Newsletter February 2014

Some members have commented that our newsletters can be rather gloomy. Alas this does reflect the reality of what we do, which is to focus on problems around our town. But for a pleasant change this issue starts with a number of good news items. Of course, the grim stuff then follows as usual!

Since BRA was reactivated in 2005 our membership has more than doubled from the 220 members we inherited, which suggests we must have been getting some things right. However, throughout this period recruitment to the committee has been very problematic and we have never been able to fill all ten positions. We are fortunate that six of the eight original committee members are still with us, but they cannot go on forever, and of the current eight members we are anticipating three departures in the near future. An appeal for more committee members is at the end of this newsletter.

‘Swiss Chalet’ owner loses appeal

Swiss ChaletThere was much rejoicing when we learned that the Planning Inspector had rejected the appeal for the retention of the cladding to 1A Church Passage. The key paragraph in the decision reads “the development has a significant adverse visual impact on the character and appearance of the Wood St Conservation Area and the setting of nearby listed buildings”.

Objections to the appeal included detailed submissions from the council, Barnet Society, Hadley Residents Association and ourselves, along with a considerable number of individuals. We firmly believe that numbers do have a significant impact and we are grateful to those members who responded to our email asking that they send in an objection.

We do hope the owner restores the frontage to its previous appearance without further wrangling. It is most depressing that he should ever have considered that the cladding would be acceptable. As we have seen before, unless landlords act responsibly and ensure compliance with planning law this kind of inappropriate alteration, whether by landlords or occupiers, will continue to blight our town centre.

At last - a decent market

The long-awaited re-opening of the refurbished market site happened in November to widespread approval, along with a sense of relief that perhaps the future of our market might now be secure. The food stalls include the three long established greengrocers, three bakers, two butchers and a fishmonger. Though not all are there on Wednesdays the variety and quality of the offerings has attracted favourable comment. There is still a need for more stalls and we understand this is being pursued.

Fish StallIt was rather sad that after enduring terrible conditions for so long the fishmongers Rita and Alan, who had been around for 40 years, decided to retire just after the site re-opened. We have however been fortunate to welcome two new fishmongers, one each on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and reports suggests they have maintained the quality for which Rita was renowned. Our photograph shows the new Wednesday stall.

Churchyard Gardens completed

Church PavingIt seems to have taken forever but the snagging problems in Churchyard Gardens have finally been dealt with. It is particularly pleasing that people can now sit on the whole of the bench without legs dangling in mid-air. The replacement of the messy gravel path down to the church car park with conventional paving now looks especially fine. A lot of children are probably disappointed they can no longer amuse themselves by kicking and scattering the loose gravel previously used as a surround for one of the trees, now replaced with a permanent resin surface.

High St resurfaced

Barnet High Street smartWe knew the markings along the High St were faded but it did come as a surprise to learn that the roadway along the central section was to be resurfaced. We are often bemused at the choice of roads for resurfacing, but who are we to ponder the workings of the minds of our highways engineers, especially when they come bearing gifts? The new surface has really smartened up the High St. We just wish certain retailers would follow suit.

Highlands Gardens restored

Highlands GardensThough on our patch Highlands Gardens is tucked away in a quiet corner off Station Rd and remains unknown to many of our residents. It is nonetheless a delightful little park, but has suffered from neglect. A number of residents got together to form a friends group a few years ago, to advise the council and do a little gardening. A lottery grant secured last year has been used, in conjunction with money from the council, to renovate the pond. And a fine sight it is too. www.highlandsgardens.org.uk. The library gardens anyone?

Another successful Christmas Fayre

Christmas Fayre in Spires.jpgHeld on 1st December this event was as busy as ever. The Spires recorded a footfall of 16,000, which suggests total visitors to the Fayre may have touched 20,000. The event is a major feat of organisation and all the more remarkable bearing in mind that the organising committee, stewards and charity collectors are all volunteers, as were the people who distributed 5000 copies of the brochure. Newly introduced this time was music broadcast along the central section of the High St by EN5 Radio (yes – we do have our very own local radio station – look it up), along with live music in several pubs. As in previous years it had been intended to have attractions in the car park behind Waitrose, but alas the contractor failed to deliver.

Christmas Tree, BarnetOver recent years the number of retailers who have opened on the day has steadily increased and most now do so. A few of the traders actively participated in the Fayre, notably Waitrose and MacDonalds, whilst Visible Changes hairdressers and Susi Earnshaw Theatre School played a significant role in the organisation. Others paid to advertise in the brochure. It was however disappointing that many traders remained aloof, with few even putting a poster in their window despite being asked. The national chains are particularly unhelpful in such matters, though Boots are a notable exception. The absence of any attempt at Christmas decorations in most of the shops was also disappointing, though the initiative by Barnet Traders Association to raise money for a Christmas tree was most welcome. Hunters gave a generous donation and the council matched the money raised. Thanks also to those members who responded to our email inviting contributions. The new Christmas lights along the High St also attracted favourable comment.

