Newsletter February 2022

Decorated Christmas tree in front of churchIn this issue we feature the major changes to the Moxon St area.  Though in the conservation area, and once part of the heart of the town, few historical reminders remain.  Much of the commercial activity has disappeared, leaving a distinct feel of neglect.  But in recent times revitalisation has proceeded apace, with modern flats now dominant.  Our other main feature concerns events at The Spires.  Elsewhere the High St is holding up well with some interesting new arrivals.

Alas developers and shop tenants, with some honourable exceptions, continue to persistently ignore the community when it comes to planning applications.   We report below on a number of ongoing battles we are having.

The Christmas tree outside St John’s church, sponsored by Statons, was pleasingly rather larger in 2021.  The decorations were paid for by the Town Team, which includes ourselves.

Spires parking charges shock

NCP, Ways to pay, ParkPass, Download our appMany users of The Spires car park are angry with the new charges introduced by the managing contractor NCP.  This came as a surprise given the suppressed footfall in recent times, so there should be an evident need to encourage customers to return.  The charges have been increased substantially for anyone using the pay machines.  For example, for one hour the charge has increased from £1 to £1.45.  But for anyone using the NCP app the charge will be £0.95, though the savings are not so pronounced for longer stays.  This two-tier approach might make commercial sense as presumably the underlying intention is to eventually do away with payment machines.  The machines do have the unfortunate habit of often being out of order, but there remains understandable anger amongst those who occasionally use the car park and do not use the NCP app for whatever reason.  An oddity is that the new tariffs are not displayed as previously, being replaced with an exhortation to use the app, though without being clear that it is much cheaper to do so.  Since the car park was first contracted out charges have risen considerably down the years, but as we are now on the third contractor it appears it is not exactly a gold mine.  Unfortunately the lease still has many years to run.  Should it change hands again we have suggested to Spires owners BYM Capital they should endeavour to ensure a charging regime that puts encouraging shoppers as the prime purpose of the car park, something not evident in recent years.

Market stalls on a damp dayRather more encouraging is that management of the market outside Waitrose has been passed to a partnership of two of the traders.  This might turn out to be very positive.   The new managers have been stalwarts of the market for many years so they should be highly motivated to do everything they can to keep the market going, and also hopefully attract more traders.  The market does appear to do quite well on Saturdays, but Wednesday is much quieter with far fewer traders present.  The previous managing contractor, a specialist in running markets, did not deliver anything approaching expectations.

BYM Capital acquired The Spires in June last year and said it was their intention to revitalise the shopping centre ahead of any possible major redevelopment.  Since then progress has stalled, not least because of the ongoing Covid restrictions and the damage to retail confidence.  We have seen just one new shop arrive (KD Phones) but that subsequently closed.  Pizza specialist Do Dough has also closed.  They previously had a van on the market which was a rather quirky offering that did well.   Sadly the move into The Spires never took off.

There are signs that footfall is now increasing, and the lifting of most Covid restrictions should be a further boost.  We are expecting that BYM will come forward in the next few months with the improvements they had hoped to initiate last year.

Old market site sold

Artists impression of planned hotelAmidst considerable interest the former market site in St Albans Rd has been sold to a developer, though we have yet to establish the name of the successful bidder.  A development proposal will inevitably follow.  We will of course be looking very closely at what the new owner comes up with.  There was a long battle to secure an acceptable design for the proposed Premier Inn on the site (visualisation aside), with  the  initial  proposal being what could only be described as a large, ugly, modern box.  Fortunately, the final design was facilitated by the site being in the conservation area.  We were disappointed the Premier Inn did not go ahead, but sincerely hope the new owner will take careful note of how the previous application turned out.  We still consider that an hotel would be good for the town, but we expect there is a certain inevitability of yet more flats.   BYM Capital, who bought The Spires last year, were unsuccessful with their bid.  This outcome is perhaps best for the community.  The thought of a large redevelopment embracing the whole of the area from St Albans Rd across to and perhaps incorporating some of The Spires shopping area did not exactly fill us with enthusiasm.

