Thursday, 8 October 2020

Caritas Christi Urget Nos: the Daughters of Charity, and another chapter in the unwritten history of St Vincent's, Mill Hill

St Jeanne Antide Thouret, Daughter of Charity 

Of the thousand or so posts published on this website, over the last ten years, still the most frequently re-visited, perhaps rather surprisingly, are those I have written on the subject of the abusive culture in the schools and institutions run by the Daughters of Charity: including the primary school which I attended as a child, and the separate Orphanage which lay behind the school, St Vincents, on the Ridgeway, in Mill Hill.

These posts continue to be read, on a daily basis, and I often receive comments from some of those who attended such institutions:  whether schools, or, more usually, the residential homes. Some of these I do not publish, either because they are too personal, too distressing - or for legal reasons. 

'Annie', * a fragile, vulnerable survivor of one of these institutions contacted me last year, and spent many hours on the phone, and then in person, slowly disclosing the experiences of her life as a young teenager at Mill Hill: a tale of psychological abuse and physical punishment - the total absence of loving care. She had tried to report what had happened to her to the police, on her own, without support. They had dismissed her account. 

* All names in this post have been changed.

Last year 'Phil', another former victim of alleged abuse: physical, psychological and sexual, suffered while in the 'care' of the Daughters of Charity in the 1960s, wrote to me with details of the truly terrible experiences that he and his brothers suffered, at two different homes run by the Order, one of them Mill Hill.

His account was profoundly shocking, reporting years of appalling treatment, physical and emotional abuse - and predatory sexual behaviour, including rape. I urged him to consider submitting evidence to IICSA, the Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. He has now done so. As I understand it, police have also been informed.

I have read his submission, and it was detailed, graphic, and unsparing: impossible to read without feeling the intensity of pain created by such a perverse and sustained betrayal of childhood, innocence - and trust. 

One of his brothers took his own life, in later years. 

Such is the unbearable legacy of abuse for some victims: one that too often proves impossible to leave behind. Many others are unable to function as adults, burdened with depression, anxiety and intrusive memories of the past: unable to form lasting, healthy adult relationships, unsurprisingly, after grossly abusive, sexualised childhoods, with no safeguarding, no loving care, and no family support. 

That any child should be subjected to such treatment is insupportable. That this cruelty was perpetrated in the name of God, and the Church, is simply, and literally, beyond belief. 

The Daughters of Charity were founded in France, in the 1630s, by Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac when they began their work caring for the sick, and the poor, for those abandoned on the streets: observing their Christian faith in practical help for those in need. 

The first mission to England arrived in 1847, invited by a wealthy Catholic cotton merchant to work in the slum conditions in Manchester and Salford that had so appalled Engels in his time there, less than five years earlier. 

The order continued to expand across the world, and and in the UK began to devote itself to education, and the care of children. St Vincent's School for Boys (girls were admitted later) was opened at Mill Hill, in 1887, followed by a primary school. By the 1960s and 1970s, the work the Order undertook was increasingly becoming the statutory responsibility of the social care system, and the Order's residential homes, including the home in Mill Hill, were closed. Now their charitable work continues in social projects, for vulnerable and homeless people.

Somewhere, sometime, during the twentieth century, the vision of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac was entirely lost, and generations of children left in the care of the Daughters of Charity were subjected to a merciless regime that not only enabled abuse and neglect, but allowed the perpetrators to evade any sanction for their behaviour. 

That some of the victims of such failure in safeguarding have struggled for their voices to be heard, and their grievances to be addressed, is unforgivable: only now is there any formalised process of investigation by the government into this dark history - and the Church itself appears unable still to address the enormity of the scale of this problem. 

St Vincent de Paul

I have noted recently further visits by the 'Holy See, Vatican City' to the posts about the Daughters of Charity, and I imagine that there is some concern, at the highest level, about such reports continuing to appear.

It would be good to think that this was a mark of concern about the traumatised children who passed through these institutions: I suspect, however, that there is a concerted effort in hand to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church from the impact of such accounts - and perhaps defend the Order from compensation claims.

Earlier this week a damning report was published by IICSA, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, in regard to investigations into the abuse of children by those associated with the Church of England. 

Amongst its findings, the following observation is made:

Faith organisations such as the Anglican church are marked out by their explicit moral purpose, in teaching right from wrong. In the context of child sexual abuse, the church’s neglect of the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of children and young people in favour of protecting its reputation was in conflict with its mission of love and care for the innocent and the vulnerable.

This statement, in part, in its identification of the failure of religious bodies to live up to the aspirations of their own mission and core values, echoes the comment made by Lady Smith, in 2018, in findings  which identified abuse at Scottish institutions run by the Catholic Order of the Daughters of Charity, as part of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry

(In 2018, a number of people were arrested and charged by Police Scotland in relation to the alleged abuses at one of these institutions, Smyllum Park).

Criticising the regime at such 'homes', Lady Smith commented:

To children, ‘home’ should mean a safe place where they know they will find unconditional loving care provided by adults they can trust; a place they will find light whenever life outside has grown dark; a place which does not fill them with fear; a place where they will not suffer abuse.

"The provision, by the Order, of homes for the residential care of children in a way which routinely and consistently met that description would have been in keeping with their mission and with Christ’s teaching. Sadly, I have, in the light of the evidence, concluded that that did not happen. 

The Order's motto is 'Caritas Christi Urget Nos'- which means 'The charity of Christ crucified urges us', or 'the love of Christ compels us'.

It is clear, however, that the vision of 'charity' envisaged in the seventeenth century by founders St Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac was betrayed, in the most profound way, in too many of the institutions run by their followers in more recent times.

Louise de Marillac

The terms of the Scottish Inquiry are broader than IICSA, in that they include allegations of all forms of abuse, not just of a sexual nature. In England and Wales, it seems, only sexual abuse is now, belatedly, being taken seriously and the impact of the full scope of damage caused by other failures in care is not measured by this Inquiry, which is regrettable. One might hope that the Catholic Church would itself instigate an Inquiry into the shameful history of many of the schools and care homes - but there is no evidence they have any interest in taking responsibility for this.

Last November, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster Diocese, and the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, gave evidence to IICSA for the second time, and declared himself to be 'shocked to the core' by child sexual abuse involving members of the clergy, but stated he was 'still learning' about the issue. It seems that the idea that he should see things from the perspective of the victim or survivor had only just occurred to him, after a meeting at the Vatican with other Bishops. Understanding, for Cardinals, it seems, must only arrive via official channels, or in a moment of belated clarity, like a sacrament of faith.

'Annie' had written last year to Cardinal Nichols to ask him to instigate some sort of investigation into homes run by the Daughters of Charity. He did not reply.

The Catholic Church would no doubt, in their defence, point to the good work that has been done by the Order, and others like it, without understanding that until the unspoken legacy of abuse is recognised, and some sort of restitution made, lack of trust in the Church, as it has in Ireland, will fatally compromise what is left of its claim to serve any community in the name of God, or in the spirit of Christian values.

'Giovanni', an elderly man formerly resident in the Mill Hill Orphanage, who has lived abroad for many years, and no longer speaks English fluently, has given permission for his story to be published here, translated by a friend who has encouraged him to talk to her about his childhood. Although he was happy to use his own name, I have changed this and some other details in order to protect his identity, and shortened his account. 

