Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Park Keeper's Lodge: your last chance to object ...



The story of the sale of the Park Keeper's Lodge, in Victoria Park, the subject of the last three posts, is of course about so much more than the sorry tale of the fate of one historic building, in one corner of Broken Barnet. 

It is the perfect metaphor, a symbol in a landscape, yes, a corporate 'landscape', readers, on which we now make our life's 'journey', all of us who live here, in our own way - the perfect metaphor for the state of our borough, and our nation.

That little Lodge, in the corner of a park, nestling in a high hedged garden, like a sweetly illustrated cottage in some long forgotten book of our childhood reading, surely represents something innately English, a pastoral idyll that was never true, perhaps, but sits in our cultural subconscious, a symbol of something we all long for still, a romantic vision just out of reach.

And now someone wants to knock it down.

But of course. No room for sentiment, in Broken Barnet. Why waste valuable publicly owned assets on the public, when they offer an opportunity for private profit?

In some boroughs, heritage, built or otherwise, is valued, not according to the rule of commerce but for itself, for what it is, and what we were, and what we are today. But not here, or in too many other parts of the country, where property developers circle over every last inch of space, aided by privateering companies and consultants ready, for a price, to help them on their way to more and more new developments.

For every other building under threat, then, let our Lodge, in Victoria Park, serve as test of who may win the battle, in the end, between history and profit: the communities in whose names these buildings are in trust, or the vandals who want to smash them to pieces, and stake their future empires on a foundation of our past.

In case you have not seen it, the story of the assault on Victoria Park is the leading story in the Rotten Boroughs column of the current Private Eye:


Today, Wednesday 24th August, will be the last day that you may object online. Some late written objections that arrive before the final decision is made may be taken into account but to be safe, if you want to object, do it today, up until midnight - no, Mrs Angry, exaggerating as usual - up until 11.59.59 pm. 

Of course you may wish to support the proposal. Do take a look at some of the supporting comments that have been unmasked, since we complained to the CEO about the curious trick which meant that all objections were published with names and addresses, but all supporting comments automatically anonymised. This is believed never to have been a feature of any previous planning consultation, which is why we are able now to spot certain names recurring in these supporting comments, that have popped up on other applications.

Heartening, for example to see the developer, Mr Friedman  (or is he? No one is quite sure)  - supporting his own development.


THE PROPOSED PLANS LOOK AMAZING AND WILL REALLY UPGRADE THE AREA WITH THIS LANDMARK BUILDING DESIGN ,IT WILL ADD A NICE TOUCH TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD INSTEAD OF THE HORRIBLE NEGLECTED BUILDING THERE THAT HAS BEEN LIKE THAT FOR THE LAST 20 YEARS AND USED BY DRUGS USERS AND OTHER CRIMINAL ACTIVITY



Ah yes: criminal activity. We can certainly agree that we frown upon that sort of thing, can't we, readers? 



Of course the Lodge, although deliberately neglected by the council since it decided to sell the site circa 2010, has most certainly not been, as some other interesting 'supporting' comments assert, an eyesore for 20 years, and it is not an eyesore now. 



And if there is any criminal activity in the environs of the Lodge, or drug use, that would be because the council has wilfully left it unattended, with the gate open, an open invitation to visitors and trespassers alike, despite constant requests, at Residents Forums, to secure the site and lock it up.



We use the word supporting in quotation marks because many of these, now stripped of the convenient anonymity, are revealed to be members of Mr Friedman's family, including his children, relatives of the architect, of his builder Mr Novruzaj, who actually owns the house given as the address of the purchaser on the contract of sale - various business associates, etcetera etcetera. 

Frankly, these comments, most in areas nowhere near Finchley, let alone the par, in the same rather ungrammatical style - like the proposed block of flats, according to the would be developers, 'very unique', you might say - and with postcodes written, rather curiously, in lower case letters, make for comical reading, especially when you remember that they clearly thought their identities would not be apparent.

Oh ... but hang on. Here is one, from a local doctor. 

Dr Brian Coleman, who lives just over the road, you know. 

39. Dr Brian Coleman  (Supports)

Comment submitted date: Fri 19 Aug 2016

The demolition of this derelict building an eyesore on Long Lane for nearly 20 years is long overdue. The proposed development will provide much needed housing for local people and the underground car parking will insure there are no parking and car issues, if only all local developers adopted this attitude. This modern low key development will enhance the street scene and compliment the neighbouring park as similar but much larger blocks do in neighbouring roads.it appears to me this development fullfills the criteria of the Borough's adopted UDP and is bringing a brownfield site back into residential use which it has been for 110 years 

Surely not ... not THAT Brian Coleman? Remember him? Yes. Now he is no longer a councillor, or GLA member, he has become a doctor, see? Like Tory MP Dr Offord, I suppose. Must make an appointment to come and see him about my back problem. And the migraines, brought on by all this campaigning.