Cause for hope…..or dismay

Half timbered ex pubDetail from the building in the other photo with carved heads

It is more than fifteen years since we snarled at the Council for allowing inappropriate changes to the frontage of the former Crown and Anchor pub, a misjudged decision compounded by the then occupiers erecting unapproved shutters and signage.  After a long battle the offending additions were removed, but the building has been looking decidedly down at heel for some considerable time.  Despite the neglect, close scrutiny of the fine architectural detailing to the frontage can still be most rewarding (picture right above).  Following the departure of the ground floor occupiers LessTax2Pay, the building has been sold and we have been in touch with the new owners.  The ground floor commercial area is already being advertised as available to let (asking £80,000 pa which seems ambitious) and they have submitted a planning application to substantially alter the frontage on the ground floor.  We are considering this though our initial reaction is less than favourable.   We have pointed out the on-going problems with pigeon dropping and bins for the upstairs flats being left out on the pavement.

We constantly find ourselves embroiled in inappropriate alterations to buildings or unproved signage in the town centre conservation areas.  The latest offender is Balady, the new cafe occupying the former Dudleys Pancake House (see photo later in this newsletter).  A heavy metal shutter has been affixed to the front, which looks particularly unattractive during the evenings when the shutter is down, not helped by the addition of brash bright blue paintwork.  As usual, there was no planning application so we have complained to the Council via the Conservation Area Advisory Committee.  The Enforcement team has taken up the case.

RestaurantThe new owner of the former Spizzico building applied for planning permission to split the former ground floor restaurant into two retail units.  This seems odd as hospitality is a growth area, whilst retail continues to be problematic, and as far as we know there is a fully equipped kitchen on the ground floor..  We never particularly liked the frontage to Spizzico with the bi-fold doors looking too modern for the conservation area.  But we were also unimpressed with the design of the proposed new ground floor frontage and lodged an objection.  The Council agreed and refused the application.

Closed sandwich shop and closed restaurantAnother recent sale at auction is the former Curry Cottage.  The sale includes the Subway building next door.  We have previously reported at length on our efforts to secure improvements to the appearance of this long closed outlet, so we should be encouraged that a new owner might at last bring the building back into use.  The frontage has had a quick repaint. a new tenant has been found for Subway, and there appears to be someone living on the first floor of Curry Cottage.  However our initial contact with the new owner has set alarm bells ringing.  We have been told that demolition and replacement with a modern building is being considered.  It does seem inevitable that if such a major redevelopment happens it would embrace both buildings, and adding an extra floor is bound to be tempting.  This same developer was responsible for constructing Crompton House a little further up the High St, a building of very modern appearance that does not sit comfortably with its neighbours.  So we could again end up with a discordant frontage.  Though somewhat run-down in part, the terrace in which Curry Cottage sits does have architectural merit and the first floor windows of Curry Cottage are particularly fine.  We remain uneasy as to what might be proposed.

They just don’t give up

White building with interesting gable endClosed estate agents with For Sale and To Let signs

In the previous newsletter we reported on the refusal of a planning application to add a roof level flat to no 159 High St, reflecting similar previous applications that were refused.  We consider this building to be a distinctive presence in the conservation area with the Dutch gable a particularly attractive feature.  We thought the refusal was the end of it, but no, yet another application was submitted, very much like the previous one.  So yet again we objected, and yet again the Council refused the application.

There are two appeals on the Council’s refusals for planning applications at 202 and 204 High St. (former Statons office and former Bentley garage).  We have previously reported why we strongly opposed these applications.  We accept that these two buildings are suitable for redevelopment but not on the scale proposed nor with architecture that was not sympathetic to the conservation area.  If these developments do get the go-ahead they will dominate the top end of the High St and substantially alter the character of the area.

Another repeat planning application was to add two extra floors to Richard Court in Alston Rd, though not significantly different to the original application (October 21 newsletter).  Again we objected and it was no surprise that this second application was swiftly refused.   So now we wait and see if there is an appeal.

Three storey brick block of flats among terraced housesBarnet’s planners have been consistently good in refusing these unwelcome applications submitted under the Permitted Development concession introduced by the Government.  In our June 21 newsletter we reported on a refusal to allow two extra floors to flats at 33 Park Rd.  Predictably, the owner has now lodged an appeal, so we wait and see if this awful development might get the go ahead.  We are however heartened by a recent appeal on a very similar proposal elsewhere in the Borough which was resoundingly dismissed.