In its way, it represents an example of the culture of abuse, in its broadest sense,  that these children were encouraged to accept as their lot: even without the sexual element, which in itself was only one terrible symptom of a wider system of control: the use of continual punishment and deprivation, of cruelty and humiliation, in order to create total submission to the authority of the Church.

The former Orphanage at St Vincent's, Mill Hill, now a luxury housing development.

"I was born in Italy in 1938. My brother Carlo was a few years my senior. When I was two my dad worked on the ships in the dockyard. One day a workmate asked him whether they could exchange shifts. My dad obliged. An accident happened on that shift, something fell down from a mast. My dad was killed. At that point my mother was pregnant with my younger brother Antonio. Soon Antonio was born, and my mum now had three boys to look after, all on her own. She struggled to make ends meet, with three mouths to feed.

A couple of years passed. Our destitution was such that mum had no choice but to leave one of us at an orphanage. The lot fell on me, since Carlo was old enough to look after baby Antonio, but two brothers would be too much for him. I was left in an orphanage. At the end of the war my mother met an English soldier, and soon got pregnant. She had no choice but to marry him and move to England. She took me out of the orphanage in Italy, to go with her to England together with my brothers, and baby Peter soon on his way. When we arrived in London, I remember there was no one to receive us, which was quite disheartening, and my mum did not speak a word of English. We had to sleep in a cheerless, dismal place, a kind of an old people’s home, on the first night.

My stepfather had neither the wish nor the means to keep his wife’s three Italian boys in his flat. Carlo was old enough to soon find work and spread his wings, but Antonio and I had to be placed elsewhere. My mum left me and Antonio at St Vincent Residential School for boys in Mill Hill when I was in my ninth year and Antonio in his seventh. This was in 1947. Antonio was placed in a ward for younger children, whereas I went with the older kids. The outdoor playground of our separate wards was divided by a fence, so from now on we could only speak to each other when outside, and across the fence. We only knew Italian and I recall being beaten by the other boys in the beginning, because I was different.

I was a quick learner. I was lucky because I had Sister R who seemed to take a liking to me and notice my efforts. I wanted so much to prove that I was worth being loved, so I tried very hard to excel at everything they asked us to do. Soon I became an altar boy. I was good at reciting Latin because of my Italian background. I was good at singing. I was given the responsibility of keeping the classroom neat and tidy. I polished the brass door handles and kept track of three dormitories. There were ten children in each of these. I was set to make sure it was quiet at the requested hour before going to sleep. I was responsible for keeping the rooms clean. I attached pieces of cloths to my knees and hands and pushed myself under the beds to sweep the floors. If any of the kids were stirring, they got a spanking from the nuns. Eventually I took that job myself. By and by I became quite popular, because I was good at football, good at cricket and good at school.

Miss Q kept night watch in the dormitories. She loathed us. She made sure it was all quiet during the night. "Who is that coughing?" "Stop coughing!" I remember I was sick and coughing, I had chronic trouble with my bronchi, and I was punished with a beating on my bare backside because I was coughing. Often, someone had done something wrong, and no one dared to come forward and admit it. We were punished collectively and told to stand on our knees with our arms raised behind our heads. This could last for 10-15 minutes, before we were released and allowed to eat.

I often sang during mass, and eager as I was, I also sang along with the priest when he was supposed to sing alone. I remember one such incident. After mass Mr P, the caretaker, came over and asked me to go and see Sister W in her office. A parcel had arrived for me, he said. Full of joy and astonishment I rushed to the office to collect it. "Come closer," Sister W demanded. "You don't sing when the priest sings". Then she handed me two mighty blows on each cheek for this serious offence. I was utterly baffled and deeply humiliated, since I had not the faintest idea I had done something wrong in the first place.

When it was Solemn Mass, some of the boys carried candles, and I was the thurifer, leading the procession, swinging a thurible with incense alongside another altar boy. When the priest was to turn wine into the blood of Christ, sometimes my role was to assist him. It happened once that I cheated a bit and made sure to spill a little on my hand so I could taste some too. After mass I was scolded by the priest and beaten about the ears: you don’t soak your fingers in wine!

We got up early in the morning and the mass was before breakfast. I remember during a morning rehearsal, Sister R was displeased because the altar boys’ responses to the priest had been faulty. If you can’t do better than this, you will not be allowed to serve at Solemn Mass. I was the best in Latin. I mumbled smugly among the other boys, "phhh I don't care”. Who said that?, A shouted. It wasn't that hard to see, because I was red as a beetroot. Forward with your hands, strike with the ruler. On your knees the rest of the rehearsal. Sister R was furious with me. You will not be allowed to be an altar boy at Easter Vigil until you apologise for your behaviour. I refused. From then on, Sister R gave me a cold shoulder and took no notice of me.

I was broken-hearted. During the breaks I stood there peeking at Sister R, pining for her attention, but she ignored me. This lasted for a long time. Closer to Easter I burst out in tears and apologised. Sister R accepted. She put me on her lap and I cried. No one else had taken over my role for Easter Mass, and I knew they needed me for this task since I performed it so well. She told me I could go on with it, now that I had apologised. Michael was a ginger haired Irish boy. When he saw me sitting on Sister R's  lap, he started to tease me. I leapt at him and wanted to kill him, and someone had to come and separate us.

I remember one more episode; there was a boy who was the biggest and strongest of all, and he was going to beat me up. But Antonio my brother was now on the same side of the playground. A boy was about to attack me, ready with his fist. But what happens? By surprise, Antonio runs up and gives him one on the nose. The boy was put out of play, and I had been rescued by my little brother.

Sundays when we played outside, the nuns would ring a big bell if they had a message for one of us. Johnny, your mum has come! Every time the bell rang, Antonio and I hoped that our mum was coming to see us. We hardly ever had visitors, though. Except for my elder brother Carlo. Once he came and brought me a belt, and I was overjoyed.

My mother now had two children with her English husband, so I don’t think she had time to see us as often as she wanted to. Sometimes we would go home for holidays. We had a dreadful time, because our stepfather, Mr G, was a tyrant. We Italian boys had to stay in a room upstairs when he was home, because he didn’t want to see us, nor hear us. I remember he put our little half-brother Peter in a drawer and closed it, so that the little boy had to be locked up there in the dark for a long time. He was savage to my mum too. She was too scared to oppose his cruel ways. My mum got ill and died when I was 15, and I was glad for her, because she had such a dreadful life with that tyrant. Their two children went into charge of the social services when mum died, I think they were put in foster homes.

At the orphanage we got little food and we were often hungry after meals. I complained to the caretaker Mr P and asked him why we couldn't get more to eat. He said it was how it was supposed to be. None of us were supposed to eat until we were full. Although he tried to say it in a joking way to make me feel better, I still could not understand it.

Mr B owned the farm next door. He kept cows. He delivered milk to the orphanage. Often the milk was off because it was kept in room temperature. I hated tapioca pudding and couldn't make myself eat it. Mr B and Mr P would hold me, while Miss Q forced my mouth open and spooned the pudding into my mouth. I threw up, and got punished for that, too. We were forced to eat everything they served us.

