But Barnet residents have only a matter of days to give their reaction. Feedback was originally required by Monday 17 February but after local protests the deadline has now been extended until Wednesday 26 February.
Since we published our first story on the new design last Friday (14.2.2014) we have had a record number of responses on the website – 36 comments and still counting.
The Barnet Society, the Barnet Residents Association and other local groups hope to get answers to some of the points raised by local residents on Monday 24 February when the Barnet Town Team meets Charlotte Dunlop, an asset manager for the William Pears Group, who is responsible for the Spires.
The plans show that in place of the existing High Street frontage, which incorporates the original stone and brickwork of the twin spires, there would be a new open entrance offering a lane of shops leading straight off the High Street.
Images of the two designs and an explanation by the architectural practice of Leslie Jones are on display in the window of one of the empty units midway between Waitrose and WH Smith.
No explanation is given as to why the opportunity to comment is so limited. But the display says that once feedback has been received, the architects will be able to finalise a planning application to Barnet Council which will be submitted towards the end of February.
If planning permission is obtained the owners of the Spires, the William Pears Group, hope to start work towards the summer and have the new shopping centre entrance ready for 2015.
The display explains that the start of the Spires upgrade was the improvement and reopening of Barnet Market. Long term the aim is to create new and improved retail units “which will allow existing shops to stay in Barnet while attracting new retailers and restaurants”.
The first phase in redeveloping the centre itself is a plan to “re-energise the entrance, opening it up so that it feels more like a street rather than an enclosed and uninviting shopping centre”. The architects believe the two options for redeveloping the entrance, with or without retention of the twin spires, would present “a high-quality transition from the traditional high street to a modern shopping centre environment”.
Option 1 – spires retained: “Existing spires will be cleaned and renovated and set against a sympathetic background of natural stone cladding and elegantly proportioned, simple windows.”
This proposal would involve removal of the existing rotunda at the entrance to create “a strong visual connection between the Spires and the High Street.” The high-quality frontage would include a new cafe/bar/restaurant on the site of what was once WH Smith.
Option 2 – removes existing spires: The architects consider the existing spires may be seen “as incongruous sited as they are in a retail shop front”. In place of the spires there would be “an exciting contemporary facade clad in brass shingles with elegantly proportioned simple openings creating a dramatic modern building which remains sensitive to the historic context of the High Street”.
The second option would, in the view of Leslie Jones, increase the “visibility of the entrance and act as a catalyst for the regeneration of the area”. Removal of the rotunda at the entrance, together with the “stepped massing of the facade”, would again create a strong visual connection between the Spires and the High Street".
A year ago, after the Spires was purchased by the William Pears Group, there were high hopes of rapid progress in giving the shopping centre a much-needed makeover.
Charlotte Dunlop told the annual meeting of Barnet Residents Association in July last year that her priority was to create a more “enticing” entrance from the High Street in order to attract more shoppers.
Radical improvements would be needed to both the layout and the configuration of the various shop units because she considered the centre “really is dying” and needed to be upgraded.
the centre “really is dying” and needed to be upgraded
Except for the much-welcomed and much-appreciated resurfacing of the site of Barnet Market – and the attraction of new tenants – the Barnet Society, like other local groups, has been disappointed at the slow progress in redeveloping the Spires.
Given the rate of shop closures along the high streets of many London suburbs, local residents will welcome the promise of new investment in the Spires by the Pears Group.
Publication at long last of the architect’s outline plans is to be welcomed but the lack of advance warning and a tight deadline for comments on the two proposed options is hardly what the Barnet Society expected.
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