Councillors, residents, and the Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers were united in their criticism of what they said would be a horrendous, high-rise monstrosity totally out of keeping with the village-like atmosphere of the locality.
Planning committee chairman, Councillor Shimon Ryde, said he would appeal to the Mayor of London to respect the voice of the people of New Barnet rather than try to force through the development.
There were over 1,000 objections to the scheme and in presenting a solid wall of opposition, councillors overturned the advice of the council’s planning department which had supported the application to construct blocks containing a total of 652 flats, instead of the original scheme for 371 flats that was approved in 2017.
A joint application by Fairview New Homes and One Housing Group was described by council planners as being of a “consistently high-quality appearance”.
Construction of 14 new buildings, with one block ten storeys high, was considered appropriate as “extensive landscaping” would integrate the scheme with the nearby Victoria park.
Mark Jackson, Fairview’s director of planning, told the committee that the previous proposal for only 371 flats was no longer viable or deliverable, partly due to the exceptional cost of decontaminating the former gas works site.
A higher density than previously agreed would allow a considerable uplift in the proportion of affordable housing, up to 35 per cent, of which 60 per cent would be affordable rent and the remainder shared ownership.
Widespread opposition to the scheme – and anger at the way the plans agreed in 2017 had been cast aside by Fairview – was evident once the meeting was opened up to objectors.
Nick Hufton, a New Barnet resident, and architect argued that the Fairview scheme – to be known as the Victoria Quarter – represented a massive contravention of the council’s rules on high density whereas the previous plan for 371 flats had been agreed after community involvement.
He criticised the development for the way that almost all the affordable homes would be next to the main railway line and would experience maximum train noise. There was a raft of concerns over fire safety, especially the PVC windows and length of corridors leading to staircases.
In attempting to almost double the number of flats the developers were, in the view of East Barnet councillor Felix Byers, guilty of a “moral betrayal” of all the work done by residents in agreeing the 2017 scheme.
High-rise blocks including one of ten storeys were an “affront” to the local street scene of Edwardian houses. “We need family homes, not high-rise blocks of one and two-bedroom flats.”
In her contribution, Theresa Villiers recalled how residents had objected to an earlier proposal for a supermarket on the gas works site and how they had worked with developers and planners to work out an acceptable compromise and approval of the original scheme for 371 homes.
“That approval was the culmination of 10 years’ local debate. This high-rise development would overturn a decade of community involvement and it would change New Barnet irrevocably, for ever.
“It would loom over the Vitoria Park recreation ground and open the way to future city-style development. Applications will flood in for tall, high-rise buildings in the neighbourhood.”
In closing the debate, which was conducted on line (2.9.2020), Councillor Ryde said the suburban nature of the site tipped the balance against approval.
When he took the vote, the committee was unanimous with all 11 members agreeing to refuse to accept the planning department’s recommendation.
Councillor Ryde said the next step was to pull together the grounds for objecting to the application which he thought would include councillors’ concerns over height and density and that over development on this scale was a departure from the local plan and contrary to the council’s planning policy.
A formal vote on the application is to be taken at a later meeting, but Councillor Ryde acknowledged that the future of the proposed development would now be considered by the Greater London Authority; Barnet was saying that the Mayor of London “should listen to local voices”.
Robin Bishop, chair of the Barnet Society, welcomed the committee’s decision declaring the resounding nature of the result could not be clearer: Victoria Overdevelopers 0, New Barnet United 11.
“This is a vindication of efforts by local residents and especially the New Barnet Community Association, which has campaigned for 12 years for a development appropriate to local needs and neighbourhood character.
“However, the scheme will go to the Greater London Authority for a final decision, and because its high density and housing mix is broadly in line with the Mayor of London’s draft London Plan, it may yet be approved.”