find takers.

Crompton House has been trying unsuccessfully to let the ground floor shops for over two years, and we hear they may be seeking planning permission to convert them to residential use. Next door, Joannou have applied for planning permission to add an extra floor for residential use. Alas it is designed to match the carbuncle on the top of Crompton House and to the same height. This is unlikely to enhance the attractiveness of our High St. By contrast. at the top of the High St the former children’s shoe shop has become a solicitor’s office, with the frontage looking particularly smart and in keeping with its conservation area status.

Two steps forward, one step back

We often grumble about the poor state of our shop frontages. Some, such as Snappy Snaps, Robert Dyas and Tesco Express are desperately in need of a least a repaint. These places create an impression that the town is down at heel and in doing so let everyone else down. So it is gratifying when effort is put into uplifting a property.

Oxfam, BarnetIn the middle of the High St two of three shops embracing Oxfam were empty and the landlord undertook a major renovation including replacing the render on the floors above the shops, though inexplicably doing nothing to renovate the windows, some of which look as though they are about to fall out. The property did however end up looking a world better, and we were further encouraged when Oxfam also gave their frontage a makeover, with much better signage than was there previously. One of the vacant shops has been let to Greggs who have moved from the opposite side of the street. The frontage is looking quite splendid, with restrained colours and signage that properly fits in the original signage box. It is altogether a much classier job than Greggs previous garish corporate style of green and yellow plastic, and complements the frontage of nearby Harris and Hoole.

Greggs, Barnet Holiday Air, Barnet

Thus we had the prospect of a row of shops that would reflect the restrained and tastefully repainted shop frontages promoted by the Town Team last year using the award from the Outer London Fund. Alas, the arrival of Western Union in the remaining shop in this row has blown away such expectations. The brash colours and excessive use of advertising is a stark contrast and overshadows the restraint exercised by its neighbours. It is this kind of frontage that remind us that we still have a long way to go to overturn the shabby image that out town centre has acquired.

New parking arrangements in place …. almost

Reduced parking chargesThe major changes we described in the February Newsletter have been introduced except for the provision of signage on the High St advertising the availability of short-term parking in Moxon St. It is important that this happens as many people are unaware of the existence of this car park and at the moment it is at best 50% full.

Parking ChargesWe said we were pressing for credit card meters as an alternative to pay by phone and four have now arrived. Two are in the centre of the High St with one each in Moxon St and Stapylton Rd car parks. There has been a delay in activating the meter in Stapylton Rd so it is still too early to form a view as to whether the new arrangements are proving effective. The changes have been introduced on an experimental basis so we do need evidence to show that the price reductions and other measures have brought about a measurable increase in the number of visitors to the town centre.

Following public consultation the Government is believed to be considering imposing limits on how much councils can charge for parking, including a requirement for short free periods. The Local Government Association has issued a somewhat furious reaction. We await developments.

Many residents consider that the parking enforcement regime in our Borough is over-zealous and many tickets for fines are issued inappropriately. One local resident and BRA member has studied the regulations in great detail and produce a parking ticket appeal guide. To view go to lbbspending.blogspot.co.uk.

The council has also given notice of a further extension to the Controlled Parking Zones that surround our High St, this time by an extension to CA-D (restriction one hour only) embracing the remaining sections of Milton, Elton and Woodfall Avenues. Residents in these roads have been pressing for this for some years as much of the available space has been occupied by all-day commuters using the station.

Landmark site for demolition

Hadley Green Car SalesPlanning applications have recently been thin on the ground, with the most significant proposal being to replace the large Hadley Green car showroom just north of the St Albans Rd junction with a development of retail on the ground floor and flats above. Some residents complained about the height –two storeys plus flats in a dormer roof – which is higher than most adjacent properties. We did not thrill to the design but in the end chose to remain neutral.

Further up Pizza Express has submitted an application to revamp the frontage and to extend onto the pavement for outdoor dining. We do not find the changes to the frontage very appealing but have limited our objections to challenging the use of neon blue lights. In principle we like the idea of pavement tables outside restaurants and cafes, but in this instance the pavement is evidently too narrow so we have also registered our opposition to this proposal.

Two issues have been successfully taken up by the council’s enforcement team. Some time ago the wooden frontage to George’s Café (next to The Mitre) was replaced with plastic windows and doors. This was most inappropriate for this Grade II listed building and we are pleased that the wooded fascia has been reinstated. At the top of the High St several banners advertising office space in Highstone House had been present for some time. We eventually decided to complain to the council and the banners have been removed.