Free parking – a first for the Borough

Parking free Moxon StreetThe free parking in council run bays on three Saturdays before Christmas was most welcome and indeed, despite poor weather, the town was pleasingly busy on those days. But of course the permanent arrangements are more important. At the time of our October Newsletter we reported that we were in discussion with the council to determine if more could be done with lightly used parking areas to encourage more shoppers into the town. The outcome was the introduction from 3rd December of one hour free parking in Moxon St car park and two hours free along Hadley Green. Although charges have been reduced across the Borough we believe this is the first instance of charges being removed completely.

Parking free by phoneThese changes have built on earlier initiatives to remove all day parking from parts of the High St and Moxon St car park, and to ban business permit users from Stapylton Rd car park. We estimate that these initiatives have freed up over 150 council parking spaces for short-term use, and around 90 spaces now offer free time of one hour or more. Early indications are that usage at both Moxon St and Hadley Green is only slowly picking up, so do spread the word. The notice advising the two hours free along Hadley Green is not very helpful, being written in very small print on the signs facing away from the road.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that around the town centre the council is only the second-string player. Of the 800 or so parking places available 500 are controlled by Legion Parking, primarily The Spires car park but also the new parking area on the market site (where opening has been delayed because of lighting issues). In October Legion put up their charges which, added to last years’ increase, amounts to a 30% rise over two years. When we questioned Legion about why they had imposed yet another inflation-busting increase they said it was because the income had been lower than expected. We pointed out this should have been no surprise given their previous price rise and concessions introduced by the council, and maybe a better response would have been to also reduce their charges. That idea went down like a lead balloon. We intend to return to the fray.

Mixed fortunes for shops

We have had a few bright spots on the retail front. The expansion of Harris and Hoole has demonstrated that the right business well presented can thrive in the High St even in these difficult times. .The café in Old Courthouse Gardens duly opened to favourable comments, though attracting sufficient trade through the winter months might be difficult. After a very troubled year with many shops vacant, for the run up to Christmas The Spires managed to get takers for all but one outlet, though most were just short term lets. This did make a visit to the centre feel much more pleasant, even if some of the offerings might have seemed a little strange. At the time of writing the number of vacant units has alas crept back up to four. Evans was a particularly sad loss, yet another clothing retailer to leave the town.

Nodes revampedJasmine restaurant

After more than a year of us pestering we were heartened that Cancer Research finally repainted their very tatty frontage, though some of the paint is already peeling off, suggesting that before very long it might be back to square one. Nodes the undertakers looks much better after a re-vamp. Tesco tell us they aim to refresh their run-down frontage though they are taking their time about it.

The closure of Jasmine was no surprise - having four Indian restaurants at the bottom end of town always seemed rather too many. The nearby Cheap as Chips/Smoothie Bar has also closed. Another loss at the south end of the High St was Borsolino Pizza, hardly surprising as the seating arrangements were most uninviting and it was never clear whether it aimed to be a restaurant or a take-away.

Lighting plain shopBarnet Superstore

Another loss of sorts was the expansion of Lighting Revolution into the empty shop next door (previously Ellis estate agents). The door has been removed and the resulting appearance is decidedly unattractive. The required planning application for a change to a shop front was absent and so, yet again, we are taking the issue up with the council.

Work is going on at the former Mothercare shop but we are having difficulty establishing who is moving in. Otherwise we have had just one new opening in the High St – the rather ambitiously named Barnet Superstore. It is in reality just another convenience store not unlike the departed Abasi that was located a few doors along. With five other convenience stores along the High St we expect this outlet will struggle. We however have another issue. The shop was previously the Attic second hand store, over which we had pursued with the council their inappropriate frontage facing Churchyard Gardens, the most sensitive spot in the conservation area. The new frontage is no better. We now have aluminium window and doorframes and a brash backlit sign. We did contact the occupier before he erected the sign, explaining that his frontage needed planning approval and as he was in a conservation area his sign might not meet with council approval. Initially he said he would have a rethink. But when we saw him again he had spoken to other shopkeepers who said go ahead as the council wouldn’t do anything! So there it is in a nutshell.

From all these changes the most evident trend is the continuing closure of retail outlets at the southern end of town. We may have to accept that this an unavoidable trend and we should expect more shops to change to other uses. In the long run a smaller shopping centre may improve the viability of what remains.

Hospital services reorganised

It is several years since Barnet and Chase Farm NHS Trust announced plans to reconfigure the provision of services provided at its two hospitals. The proposals were controversial, with Enfield residents deeply unhappy at the apparent downgrading of Chase Farm. The issue became something of a political football but a decision to proceed finally emerged.

With the building works nearly completed Maternity and A&E services were transferred to Barnet late last year. In response to criticism over a shortage of parking at Barnet, a long standing problem but likely to be worse with the additional activity, most of the derelict land at the northern end of the site has been utilised to provide some 250 additional parking spaces. There is now much more public parking although finding a space can still be difficult, not helped by the continuing use of the public parking areas by significant numbers of cars displaying staff permits. Parking charges remain high, though the variable time based charges are better than the previous £4 flat charge irrespective of length of stay. Particularly welcome is the £11 weekly ticket for patients or relatives who need to visit daily.

