Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Countdown to failure, for Barnet Tories, and Casting the Net: a Week in Broken Barnet


Labour Cllr Anne Clarke, AM

As predicted, the recent London Assembly elections saw Roberto Weeden Sanz, the Tory candidate for Barnet and Camden, soundly beaten by Labour's Anne Clarke, and we also waved a fond goodbye to no hoper Shaun Bailey, who stood against Sadiq Khan for Mayor of London. 

Anne Clarke deserved to win: she is a remarkably intelligent, hardworking, dedicated and conscientious advocate for her council ward of Childs Hill, and is known for her hands on approach to community work.

Roberto Weeden Sanz did not deserve to win, for several reasons: first and foremost the fact that he chose as mentor for his campaign the disgraced former Tory councillor and AM Brian Coleman. Yes, it appears local Tories have quietly allowed him back into the party, despite his history which includes, as fellow blogger Roger Tichborne reminds us today, a conviction for the assault in the street of a woman, cafe owner Helen Michael: you can see the footage and a report of the trial here.

Weeden Sanz, on his twitter profile, boasts that he is a 'White Ribbon' Ambassador. As you can see on their website, this honour is supposed to be held by men who pledge to be a positive male role model, "working with us to change the cultures that lead to violence against women".

Barnet Tories never apologised to Helen Michael for the assault, or for not believing her account of the attack, even after the court footage was published and she was proven to be telling the truth. 

Another truth is that a lack of respect for women is deeply embedded in the core of the Barnet Tory group. They amended the council constitution a few years ago to ensure the Chairs of any committee were to be referred to as 'Chairmen', even if chaired by a woman. One of the few women in the group, long serving councillor Joan Scannell, when viciously deselected by them after years of loyal service, made a speech at her last meeting, accusing them of misogyny. And that the spokesperson for their group on the issue of violence against women is a man, rather than a woman, is only to be expected.

It was Coleman himself who stupidly let the cat out of the bag: after rumours that he was back in the party and coaching Weeden Sanz for a glorious victory in the Assembly elections, he could not resist answering criticism of his pupil's non attendance at two hustings events by claiming 'they' were too busy: 



His account was immediately locked, no doubt under orders from local Tories. Too late. And lo and behold, the woman whom Coleman tries to insult by calling her 'the Cricklewood Housewife' was duly elected to the London Assembly.

At the count, Weeden Sanz was accompanied by the Tory group leader Dan Thomas - and Brian Coleman. And there you have it: the absolute inability of Barnet Tories to move into the 21st century, accept that women, even those Coleman once referred to as 'old hags', even housewives in NW2 - have won the right to vote, the right to be elected to office - and the right to respect.





One immediate effect of the Labour victory was to serve as a warning to local Tory MPs not to take for granted the idea that their own seats were safe, or that next year's local elections  would not be a hard contest. 

Not such a surprise, therefore, that last Thursday's online nonsultation event with the promoters of the highly controversial Hendon Hub saw Hendon MP Matthew Offord not only in virtual attendance - at one point his voice heard faintly over the ether, like a long dead uncle, drowned at sea, being channelled at a seance - at last speaking out in solidarity with the multitude of residents objecting to the monstrous development that is proposed for not one, but two Conservation Areas. He now has to catch up with Anne Clarke and Labour's Sara Conway, also present , and who have been listening to residents since it was first mooted.

This event was well attended, with more than 80 online participants, including, I noted with amusement, the consultants who had told me no one knew how big the alleged new library would be, because it hadn't really been designed: and then I received the information that didn't exist via a  separate FOI request, which was ... curious.

The plotters are now claiming to listen to residents and to have modified the plans. Well: yes we are still expected to put up with hideous seven storey blocks in the Conservation areas, and watch them knock our listed library to pieces, but .... they might only accommodate 600 students instead of 800, and they might have a token gesture of a small amount of 'affordable housing' and they might not move the PDSA base to the other side of the borough, and they might find room for the local police Safer Neighbourhood team (no, not more police resources, just a room). They might

Anyone who has followed the pattern of major developments in Barnet in the years of Capita knows that non binding promises ain't worth the paper they're not written on, and even conditions granted as part of Planning Permission can be helpfully modified by officers later, if the poor developer, cap in hand, and handkerchief to his tear soaked cheeks, claims that his development will no longer be viable if the nasty spoilsport councillors insist on his providing affordable housing or money for so called community projects that no one needs. Such as was suggested here: new park entrances (why?) and tarting up Brent Street (how?)! Whoopee! 

Also funny was watching the contortions they were obliged to assume - we are 'casting the net', they assured us - in order to try to explain why, despite planning officers being in communication with Historic England, in regard to the local plan and SDP, and Historic England telling them off for not mentioning in the draft the limitations necessary in Conservation areas for the protection of heritage buildings, the developers knew NOTHING about this and had NOTHING to do with it. Erm.

Capita jointly owns Capita Re, which runs planning in Barnet.

Capita owns GL Hearn, who are running the Hendon Hub nonsultation.

In fact, until I contacted them, Historic England knew NOTHING about the Hendon Hub proposals, even though clearly it presents a direct and serious threat to dozens of listed buildings, and two Conservation areas, and even though the development plans have been in the making since at least June 2019, when the plan was accidentally published with committee papers, and hastily removed, too late, and even though the Hub proposals breach the limitation Historic England has put on multi storey buildings in the area, despite Capita Barnet forgetting to include this in the draft SDP. 

Got that? Read it again.

Funniest of all was the running commentary on the group chat to which furious residents were contributing, with great enthusiasm, and which, as the consultants reminded them sternly, should be made remembering that they would be Noted as Part of the Nonsultation. Good. Probably the consultants won't want to look at them again without wearing dark glasses or taking sedation.