Unfortunately two other developments in the High St conservation area have been more worrying. Above Hunters planning permission was given to convert the roof space to residential accommodation including velux windows. But linked to this work the roof to the building alongside, above Dilber Kebabs, which matched that above Suruchi, was removed and work commenced on a replacement roof to a very different pitch, clearly intended to facilitate conversion to residential use. We could not find any planning consent for this and asked the council to investigate, but have heard nothing more from the council and the work is now complete. No attempt has been made to use appropriate roofing materials or install conservation style velux windows.

Cafe Pacino with scaffolding Suruchi and roof work

Café Pacino, in a particularly sensitive spot in Church Passage, gotplanning consent for major alterations to the interior but is now also undertaking major work to the frontage. We tried to get the landlord to explain what he was doing but concluded he was avoiding us. We cannot yet determine how the frontage will look but fear it might end up with wooden cladding. A building looking like a Swiss Chalet in this historic location would be completely wrong. We have yodelled our concerns to the council enforcement team.

Ward based policing on the wane

We have attached considerable value to the presence of the Safer Neighbourhood Teams in our two wards, but cuts to police budgets have taken their toll. The number of PCSOs has reduced and the teams are now part of a ‘cluster’ which means they can be deployed elsewhere. The uniformed presence on the High St is significantly lower which is a matter of particular regret. There is to be a further reorganisation of neighbourhood policing, though it does now seem likely that the High Barnet police station will survive.

Burglary, especially to the east of our area towards New Barnet, and shoplifting in the High St continue as major concerns.

Summer fun

We are again acting as promoter for the High Barnet Summer Festival. A highlight this year is the a 75th anniversary event at Barnet Museum on 30 June. Funding for the leaflet has been sponsored by Martin Gerrard estate agents. Visit the Festival Programme page for a list of events or pick up a leaflet which will be available around the High St.

And briefly…

Following planning approval for conversion to flats the former Magistrates Court was promptly put up for sale. We fought a long campaign to protect the façade of this building. We fear we may have to fight the battle all over again if a new owner emerges with different plans.

The former cricket pitch alongside Underhill stadium has been registered as an Asset of Community Value, which would give the community an opportunity to raise funds to purchase the site if it comes up for sale. We have received no indication as to the future of the stadium following the move of Barnet F.C. to The Hive. Both sites are on Green Belt land.

The pillar to Barnet Opticians was finally completed in April, bringing to a close the programme of six shop renovations initiated in 2011 using money from the Outer London Fund.

We are still waiting for the council to complete the corrective work to Churchyard Gardens agreed last November. Temporary bollards have meanwhile been installed along the High St pavement edge to prevent builders’ vehicles mounting the pavement and parking on the paved area around Churchyard Gardens.

At the Black Horse work has been completed on the garden and the brewery is now in production. The garden is very smart but the pub interior and the beer have generated more mixed reactions. The alterations to The Mitre interior are also complete, provided extra indoor seating and creating more cellar space to allow for the beer range to be extended.

BenchMetal thieves continue to amaze. Someone used an angle grinder to remove the bench outside Harris and Hoole, one of three installed last year with funding from the Rotary Club. A companion bench survives nearby outside Boots.

The Chipping Barnet Town Centre Strategy went out to public consultation in March and what should be the final version is expected to go to Cabinet later this month. There is an associated action plan that is likely to become the focus of our attention over the coming months. The document is available on the council website.

For over two weeks in May the carriageway on the High St alongside the Church was reduced to one-way only (southbound) to allow the road to be dug up for work to the gas mains. The calming effect on traffic through the High St was most noticeable. We would like views on whether some kind of permanent arrangement to reduce the volume of traffic in the High St. would be desirable. This is something we could take to the Town Centre Strategy Board where there is a commitment in the Action Plan to review traffic flows around the town.


INVITATION TO ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

Tuesday 2nd July 2013, 7.30pm, 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 looking for additional members. Please contact the Secretary via the webmaster (email address at the foot of the page) if you are interested in joining or would like to know more about the work of the committee.

On completion of the formal business our speaker will be Charlotte Dunlop, asset manager for the new owners of The Spires, William Pears Group. Although Pears have owned The Spires for less than two months, we are aware that a lot of thinking has gone on already and new ideas are beginning to emerge. This will be an opportunity to listen to and maybe quiz Charlotte on the kind of changes that we might expect.