I believe my instinct drove me to defy all the ill treatment I received. I was toughened. I was going to show them that I would not let them break my spirit, I would show them I was the best, even if I was a foreigner. So I got up, brushed it off, and made every effort to do my best, no matter what."

It is interesting, in a grim way, to note from this account, and others, that some of the characteristic details of 'discipline' handed out in the Orphanage post war were still in place when I went to the primary school years later, just as they recur in the Scottish Inquiry's investigation into the homes like Smyllum: the use of rulers to hit children; the arms above the head punishment; the regular humiliation of frightened children who wet themselves; being physically forced to eat vile food - including tapioca - leave nothing at all, or be punished, and made to drink warm milk that had gone off. Any food that was left over in the school kitchen would be taken to feed the pigs on the farm, run by an Irish farmer, tenant of the nuns, whose brood of red headed sons attended the school. I used to feel a sense of comradeship with the pigs, forced to eat such inedible slop. 

But however awful the conditions for us at the school, we could go home at night. There was no one to see what happened in the Orphanage that lay behind us, but which was as separate and alien as a foreign country: a place of mystery, that no one mentioned, the children rarely seen. They were meant to be unseen.

The waxen effigy and relics of St Vincent de Paul. The chapel at St Vincent's had a similarly terrifying glass tomb, encasing the figure of a child, meant to be one of the 'Holy Innocents'. 

Giovanni's friend continued the story, after he left Mill Hill: sent to a home in Essex then run by the Christian Brothers, but which had for many years been one of the Daughters of Charity's institutions. He believed that one of the Brothers regularly abused one of the boys in his dormitory, who would spend time each night in the screened off area where he slept.

At Mill Hill, 'Giovanni' learned quickly that the way to survive a childhood in the care of the Daughters of Charity was to comply with the regulations, and seek to please the one nun who seemed to care about his welfare, albeit in a way that meant failure to obey led to the instant withdrawal of her favour. Like most of the other children, he knew no other sort of home or family life, and accepted as the norm conditions which to us seem only cruel, and uncaring. 

'Phil' and his brothers all left the UK, after their years in care. But they could not leave behind the years of trauma, or the damage that it had done. Time is not a great healer, in these circumstances: in later life such memories often resurface, as vivid and destructive as before. At least now, with their accounts accepted as evidence in the course of the IICSA inquiry, there is a chance of some belated justice for victims, and some sort of restitution. 

I hope so, anyway.

Caritas Christi Urget Nos

Anyone who wishes to contact the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, perhaps to make their own submission of evidence,  may do so here:

Link to support services here:

Monday, 7 September 2020

Too Long at the Fair: Victoria Park, and Barnet Tories, all on board the Ghost Train

All the fun of the fair, in Broken Barnet, in the year of Covid.

Update no 2. - Thursday, please scroll down to the bottom.

Update no 1. with a response from Barnet's Chief Executive, below - and my reply to him.

Victoria Park, in Finchley, has often served as a useful metaphor for the wider state of things here in Broken Barnet.

A park created by local Victorian philanthropists, named for the elderly Queen, in the last years of her reign, and opened by her daughter, Princess Christian, as a place meant for the recreation of the people of Finchley. 

These days, however, the local Tory councillors, treacherous heirs to the corporate trusteeship left to them by Inky Stephens, have little interest in protecting the rights of residents to enjoy any open space, let alone this one.

In blatant breach of the covenant that was placed in protection of the park, Tory members sold off part of the land, which included the beautiful, Arts and Crafts style Park Keeper's Lodge, and high hedged garden, in a cash purchase to a property developer.

The Lodge was demolished, despite all protests by local residents: and now, thanks to your local Tory councillors, including the current Leader Dan Thomas, and former council leader, now local MP Mike Freer, who both approved the sale of the site, in its place you can now watch the slow construction of a block of flats. 

That in itself is the perfect metaphor for the state of this borough, where not even a public park is safe from the land grabbing activity of rampant development: a monster now eating up every last inch of Barnet, creating thousands of non affordable slums of the future, increasing the population regardless of the burden on an already inadequate infrastructure of local resources: schools, healthcare, shops - and even parks and open spaces. 

This rapacious level of development is being facilitated by the council's own privatised planning service, and privatised 'regeneration' service: both of them run by Capita, which is of course in its own right also a developer. 

And Capita runs many other services for Barnet: including the management of parks and open spaces. 

A couple of summers ago, a group of Gypsy Travellers dared to come and halt for a few days, very neatly, in a corner of the park. They were obliged to do this because in Barnet there are not, and never have been, any legal stopping places for gypsies, even during the many years when it was a statutory requirement.

The Travellers and their caravans were frankly indistinguishable from the fairground people who now park up here, with their own tatty looking vehicles, several times a year, in order to feed the council's income generating machine, run by Capita. The only difference is that the council provides them with facilities, and rubbish bins. But the racist rebellion from a vocal minority of outraged local residents ensured that they were soon turned out of the park: on the day of the eviction some local women stood and literally shrieked at police officers, until this was done.

I stood and watched as this eviction took place. The council officer who was in charge noticed me looking and said, assuming I was one of them: 'Don't worry, they're being moved out'. I replied that I wasn't worried, except that the occupation would not have happened, if there had been an alternative stopping place. He looked back at me blankly, unable to comprehend why anyone would care. I wondered what he would say if I told him that some of my own family used to travel about in this way, once upon a time.

Two years on, and we find ourselves in the year of Covid, and our local park has never been more vital to those of us who live in the area: the only place we can go to, to walk in the fresh air, in safety, socially distanced, and escape from the otherwise full time house arrest many of us are still under.

The last thing we expected to see in the park this summer, at a point when local infection rates are shooting up again, was another occupation - by a fun fair.

The occupation of a park by Gypsy Travellers is a threat to public safety, but the occupation of a park by a fun fair, in the midst of a pandemic, sanctioned by the same officers who organised the eviction of the former, is ok, apparently. Probably because, you might reasonably assume, quite apart from the pandering to racism, the only events allowed in the park are those which generate income for the council  - and more importantly, for Capita. 

Capita manages parks and greenspaces, and receives, for all budget 'savings' it identifies as such, financial rewards, called 'gainshare payments'. This is one of the ways the company extracts profit from our local services - all as part of the massive contracts, thousands of pages long, which our empty headed Tory councillors obediently signed, in 2013, without properly reading the small print. Or even the large print. They relied on the same people who wrote the contract to scrutinise the contract for them: that is how lazy and incompetent they were.

Labour councillor Ross Houston at Victoria Park: he and local members were not consulted about the fair, and are questioning why this event is continuing.

Complaints about the fun fair were made to the relevant officers, and local councillors. It became clear that the local councillors had not been consulted. An officer claimed that they had been 'informed'. This turned out to be after residents' complaints were made to said officers. The approval of such events, said the officers, was made on a basis of 'business as usual'. Despite the fact that we are clearly not living in 'usual' times, and that Covid infection rates are now increasing.

Further enquiries revealed that officers were complacently relying on assurances made by the fun fair organisers: assurances that clearly, on my visits, were not being observed. But this is anyway irrelevant - there is no way in which a public gathering of this sort, with these numbers attending, in their hundreds every day, for ten days, could be safe from risk, in the current circumstances.

