Friday, 16 December 2016
No More Order and Decorum, at the White and Funny Bear - or: another demolition in Broken Barnet
There has been an inn called the White Bear on this site since 1736: here it is in 2016, courtesy of your Tory councillors, a local developer, and Crapita.
Then a soldier fond of battle,
Who has fought and bled in Spain,
Finds in Hendon air his metal,
Well stirred up to fight again.
Then a justice of the Quorum
At Burroughs revels, Hendon Fair,
Finds such order and decorum
At the White and Funny Bear
Popular Song, circa 1810
The last post, about the demolition of a house in Vivian Avenue, Hendon, and the scandalous state of building enforcement in this borough, must be followed by another story that yet again demonstrates the new freedom of the borough, courtesy of your Tory councillors, and their contractors Capita, that has been granted to the developers of Broken Barnet.
Despite the demolition of the Vivian Avenue house taking place a month ago now, we understand that neighbours have heard absolutely nothing from the council in regard to any action taken against those who knocked it down, rather than extend it - and indeed the builders have continued to work on the site, building what are reportedly the foundations for a new structure.
In the previous post, I referred to the case of the White Bear, also in Hendon, which was being demolished, apparently with new approval, despite earlier refusal by councillors. Three years ago it had seemed that the campaign to prevent the destruction and development of this much loved local landmark had been successful. Somehow, in the meanwhile, without any publicity, the would be developer, acting through his company 'Platinum Riverside Ltd', had continued with his plans, and had eventually received permission to build flats on the site.
Once work began, however, local residents became very upset, because it seemed the whole property was being destroyed, and they had believed that approval only for partial demolition had been granted.
Some of them had tried to block the work, called the council's enforcement officers - but in vain. No effective intervention was made. The building was mercilessly demolished, regardless, or perhaps because of, any immediate questions raised about its approval status. What did Barnet Council do to stop them? What do you think?
This is an extract from the council's own report on the Burrough's conservation area: also an 'Area of Archaeological Significance' - a report published in 2012, which was of course the year before the Capita contracts were signed, and planning services were privatised:
It is believed that there has been an inn at the site of The White Bear Public House since Tudor times, with the name the “White Bear” in use since at least 1736. It is here that the Lord of the Manor held his court until at least 1916. Between 1690 and 1890 a fair was held during Pentecost near the site of the present pub, and the local hay farmers from around the area would come to hire mowers and haymakers for the summer harvest. The fair was also renowned for dancing and county sports, attracting many visitors. The existing pub was rebuilt in 1932.
The rebuilding of the public house in 1932 was in a 'Tudorbethan' style in keeping with the majority of other housing in the Burroughs, which has - until now - retained its unique character, thanks to those who understood the importance of the preservation of conservation areas, and built heritage. Those people have gone - one heritage officer pushed out a few years ago, for daring to do his job by protecting sensitive historical properties from development - a job deleted in a 'restructure'. And now here we are in the grip of a Capita run council which sees buildings only as measured in terms of income generation for contractual fee purposes, given free reign by a Conservative administration which is culture averse, and has no interest in history, or heritage - or in providing any effectual scrutiny of the performance of its contractors. There goes the neighbourhood, then.
On Wednesday I stopped off at the site to take a look at what was going on. What was going on was absolute devastation: the old building battered into a massive pile of rubble, with nothing of the old structure remaining. As the sun set over the Burroughs, the sight of such wilful destruction, right next to the row of eighteenth century houses which would have been built around the time of the old White Bear, was deeply upsetting.
A foreman stood in the open entrance to the site, looking very pleased with himself. I took a photograph of the demolition and he came over. Why, I asked, have you knocked down this property, when there was apparently only permission for partial demolition? He shrugged. Was there? He didn't know - wasn't anything to do with them. Well, it might be, I suggested, if there is a court case, should the permission not have allowed for it. I walked off.
From a safe distance he yelled: Court? I'll take you to court ...
I turned on my heel, and returned in full Mrs Angry mode. Take me to court? What for?
For ... your attitude, he said, stupidly. I looked at him.
A lovely building has been destroyed, apparently without approval, in a conservation area, next to a fragile row of listed eighteenth century buildings, part of our local history - and you talk to me about MY attitude?
He moved away very quickly.