Offord - who lives in the area - would be a complete fool if he ignored the strength and scale of objection to this idiotic proposal. Hendon is regarded as a Tory area, but in these strange times there is no longer such a thing as a safe seat: and what Capita and developers are trying to push  through here is effectively the imposition of a modern day campus on not only a residential area, but also a sensitive historic area, with a rich abundance of built heritage -  and archaeology. The impact of these totally unviable plans would be unimaginable. The impact on core Tory voters would be unprecedented. 

In fact this is a pattern now emerging all over the Borough, and all three MPs must be aware, as should the Tory council group. By allowing Barnet to be an 'open city' for developers, through their privatised planning and regeneration services, they are alienating their own natural born voters, outraged at the scale of overdevelopment, and the impotence of usually tame Tory ward members & MPs  in doing anything to stop it.



Coming to a Conservation area near you soon: the Hendon Hub development, courtesy @barnettories


I think it's fair to say that on Thursday night, the promoters of this plan, including representatives of Middlesex University, looked astonished at the vehemence and articulation of those who are expected to live with the heart torn out of their neighbourhood. 

Capita will continue to make a profit from the process of consultation and preparation, whether or not the plans are ever put in place. Middlesex Uni and local politicians have to live with the consequences. And if they think the outcome is not going to be an absolute disaster for all concerned, they have made a bad miscalculation. 

Watch this space.


Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Hubble Bubble: More toil and trouble in Hendon - Historic England sidelined by the Hub developers


St Mary's Church, Hendon, by Alan Sorrell, 1937


Almost every day now, a new revelation about the Hendon Hub development emerges from the shadows. Today's story is about the heritage and conservation issues which are so central - or should be - to the consultation process that is required for such proposals. 

Last week I wrote to Historic England with my concerns about the threat posed by the Hendon Hub plan to the two Conservation Areas in the Burroughs and Church End, Hendon, and the plan to demolish all but the facade of the listed Hendon Library.

To my astonishment, a prompt response informed me that they knew nothing of these proposals.

This was despite the fact that they had, as recently as February, been in communication with Barnet about the associated local SPD plan - the draft plan of the Burroughs and Middlesex University Planning Framework Supplementary Planning Document. 

They forwarded a copy of the letter sent to Barnet, in which they highlighted the fact that the SPD did not sufficiently address matters of heritage and conservation. Here is the summary of points made:




This letter was sent on the 22nd February to a senior Capita Re planning policy officer, from an Historic Environment Planning Adviser. Yet Historic England were not told about the massive development in the conservation areas for which the process of public consultation - the nonsultation -  would begin only four days later: and HE knew nothing about the plans until I wrote last week. 

My spies tell me that Historic England has now contacted Barnet/Capita Re to discuss the proposals.

Let's take another look at this letter. 

You will note that it criticises the inclusion of 'Key Opportunity Sites'. 

These are sites Capita has identified for development potential. In the draft SPD, significantly, there are no less than 67 references to development - and only 11 references to conservation. 

Proof, if any were needed, that Capita's management of planning in this borough, even in the heart of this uniquely sensitive historic area, is deliberately prioritised, not as you would expect, so as to preserve the built heritage, but in order to identify potentially lucrative sites for development, from which the company will benefit financially, not least in terms of contractual fees.

These plans have been known about since at least June 2019, when a resident raised questions about it at a committee meeting, after the council accidentally published information which should have been exempt, and let the cat out of the bag. They refused to answer his questions. 

But what this means is that the covert plot to push a massive development into the heart of the two conservation areas has been a long time in the making. And yet they had not consulted Historic England, even as they were obliged to discuss the draft SDP with them. 

It is also significant that the draft SDP has been criticised by HE for preparing the way for what we now know had already been designed for the Hub, ie high rise buildings - the ugly and obtrusive student accommodation blocks, up to seven storeys high - buildings absolutely out of character with the surrounding historic area, which boasts a large range of early eighteenth century buildings, a thousand year old parish church, with possible Saxon origins, and a Norman font; a group of almshouses, and the Grade II* listed seventeenth century Church Farmhouse, as well as two other churches, and several listed early twentieth century buildings - including the Library.




Proposed high rise, crashingly inappropriate buildings in a low rise Conservation Area 


The impact of the Hub development clearly would be profoundly detrimental, adversely affecting the natural context of the Burroughs and the Church End conservation areas in so many ways - and leaving residents trapped in a virtual campus.

The plan to demolish all but the facade of Hendon Library, even thought it is a listed building, is in itself of course a hugely controversial proposal - and even the slightest alteration to a listed building, let alone one this radical, must be agreed with Historic England. 

How have the plans got this far, with no approach to them? And why?

In any other development, the plans  for such a sensitive area would have been formed after discussion with heritage advisers. Here we see our Tory councillors and their contractors trying to do their own thing, however, and in so doing, sideline Historic England, in their determination to see these ill begotten proposals through a farce of a consultation process, with only limited information given to residents, and crucial information withheld. Now we know that HE, which clearly is a hugely important 'stakeholder' has also been denied a role in this so called consultation. 

There is in addition, of course, the question of whether this plan is financially viable, grounds for objecting to the whole Hub proposal. 

We are being nonsulted, without adequate information, only a heavily redacted business plan, and vague sounds about possible sources of cash for the £90 million costs. Costs which almost certainly will be much more than that. 

Why do we need what we are told will be accommodation for 800 students, and why do we need them, several storeys high, in the centre of conservation areas? 

Why not build in nearby Colindale, where there is already accommodation for Middlesex Uni - and no built heritage at risk? 

Will they even be able to fill these halls, post Covid, and post Brexit? 

Or is this just a wheeze to get approval for planning approval in this area, which will slowly morph into yet another highly profitable luxury housing development?

There is an election in a few days time. 