At the end of the week, as the fair arrived and started up its ten day booking, the council's own Covid data demonstrated that the infection rate in the borough, and in this part of the borough, were increasing. Their twitter account continued to urge people to #stayalert, and take precautions to avoid risk of infection. Local GPs, for the first time during the epidemic, issued text messages to patients warning them of the rise. 

Still the fair continued, and over the weekend when it was always going to be busiest: hundreds of people attending every day. I visited twice, at a safe distance, and in a mask, watching in horror the lack of social distancing, monitoring of numbers, cleansing: people shrieking on the rides, all unmasked - only one or two ride attendants sporting one, in one case under the chin. At one stall, food was being prepared and handed over by a person wearing no gloves, no mask, to a queue of non socially distanced customers. Business as usual, if the definition of usual is borrowed from the era of Typhoid Mary, perhaps.

One might have sympathy with the people who work on the fair - ironically, originally many fair people were Gypsies too, once upon a time: but many of us are hugely financially impacted by the continuing Covid nightmare - one which will be ending even further in the future if we do not get a grip of it now, in the wake of fatal delays and gross incompetence in the handling of the crisis by Johnson's government, rotten to the core with contracts to private companies that fail to deliver vital PPE, and all the other companies favoured on the basis of croneyism.

Back in Finchley: one resident at the weekend contacted our Tory MP Freer, who lives near to the park. She was reportedly informed that he could do nothing about the fair.

Absurdly, by Monday, the situation in regard to the Covid rate was so critical that the council tweeted that people must not meet up outside in groups of more than six. There have been reports, over the last week, of police fining or closing down large gatherings: yet this one is still going on. Why?

Here is the nub of the matter. 

The local authority's responsibility for public health is clearly being put at risk by by the actions of its own contractual providers, in allowing this fair to take place at all, at this time - of course all responsible boroughs have had control of their own decision making, and cancelled such large scale events. 

This local authority's functions and duties to the public, as with central government, in many respects, are being compromised by the activities of its own privatised services - on a huge scale, most obviously in planning and development. 

Last week the professionally lobbied plans of a developer to build a set of monstrous blocks of flats on the site of the former gas works in East Barnet were rejected by 'outraged' Tory councillors, the same councillors who have approved development of monstrous blocks of flats in areas where their own vote base was not at threat. The interesting thing about this was, as fellow blogger John Dix pointed out, the extent to which the arguments put by Capita planning officers appeared to be in ignorance of so many council planning policies. He posed the question: 'When you outsource critical council functions like planning & make them highly dependent on fees, is this one of the consequences?"

Here in Barnet Tory councillors have outsourced their public services, and outsourced their responsibilities. 

They are no longer running this borough: it is being run by a private company which knows that no matter how poor their performance in service delivery, their clients in Barnet will not withdraw from the contracts, or seek any effective sanction for their losses. It is caught in a relationship of coercive control, from which, or so they maintain, there is no escape.

There is just one problem, from the point of view of the local Tory party. Their own voters are now falling under the wheels of the vehicle they created, by allowing a private company to run the borough. Residents of formerly loyal Tory areas are now being confronted by rampant development right next door to them, and are furious that there is nothing to stop it. They see their pavements and roads left unrepaired, and are furious about that too. They find a fun fair in their local park, during a global pandemic. The Tory councillors and MPs they write to, about all such matters, expecting instant action, are unable to help, because they cannot compel contracted out services to do the work they are paid to do, to an adequate standard. Why would they, when nothing happens when they don't? 

So: come along to Victoria Park. Steer clear of the building site, on your way in. Wander into the fun fair, why don't you, and test out the old herd immunity thing? It's what Dominic Cummings would want, after all. 

This is Broken Barnet, the ultimate wet dream of any slaphead government adviser, hiding in the bunker on his dad's farm: a testing ground of market forces, spaffed up all over the place, unregulated. A former democracy taken over by covert consultants and faceless managers: all the fun of the fair, and all of the risk on us, the poor sods who pay our council taxes, and are left looking forlornly through the park railings for the lost figure of Inky Stephens, hiding in the shadows of the Ghost Train.

Tickets please!

From John Hooton:

Firstly just to be very clear that we all remain very concerned about the prevention of spread of Covid-19 in Barnet, and we are working closely with Public Health England colleagues, looking at cases in the borough, where these are arising, making sure that any links are identified and that our community messaging is targeted in the right way.

There is a system nationally and indeed across London that we work within, which includes escalation points where additional measures are considered in local areas, depending on the intelligence coming through the public health system. This is based on coronavirus infection rate per 100, 000 population.

Barnet has seen a relatively low number of cases over June, July and first part of August, and has been well below the threshold of 20 to 25 per 100,000 cases. At this point, we make sure that we target our communications in areas where there have been more cases or clusters of cases, and work closely with the test and trace system on the intelligence to see if there are any links between cases and any potential risks of increased infection. At this level of cases, events and activities will take place across Barnet and indeed in boroughs across the country provided that they are adhering to national guidelines and that Covid risk assessments are completed if necessary. Many other boroughs in London have had similar events over recent weeks, and this operator was previously in another London borough.

When the threshold of 20 to 25 per 100,000 cases is reached, this is the point at which additional preventative measures are considered. This would include enhanced enforcement in areas of higher infection, more community messaging and reviewing whether things like events or large gatherings should still take place.

As of today, Barnet has seen the rate per 100,000 increase to over 20. That means that our public health team are working with regional colleagues to understand the epidemiological picture and agree the appropriate actions.

The intelligence suggests that the increase in cases is predominantly in 16-24 age group and also particularly in the south and the west of the borough. Transmission is mainly through household members, through visiting friends and private parties and gatherings. Whatever we do in terms of next steps will need to be informed by the evidence that is coming through from the public health system.

Finally, I just want to be very clear that any fee that is paid by the operator has absolutely no bearing on whether the funfair will continue to operate in the borough. On this, a decision will be taken in the next 24 hours on the basis of the information we have on compliance with the risk assessment and the context that I have set out above.

Kind regards

My response: 

Yes, thank you for this but if you will forgive my bluntness, this is just a load of flannel. 

The facts are reducible to one thing. There is an increase locally, amongst largely young people. Yet you have allowed a fun fair to take place, and to continue even as cases are rising, an event which young people of this age group attend, whilst sending out messages telling people not to gather in groups of more than six outdoors. This is absurd. That is all there is to it. 

There was never any argument for holding an event like this during a pandemic. There is enough risk from activities which are unavoidable, and such events as this set a dangerous example to the community, encouraging them to think there is no longer any need for caution - as evidenced by the behaviour of the majority of people at the fair.

 At this precise point it is reckless, and will cause the spread of the virus utterly unnecessarily. Let us hope no lives are lost or serious long term health problems caused as a consequence.

Theresa Musgrove

Update No 2:

Yesterday (Wednesday) it became apparent that national rates of Covid infection have risen to the extent that a drastic revision of measures has had to be adopted by the Government. It was also revealed locally that infection rates in Barnet, specifically in wards adjacent to Victoria Park, have been rising to an alarming level: see the chart below.

After writing to the Chief Executive to ask him to confirm that now, at least, the fair would be stopped, he replied to say that this would only happen on Friday. 

This means that nine out of the ten days the fair was due to run have been allowed, in the face of all common sense - and rising rates of Covid transmission. 