New building next to the Bull TheatreAnd still on the subject of developers not giving  up, the demolition order for the inappropriate building constructed at 70 High St went to the wire when the developer appealed, fielding a barrister and a heritage ‘expert’ in support of their case.  Your editor participated in the appeal hearing and was surprised that the Council just fielded an enforcement officer, with no-one from Legal or Planning.  We thought it was touch and go but the Inspector’s decision went against the developer.  A full report is on our website.  The developer has been given twelve months to demolish the building and construct a replacement that conforms to approved plans.  As yet nothing has happened and we doubt whether the developer has the funds to undertake the work.  We expect this saga still has some way to go.

No 70 is the third case in recent times where a developer has hired a heritage expert to comment on the merits of an application, in each case the expert finding in favour of the developer (151-153 High St and 204 High St were the others).  But as the outcome in each case was for the applications to be rejected there must be doubts regarding the true independence of these reports.  It is inevitable that anyone hired in such circumstances will be under pressure to favour their paymaster. If we are to have confidence in expert opinions in planning applications they should be demonstrably independent, which appear to be far from the case at the moment.

One appeal dismissal that surprised everyone concerned was that for the redevelopment of the Whalebones site.  Although the Council rejected the planning application they had a subsequent change of heart and withdrew the refusal decision.  It therefore appeared that an appeal decision in favour of redevelopment would be no more than a formality.  But the Inspector thought otherwise.  A full report is on our website.  We understand the Whalebones Trustees and Hill, the developer, are continuing to consider what, if anything, they might now do.

A planning application has been submitted for a substantial extension to the former Longrove Surgery in Union St.  We consider this would not sit comfortably with the conservation area and have objected.  There is an application to change the frontage to 236 High St (the dental practice), with new large windows at ground level. This locally listed building is recognised for its character windows, so again we have objected.

Moxon St area on the up

The area immediately to the east of the High St bounded by Park Rd, Moxon St and Tapster St has undergone substantial change in recent years, with rather run-down commercial properties giving way to residential use.  Several blocks of new flats appeared some time ago at both ends of Tapster St and on the former Park Rd industrial estate.  A further step-change is now taking place with a number of new developments coming on stream.

Block of flatsAnother block of flats, sorry

Though not exactly exciting architecture, these two new blocks on Moxon St and Tapster St respectively,  replacing a garage and car wash, do blend in well with both older and more recent buildings.  And respecting the conservation area the buildings do incorporate several traditional features - pitched slate roofs, sash windows and brick facade.  Though the buildings are largely flats, at ground level the Moxon St building consists of offices - a council requirement to compensate for the lost employment at the garage and car wash.

And yet another block of flatsBlock of flats with white doors

Though superficially very similar regarding traditional features, the new buildings on the site of the former British Legion and on the former car on Park Rd are somewhat less successful.  The building located at the junction of Moxon St and Tapster St appears to have a problem with privacy for the ground floor resident, with a high and rather unsightly fence having been erected.  The impact of the attractive feature of iron railings with greenery within has been lost.  The ground floor to the side on Moxon St has also ended up rather unsightly as the expected windows have been replaced by openings with rather crude grills and a corridor behind.  The Park Rd building (above right) has offices on the ground floor and flats above.  Again a largely traditional finish features with the windows especially pleasing, though the design is somewhat disjointed.  The doors are also rather underwhelming.   Despite the faults, for all of these developments we consider the planners have been very effective in ensuring these buildings respect the character of the conservation area.

Factory buildingIndustrial building

And there is more to come.  Part of the former print works off Tapster St has been approved for conversion to residential and there is an application to convert and extend a further section (above left).  Further down Moxon St there is an application to convert the empty commercial building at no 50 to a special needs school for 90 autistic children, though this should not significantly alter the external appearance.  There are concerns about the impact of traffic and whether the outside play area will be adequate, where the intention is to use the flat roof area. 

