The Spires shopping centre: will the twin spires have to go?

Written by  Friday, 05 July 2013 14:08
The Spires The Spires
The Spires' new owner wants to create a more 'enticing' entrance from the High Street that would attract more shoppers - and that may include the removal of the twin spires.

The William Pears Group believes that radical improvements would be needed to the layout and the configuration of the various shop units because the centre “really is dying”.

Charlotte Dunlop, Pears’ asset manager for the Spires, told the annual meeting of Barnet Residents Association (2.7.2013) that one idea suggested by Barnet Council’s planning department was the possible demolition of the two spires of the original Barnet Methodist Church, which were incorporated into the structure and gave the centre its name.

Pears’ management team had identified a badly presented entrance from the High Street as one of the Spires’ greatest handicaps. “Coming from the tube station, walking up the High Street, you see the Spires but don’t say, ‘Here is a shopping centre’.  It is easy to walk past the entrance and not realise there are shops behind the Spires,” said Ms Dunlop.

She outlined a series of initiatives to upgrade the centre: plans were being drawn up to expand the Waitrose supermarket, either sideways into the service road or upwards; bigger shops units were needed and possible new tenants such as H&M were being approached; moves were also under way to encourage a late-night economy in the Spires with more restaurants because of High Barnet’s “lack of casual family dining”.

With Barnet planning department, you take one step forward and five back”

As a first step, draft plans had already been presented to the council to show how the entrance could be opened up to the High Street, but Ms Dunlop admitted that they had not been well received.

“The initial response of the planning officers was ‘You must be joking.’ Our aim is to try to create the impression of an appealing side street with shops either side.  But they said they had never seen anything so terrible.”

“One suggestion of the planning department was to get rid of the twin spires.  They are not protected or listed which is why the planning officer asked us to consider taking them down”.

New plans are now being drawn up and the Pears group intends to work as closely as possible with the local community. “If the local reaction is 100 per cent against the two spires coming down, that the residents say they will fight this every step of the way, there would not be much point in us trying to do this.

What we are thinking of is an entrance in keeping with the character of the High Street.  It’s not going to be a Westfield shopping centre, not some modern monstrosity.

The twin spiresThe twin spiresAt present the Spires is not screaming retail as much as it should from the High Street.

We want to open up the entrance so that you can see the shops, improve the surfaces with less slippery tiles, and create the impression of a passageway, more like a lane of shops off the High Street ending with the library.

Perhaps a food operator with seating on to the High Street might encourage people to visit the centre."


“With Barnet planning department you take one step forward and five back, so for William Pears to achieve what we want, we need to get community support and we will do a proper presentation once we have something concrete to say.

We will now put together some drawings and once we have some drawings and pictures we will consult. Obviously the rebranding of the Spires will be important. The shopping centre really is dying so there is a lot of urgency.”

Ms Dunlop said one of the key complaints of the Spires’ existing tenants was the new charging structure in the car park, which is operated by Legion Parking. Charges had been increased against the wishes of the Pears group but Legion was a tenant and had a rent to pay.

“We are aware of the problems over parking and we are trying to find a solution. For example we would like to see the restoration of the twenty disabled parking spaces.” 

She opened her presentation by explaining why William Pears, a north London property group which goes back three generations, had decided to purchase the Spires. 

“For a long time the centre had suffered from a lack of interest by the previous owners and we saw it as a unique opportunity.  There had been a lack of investment and shop leases were being let go.  But in the weaknesses we see strengths. We see that in the surrounding towns people need a retail centre and are perhaps not getting what they need on their doorstep."

"So we have an opportunity and our chairman [Mark Pears] lives in Totteridge so it is not far to go if it all goes wrong!”

Should the twin spires be demolished to make way for a more imposing entrance to the Spires shopping centre?  Would it help revive the Spires complex?  What do you think?

Please comment below so that Barnet Society can test local opinion.

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17 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 05 July 2013 16:00 posted by James Broadgate

    The twins spires are an entrenched part of Barnet High Street.
    How can the removal of these benefit a redesigned entrance?
    It just doesn't make any sense!