Stopping it only one day short does nothing except allow the council to demonstrate a purely nominal intervention. 

If there is a risk, there has been one right from the beginning - and it has increased as the event has been running. It will not magically change tomorrow: it is already increasing beyond any point that such events could possibly be justified - if there ever was justification, at the time of a pandemic. 

This sorry tale is the perfect demonstration of everything that is wrong with the administration of this local authority, and in its way a reflection of the sickness in our current government: an impotent Tory leadership, policy and decision making being driven by outsourced contractors, and a process of governance unable to put the well being of the community, and its responsibilities for the protection of public health, before the demands of income generation - 'business as usual'. Too many conflicts of interests, too much compromise. Our democratic system is broken.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Finchley Memorial Green Space: Clowning around, Weaving the Landscape - and Nestling into a Rhythm - a presentation from the developers

Grimaldi, hoping to find a cure for his depression, asks Abertheny for advice, and the surgeon, unaware of his client’s identity, prescribes the diversions of “relaxation and amusement”:

“But where shall I find what you require?” said the patient.

“In genial companionship,” was the reply; “perhaps sometimes at the theatre;—go and see Grimaldi."

“Alas!” replied the patient, “that is of no avail to me. I am Grimaldi.” 

Well then: it's quite hard to keep a sense of humour, in these dark days and nights of the Plague Year, 2020. 

So we must be thankful for small mercies, and the ability to take comic relief, when and where we find it. 

On Thursday night, this came in the unexpected form of a Zoom presentation organised by the would be developers of housing on the Finchley Memorial Community Green Space, the subject of the former post, which you can find here. More information on the intended development on the CHP website

A development to be built, so they hope, right on the spot where, as a blue plaque informs passers by, lived the clown Joseph Grimaldi (1778–1837)- the most well known comic artist of his day, who drove himself to a wretched end and an early death through a series of injuries from his physically exhausting slapstick routines, and was prone, like many funny people, to deep melancholy - he famously said I am grim-all-day, but I make you laugh at night’.

Making me laugh on Thursday night, however, thankfully while I was on 'mute', were the would be usurpers of the sad clown's country cottage and gardens, who had decided on a routine of entertainment to distract from the glaringly obvious and awful thing they are planning to foist on us - look, readers: it's behind you! A monstrous cluster of 3-6 storey boxes squatting on the open space, and leering over the genteel Edwardian streets of Bow Lane, and Granville Road.

On the playbill, for our amusement, was a series of presentations by a development director for CHP, the property arm of the Department for Health and Social Care; an architect, and a 'landscape designer'. In the audience, we were told, very quickly, were 25 residents - not a bad turnout for such a little known proposed development, and at this time. We were also told, at the speed of light, that there had been an astonishing 1,000 visits to the proposed development's website: we were not told that around 1,000 people had already signed the petition started by a local resident against said proposed development.

Half an hour for the presentations, half an hour for questions. Mrs Angry, the public clown face to the sad private resident and embittered writer who hides behind the knockabout farce that is this blog, was busy taking notes, and laughing up her sleeve.

First up was a Mr Eugene Prinsloo, the CHP development director, who gave a suitably melancholic run down of his brief, complete with reverential references to 'Her Majesty's Government', and the report of 'Sir' Robert Naylor: perhaps to impress we in the cheap seats of the gravity of what he had to say.  

First joke of the night: he announced that his department had 'declared' that the land at Finchley Memorial was 'surplus'. And therefore to be disposed of, for a fat profit, except: hang on, this project is not a money maker, according to its own PR argument, but claimed as a way of providing affordable accommodation for NHS or key workers.

Well, whispered Mrs Angry, in my ear, he seems to have forgotten that the 'surplus' land belongs to the community, as part of a land swap, when the new hospital was built, and the local plan states quite clearly that it CANNOT be developed ... 

Mr Prinsloo claimed that they were 'very sensitive to the loss of green space', therefore they would kindly keep what was left of it when developed 'accessible' to the local residents to whom it already belonged. 

He spoke vaguely about what the proposed properties would be - he couldn't say definitely that they would be 100% rental, as all that sort of thing (the whole point of the proposal, that is) was 'still in process, at the moment'. 

Oh. Ought you not to have sorted 'all that sort of thing' out, before beginning what you are claiming is a process of consultation? Or is it that you do not want to give assurances, because as we already know, what is proposed by developers, under the guise of 'homes for NHS staff', will very probably morph into something else, with a clearly defined profit margin?

Up next for our entertainment was the landscape man, Mr Neil Swanson, who started with an absolute corker: 'this is a brownfield site', he announced, in a laid back sort of way, which meant you might have missed the significance, if you weren't paying attention. 

Oh dear, no: no, it isn't, it really isn't. 

Petition to save the community green space link here.

What is the definition of a 'brownfield site'? This description, in this context, might seem to be an attempt to conflate ideas of 'previously developed land' with land that was formerly occupied  and polluted by industrial use - that is an eyesore, or derelict. The opposite is true here. Land which over centuries has been part of Finchley Common, has had built on it only a clutch of rural cottages, and then an Edwardian cottage hospital, has now been returned, in a reversal of the land grabbing outrages of the Enclosures Act, in the early nineteenth century, to the use of local people, with open access. 

Mr Swanson had a vision for the new development, however, that would allow local people to 'walk through' the 'cluster of buildings' that would take over their open space. He was going to, and here we were clutching our sides in merriment - to 'weave landscape around the edges' of this, erm: cluster. 

Best of all, we are promised the creation of 'Camberwick' - no: sorry - 'Granville Green' and - wait for it, an 'Orchard Car Park'. That'll be for the 38 cars, which is the limit allowed for a proposed number of 130 properties. Presumably the hundred other cars will be parked on Granville Green?

Next up was the architect, Sarah Hare: we learned now that what were planned were not flats, no no no, nothing so vulgar: these were 'apartment buildings'. They had looked at the surrounding area, (which she described without mentioning the largely Edwardian character of the roads), and decided to create designs that would 'nestle into a similar rhythm'. Nestling, and the gentle rhythm of a mother's heart ... Rockabye baby ... No. Nothing to worry about here. Move on.

These apartment buildings, while nestling and beating a gentle rhythm, while you were not looking, would 'step down to meet the street' and 'articulate a base, a middle and a top'. 

This is an interesting and innovative idea, of course, buildings having a base, a middle and a top: before these requirements were introduced by visionary, award winning architects, many new properties, as you may recall, fell down after, and, sometimes during, construction, because builders tended to make it up as they went along.

More chortling in the back. Because what we saw on the accompanying slide (strangely not available on the website) was not so much an exercise in fascinating rhythm, as a series of ugly, box shaped constructions that were neither capable of nestling happily anywhere, nor matching the architectural language of anything other than themselves, and which will be incongruous in the context of an Edwardian suburb. 

Irredeemably modern and painfully plain, the blocks were not only out of character with Bow Lane, and Granville Road, but in no way matched the contemporary design of the new Hospital, shining like the white elephant it has been allowed to become, across the open space. 
The deliberately elliptical line drawings available on the website really do not convey the full impact of the colour slide mock up we saw of the grim, (-all-day and all night) slab faced boxes intended for this development. Pic courtesy CHP website.