Unfortunate that he is a medical man, of course, rather than having, say, a doctorate in environmental studies, or perhaps he would know that his assertion that the Lodge is a 'brownfield site' is bullshit.

As one objector points out:

"The Department for Community and Local Government issued a white paper on this very issue in January 2015. which contains some exclusions relevant to the redevelopment of The Lodge that he seems to be unaware of:

Defining brownfield land suitable for new housing

13.'Brownfield' (previously developed) land is defined in Annex 2 of the National Planning Policy Framework as: Land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land (although it should not be assumed that the whole of the curtilage should be developed) and any associated fixed surface infrastructure.

This excludes:

- land in built-up areas such as private residential gardens, parks, recreation grounds and
allotments."

And, btw: not housing for local people - will be marketed to Chinese investors, according to the representative who spoke to residents a couple of weeks ago. 

There are, at the time of writing, no less than 412 objections, and only 45 in support. 

Of those 45, you may discount those having an association with the developers and other interested parties, and see that almost no one - especially in Finchley - really wants this hideous development, and that people passionately oppose it - and deeply object in principle to the notion that any part of a public park should be used for commercial development. 

There are too many well reasoned and well expressed objections to list here, and clearly genuine comments from residents who live near the park, and are regular users - for example, a typical response from this resident:

Miss Jayshree Balchandani  (Objects)

Comment submitted date: Sun 21 Aug 2016

The safety and privacy of park users will be seriously affected, which is used by young children and elderly. The proposed building would cause intrusion on the community's recreational experience which is strongly unacceptable. The proposed building is overwhelming and intrusive and out of harmony with the surrounding areas; the under ground parking exit proposed is unacceptable on to the road which is already a high congestion road and would cause further congestion and cause for accidents, and further restricting public right of way. Victoria park is a public amenity and must be preserved as such. It is our and council's responsibility to retain and protect the park as is for our community's well being and health.

I chose to buy my home close to the Victoria park for this very reason. If the planning permission were to be granted it would ruin the faith and the trust we place in our council.

The trust we place in our council.

Hmm.

This from local Rabbi Jeffrey Newman: 

RABBI JEFFREY NEWMAN  (Objects)

Comment submitted date: Tue 23 Aug 2016

I am shocked that I have only just learnt about this planning application which
effects so many park users from many areas of the Borough, not merely those living
in the immediate area but also especially those throughout Finchley Central, West
and North Finchley.

The proposed application would severely change the character of the Park - but it
also sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the Borough where similar open
spaces which are of outstanding importance for the health and well-being of us all
could easily become dominated by inappropriate developments of this sort.
The neglect and now proposed demolition of the heritage keeper's cottage has long
been unacceptable. We need to ensure that the Park maintains its historic character
and the lodge is particularly charming. There is absolutely no reason why it should
not be renovated and form the basis for the caf├ę as, for example, in Highgate
Woods. 

Instead the Planning Application proposes to transformed it into another
characterless, bland twentieth century (sic) block of flats. Nothing could be further
from the proper maintenance and development of this valuable open recreational
space than this proposal.

Most of all, the ground area for the new development is an unimaginable increase
on that of the Keeper's Cottage. I do not understand how such a proposal has
reached this apparently advanced stage.

At the very least, I do ask that it be opened for wider consultation over an extended
period.

Mrs Angry notes there is also an objection from the former curator of the listed Church Farmhouse Museum, which, like the Lodge was on the list of targets for sale by Barnet's Tory councillors, was closed, stripped of its collection, and left to rot while failed attempts were made to sell it. Not enough profit in the commercial exploitation of our heritage, after all, it seems.

Local Labour councillors will be raising many serious concerns about the background to the sale and proposed development of the Park Keeper's Lodge at next week's Policy and Resources meeting. Agenda and item available here. (There will also, incidentally, be an item outlining Barnet's belated compliance with the proper criteria for issuing travel passes to disabled residents).

Here is the member's item, from Cllr Ross Houston, who is a Labour member for West Finchley, the ward which includes Victoria Park:

1.1 Councillor Ross Houston has requested that a Member’s item be considered
on the following matter:

‘The sale of the former park keeper's lodge in Victoria Park, and the plan to
demolish it and build a block of eight flats in its place - none of which will be
‘affordable housing’ - is now being investigated by the external auditors.