If Tory activists come knocking on your door, between now and then, I would suggest that you ask them why it is that developers and Capita, and not elected representatives, are running this borough. 

And then vote for the Labour candidate and local library campaigner, Anne Clarke.



Saturday, 24 April 2021

Makerspaces and Make Believe: more on the Hendon Hub and the threat to Hendon's Listed Library




Hendon Library

More news on the story of the Hendon Hub, and Barnet Tories' plan to help Middlesex University turn the most historic part of Hendon into what will effectively be a campus site, regardless of the impact on residents, and regardless of the impact on the unique and highly sensitive character of the area, and its built heritage. 

Why Tory members and their privatised planning and regeneration services, run by Capita, feel it is appropriate to seek to impose such an incongruous proposed development in the heart of not one but two Conservation areas is impossible to understand - or would be if we had not already experienced years of seeing developers being given a free run in this borough, and the planning system being allowed to become entirely focused on creating and promoting development for the benefit of developers, and Capita, rather than local need.

In this case, the Hendon Hub plans are being created by the same bodies that will decide whether or not planning permission will be given. Yes, a massive conflict of interest, you might think - compounded by further conflicts within the council and the local planning process itself. 

Beyond that point, however, there are - theoretically at least - external safeguards which should review any approval - and then of course there is the judicial system, through which legal challenges may be made.

Residents are determined to fight these proposals, in whatever form is necessary, because so many feel totally excluded from what should be a fair and open process of consultation. Enter the Hendon Residents' Planning Forum: a group of highly focused local figures, whose spokesperson is Brad Blitz, Professor of International Politics and Policy at UCL's Institute of Education, and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Global Affairs, at LSE.

This time, Barnet Tories & their chums have picked on the wrong people. 

I can reveal that the Forum has already begun a process of engagement with the UN's 'Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee' to report what it believes is a failure in consultation by the London Borough of Barnet in regard to the Hendon Hub plans.

The UK is bound by the terms of the Aarhus Convention, which is meant to safeguard the rights of citizens to the disclosure of information, meaningful participation and access to justice, in any decision making process which has an impact on their environment, either nationally or locally. 

It is too early to proceed with a full submission, but the Forum will be pursuing the matter once the appropriate moment arrives: and to show how seriously this move has been taken, we can report that representatives of the UK government, as well as LB Barnet, have already been required to take part in the preliminary stages of the process.

That this UN committee takes very seriously the principle of meaningful participation in consultation and decision making is evidenced by a recent ruling, sought by Kazakhstan, as to how such consultations should proceed during Covid. The outcome of the Committee's considerations was clear: 

" ... any shortcomings in ensuring effective public participation in decision-making under the Convention during the pandemic may be subject to challenge by members of the public in accordance with the provisions of article 9 of the Convention."

Local residents are not going to keep quiet about this issue, and nor should they. Apart from the threat to two highly sensitive Conservation areas of these utterly crass proposals, and the virtual destruction of a listed Library, the refusal to hold meaningful consultation, or to disclose the full details of what such plans entail, is clearly a failure which must be addressed. 

You may recall that over the last couple of years, by coincidence the period in which development has reached a peak in this borough, Barnet Tories have made concerted efforts to change the authority's Constitution, so as to remove many of the rights of participation that residents had always had, such as being able to submit questions to councillors at committee meetings and Residents' Forums. Tory members took these rights away, restricting the number of questions to only two at any meeting, regardless of the importance and scale of the issue. This was despite the One Barnet Judicial Review finding in which, although lost through being out of time, the judgement was that consultation had been inadequate. Since then the ability to scrutinise council actions has been even more curtailed - which will be a useful argument in future JRs. 

The irony of Kazakhstan being more acutely aware of the need to safeguard the rights of public participation in decision making than the burghers of Broken Barnet hardly needs spelling out. Yes, this is Tory Barnet, rather than Borat. Just about.

One of the criticisms made by residents of the so called consultation in regard to both the local SDP and the Hendon Hub plans is that the proposals fail to give sufficient detail to be able to engage in an informed way. Clearly pushing this through during Covid and lockdown has restricted access to the process itself, but the would be developers have also restricted access to information in several ways: overly redacted reports, only a handful of strictly limited Zoomed presentations, where onlookers cannot ask questions, and so on.

One example of a crucial lack of information is the case of the proposed new library, which is supposedly meant to replace the Grade II listed building, built in 1929, and which was, before Tory cuts slashed it to pieces, the central library for the Borough - until their meddling, it was the busiest branch in the service. This magnificent building they propose to demolish, other than the facade: the back of the building is not listed, so they intend to knock that out in order to cannibalise the library carcass, and integrate what is left into a brand new development for Middlesex University. 


Hendon Library - pic courtesy RIBA archives

As well as being part of the Hendon Hub Nonsultation, a separate exercise specifically about the new library proposals was launched, with questions suggesting that residents could have a 'state of the art' new branch, with all sorts of new functions and services offered as well as a replacement library, Archives and Local Studies centre, study areas and community space. Their own information boards promise:


By making use of the development

opportunity, the library service will be

able to:

• Expand the library offer – for example,

potentially creating ‘Makerspaces’ where

children and adults can learn how to use

creative technologies like 3D printers,

or spaces where community partners

can deliver services such as job clubs or

health advice ...


And all of this in one small space, shoved in the bottom of a student accommodation block, on the site of parking spaces, opposite the Town Hall?

Really?

Well, could we be told exactly how big the area in the ground floor of the student block will be, so we can engage in this so called consultation, with some sort of point of reference? We could not.

One resident attempted to ask for the capacity measurements, via the Hub 'helpline'. 

She was told that these figures do not exist, because the building has not been designed yet. According to the architect, who had not yet drawn up plans. Nor did they know how big the site was. Early days, see? Just some vague idea scribbled on the back of a packet of fags.