We also believe there may be an application in the offing to replace the industrial building at the bottom of Moxon St with a block of flats (photo above right).  Members may remember the previous application to put 139 tiny flats inside the building, many without natural light, which attracted national notoriety.  The Council may not be keen on this building being replaced with residential as the desire for retention of employment is a key consideration in locations such as this.  A further development in the pipeline is for nine houses on land at the bottom of Park Rd.  We are aware that nearby residents are not enamoured but putting a complete stop to any development will be a challenge.  We have objected to a linked application adjacent to this site at the bottom of Park Rd, which is to convert no 36, a large detached house, to four flats.

Boarded up shop, with the boards painted blckAt the top of Moxon St on the corner of the High St the former Foxtons and the property next door have been looking decidedly sad for some time.  We have met with the owner who is considering an ambitious  redevelopment that would include adding an extra floor to accommodate new flats.  The ground floor would be renovated for retail or other commercial use.

Otherwise, the only significant brownfield site remaining in this area with redevelopment potential is the derelict land between the tile shop on Moxon St and the print works.  This area is owned by the Council.  A controversial proposal to redevelop both the tile shop and the land behind with modern buildings, which we strongly opposed as being out of character with the conservation area, was approved over five years ago.  Thankfully the scheme never went ahead and we have been assured there is no intention to revive it.  We are expecting the Council to come up with a fresh development proposal in the near future.

A touch of class

Zarrin Persian patisserie and G Mantella jewellersWe have not had many changes to the shops in recent weeks but two new arrivals have certainly been a talking point. The Persian patisserie Zarrin is a far cry from the days of the former Victoria Bakery and may prove a hard sell, especially as the Village Food Centre on the opposite side of the road sells comparable products.  You can hear the gasps when people look into the window of jewellers Mantrella and see the prices.  Your editor last used a jewellers when he went into H. Samuel to buy his £20 watch (still going), so he is definitely out of his comfort zone here.  Success or otherwise of these outlets should be a test of just how affluent our area is these days.

Balady cafe with blue shutter closedUnique Exchange shop with white shutter closed

Balady (in the former Dudleys Pancake House) is another café in an already crowded market, but does offer kosher dishes so may have a unique selling point.  But as we have mentioned above, the shutters and bright blue paintwork have attracted a lot of negative comment, especially as it hardly flatters the listed Mitre pub next door.  Unique Money Exchange has taken up residence in the premises of the short-lived Unique Antiques, unfortunately inheriting the shutters (and yes – installed without planning permission).  Heavy shutters such as these are a blight.  As well as having a depressing effect on the appearance of the town centre, especially when the inevitable graffiti appears, they send the wrong message suggesting a crime-ridden area when it is not.

The same building as shown earlier with signs saying Nika opening soonThere are several new openings likely to happen soon.  Though the subject of a planning appeal for redevelopment, the former Statons office is due to open as Nika, advertised as a café and store (left).  Whilst seemingly taking for ever to open, we have had a report that fridges have been moved into Organic Food Garden (in the former Londis outlet).  At the opposite end of the High St the Maximum-Minimum fashion shop in the former The Present outlet should open soon. The former North London Hospice outlet opposite the Church is under offer. 

TSB bank when it was openHSBC bank

When buildings come up for sale there is rarely a shortage of buyers. Both of the recently closed banks, TSB and HSBC have found new owners.  Former banks can be difficult to adapt for other uses so we wait with considerable interest to see what the owners might come up with.  We are anxious to ensure that any re-use does not involve substantial changes to the facades of these fine buildings. The TSB building is listed so that should be safe, but HSBC only has the limited protection of a local listing.

The former Victoria Bakery was sold at auction in November, now including planning consent for substantial redevelopment to the rear.  The nearby building housing the former Children’s Air Ambulance outlet is also up for sale.  At the top end of the High St Plan and Build has closed and the shop is being advertised for letting. 

The overall shop vacancy rate is around 13%, though only 4% are currently available for rent.  The rest are let but awaiting occupation, undergoing redevelopment, in the process of a sale or unavailable for other reasons.