Architects, in Broken Barnet, love to use the metaphor of dancing and rhythm - remember the first designs for the block of flats going up now on the Lodge site? These, we were promised, would be 'Dancing with the Park''. Dancing in the style of a tarantella, that is, the dance of death - among a community in the grip of plague.

I'll sit this one out, thanks. 

Ah - talking of Victoria Park, the landscape designer informed us that although there would be some sort of limited play facilities for small children, 'it is not our job' to provide anything more as - oh: 'Victoria Park can provide larger activities for children ...'

Well, can it? Maybe apart from the section that has already been grabbed for property development.

Mr Swanson was now rushing past the number of established trees that would be removed - fifty in total, although he admitted later that they were still 'in the process' of surveying them  - and expanding upon how 'Nature will be woven round' (there is a lot of weaving, as well as dancing, in the lexicon of proposed property development) the blocks of flats plonked down on our open space. Hornbeams. A wild flower verge. A swale. A what? A damp meadow, supported by rainwater. (A giant puddle, in other words). Funnily enough, there has been one of those on the playing fields, which seem never to be used as playing fields, and were blocked off for more than a year, on the other side of the site, supposedly due to drainage problems. 

All of this weaving, and swaling, we learned, was in order 'to create a sense of community'.

On our community space.

Time for questions from residents - and time was already running short.

Resident A made the point that there appeared to be nothing in place to stop the proposed housing entering the private sector: which is exactly the case. He mentioned the word 'covenants'. They replied by agreeing new covenants could be created. They did not mention the inconvenient fact that this land is already protected from development.

Resident B asked questions about the type of housing: short term rental, mid term, long term? What size, what numbers of each - and what research was done to see if it was needed. Ah.

Mr Prinsloo said, rather mysteriously, that the numbers of units were 'moving around at the moment, which again was rather curious. In regard to a point later about subsidising NHS staff housing directly, rather than building it for them, at vast capital outlay, he said that this type of 'quantams' 'doesn't exist' (sic -no idea) and went on to refer to 'Sir' Robert Naylor's report, which he summarised as saying that one third of NHS budget should be from government, one third from the private sector - and one third from sale of sites.

Oh. Well how odd, then, you might think, that rather than seek to sell land here, the NHS is proposing to lose money by building housing not intended, supposedly, for the private sector, but in order to subsidise staff and provide them with affordable housing. Sounds very charitable, but that contradicts the budget strategy of the Naylor report. Of course this land cannot be sold, because it was part of a land swap deal when the new hospital was built. The properties could be sold, however, should the proposal allow for such an eventuality - and you can bet it will. Even if the properties become 'affordable' level sales, the likeliness of uptake from NHS or keyworkers is bound to be low, which leaves no alternative.

Resident C brought up the overlooked issue of the character of the neighbourhood - and the plan to enclose all remaining green spaces in the centre of the design. Resident D pointed out no surveys had been done, and there was no evidence of need for this type of housing. 

Resident E , referring to the 'pretty hideous design' of the blocks reminded everyone that the local plan requires any development in this part of Finchley (excluding the hospital green space, which is listed as not available for such a purpose) to be 'low density family houses' which clearly this proposal did not present.

Mrs Angry's contribution, on behalf of her alter ego, was, apart from picking up several awkward issues which had been glossed over, to point out there were plenty of other NHS sites in North London which could provide such housing, without taking away a green space, and the absurd attempt to label this a 'brownfield site'; to narrate the history of the plot to develop this site, clearly documented in the leaked emails of 2017, between Capita and Barnet, and the implication thereof, which was that it was a private development dressed up in a more apparently suitable guise of 'homes for NHS workers', during the current epidemic. 

Mr Prinsloo couldn't 'talk to' the history of 'previous' organisations (although NHS property representatives took part in the 'previous' plotting) - 'we can only be clear' about their own proposal. They had to deliver something that was 'financially viable'. Well quite. And this proposal, as presented, isn't. Neither viable, nor sustainable as a model of development. It neither reaches the requirements of the funding process, nor explains how an outlay of investment in building these properties can be repaid, let alone generate any significant net profit for the NHS. That could only be met, long term, by private sale or rent, and almost certainly non affordable private sale or rent.

The really important contribution of the evening, however, came from Resident F, who explained that he worked for another NHS trust at a senior level, and had previously worked on the early stages of a similar project. They had found, however, that in the end, they had to sell the land, and ask another provider to build the accommodation.


And he also questioned, from the point of view of someone who was in a position to know, the lack of evidence for demand for this sort of housing. He believed that there was no real case for this. In which case, the project was not sustainable.

A suitable time to drop the curtain, I think. 

Despite the choreographed performance, the script was unconvincing. So many questions left unanswered, and an resolved contradiction in the narrative. One thing was clear: the lack of assurances, and the lack of detail all hint strongly at what we all fear will be the outcome, at some point in the process of trying to promote this development. A cynical deployment of the current crisis to present what seems like a generous and necessary subsidy for NHS staff has been engineered, in my view, in order to kick start what we know has always been the aim of certain parties within the local authority, and Capita: yet more development and exploitation of our rapidly diminishing open spaces. More fee generated income and profit for Capita, for Barnet, and every accommodation made to speed it through the planning process. 

Even as I write, you can bet there are conversations going on involving our privatised planning service, and other parties, as to how to get round the restrictions on the sale or use of this piece of land, and how to introduce the resulting development to an open market, for maximum profit. They will come back with a slightly less ugly design, empty promises about tenancies only for NHS or key staff (without advertising the small print that is the let out clause), Granville Green will become Grimaldi Gardens, and the' swale' will have sunk into the lost footprint of Fallow Corner.

If you want to stop this happening, do something about it - write to your local politicians and tell them why you object to any development on this community space. In the end, as with everything else in Broken Barnet, the only power you have to obstruct the will of developers is activism, political lobbying - and strategic opposition. 

The pantomime continues:  it's up you, now, to take control of the theatre.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Finchley Memorial Hospital - new proposals to build on our community green space

During lockdown, normal life, of course, has come to a standstill. 

We have been living isolated lives, distanced from each other, in fear and anxiety for the future, the preoccupations of our former existence falling away, or pushed away, for the time being.

In Broken Barnet, however, some things - one thing above all - must continue, even as all else comes to a halt. 

Even as churches, synagogues and mosques have remained locked, one God still demands our constant attention: the God of development, and the localised cult of Capita, continue unabated in their activities, and the assault on our landscape and our built heritage goes on, regardless. 

Covid 19, in fact, has been a great blessing for local developers, as it gives them almost free reign to push through their plans, when there is little opportunity for residents to be aware of what is happening, or to engage in meaningful consultation: or to object to the monstrous proposals now turning what Barnet Tories used to promote as a green and pleasant place to live, into a concrete jungle - a hideous, soulless sprawl encouraged in the Labour voting areas originally, but a viral infection now rapidly, and dangerously, spreading into their own territories.

During lockdown, the would be developers of the former gas works in New Barnet, who want to impose a stunningly ugly set of blocks on that site, faced a slight setback when protest from fellow blogger Mr Reasonable and other residents forced an extension to the consultation period. There have been at least 891 objections.

You can't object on the portal now but - despite two occasions on which Capita planning officers have wrongly, and possibly unlawfully, tried to refuse to accept written or later emailed objections, a practice which has had to be reported to members in order to be stopped - you may write in until the decision is made. 