Rare surviving row of early 18th century houses, next door to the site of the demolished White Bear, now potentially at risk of structural damage
The next morning I tried, with a great deal of difficulty, to speak to someone in Barnet-Crapita planning, or enforcement, about the issue. Eventually a young woman on the duty desk confirmed there was only approval for partial demolition. You sure: nothing since 2014? No. (In fact she was wrong - there were variations allowed by planning officers which had chipped away at the amount of property that would be remaining). The case officer was not answering her phone. Another officer who knew about the case, however, claimed that a 'Stop Notice' had been issued the previous day on the site. Really? I was there late yesterday afternoon, early evening, and work was carrying on. Oh, perhaps it had been delivered during the night. Or early in the morning. Ok: I would be passing through Hendon later that morning, so would take a look. I'll let you know, shall I, if the notice is up? Yes. He gave me three numbers, two direct lines, one to him, another to the case officer. All a waste of effort, as it transpired.
When I arrived at the site there was no sign of work, although it was lunchtime. A transit van was parked in the grounds, and a fork lift truck amongst the debris. But no workers around - and more importantly, no 'Stop Notice'.
Walking around the back of the property, it was clear that something was presenting an immediate risk to safety: the huge mound of clay, soil, and heavy pieces of rubble were piled up towards the boundary, an England flag stuck defiantly on the top, the whole heap perilously near a rickety, splintering old fence, patched up in places with bits of hardboard. If there were rain, or any movement from the weight of debris, it is quite possible to imagine the whole lot sliding forwards, through the fence, onto the public footpath and road.
It was also sad to look at the churned up earth, and consider the amount of lost archaeology, and local history, destroyed in the demolition. And worrying for the future of the eighteenth century terrace next door, with the typically shallow foundations of that period: not to mention something locals are aware of, that is to say the risk from underground streams in the area.
Trying to contact enforcement to ask about the missing Stop Notice was impossible. Neither officer answered their phone, nor had any message service. Someone did promise to pass on information about the notice, and safety risk - but who knows what happened? He insisted a Stop Notice had been served and had been on display. He said the case officer would call back. She didn't. No one has.
It would seem that Capita have only about four enforcement officers currently working on all such cases - and no doubt this is one of the factors that have created the abysmally high levels of non enforcement of breaches, as seen in the document referred to in the previous post, in which it would seem around 80% of cases are signed off with 'no further action'. But it is up to Capita, and the commissioning officers and councillors to ensure there are sufficient officers to do the job.
Why was a notice to stop work only delivered a day or so ago, when it is too late, so long after residents informed council officers what was happening?
Because, I was told, since residents contacted them, the rest of the structure had 'fallen down'.
Ah, I see. What a shame. No one could have seen that coming, could they?
Why did officers not act immediately, when there was a chance to preserve some of the building - or at least to confirm that the appropriate permission was in place?
If there is enough evidence to require a Stop Notice now, why had no one checked the documents as soon as it was reported, when any remaining structure could be protected?
Why is the work going ahead with apparent disregard for the impact on listed neighbouring buildings, and in regard to health and safety?
Why do officers not have any message facility, that residents can call in urgent circumstances?
What have the local Tory councillors - including planning Chair (& shed enthusiast) Maureen Braun - done to investigate residents's concerns about the demolition? Will it teach the Tory councillors on planning committees to be less naive - or indulgent with such applications in the future? One can only hope so.
So many questions, aren't there?
Developers know now that Barnet is an easy place to get away with breaches of planning and enforcement regulations.
They know that they can apply for permission for one thing, build something else, and nothing will happen.
Nothing will happen to them, but you may find yourself living next door to a house turned into multiple occupancy, or with unauthorised extensions ... or you may wake up one morning and find the house next door to you is being demolished. It will be destroyed before anyone does anything to stop it. And all of these things will affect the value of your property, and affect your enjoyment of your own home. Don't like the sound of all that? Tough. You keep voting for the nincompoops who have let it happen, so you only have yourselves to blame. Try to resist the temptation in future.
The failure by our privatised council effectively to enforce the law, and to protect this borough from rogue development, is having a hugely detrimental impact on not just the appearance of the borough, or the value of neighbouring properties, but on the quality of life of all residents.
It is also destroying our common history, incrementally, brick by brick, property by property. Any historic building which is not nationally listed - and some that are - is at risk from predatory development, the laxity of council contractors, and the laziness and apathy of Tory councillors, who turn a blind eye to the destruction they sanction, either by foolish decision making at committee, or by failing properly to monitor the performance and processes of their privatised planning and enforcement services.
So, no more 'order and decorum', at the White and Funny Bear - the pub which, ironically, was once known as 'Committee Room No 5', by council officers from the Town Hall, across the road, who used to be its most regular source of custom.
No more order and decorum, no more history; only a stylistically anachronistic future building that will sit, in triumph, in the middle of a conservation area, in tribute to the era of profit, and the fatal assault of our local history, and built heritage.
There could be no finer representation of all the finest principles of Tory Broken Barnet, could there?