Pubs in the news

Library Bar with cartoons of books on the windowWhenever we have anything to say about pubs it is usually to report yet another closure.  So it is pleasing that this time we have an opening to report – The Library Bar at the junction of the High St and St Albans Rd.  Though previously an estate agents and then a cycle shop, older residents may remember that this property was once a McMullens pub, The Green Man, which closed around twenty years ago.  Reports indicate this new incarnation is aimed at a fashionable, younger clientele with a taste for exotic cocktails.  Alas your editor is ruled out on all three counts, even though he is partial to a good novel. 

It’s all change at several other pubs.  After thirteen years in residence Gary Murphy has left The Mitre.  The pub was very successful under his stewardship, being especially popular with those who appreciated the wide range of well-kept ales.  Owners Greene King initially let the lease to a small pub chain, but we understand they now intend to bring the pub under their direct control and have advertised for a new manager.  This could lead to a reduction of the beer range to mainly Greene King products.  There is also a rumour that they plan some kind of refurbishment.  Regulars are anxiously looking on. 

Young’s have sold all their tenanted houses to a capital investment company so there is some uncertainty regarding the future of the Lord Nelson.  The Black Horse has also changed hands.  The lease, which had been with Oak Taverns, a small pub chain, has been sold to Heineken who promptly closed the on-site brewery.  As yet there are no other evident changes.  More cheering is the renewal for another five years of the listing of The Sebright Arms as an Asset of Community Value.

Northern Line services safe for now

Some years ago we reported that TfL had ambitions to split the Northern Line with all High Barnet trains running down the Bank branch.  To achieve this Camden Town station would have to be substantially rebuilt and some additional trains provided.  Our MP Theresa Villiers has consistently opposed such a change and recently had an update meeting with TfL who said the fall in passenger numbers and the absence of any available funds for the rebuild has resulted in the scheme being put on the back-burner. They anticipated that nothing could happen for at least ten years and is unlikely within the next twenty.  

Despite the decline in passenger numbers the peak hours timetable has been maintained, along with only a small reduction in off-peak trains, though there have been cancellations due to Covid causing driver shortages.  The Bank branch between Moorgate and Kennington is currently closed for major works, with reopening not expected until mid-May.  Electric charging points have been installed in the car park at High Barnet station, though alas they are not reserved for the exclusive use of electric vehicles.

384 bus re-routing claimed as a success

It is over a year since the route of the 384 bus was changed (August 2020), with an extension to Edgware, shortening of the route east of High Barnet to Cockfosters station, and diverting the eastbound service from Stafford Rd to Salisbury Rd.   TfL has undertaken a review with the main conclusions being:

  • The service is performing as expected, with usage increasing by around 25% (700-800 per day).
  • The increase in usage arising from the extension to Edgware has been offset by a decline of 44% in usage between the Everyman Cinema and Cockfosters.  It is considered that some of the trips previously undertaken on the 384 have switched to the 326 and 107.
  • The busiest point is High Barnet station.  Ideas for improving station access are under active consideration, though linked to the currently stalled redevelopment of the station car park.  Re-routing the bus off Barnet Hill down to the station entrance is one possibility.
  • Additional fixed stops are being considered outside the former Jester pub in East Barnet and outside A&E at Barnet hospital.
  • Journey times between Edgware and Barnet Hospital have been shortened by twenty minutes and from Cockfosters to the hospital by nine minutes.
  • The problems with the road surface in Salisbury Rd are not considered by TfL to be as a consequence of the re-routing of the bus, having previously been an issue.

Though residents in Salisbury Rd would almost certainly dispute the cause of the road surface problem, and the decline in usage to the east is a matter of concern, the extension to Edgware, which we strongly supported, does appear to have been a success.

And briefly…..

The Medieval Festival, postponed until September last year, was favoured with good weather and attendance figures were good, with the event turning a small profit.  This augurs well for this event to continue, now scheduled for June this year.

Unfinished business from the widening of the High St pavements is the provision of new litter bins.  About 50% of the old ones have been replaced and we have continued to press the Council to finish the job.  We are also concerned that open bins in Churchyard Gardens and on Hadley Green are consistently disturbed by scavenging animals, creating an unsightly mess of scattered litter and food remnants.  As we went to press we were due to have a meeting with Cllr Longstaff and officers on these matters, so hopefully we will have something positive to report in the next newsletter.  We are also continuing to press Highways for a meeting to scope a traffic review but this remains elusive.

