The Spires sold to BYM Capital

While the sale of The Spires leasehold didn’t come as a massive surprise, the speed at which it was snapped up did, coming only a matter of weeks after being put on the market.  Reportedly in the face of a lot of interest, the site was sold by Canadian pension fund AIMCo to BYM Capital, an investor and developer known for office-to-residential conversions. BYM Capital was set up in 2017 and has established a track record of commercial to residential conversions.  The news brings some optimism, but also caution.

The sale price for the 5-acre site is at a discount compared to AIMCo’s purchase price in 2015, when The Spires was sold by William Pears Group for £40m.  BYM has previously bought the former Mothercare office in Watford and BSkyB’s headquarters in Osterley, both for office-to-residential conversions.

The Spires site is currently covered by a ‘head’ lease and deed of variation. While the current lease ‘protects’ the Waitrose site and the car park, currently leased to NCP, we are wary of any changes to the lease that might negatively impact the town centre. We urgently need to understand if the Council have any plans for using the site for civic uses as that might have further implications for the town.  The speed at which BYM acquired the site suggests that a planning application could be forthcoming sooner rather than later, and we believe it is vital that the Council sets very specific parameters in terms of height and density. Currently, the tower of St John the Baptist church is the highest point in the town, and we would object strongly if this were threatened.

It is very easy in a period of flux for trading and trader confidence to be affected. We believe it is vital that the centre is pro-actively managed in the short term to retain and grow its current retail footprint in advance of any planning application. Botanika and Nkora now occupy key sites at the high street entrance, but it is vital that the economic vibrancy of the centre is maintained.

We also believe that Barnet Market should be a key consideration in any plans. Now firmly re-established, this historic market should be protected by any development but also given opportunities to grow.

When we heard that the Spires was on the market, we immediately contacted the Council to ask them to review the 2012 Planning framework, in the same way as an updated planning brief was prepared to cover Brake Shear House following pressure from ourselves.  Noting the dividends that this delivered in bringing the town a far more appropriate development than was first planned, we believe strongly that the Council needs to follow a similar course with the Spires.

The Council should understand the urgency of this and embark upon a review quickly.  It is also vital that the local community is fully consulted and as early as possible.

Get this right and it could be a major economic stimulus for High Barnet; get it wrong and it could severely damage our town centre.

Ken Rowland
Chair, Barnet Residents Association
May 2021