Well: not being minded to believe such tosh, I made a Freedom of Information request for the measurements which do not exist - and guess what? They forwarded the measurements which do not exist.

Response Information request (ref: 7180100)

Please tell me the size and capacity of the new 'teardrop shaped' student building that is intended to be built on the old council car park, opposite the Town Hall.

Please note that design is at an early stage and plans that may well change for a variety of reasons before any construction might begin. They are also subject to the planning application process, at which stage they would be publicly consulted on in a final form. At this point in the design process the following information is relevant:-


• At the base of the building (the teardrop element) the length (at the longest point

of the Library) is 40m

• The width of the building ground level is currently 30.5m

• The general diameter of the circular element at ground level is currently 28m

• The height of the building is currently 16.15m

• The diameter of the rotunda at the upper levels is currently (floors 1-3) is 32m

stepping back to 27.7m at the upper level (4 th Floor)

• The capacity is currently 110 student accommodation rooms plus the ground

floor library element (see below)

Please give me a copy of the physical dimensions of the ground floor, and the

metric capacity.

As above. The teardrop currently has the following dimensions:-

• The Gross Internal Area of the Library at Ground floor is currently 657 sqm with a

further 173 sqm potentially at a lower ground level (830 sqm total)

• The footprint area of the building at ground level 847sqm which includes Library,

cores, circulation, storage and back of house areas.


Please give full measurements of the size of the site on which the new 'teardrop'

building is going to be placed.

The teardrop building sits on the combined Parade / Carpark site which is 2200 sqm in

size.

Now then. On Page 22 of the (redacted) Business Plan, we are told:

The new facility will provide c. 200 sqm of additional gross internal space compared to the current 622 sqm GIA library provision.

We know now, however, that the promised additional 200 sqm will only happen if another basement level is added. And that would just bring the capacity up to the size of the minimal library space left in the original building after the cuts. Not including Archives & all the many other new functions they claim to be offering.

So: not only does this prove that crucial information was deliberately withheld from the Nonsultation, but that the 'Helpline' was misleading residents - and the proposed space, as suspected, is simply not big enough to offer anything like the range of services they say they want to offer - let alone represent a reasonably sized replacement for what was once a magnificent library.

In other words, they are taking residents for fools, and the so called consultation itself might reasonably be considered to be a farce. 

My own view is that the proposed new library is unlikely ever to be anything other than a temporary replacement, in the Portacabin, and will probably never move into a new space, as it will be at some future date considered to be a non-viable part of the plans and dropped. If it does move, then it will be on a temporary basis that can easily be revoked. 

The history of developments in Barnet, ever since the West Hendon fiasco, is that over time, commitments to community benefits or affordable housing are discreetly removed, on the pretext of the project no longer being on line to meet the developer's targets - profits. Agreements to allow this are recommended by planning officers, rubber stamped by Tory weighted committees. There is every reason to expect the same may happen here, in some form.

Looking at the business plan for the Hub - or rather what little of it we are allowed to see - it is impossible to see how it was viable before Brexit, and Covid. At the point where we are now, it  is not. Middlesex University, like all other universities, will now face significant financial challenges, and risks being unable to pay the returns Barnet Council expects as its part of the deal for brokering the loan to support the development. 

You might wonder why a local authority, in such unprecedented times, feels the need to act as a developer, with all the risk it entails, rather than restrict its ambitions to balancing the books, and providing an adequate standard of services to residents and taxpayers. They claim the plans will 'only' cost £90 million: this is highly likely to be a very (Barnet) conservative underestimate. And if it goes wrong, and the debt is not repaid by the development, who pays? You and me.

If permission is given for the Hendon Hub, but the university backs out, will the development shapeshift into yet another collection of luxury housing blocks rather than student accommodation?

If Tory councillors really want a state of the art library in Hendon, why did they spend what we were told was half a million pounds of public money, tearing the heart out of the old building, and decimating the size of the library area, in order to suit the needs of Middlesex University? * Who will repay that? This was done on the pretext that a decent library was no longer needed in the area: so why would they now pretend it is? Do you trust the Tories, after what they have done to our libraries? To our borough?

(* In fact the contractors' website says it was a project worth £700,000 ...)



Hendon Library - pic courtesy RIBA archives

One of their own local Hendon councillors objects to the proposal, which is brave of her, because she will be shunned by them, if she continues to stick her neck out. But she knows how important the library is to the local community, and that residents do not want the ugly and intrusive buildings allowed in the conservation areas.

'Save Barnet Libraries' is a local residents' campaign group that has fought for years to try to block Barnet Tories' unceasing assault on our public library service. They have now issued an open letter to Barnet residents and library users: 


Dear Library Lovers

We write to ask for your support for Hendon library: the Grade II listed building faces demolition (apart from protected features) while the library will move to modular buildings, i.e. portacabins,  on a car park. Due to move in October 2021, there will be “reduced service” for two to three years while the massive £90m Hendon Hub development proceeds. Eventually, the library will be sited on the ground floor of a new block of student accommodation opposite the Town Hall.

Will the new library ever be built? The full business case for the development isn’t yet published and, when it is, the public will be prevented from proper scrutiny, as with the Brent Cross fiasco.  Currently, the plans are so non-committal that it is possible the new building will not even have planning permission before the existing library is demolished.

The Council’s website offers “An outstanding new public library for Hendon, with more modern and improved services”. There are no concrete promises behind this; no commitment to additional investment in the library service. The Council’s own evaluation stated that the 2017 cuts to staffed hours had “gone too far” and resulted in the exclusion of key groups who depend on libraries: particularly children, users with disabilities and some older users. Prior to the cuts (including the removal of the historic children’s library), Hendon Library had been the most well-used branch in Barnet.  