The New Barnet development, despite a certain amount of 'interesting' lobbying and campaigning, has a chance of being turned down, as of course it is in a Tory area, and Theresa Villiers, and Barnet Tories, have a lot to lose if they are seen to endorse it. Ugly blocks of flats, of course, are acceptable only in Labour areas. 

What happens at the end of an external appeal process, of course - is another matter.

During lockdown it has been reported that the Edgware Broadwalk shopping centre has been bought by Irish housing developer Ballymore. This fits the rumours that have been circulating about plans by certain parties to develop this part of Edgware, (which includes the benighted 'Railway Hotel' listed building), between the Edgware Road and Station Road, under the guise of 'regeneration' - another service run by Capita.

During lockdown, the construction began on the block of flats which are to be built in Victoria Park, Finchley, thanks to local Tory politicians - including MP Mike Freer, and council Leader Daniel Thomas - who approved the sale of the beautiful Edwardian park keeper's Lodge, now demolished: another irreplaceable part of our history, lost forever.

Flats in Victoria Park, Finchley, in place of the demolished park keeper's Lodge, courtesy of your local Tory councillors

But now there is another threatened development being hurried through,, in a period when full consultation is impossible - and this time it is a proposal to build on a community open space - although you would not know this from the PR guff that is accompanying the proposals.

And this one has been predicted by me, some years ago: the development of housing on the green space surrounding Finchley Memorial Hospital. You might wish to read this post from 2017 to get some idea of what is behind the current plot to develop this land. 

As I reported then, when the hospital was built, the open space around it was designated as a much needed green space, with open access. It had been agreed that the following would also be provided:

Sports and play facilities for local residents: it was meant to be a landscaped, open community space, accessible to the general public, a “Communal Green,” with a children’s play area, adult fitness equipment, picnic tables, table tennis tables, and so on ...

This did not happen. Why, when it was required by the planning permission? 

Well, we know why, because when a local resident asked for an explanation, they accidentally released some emails - published in the 2017  post - which showed 'they' ie Barnet, Capita etc, knew full well the installation of these facilities would obstruct the chance of a housing development on the site. They then used the threat of pushing through the belated installation, in order to 'encourage' NHS properties to get on with plans.

'Enforcement action here would focus their minds on this matter ...'

You might wonder why your local council, and its profit driven privatised planning service, have put so much effort into depriving local residents of a much needed green space, and health and fitness facilities. To understand that, you have to grasp the utterly ruthless exploitation of this borough by developers, and their facilitators. When you realise the extent to which this sickness has taken hold of this borough - you will probably wonder then why you continued to return a Tory council that allows the best interests and well being of residents to come second to the profits of developers. At least: I hope so.

The other question should be why our contractors and senior officers are spending so much time, paid for by Barnet residents, promoting this and countless other profit making developments, with other bodies, rather than addressing the question of the poor provision of local healthcare - at FMH, and elsewhere, especially in the largely Labour voting, poorer, western side of the borough.

You will note that still, three years later, the Hospital buildings are desperately under used, with much of the building empty, even at a time when there is so much pressure on the NHS and such long local waiting lists for access to consultants, clinics, and treatment. That the local CCG has allowed this to continue for so long, is simply impossible to understand.

In my view, if the proposed housing development is allowed to go ahead at this site, it is only a matter of time before Finchley Memorial Hospital itself is closed, and after another interval, the rest of the site developed.

If you look at the post from 2017, you will see how and why this proposal has come about, why it is being presented now - and why it is being presented in a way that they hope will make it impossible for it to be turned down. 

In other words, a development proposed to be built on community open space is being carefully branded as a scheme to ... oh: provide housing for NHS staff. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? 

At a time when we are all so deeply grateful for the NHS and the incredible work of its staff, how could anyone be so churlish as to oppose such a plan? Even if it is on open ground that is a community green space?

Well, except .... the devil is in the detail, as always, in Broken Barnet. Let's see what they are claiming these proposals are about, here, on their development website. To be clear, this is a 'consultation' by CHP, a property management and planning arm of the Department of Health and Social Care. As they boast on their home page:  'we have a strong track record of adding value to the NHS, offering a unique blend of investment, property management and strategic estate planning expertise'.

Adding value. 

That means: profit. Will any profit from this proposal be retained locally, to improve access to healthcare in Finchley or Barnet as a borough? That would be nice. Doesn't say so, does it? 

Warning: the website for the Finchley proposals includes a 'quick poll' which turns out to ask the question: 'Do you support the delivery of homes for NHS staff?' And a survey which begins in the same way - be careful which box you tick.

In other words, if you try to express your opposition to this proposal on what the developers have failed to admit is a community open space, you are a really horrible, selfish person, who thinks NHS workers should not be given homes. 

Nice touch.  

More details:

 What are you proposing?

Community Health Partnerships are proposing plans for up to 130 homes for NHS staff on the site that was formerly occupied by the hospital up until 2012. 50% of those homes will be classified as affordable housing in planning policy terms, and these will be designated for staff on lower salary bands.

The remaining 50% of homes will be open to individuals working or training in the NHS. We are confident that there will be sufficient demand for these homes from NHS staff, but if there not, opportunities will be opened up other public sector key workers, such as those working in the police or fire service.

Area defined in red is where developers want to put the proposed blocks of flats: pic courtesy CHP.

Doesn't tell you much, does it? Are these 'homes' - flats - for sale, or rent? What is 'affordable'? Rent at 65%, say, of local levels in this part of Finchley (some of the houses in Bow Lane have been marketed at £1 million plus) is not going to be affordable for many NHS or key workers.

130 'homes', not units: 'homes for NHS staff ' rather than just another local development consisting of ugly blocks of flats - some of which will be looking on to the Edwardian houses of Bow Lane.

No mention of the fact that this land was designated for community use, a rare and vital patch of open space in this area, and one which is well used by local residents, even in 'normal' times, before Covid.

Please note that there will be parking spaces only for 38 cars. 

And 195 bicycles. 

A prim note from the developers gives the pretext: 'Commuting via private vehicle will be actively discouraged on-site'. So only a quarter of the new residents will be able to park their cars on the site. The rest of them - very few of whom, in reality, will be abandoning their cars for bicycles -  will be parking in the residential roads around the Hospital - or even in the Hospital car park. 

That'll be fun, when you bring your elderly mother to the Walk In clinic, and can't find anywhere to park, won't it? And patients attending Finchley Memorial cannot get there by any other means (other than a long walk) because despite years of asking, no bus* has been allowed to stop there. Why? I think we know why now, as we knew before: the reason that there is - as they claimed - no turning point for a bus was nonsense, then - but will be true once the land is taken up by a new development. 

*Update Sunday 28th June: by an extraordinary coincidence, after years of blank refusal, and stating buses could not be re-routed to FMH, leaving patients without a public transport link, and a long walk to the hospital, it has just been announced the 383 will now run there - at exactly the moment when a housing development proposal for 130 homes and only 38 parking spaces has been announced!

This is also the reason, clearly, why, despite having agreed to allow the new Finchley War Memorial  to be put in place on this spot, in time for the centenary ceremonies of 2018, the only tribute that was allowed was a single wreath, while the newly carved memorial, with hundreds of names of local casualties, is left gathering dust in storage. I am told now that the Memorial site has been moved elsewhere - honouring the dead clearly having come way behind maximising the profit in a piece of land. 

