Objection to planning application for the Fern Room, Salisbury Road

block of flats in multi red brick with big square windows, flat roof, stepped facade and square overhangs
Photo copyright Lipton Plant Architects 2017

[Update 30 March 2018. At their meeting on Monday 26th March 2018, the Area Planning Committee roundly rejected the contemporary design of the three storey block of flats proposed. Our chairman Gordon Massey attended the meeting and spoke against the scheme. Many thanks to all those members who sent in objections supporting our view that the design was inappropriate for this location. Make no mistake - those objections were likely to have been important in guiding the members of the Planning Committee. We now wait and see whether the developer will appeal or come up with a modified scheme.]



This is an objection on behalf of Barnet Residents Association.

We would start by saying we support redevelopment of this site and are content with the footprint of the proposed development and a building up to three storeys. However we consider the design of the façade to be wholly inappropriate for the area and have reservations regarding parking provision and the proposed community facilities.

The planning context

The National Planning Policy Framework says:

“Decisions should address …. the integration of new development into the natural, built and historic environment.”

The London Plan policy 7.6 says on architecture that it

“should make a positive contribution to a coherent public realm, streetscape, ….and relate well to the form, proportion, scale and character of streets.”

The Local Plan (Development Management Policies DPD) says:

“The existing traditional housing stock is almost always vertically orientated with window bays and pitched roofs. More modern developments are usually more horizontal often with balconies and flat roofs, a larger bulk and building footprint. When built in close proximity to each other these building styles can clash diminishing the uniformity, rhythm and pattern of suburban character.” (para 2.3.2)

“Proposals which are out of keeping with the character of an area will be refused.” (para 2.3.7)

Policy DM01(b) states:

“Proposals should preserve or enhance local character and respect the appearance, scale, mass, height and pattern of surrounding and streets.”

The character of the built environment in High Barnet

The introduction to the adopted High Barnet Town Centre Strategy says “Chipping Barnet, also known as High Barnet, is a historic centre with a distinctive character.” Substantial parts of the town centre are included in two conservation areas. Within the Borough, High Barnet stands out as a well preserved and self-contained market town, something which is rarely found elsewhere within the Borough or indeed the GLA area, and as such should be cherished and protected.

The quotes from the Local Plan we have highlighted above indicate quite clearly that for High Barnet any proposal should be addressed in the context of these considerations, with a presumption that anything that does not conform to the sensitivities of the existing environment should be refused. The National Planning Policy Framework is more equivocal though, recognising that development should integrate with the existing environment – which in the case of High Barnet is fundamentally the historic character. We submit that the proposed development fails the tests in the policy requirements outlined above as it does not reflect or respect the character of either the street or the town centre.

The proposed design

The proposal is an unashamedly contemporary design and will be located in the very centre of our historic town. So its visual impact will have a highly significant impact on the town centre as a whole, something we view as a potential disaster in the context of the character described above which we are so anxious to preserve.

In the Design and Access statement, the applicant says they do not do ‘pastiche’ – a term often used to deride traditional architecture. Yet around High Barnet centre we have had a number of good flatted developments – notably in Tapster St, St Albans Rd and most recently in Alston Rd. A notable recent development is the OWCH building in nearby Union St which is a contemporary design that has fused with local character, notably with an unfussy restrained frontage and pitched roofs. So we have had a new developments that have had no difficulty in reflecting or respecting the prevailing character of the local built environment and, most importantly, these buildings have not sought to ‘upstage’ their historic neighbours.

The proposed design is a ‘statement’ building with a very distinctive and radically different appearance to anything else locally. It will be a focus of attention – and as such it cannot do other than clash with and detract from the surrounding buildings. This is the opposite of what it should be trying to achieve.

‘Good design’ is very subjective. In the centre of our High St we have a number of distinctive ‘contemporary’ buildings built is the past 40 years or so, and whilst attracting some praise when built they have come to be universally reviled. They are now seen to have done significant damage to the townscape. Probably the worst is the staggered upper floor to 108-110 High St (fortunately about to be replaced) and is reminiscent of this proposal. As a very high risk contemporary design, the proposal is showing all the signs of taking us down the same route as its failed predecessors. What we see in the design is a jumbled frontage of ‘boxes’ with the ones on the second floor most pronounced, giving the building an incongruous top heavy appearance. The windows are grossly over-sized compared to the neighbouring buildings. The very angular finish makes the appearance of the building distinctly harsh. The balconies are unlikely to be used for sitting outside, in a location with noise and pollution from the road below and overlooked from the flats opposite. We fear the balconies will be used for storage or drying washing, thus further detracting from the appearance. There is no requirement for balconies as an amenity in town centre locations, but if desired the balconies would be much better placed if they were located to the rear of the building.

The minimal soft landscaping to the front is dismal.

At ground level the sparse entrance is uninviting and the garage frontage is hardly an appealing feature at street level. There are several elements here that are anything but ‘good design’.

Parking provision

Other flatted developments around the town centre with one recent exception have not included parking spaces. The London Plan policy 6.1 encourages development which reduces car borne travel, and the forthcoming revision is seeking further measures to discourage car usage. This proposal will increase car use. The immediate locality is very well served with facilities and with extensive rail and bus transport, so there is no need for parking provision. Traffic around High Barnet is an immense problem and every possible measure should be pursued to minimise the number of vehicles using our streets. Salisbury Rd is one location where traffic congestion is a problem. The proposal to include parking provision within this development should be rejected.

The community facility

There is no indication in the proposal that Barnet Old Peoples Welfare will reoccupy the site. If they do not, then this raises the question of who will be responsible for managing the facility. We have doubts whether there is sufficient demand for a mixed-use community facility in a town where we have six such venues already. We would like to see a viability assessment of the potential use and a clear understanding of how it would be managed. Though this is not strictly a planning consideration, a lot is made of the community facility in the planning application and so there should be a clear indication that it has been properly thought through.

Gordon Massey
Barnet Residents Association

December 2017