Labour councillors voted against the sale at the time, and have been liaising
with local residents on this issue – over 500 of whom are opposed to this plan
and made their feelings clear in the 'consultation' on the plan.

I have some questions relating to the sale and the plans, and am particularly
concerned with whether or not the sale and future plans represent value for
money for both the Victoria Park Charitable Trust and the council tax
payer, and whether the future plans for the Park meet strategic Corporate
Plan and Local Development Plan policies:

- The Lodge was sold for £623,000 - could P&R be provided with
whatever valuations the council has for the Lodge?

- Of the £623,000 purchase price, how much is to be deducted for legal
fees, the cost of a Project Manager for the park, and the creation of a
car park?

- Why was the Lodge sold by 'informal tender' and to a cash buyer only?

- Please explain why it was decided to sell the freehold rather than
granting a long lease, and why that represented better value for money
for the Trust and the Park?

- There are covenants and restrictions on the land – please detail what
they are and whether they permit it to be developed for housing? If not
why was the site sold for that purpose?

- In particular please explain why it was decided to sell the freehold to a
developer for housing when the 4 November Full Council report states
that:

“1.4 The building needs an estimated £100,000 expenditure to bring it to
decent homes standard which would be required to be able to use it as
housing. However, housing accommodation, other than that of a park keeper,
is not permitted within the requirements of the Trust and the lodge should not
have been used as temporary accommodation in the past.”

- The Lodge was being used as emergency accommodation for about 20
years - did the Park Charitable Trust benefit from income from the
Council for this purpose?

- The 4 November Full Council report states that consideration was
given by Barnet Homes to acquire the land to use for affordable or
temporary accommodation, but it was found that paying market value
for the land plus refurbishment costs would make this not viable. 

Did Barnet Homes or the Council give any consideration to acquiring the
land and developing it for market sale or private rent? If that is a viable
proposition for a small developer, why wouldn’t it be for Barnet Homes
or a Council Wholly Owned Company?

- At the 4th Nov 2014 Council meeting £100,000 was stated to be
necessary to bring The Lodge to 'decent homes standard'. Please
provide the evidence on which this claim was based, and a copy of the
report in which it was made.

- The planning application for the flats seems to be incomplete - preapplication
advice for example has not been provided - was there any
and what was it?

- Please confirm why the decision to sell was made by councillors at a
Full Council meeting, rather than by a separate body of trustees? The 4
November Full Council report mentions that this could not be delegated
to a council committee – please elaborate further.

- Why were the many objections raised by residents to the sale not
appended to nor mentioned in the Full Council report recommending
that the site was sold? Were the Trustees required to consider that
information before agreeing to sell the site?

- How many residents were formally consulted on these plans and
involved in discussions on the plans before the application was
submitted?

- What is the precise role of the Etchingham Friends in the sale of the
Lodge and planning application, when were they first involved and
why?

- Please confirm whether the same officers who have given the preapplication
advice, overseen the consultation and worked with the
applicant on the application will also be making the recommendations
on the application to the Planning Committee? 

- Please advise if this is the normal process for planning applications and whether there is any
oversight in the normal planning process by a supervisor/manager to ensure transparency and probity?

- What due diligence has been undertaken in relation to the
application/applicants to ascertain if they are appropriate people to
carry out this development?

- Why were all "supporting' comments in regard to the planning
application anonymised, while all objections were published with full
details of names and addresses, until complaints were made to the
Chief Executive?

- Please confirm that the names and addresses of those leaving
comments about the application online – whether in support or against
– will be published?

- Please advise why local councillors for the ward have not been fully
consulted on discussions relating to future plans for the park?

- For future consultation with local residents and users of the park can
the council confirm what arrangements will be put in place and how will
a more representative range of local residents, and ward
councillors, be involved?

- Public concerns have been expressed about plans for car parking at
the park. Can P&R be provided with details of any plans for car parking
within or on the boundary of the park?

- Please advise what corporate or planning policies are either met or
contravened by cementing over part of the Park and erecting a car
park?’

As you will note from the Labour item, Barnet Council's External Auditor is currently investigating the circumstances of the sale of the Lodge. 

It might be better if the current application was suspended until his investigation is complete, however: as things stand,you have until 11.59pm tonight, Wednesday 24th August, to make an objection to the proposal to build flats in Victoria Park. 

If you care about the future of your local parks, and your community, and have not already registered your views, I would urge you to do so here:

https://publicaccess.barnet.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=OA505KJIM8700

Thank you.



1 comment:

Claudia said...

The house appears to be occupied at the moment - washing on the line outside. Property guardians, presumably?