Hospital car parkHospital parking charges

We have had reports that at peak times congestion can occur along Wellhouse Lane because of the difficulty of exiting onto Wood St. There may be a case to review traffic controls at the junction. An allied transport issue is a proposal in a recent GLA report on bus services in London that services to hospitals warrant special consideration. We are using this to launch a fresh attempt (the third or fourth time since we first raised it) to try and persuade TFL to extend the 34 bus route to the Hospital, or preferably to the Arkley Hotel since the diversion of the 307 to terminate at the Hospital has left Arkley residents poorly served. Such a change would allow the bus stops outside Shapla on the |High St to be moved to the lay-by currently used as the 34 terminus, which would ease congestion and allow step-free boarding.

Developers going flat out

We seem to have a frenzy of proposals for new flats. We have previously reported on a number of new build developments in Union St, Tapster St and Chipping Close, all of which remain unfinished at the time of writing. We have also recently seen a roof conversion above Hunters and a raised roof to create domestic space above Dilber Kebabs. Nearby there are proposals to add an additional floor for flats above Ioannou and above Winkworth. At the rear of Winkworth an additional floor is already under construction to add to the existing sizeable two-storey extension. The upper floors of After Office Hours are to be converted to flats, though we believe the intention is to retain the ground floor for retail purposes. A further planning application seeks to add a dormer window above Boots Opticians to facilitate an extra flat. The offices to the extensive upper floors at no 141 High St are also being converted to flats (the building at the junction of St Albans Rd that until recently housed Digital Village on the ground floor). The plans include adding a pitched roof, which should improve the appearance of this decidedly uninspiring building.

This stampede to create more flats partly reflects the change in emphasis by landlords faced with falling rents from retail outlets at ground floor level, but also the recent relaxation to planning law which allows conversion of offices to residential use without planning approval. We have mixed views on the roof extensions but a surplus of office space around the town has been long evident, so we have a maintained a largely neutral stance on the conversions provided the frontages stay in keeping. A consortium of seven London councils, concerned at the loss of office space and associated jobs, recently challenged the legislation in the High Court. They lost the case, so we can probably expect a lot more conversions to follow.

There are however storm clouds on the horizon. The London Mayor’s Plan currently aims for 22,000 new homes a year. Barnet’s share of the target is to build 22,500 homes over ten years. Of these, sites for some 20,000 have been identified with the expectation that the remainder will be delivered by infill such as we are currently seeing along our High St. There is however increasing recognition that the London target is inadequate and the Mayor is undertaking a review. He has indicated that the target could be doubled. If this happens there could be major implications for us. To meet the demand dense blocks of flats are rapidly becoming the norm everywhere. When it comes to height the worst we have yet seen on our patch is five storeys (he north side of Station Rd, behind The Mitre and two blocks planned for Dollis Valley). But there are tall buildings close to New Barnet Station on the south side of Station Rd, and other tall blocks have appeared or been approved at various locations around the Borough (including an astonishing 29 storey block recently approved in West Hendon and 10 storeys approved for the housing development on the former Middlesex University site at Cat Hill). There could be some bitter battles ahead.

And Briefly…….

The Monk pubThe planning application to demolish the Jaguar showroom at the top end of the High St and replace it with shops and flats has been refused.

The long running saga of Shoku (previously Tokyo Jo’s) over the replacement of the historic frontage without planning permission continues. The council was moving to a prosecution but the owners are now believed to be appealing against the enforcement notice – which goes to the Planning Inspectorate. As we have often commented, the planning process bends over backwards to give transgressors the opportunity to get their way.

The spruce up of the Monken Holt, featured some welcome internal improvements. We had not however expected a change of name and the removal of the traditional hanging sign in favour of one featuring a plain corporate image. We wrote to Greene King pointing out that the pub name had links back to the 12th Century and as it is in a conservation area we would have expected a traditional sign to be retained. No reply - which is what we anticipated.

A local couple has taken over the tenancy at the Sebright Arms and we wish them well. The previous Bistro formula in the lounge area struggled and has been abandoned. Redecoration and new furniture in the public bar have helped to create a more community-orientated atmosphere.

On Dollis Valley demolition of the former school and community centre is in progress to facilitate the first phase of this major redevelopment.

YOUR COMMITTEE

Further to the editorial and the appeal in our previous newsletter we are again asking members to consider volunteering to serve on the committee. The positions of Secretary, Treasurer and assistance with oversight of the High St are roles that are or soon will be on offer. Our most urgent need is to find a new Secretary. The role entails arranging and taking the minutes of 7/8 meetings per year including the AGM and dealing with a small amount of correspondence. Committee meetings are held on a weekday evening, usually at a private house behind The Spires. Anyone interested in joining the committee please contact the Secretary. We will arrange an informal discussion before asking anyone to commit themselves.