 Another Council “promise” needs unpicking: “The current Hendon Library is a beautiful building, but its maintenance and upkeep costs a lot of money that would be better spent on providing a modern library service.” Again, there is NO commitment to spend this money on the library service! In fact, in 2017, the last time the Council trumpeted library "refurbishment", it spent £500k on slicing up the building so it could be rented to Middlesex University (maintaining only 13% for library use). The £155k per year gained in rent hasn’t yet covered the outlay, but the purpose was clear: the library was an asset to be exploited, not a service to be supported and we believe this approach continues.

We suspect, along with the newly formed resident’s group, Hendon Residents Planning Forum that the Hendon Hub is developer and Capita-led, reducing social housing while hoping for profit from privately-managed student dorms, as well as earning fees for processing the scheme. For more information see also Mrs Angry’s blog. Residents across Barnet must oppose these priorities or we may be left with facades and temporary libraries in place of heritage and community in other areas too.

 PLEASE TAKE ACTION:

Sign and circulate this petition: https://www.change.org/p/barnet-council-last-chance-to-save-old-hendon-library?recruiter=48178792

 Respond to the Hendon Hub consultation on Hendon Hub | Delivering for Barnet  - the deadline is 21 May 2021. Oppose the demolition and move of the library and the failure to invest in the service.

 The Library Service is running a separate survey about what residents want in the new library. We are concerned this presumes the outcome of other consultations, including the planning process. If you fill it in, please use the (limited) comment boxes to demand increased staffed hours, library space and resources, as the Council’s own evaluation recommended.

 Please email your concerns to your local Councillors and to Reuben Thompstone, Chair of the Communities, Leadership and Library Committee on Cllr.r.thompstone@barnet.gov.uk and copy your email to us. Whether or not you live in Hendon, you can also email your MP as such a major development has implications for the library service and heritage buildings across the borough.

 Thank you for your support.

Emily Burnham

On behalf of Save Barnet Libraries

 

I would also suggest that residents write to raise their concerns about the threat to the listed Library and to the two Conservation areas with Historic England, which you can contact here:

customers@HistoricEngland.org.uk 

There are currently proposals, believe it or not, to demolish and develop part of Fleet Street, despite being in a Conservation Area. Similarly to the context of the Hendon Hub proposals, the plans were both submitted by the City of London Corporation, and approved, this week, by the City of London Corporation. This highly controversial plan, however, is likely to continue to meet robust opposition - and Historic England has stated: 

Major impacts such as this can progressively and fundamentally erode the character of a conservation area, and it is important to recognise therefore that moderate harm in the context of a large and highly significant conservation area is a very serious issue ...

This principle clearly applies in the case of the Hendon Hub, and the proposed installation of a crassly designed campus development in the middle of an historic area, marked for conservation purposes for its wealth of early Georgian properties, and the number of unique, listed, early twentieth century civic buildings.

The time has come to stand up to fight those who are putting profit before the protection of our history, and our built heritage. If we do not oppose this now, soon not one listed building, nor any conservation area will be safe from the rapacious grasp of developers, both here in Barnet, and nationally. Please do what you can. And remember when you go to vote next month that the candidate who has a long history of supporting Barnet library campaigners is Labour's Anne Clarke.


Tuesday, 30 March 2021

The Teardrop Explodes: the new Hendon library that is, and is not



Above right: the new 'library' design, which has not been designed.

Well then. A short update to the previous post on the Hendon Library fiasco.

As you know, the Broken Barnet web of  informers spreads far and wide across the borough. And so we learn, via this network, of the experience of one resident attempting to contact the Hendon Hub consultation, in order to ask some very reasonable questions about the size of the fantasy new library alleged to be our Tory councillors' 'offer' in replacement for the listed, former flagship library next to the Town Hall. Which we know now they want to knock down.

We know now, from the careful investigation of local residents and campaigners, that not only do the plotters intend to try to demolish all but the facade of Hendon Library, but that rather than, as we thought, replace this with a purpose built 'state of the art' new library on the old council car park, it will merely consist of something shoved in the bottom of a block of student accommodation, on this site. 

As you will have seen in the previous post, there are remarkably detailed, albeit carefully presented, illustrations of what the new buildings in the Burroughs would look like, if the plotters get their way, and there are images of the new student block which apparently will host a library on the ground floor. It is perfectly obvious that this new block is not huge, and is largely a rounded building, with restricted space. How much space? Doesn't say.




One curious resident, let's call her Mrs X, rang the Hub phoneline. No response. Ansaphone. Left a message asking someone to call her back with more information about the new library. Someone did call her back later that day to say - person didn't know anything much about it, but would ask. Oh. About this new building then ... Was it a completely round building? She was told no, it was in fact a 'teardrop' shape. Ah. 

Rang back next day and told Mrs X that sadly, she couldn't give her 'any numbers', because everything was 'too early 'in the planning stages, and the architect didn't know, and of course it all depended on what people wanted to see in the library. It wouldn't be smaller than what we had (how could it be?).

So what is the measurement of the site? Surely that gives some indication of the size of the footprint of the new library, or at least the new building? 

Mmm. Will have to go and ask about that.

What about the size of the so called 'temporary' library? You've got a floor plan of that on the Hub Information Boards, after all, so you must have some idea of how big that is? 

Will have to go and ask about that too.


The 'temporary' Portacabin library, designed, but not designed, and its size a mystery. The toilet bowls give some sense of the small scale, mind you ... the 'community room', & staff area, will seemingly be only three & a half times the size of the loos.

And, you know, pointed out Mrs X, you can't really run a consultation with residents on the basis of not providing basic information like the size of the library you say we can have. How can we be properly consulted if we don't know what is realistically achievable, in what seems to be an  awfully small space for a library, a community space, areas for study and areas for new functions that you say might go in - as well as the Local Studies Centre and specialist storage space for archival material?