  • Comment Link Friday, 05 July 2013 16:08 posted by Anne-Marie Sommes

    I think the issue with the Spires is lack of real shops that people want to shop in. Too many phone shops, estate agencies and opticians on the high street already.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 07 July 2013 23:32 posted by Anne Casson

    I think it's definitely worth exploring removing the spires. As a fairly recent arrival I find them bizarre as a shopping centre entrance and would be interested in other ideas that would improve the retail experience and enhance the setting and high street.

    The key is sensitivity ... Which should increase footfall, if this report from English Heritage is to be believed:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/10165196/History-lifts-high-streets-says-English-Heritage.html

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 09 July 2013 14:25 posted by A. Howells

    As a former treasurer of the Methodist Scout Group I have many happy memories of the church and buildings of which only the two spires remain. I shall be sad to see them go BUT this is in the interests of reviving Barnet as an attractive place to shop and halt the further decline of the High St. The two Spires themselves have sentimental associations but no architectural merit . I can quite understand why the new owners want them to be replaced by a more inviting entrance. On this occasion It would be better for God to give way to Mammon.

  • Comment Link Friday, 12 July 2013 13:22 posted by Nat Dawbarn

    Let's see the proposals. The Spires add texture to the west side of the High of the Street and could be an inviting gateway to a lane leading to the library. They're not indispensible, but there's not much character left in the High Street and losing such a visible landmark could be fatal. It's those small details that make all the difference to local character and give a town centre a bit of individuality.

    The real problem is the structure between them. Take that away and people will see what's beyond. A glass canopy rather than a solid roof, separate from the structures either side, would help create a real street/lane (not just the illusion of one) and integrate the shopping centre and the High Street into a single space. Better still, open it up to the elements.

    If the William Pears Group want to really spoil us, they could alow 24 hour public access to cement the lane's status as a genuine thoroughfare at the centre of our town. A restaurant or bar might help. And a name: how about Spires Lane?

  • Comment Link Sunday, 21 July 2013 08:36 posted by Stuart fraser

    I don't believe the twin spires are the problem and it is worrying if this is being sited as a key issue . Architecturally the intervention between the spires is poor however it is not over powering. The demolition of the spires for a complete new frontage runs the risk of being out of context and of huge concern that the town get left with a new eye sore that is so off the mark of being the real issue. Get a decent anchor tenant and a better mix of shops with market and cafe activity within to improve it.

  • Comment Link Monday, 05 August 2013 11:47 posted by Caroline ONeill

    I agree with the above comment that people probably feel more let down with the shops available to them currently at The Spires. This certainly needs to be looked at and addressed.
    In addition, the upstairs section of The Spires would really benefit as a local gym or exercise space - as this type of facilitiy is seriously lacking in the High Barnet area.
    I believe the exercise equipment from the last business is still located there, just collecting dust, so it would be great to see this come to life again!!!

  • Comment Link Friday, 16 August 2013 11:55 posted by Andy Clark

    I think that the area is crying out for a better quality & mix of retail tenants in the spires.
    The current footprint of the centre clearly doesn't attract aspirational retailers to the centre.
    So, I'm in favour of seriously looking at plans to improve the centre, and hopefully increasing the footfall & buzz of the High St.

  • Comment Link Monday, 28 October 2013 20:07 posted by William Barley

    The frontage of the Spires shopping centre onto the high street is one of the worst examples of building design ever to be inflicted on a town. The new looks cheap and nasty, and has no relationship with the old. That it obtained planning consent is shaming for the Council. On a more positive note, it shouldn't be too hard to improve it.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 28 November 2013 12:49 posted by s Patel

    I think all the retail premises should be charity shops. I love the number of charity shops we have who do not pay any business rates, free stock and free employee.

    They are flourishing in recession. Nothing can be better than the charities.

    The other point is the charities will drive out any retail tenants as the retail tenants are expected to pay business rates.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 13 February 2014 21:35 posted by Tim Webster

    Leaving the two spires from the former church standing when the center was built was a pointless and somewhat silly gimmick. The new owners are right: the entrance is drab, uninviting and needs opening-up.