People waiting at bus stop with illuminated signThe bus stop outside the Village Food Centre in the middle of the High St has been revamped, essentially to convert the static advertising boards to moving images.  No doubt residents will be thrilled with this viewing opportunity to relieve the boredom whilst waiting for a bus.  There have been several attempts to introduce similar installations at various locations around the High St under the guise of providing communication hubs.  So far all have been refused.  We are however stuck with conversions from what were previously static displays.

Many members will remember with affection Millie, known as ‘The Spires cat’.  Following her demise funds were raised for a statue with agreement secured for it to be displayed in The Spires.   The statue, by the celebrated local sculptor John Somerville, has recently been completed, but the new owners of The Spires, BYM Capital, have so far declined to allow it to be displayed there.

Anyone visiting Borehamwood in recent times will probably have noticed the enormous film studio being built on a 23 acre site at the eastern edge of the town.  This is expected to be followed by another studio on an adjacent 91 acre site.  The large number of jobs these developments will generate should have a significant impact on housing demand over a wide area, along with the possibility of an increased demand for more hotel rooms and hospitality outlets.  High Barnet should be well placed to benefit one way or another.

The gradual return to direct control of Council services contracted out to Capita continues.  Finance and Strategic Resources are already back in-house.  It is now expected that Highways, Regeneration, Procurement, and Regulatory Services will be back in-house by 2023.  We would prefer to see Planning also being brought back in-house but as yet there is no intention to do this.

The CCTV on ST Albans Rd, installed following our long campaign, continues to do its job well with few instances of fly tipping occurring.

The Council has increased charges for traffic offences, up from £60 to £80 for minor infringements and from £110 to £130 for major infringements.  On Red Routes the GLA has increased the fine for traffic offences to £160.  In all cases the 50% concession remains for fines paid early.  So you have been warned!

An ordinary-looking rectangular manhole coverAs well as dealing with major issues we do keep a close eye on small details as well, e.g. getting redundant estate agents boards and unapproved advertising banners removed, tackling fly posting, and chasing instances of commercial waste not being properly disposed of.  Sometimes dealing with these small matters can involve a lot of effort.  This proved to be the case with the broken manhole cover outside Hunters/Dilber Kebabs, which we first reported back in 2018.  We have persisted and at last it has been repaired.

The Special General Meeting held on 3rd November at the Bull Theatre approved the constitutional changes and the increases in membership subscriptions as set out in in the October 2021 newsletter.  From now on all new members will be charged a single household rate of £7.  A concessionary rate of £5 applies for all existing single members who until now have paid £4.  The revised constitution can be viewed on our website.  As ever, we are grateful to Susi Earnshaw for allowing us to hold the meeting at The Bull.

And finally…..

When the Association was revived in 2005 your editor took on the task of producing the newsletter and has continued to do so with every issue for the past seventeen years.  He has decided, with some regret, it is now time to call it a day and the next issue should be his last.  This does leave a vacancy on the committee for a replacement editor and we are keen to hear from anyone who might consider taking on this role.  With just three issues a year to produce the task is not unduly onerous, with the main qualification being the ability to use words such as ‘developer’, ‘greed’ and ‘rubbish’ in the same sentence.  Anyone who might be interested please contact our Chairman Ken via the email address on the Contact and Officers page.

Joining Barnet Residents Association

Having a large and engaged membership gives us the necessary authority in speaking for the area when dealing with the Council, property developers and other organisations.  Please bear this in mind if you receive a reminder to renew your membership.  Following the recently agreed increase in subscriptions we are writing to members who pay by standing order asking them to update the amount.

We issue three newsletters a year plus occasional emails.  Our website provides detailed information on our activities.  Though we do not engage with domestic planning applications we can sometimes help with advice on the planning process.

To support recruitment please share this newsletter with friends and neighbours and encourage them to join.  The annual subscription is £7 per household.  For those wishing to join, a cheque through the post to our Membership Secretary with their name(s) and address on the back is sufficient, or for full details visit our website address at: http://www.barnetresidentsassociation.org.uk/membership.