The Helpline person said that more information, including size, would be released in the next round of ... information release. Oh. When? Mid May. After the elections, you mean? Yes. 

Aha! You may be told how big your tiny new library will be, readers, but not until this explosive information won't upset the Tory voters, (well: too late for that ...) and equally significantly, only days before the consultations end ...

So: the architect has designed but not designed a building which may or may not fit the space intended for it, which is an awful gamble, isn't it? Still, as Tory library Chair Cllr Reuben Thompstone says here, "The Hendon Hub project is a fantastic opportunity to improve our offer to Hendon residents ..." Our offer. 

Fantastic. In its truest sense.

The architect has not designed the new building they claim will accommodate the new library, and the design that does not exist, suitably, as we see below, is in the shape of a teardrop. Got that?

A representation of the grief of the people of Hendon, for their lost, listed library, and the memory of their built heritage? Or is it, Councillor Thompstone, the teardrop slowly running down the cheek of Eileen Colwell, watched by new  generations of children robbed by the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet of their right to a comprehensive and efficient library service, as guaranteed by the Public Libraries and Museums Act, 1964?



When two teardrops collide: here we see the small size of the new library that is, and is not.

The new building may or may not accommodate all the lovely things they are encouraging us to believe might be put there, if only they get planning permission. Similarly to the fantasy library which still stands, invisible to all but true believers, in the cursed landscape of North Finchley, it is a library, but not a library: it both exists, and does not exist. It is Schrodinger's Library, an eternal paradox, left dead and alive in a sealed box made by mad scientists in the Barnet Capita Laboratory of Broken Dreams. 

In other words: this is not just any sort of consultation, readers, but a Barnet Tory consultation: a Nonsultation. Verging towards an Insultation. 

Nevertheless: more than a thousand people have already signed the petition organised by residents determined to stop the demolition of the listed Hendon Library. If you haven't already done so, please sign here.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams: the Burroughs, the Hendon Hub - and Barnet Tories' planned demolition of Hendon's listed Library



The Burroughs, Hendon. All of these buildings except the old Workhouse, right, have survived. So far.


Sometimes it is hard to know where to start, when writing about the political scene in Barnet. But the ending is always the same. Increasingly, so many stories now lead back to the same problem, lodged deep in the core of the current Tory administration. 

There is no longer even any pretence of political principle here, no vision for the borough, no democratic accountability: this borough is nothing more than a vehicle for delivering profit to developers - and through this process, profit to Capita, their outsourced planning and regeneration service. 

Everywhere you look there are conflicts of interest, lobbying, undeclared interests, declared interests that are left unmanaged: at every level, within a planning system that is neither accountable nor transparent. 

Want to choose your own named planning officer? (Why?) Well, pay a fee and name your man, or woman. 

Planning officers leave Barnet/Capita and immediately set up in business here, in Barnet, as agents and consultants - sometimes for the same developers they dealt with professionally weeks before. Some even advertise on their websites their former roles as local planning officers. 

A well run authority is meant to mitigate not only the risk from conflict of interests, but also the perception of risk from conflict of interest. But then - Barnet is not a well run authority. 

The biggest conflict of all, however, arguably, is present within the context of the Capita contracts themselves. 

The company is desperate to retain its outpost in Barnet, as it is so lucrative: so many opportunities to exploit, especially from services related to development, planning and regeneration. And with a Tory group in charge who are happy to help them milk as much profit from our borough as possible, therein lies the danger. There is barely an inch of Barnet's landscape that has not been assessed for development opportunity by Capita - even our parks now are at risk.

Most of Capita's income from the Barnet contracts comes from planning and regeneration: clearly the more there is of that, the better for Capita. But what is good for Capita and its shareholders (who have seen the value of their investments plummet over the last year or so) is not necessarily good for Barnet's residents and communities: or good for their built heritage, now at risk as never before.

Every where you look, there are monstrous new developments springing up, pushed through regardless of impact on the community, regardless of whether or not such developments meet the needs of that community, and very often in blatant defiance of agreed local plans for the area drawn up by the authority itself. 

Planning and regeneration, housing and 'growth' are now shaped to suit developers, not residents. There is no coherent strategy other than to push developments: no care for the huge problem of less advantaged families unable to find truly affordable, decent accommodation.

Multi storey towers are imposed in Labour wards, vehemently opposed in Tory wards. Endless blocks of flats have appeared, unaffordable for the vast majority of Londoners, let alone Barnet residents. Family houses, which are desperately needed in many areas, are not built, because there is a lesser profit for developers. Inappropriate conversions of family houses are pushed through, regardless of the impact on the surrounding residential area - again, unless you are lucky enough to be in a Tory ward, but even then, now, this may offer little hope. And Tory voters are beginning to get very, very annoyed by the encroachment on their residential areas. The landscape is changing around them: and they don't like it.

Where are the new schools, GPs, clinics, parks, libraries, needed to support all the new development? Well, who cares about that? Apart, of course, from the residents already suffering from lack of provision of healthcare, especially in the western, poorer side of the borough, whose hope of access to a decent state school is already minimal. Parks? The Tories, as we have seen in the last blog, want to stuff the ones they consider 'low value' with solar farms and electric battery storage. Or sell bits for development, as in my local park. Libraries? 

Ah. Now then.

Yes, here we are again, back with the story covered here, and the truly gobsmacking decision made - before consultation - by the Tories, during Covid, to launch a massive development in the Burroughs, in Hendon, in league with Middlesex University. This is estimated to be going to cost the authority, at the very least, £90 million, which adds to the already whopping pile of loans it will undertake from other development projects, including Brent Cross-Cricklewood, (and of course not forgetting the £23 million lent to Saracens, for a new stand. Any sign of it yet, btw?)

You can read about the council's plans for the Hendon Hub here.

