Sunday, 03 January 2016 10:49

What future for café gardens?

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The Spires’ upgrade could result in the loss of the Coffee Bean’s garden seating area The Spires’ upgrade could result in the loss of the Coffee Bean’s garden seating area
A guarded welcome has been given by the Barnet Society to plans for a £7 million upgrade for the Spires shopping centre. Barnet Council is to be asked to give planning permission for a two-storey fashion store and three new restaurants.

Hunter Real Estate, who manage the centre on behalf of a Canadian pension fund, have been told by the Society that a greater design effort is needed because the current proposals do not meet the high standard achieved by the reconstruction of the Spires’ High Street frontage.

“Barnet does not want a bland precinct like so many others across the country,” says Robin Bishop, chair of the Society’s planning and environment group.

“In design terms the proposals would be a step backwards, both from the high standard of the recent reconstruction of the High Street entrance, and the existing quirky, but characterful courtyards.”

Among the existing tenants of the Spires, there is considerable concern about Hunter’s proposals for new landscaping and tree planting in the two courtyards.

Cafes in the Spires, including the Coffee Bean, fear they might lose their garden seating areas.

The Coffee Bean’s proprietors say they were shocked and dismayed to find that their café is to lose its garden seating area. “No one consulted us before this went public.

The garden is essential to our business and we know that in the spring and summer local residents love to sit out in the sunshine to enjoy a coffee or a snack.”

In a statement welcoming Hunter’s announcement of an upgrade for the Spires, Mr Bishop says the Society supports the proposed mix of a 24,000-square-foot new fashion store and three new restaurants, and hopes it will help revive trade in the Spires and High Street shops.

But he thinks it is a pity the opportunity wasn’t taken either to produce a master-plan for the whole site, including the service yard and adjoining access area, or to clarify the future of the market and additional car park.

Any intention to remove the bandstand would be opposed by the Society, and a better use of the surrounding paved area would be as a possible new site for the market.

The Society considers the façade for the new fashion store, replacing four shop units, is “an architectural mess”. A more restrained palette of materials and colour would be preferable, along with greater simplicity and elegance.

“Removing all the courtyard canopies would be a mistake. Because of them, people like using the Spires in inclement weather.

“The existing courtyard landscaping is a successful feature of the Spires. Their trees, surfaces and pavement furniture create semi-enclosed nooks and bays for people to chat and snack and children to play without getting in the way.

Removing all the courtyard canopies would be a mistake

“Unifying the stone of the paving of the main circulation route would be welcome, but stripping out every other feature in favour of half a dozen trees in planters is unnecessary and would deprive the courtyards of their character.

“We favour retaining the existing trees, but if they have to be replaced the planters must provide comfortable seating.”

Hunter revealed their plans at a three-day exhibition in the Spires last month. Forms requesting public reaction to the development proposals had to be returned by 20 December.

The intention is to apply for planning permission in mid to late January, and if approval is obtained construction work would begin in the spring. The three new restaurants, to be built in the second courtyard, nearer to

Waitrose, should be finished by the end of 2016, and the new fashion store in the first courtyard should be ready to open by the summer of 2017.

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