The plot to develop this piece of land is also the reason the long awaited community facilities were never installed, as promised - but used as a lever to hurry along development, as revealed in the emails published in 2017.

 Only half of these new flats will be for sale at so called 'affordable' planning policy levels.

It remains to be seen if the average NHS worker - the care assistants, the porters, even the nurses, will be able to afford these properties. Oh, the remaining non affordable properties will be even more expensive, but 'open' to 'individuals working or training in the NHS'. And if they don't take up the properties? What then? Kerrching.

Then there is the other factor, which will not be mentioned in any developers' plans that propose a quota of affordable housing. 

There is every likelihood that should the developers, after planning permission is granted, decide they don't want to offer the same amount, or even any amount of affordable housing, they will turn around and demand this requirement is dropped, claiming it is no longer 'viable' - and they will be allowed to do so. 

Only recently there was an example of this practice in North Finchley, when the development of Britannia House was allowed to cancel its affordable quota - see here. The same happened, over time, in West Hendon.

So what happens if the new flats are not snapped up by NHS/key worker staff? 

That is one of the questions I have put to Mr Oliver Deeds, who is acting as the "Community Engagement Specialist" for these development plans, and who claims on the website that he is 'listening' ...  Last Wednesday I emailed him to ask some questions:

1. This is community ground, and was intended to remain so for local residents, of which I am one.

Why not build homes for NHS staff on available ground that does not remove community space?

2. What happens if NHS staff or key worker staff cannot afford the supposedly affordable level of purchase of these proposed properties? What is to stop these properties ending up on the open market?

3. What is to stop changes in use from NHS or key worker staff to open marketing to any purchaser?

4. Please confirm that there is nothing to stop the developers dropping the affordable/key worker designation of these properties, once permission has been granted, claiming it is no longer viable to designate the properties as affordable.

5. Who is paying for the development and building costs of these proposals? 

As of today, a week later, he has not replied. If and when he does, I will publish his responses.

Don't be fooled by the framing of this development proposal. We all want a better deal for NHS staff, and know how much they deserve a decent salary, working conditions, and a good quality of life. But NHS properties, or CHP, or the local NHS trust, have had plenty of opportunity to provide affordable housing for staff, even locally - and on NHS owned land. 

More than a decade ago, the developers of Barnet General turned down the opportunity to convert the former Barnet Workhouse, one of the first built in the country, in the early 1830s, and very probably one of the sources of inspiration for Dickens's 'Oliver Twist', into homes for key workers. The then Labour leader of the council put an emergency local listing status on the building. The developers knocked it down regardless, two weeks later. The site then stood derelict for years: then there were - surprise! - rumours that housing would be built there. Not for NHS staff, or key workers. Last time I had the misfortune to visit Barnet General, it was still derelict.

There was also the former Marie Foster site, not far from the hospital. That was sold no doubt at huge profit, to a private care provider. Why did they not build homes for NHS or key workers there? Or in any of the other large NHS owned estates now being carved up and developed as private housing, all over London?

Alternatively, there are plenty of brownfield sites or other locations which would be suitable for housing development: but our access to open space, to community space, in this borough, in this part of the borough, is rapidly diminishing. Victoria Park, as we have seen, was designated open space, and protected by a covenant, intended to keep it as such. This was ignored. Now we have another precious open space, meant to be for community use, targeted for more profit led development - and please don't imagine profit is not involved in this scheme, whoever the intended tenants of this housing may be.

Just as bad as the loss of this space would be, is the precedent it would set for every other similar remaining site in this borough. Nothing will be safe from development. And the way in which it has been covertly organised by interested parties, over a period of years, frankly, is cynical beyond words: look at those emails again, and wonder at the rare glimpse it affords into what happens under the cover of our local council and their privatised planning service.

We have reached a point now where this service is run entirely to benefit developers and Capita, who milk this borough for every last fee they can generate from us.  In terms of planning there are so many fees they can screw out of development, and some of the practices this encourages are deeply concerning.

Why, for example, has it been made possible for developers to pay for a named planning officer of their choice?

Why are former senior planning officers able to leave Barnet/Capita and immediately go to work for the same developers they were dealing with in their former posts? And to deal with former colleagues in the promotion of their new clients' applications?

Then there is the question of impact on the local community of such large scale development. 

Where is the expansion in infrastructure, education and healthcare provision?

With more and more development and greater density of an enlarged population, is there not a greater not lesser need for green and open spaces, for the physical and mental well being of all residents?

The site of Finchley Memorial Hospital is not just another plot waiting for development - or at least, it is, only in the eyes of developers and those agencies and companies that benefit from the massive, virtually unregulated expansion of such development in this borough.

It is not only a tiny, precious piece of open space, a community asset - it is part of our local history.

This area of Finchley was once part of Finchley Common, and on this particular spot there was a small settlement of cottages, at Fallow Corner. Look carefully at the aerial photo, and you will see  trees and shrubs, which, close up, you will realise are ancient remnants, boundary markers, of a more rural era.

Dickens came here to visit the clown Grimaldi's cottage right here, at Fallows Corner, and later returned to stay at nearby Fallow Farm, then known as Cobleys's Farm, to write Martin Chuzzlewit. Grimaldi's residence is now marked exactly on the site targeted for development with a plaque that no doubt is in the way of the proposed blocks of flats, just as the new war Memorial intended for this spot has been shoved aside, and the installation made impossible, inexplicably, for years.

The very name 'Finchley Memorial' was given to the old cottage hospital here, replaced by the empty modern building carefully located a suitable distance away, across the empty fields. The name was given in order to commemorate the fallen of Finchley, who did not return from the fields of Flanders, in the first World War.

The new War memorial had many names added to it, and should have been in place for 2018. For the last four years, it has been left packed in wooden crates in a stonemason's yard in Scotland. At the time of the centenary, all that was allowed to be put in place was this wreath:

What greater insult to the memory of those local men, than to prevent this commemoration from taking place, without admitting the real reason, that it was in the way of development?

Literally nothing is safe anymore, from the hands of profiteers: our built heritage, our local history: our parks and open spaces.

The only way to stop this madness is to make sure you make your objections heard, loud and clear, even now, at this awful time.

Although the CHP has launched a campaign and website, you will not there are no detailed plans available, so this cannot be considered in any way as proper consultation.

They say that:

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic we are unable to hold a physical public exhibition, but we have provided other means through which you can feedback to us, through this site.

You might think that after all these years of waiting developers might not wish to hurry through plans during a global crisis, but then ... that would be rather naive, wouldn't it?

I am still waiting for a response to my questions, sent a week ago. I will attempt to register for these 'consultations' and 'presentations' - and I hope others will too:

We will also be holding two online presentations on the scheme which you can book to attend by emailing Oliver Deed on These are taking place on Thursday 25th June, between 7pm - 8pm and on Tuesday 7th July between 12pm - 1pm. You can also email to organise a one to one telephone consultation with a member of the project team by emailing

If you wish to oppose the building of housing on our open community space, there is a petition started by a local resident, which already has more than 800 signatures, and which you might wish to sign: link here.