Interesting how some Tory members and senior officers are so keen to play developer with other people's money - public money, taxpayers' money - yours and mine. In the private sector, none of them would be likely to be entrusted with such huge undertakings, certainly almost no councillor in Barnet has any experience or expertise in managing such large scale projects, and probably no senior officer -  but of course in the public sector, if it all goes wrong, they will not carry the can. You won't see them for dust.  You and I, the local residents and tax payers, will be left paying the cost of their folly. Again: no transparency, no accountability, to us, the residents. We are just the mugs who have to bankroll all this development. And they have made sure we can't ask questions, altering the Constitution to make sure we are effectively bound & gagged. Or so they imagine - if you really want to speak out, then you will find a way. 

The idea, or rather the excuse given for these high risk ventures is that they will generate income or interest for the authority. But such ambitious plans were high risk even before Covid and Brexit: now we are where we are, anyone but a fool can see that these plans, even though they may be awfully alluring to Capita, amount to a breathtakingly stupid gamble with public funding. The example of councils like Croydon who have played the same game and ended up in catastrophic circumstances ought to work as a warning to Barnet Tories and their management team. It hasn't. 

The Burroughs scheme - known as the "Hendon Hub' - is centred on completing the apparently unstoppable expansion of Middlesex Uni in this area, linking the properties they have now and those they want to annex - and building a load of new student accommodation. The income from the new accommodation is supposed to pay back Barnet's investment in the development.

Again, these plans were made before Brexit and Covid: there is no reason to think that student numbers will remain stable, and every reason now to expect numbers will plummet, especially from overseas, a market depended on by so many London universities. And there is every reason to question why students coming to Middx Uni would want to pay to live in what will be very expensive accommodation - many of their students come from comparatively poor, BAME backgrounds, and either live at home, or house share.

Looking at the very carefully limited information supplied by the authority,  we learn that they consider it necessary to shove these new buildings up in the Burroughs because ... the old ones they want to get rid of are SO awful, and really should not be in a Conservation Area. Let alone two Conservation areas. Oh yes, did we mention this? The planned new blocks, which are truly awful, but in a new and more dramatic way, are going to be in the oldest and most historic part of Hendon, full of listed buildings, many of them from the early eighteenth century, or earlier - some later, in a grouping of thirties civic buildings, such as the Town Hall, Library, Fire station, the church and other properties.

You might recall that, not so long ago, developers got away with knocking down the lovely 1930s pub in the Burroughs, the White Bear. An inn with this name had been on the spot for hundreds of years. Tory councillors allowed them to demolish and develop it. The developers were told they had to leave the front wall, but somehow ... it was accidentally  knocked down too, and when residents tried to contact council enforcement to save what was left ... too late, there it was, in a pile of rubble.

So what do the new Hendon Hub plans now propose to put in the middle of this historic area? 

Buildings so ugly and intrusive they cannot even bring themselves to put them in the foreground of any of their whimsical, deliberately faded illustrations (which cleverly cut out the large number of eighteenth century buildings which survive beyond the cropped frame ...)

Just look at this: what they plan to put right slap bang in the centre of the Burroughs Conservation area, right opposite the listed Town Hall, and the listed Library ... you'll need to enlarge the image, and squint ...




RAVENSFIELD AND FENELLA 

"The Ravensfield and Fenella buildings are currently leased to the university for administrative and teaching purposes. The buildings will be reaching obsolescence by the end of their current leases, are not of any architectural merit and do not complement nearby historic buildings, failing to make the most of their key position on The Burroughs. 

Barnet Council is proposing to redevelop this important site and create a trio of architecturally outstanding landmark buildings that will greatly improve the look and feel of this part of The Burroughs, ranging from four to seven storeys in height. They will greatly improve the frontage onto The Burroughs compared with the current buildings and improve the local environment with high-quality landscaping and a boulevard atmosphere ..."


So: this illustration chooses to flood your view of the Burroughs with some of the lovely listed buildings that are included in the Conservation area: the Town Hall, the library, the Methodist church, all presented in a charming, helpfully smudged ink and watercolour image, with some of the new and most ugly blocks, tall and rigid, relentlessly out of character with the area, carefully hidden behind a sponged out blur of trees. 

These blocks, frankly, can only have been imagined by someone determined to ignore the context and architectural language of the surrounding historic buildings.

Opposite the Library, painted in colours which are similar to the shades of the older properties, but otherwise again in a crashingly modern style, is another student accommodation block, shoved on the only remaining car park in the area, which is relied on by visitors to the Town Hall attending meetings, events, weddings or registration of births and deaths.

Ravensfield and Fenella, by the way, are the names of early nineteenth century properties that once stood on those sites: with a very interesting forgotten history. But our history, in Broken Barnet, is meant to be forgotten. It gets in the way of development, and profit.

Still, looking forward to the promised new 'boulevard atmosphere', aren't you? Reminiscent of the old days, caf├ęs in the Boulevard Montparnasse, Paris in the thirties, (we'll always have Paris, won't we?) Maurice Chevalier tipping his hat as he passes, Piaf standing forlorn on a street corner, warbling La Vie en Rose, and - oh. Look at this. 

Maybe not, then. 



We are informed that the buildings that will be knocked down 'are not of any architectural merit' and 'do not complement nearby historic buildings'. The absurd implication being that the new ones are of architectural merit and do complement those historic buildings ... And of course, as we are told, they are not only going to (greatly) improve the 'look and feel' of this part of the Burroughs, but will provide something called, what was it  ... 'an exemplar high street' ... Oh. At the same time as a Boulevard? 

Who are they trying to kid? In what sort of way could this possibly be compared to a local high street?