    Also, those tiles - so slippery!

  • Comment Link Saturday, 15 February 2014 13:59 posted by Laurie Little

    While I recognise the need for improvements and to attempt to entice new business into the Spires and the high Street I would be totally opposed to the demolition of the twin Spires which are a Barnet High Street landmark. I have looked at the two options proposed and the retention of the Spires is the only one that could possibly fit the current architecture in the High Street. Option 2 the replacement of the Spires with large brass covered boxes is far too modern. How they can claim that the diagonal markings on eh brass reflects the chequer board motif of the Church is unbelievable. Option 1 is the only option.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 15 February 2014 18:26 posted by Freddy Kater

    There is need for renovation but the proposed architectural development is hideous. Removing the iconic spires makes no sense, unless the new shopping centre will be called EX SPIRES.

    Do we really need more coffee bars and restaurants??

  • Comment Link Saturday, 15 February 2014 20:56 posted by Anon

    Having looked at the two designs proposed, option 1 would seem the right way forward. Its in keeping with the high streets character and the idea of opening the entrance would allow people to actually see that it is a shopping centre and entice them to wonder in. The natural stone looks more inviting and gives it a nice refresh compared to the brass look of option 2, which looks unappealing. If it is that option 2 is more popular you may want to reconsider the color scheme.

    There are enough charity shops on the high street. Variety of restaurants would be great as i work on the high street, although clothes/electrical and departments stores are more important.

  • Comment Link Monday, 17 February 2014 18:25 posted by M Williams

    High Barnet has lost quite a number of interesting architectural features in the 40+ years I have lived here. Let us not carry on further down the bland route. The Spires was built on the agreement that the spires of the original church were left intact. This makes for an interesting and eye catching entrance. The street corner shop to the left looked a lot more classy when in natural wood, so some work is needed to make the entrance more 'upmarket', in which I think the stone spires play a part. I believe something needs to be done at the car park end (apart from reducing the price) to encourage customers through the Spires at a time when they may have only intended to do a supermarket shop. The High Street Victoria Bakery had little choice but to open a shop at this end of the Spires for that reason. So worry more about these potential customers being encouraged through to the High Street rather than from the High Street. If the new owners think that non-maintenance of the two spires will create an excuse for demolition, this would definitely alienate residents - who are naturally potential customers, as well as those arriving by tube. That is another point. Arrive by tube and challenge your fitness to get to the high point of the bus stop, or - even more of an uphill ordeal - walk to the High Street! Where is the extremely long awaited hopper bus, especially now there has been expensive invalid access installed at the station? What does the wheelchair user do on arrival - go straight back on the tube or ring for a cab? Perhaps the Spires owners should consider running a hopper bus from the tube station? That would really please a great deal of people. Potential shoppers are not going to visit somewhere if it is an exhausting experience.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 25 February 2014 13:42 posted by Sally Gray

    I have lived in Barnet all my life and seen the town slowly deteriorate. The new frontage for the spires is out of keeping with the area and will only look good if the whole of the High Street is demolished and rebuilt with modern concrete and glass.
    The only thing wrong with The Spires and the rest of the High Street is the lack of decent and useful retail outlets. The only useful shops in the area are Waitrose, Savers, Robert Dyas, The pharmacy and occasionally the toy shop. The cafes and restaurants are all similar and so can't be visited too often, because they become boring. Maybe more seats, a few flower tubs and more tlc of the whole area would make it more attractive. This could be sponsored by the shop owners so not put extra cost on the Council and would be worth their while if it increased the footfall. It should be a shopping centre for local people it can never be large enough to attract people from outside the area. Better parking for the buses, utilising the wasted space behind Waitrose and the market would be a huge improvement and would relieve the congestion along that very narrow road.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 13 July 2014 17:14 posted by karl

    Anyone should know heritage is everything, especially Architectural planners and Councillors. Barnet should never allow its own history to be wiped away as if it is surplus. Astonishing. How about investing in original retail ideas and incentives for new businesses?

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