Round the corner in the  centre of the old parish of Hendon, known historically as Church End - there is another Conservation area - and the Hub proposals plan new crashingly modern buildings here, around the ancient parish church of St Mary's and the Grade II * listed Church Farmhouse. (This latter property was formerly our local history museum, which Barnet Tories closed and ransacked in order to sell off the collection and then sell off the building, which they couldn't, so they gave it to ... can you guess? Yes, Middlesex Uni ...)


Church End, Hendon

This part of old Hendon has been the site of a settlement for at least two millenia: there is evidence which suggests there was a Roman temple here, somewhere around the area of the church, and clearly this site is of uniquely important archaeological and historic significance. But who cares? Not our Tory councillors, or Capita. All that stuff in the Church Farmhouse Museum, our local heritage, donated by local residents, was declared to be 'of no value' by then Tory leader Richard Cornelius, and flogged off. Why would they care about the layers of history that lie beneath the soil here?

One of the few remaining community amenities in this area which has not been pushed out by the Uni or the council is the much relied upon PDSA centre. This they propose to demolish, and offer in replacement something plonked on a council car park in far away Osidge.

Osidge really is an awfully long way from Hendon and there is no easy transport link: the people who use a bus to get here with their sick animals (and lots of them do, as anyone who uses the 143 will know, almost always with a mewling, panicking cat in a carrier on its way to see the vet) will have to subject them to a long and difficult journey miles across the borough. Having the PDSA in the less advantaged side of the borough makes sense: after all it exists to provide medical care for animals whose owners cannot afford expensive vet fees - moving right across to the affluent area of Osidge, in the east, does not. 

But let's go back to the Burroughs. Take another look at that rounded student block opposite the old Library. Yes, the old Library. The listed Library. The one they are going to demolish. 

What?

Yes. Demolish. Leaving all but a shell.

They intend to knock down Hendon Library, listed or not. 

All they intend to leave is the facade of the old building. And let Middlesex Uni build their own monstrous carbuncle inside, behind, and attached to the remaining, pointless front wall - and possibly some of the sides. We don't know for sure, because the plans are so carefully vague.



Hendon's listed Library

This is a favoured ploy adopted in the course of some of the most terrible assaults on historic properties now being perpetrated - although only in areas with compliant councils - in London and elsewhere, at the moment. 'The Gentle Author', who writes the fabulous 'Spitalfields Life' blog, has published a book on the subject, entitled 'The Creeping Plague of Ghastly Facadism', in an effort to shame those responsible into some sense of remorse for their architectural vandalism.

These villainous plans for Hendon Library, and the attempted destruction of another part of our built heritage, hidden behind a fake frontage, of course presents the perfect metaphor for everything wrong, in Broken Barnet. Behind Barnet Tories' facade of lies and faux democracy is nothing but a naked contempt for our history and sense of community. Worse still: behind the hollowed out library there is not only a total lack of respect for the idea of a public library service, but for the very idea of the public sector, as we have seen in their failed agenda of mass privatisation, the now discredited, hollowed out council model, meant to save money, now costing us more and more each year.

Of course our Tory members will point to the fantasy new library they claim will be built to replace the one that they want to knock down. They said first of all that a 'state of the art' library would be built on the car park across the road from the Town Hall. Now they admit it will be something shoved in the bottom of the rounded off building you see in the illustration, on that car park.

They are remarkably vague about the timing of this proposed new 'library' and have made plans to stuff a few books in a Portacabin as a 'temporary' replacement. A bit like the five shelves bunged in the Arts Depot that was meant to be a temporary replacement for the new, 'state of the art' library at North Finchley, that was the pretext for shutting South Friern Library. The Invisible Library, as it was known, is still Invisible, and indeed, non existant.

Even if a mini library space is put in the student block, clearly it will be very small, and certainly not 'state of the art'. Plus: this ground floor is supposed also to accommodate the borough's Archives, which require a lot of room, and specialist storage conditions. There simply isn't enough space. And where will the archival material go in the meanwhile? Given by Capita to their subcontractors to store, and never seen again, like the Heritage Collection, and the Grass Farm stained glass windows?

The illustration looks an awful lot like the replacement for the old Church End Finchley library, now next door to Waitrose. There was nothing wrong with the old library, in fact: it only needed refurbishment. But the developers who bought Gateway House wanted planning permission for a luxury development, which they were given after they offered something we did not need, ie a library room on the ground floor, on a leasehold basis. There is absolutely nothing in the new library fittings that could not be removed in the course of a day's work - and they will be, when the Tories think they can get away with closing it, in another round of cuts, simply allowing the lease to revert to the freeholder. They didn't even bother to put the sign for a library on the building above the door. The same temporary feel will be true of the Hendon replacement - if it ever appears in the intended new student block.

If you recall, when they recently spent hundreds of thousands of pounds gutting Hendon Library and reducing the library space in the building to a tiny fraction of its former size they did so claiming there was no real demand for anything better. When reminded (by me) of the legacy of Eileen Colwell, the Hendon librarian who pioneered the international children's library movement, they shrugged, reduced the children's area to a couple of shelving units and stuck a picture of her in the corner.


Eileen Colwell

Now here is the biggest demonstration of the complete hypocrisy of this council's new plans: they claim they want to pay 'tribute' to Miss Colwell, by demolishing her library and putting up a plaque to commemorate her work. Her work, and her legacy, they have already systematically trashed in this borough, in the rounds of savage cuts which even their own consultants told them had gone too far. Children's libraries? In some branches now this consists of a table and two chairs, and a few bookshelves. In North Finchley, and Golders Green, the purpose built children's libraries were gutted, and closed, on the pretext of creating space for income generation - which never happened.

It is absolutely sickening to see these people pretending to give a sh*t about her legacy, while actively complicit in working to destroy it, not just in demolishing the building where she launched her vision of the children's library movement, but in so cynically cutting our library service to pieces, removing from the borough's most disadvantaged children the right to free and easy access to a library, and the joy of reading, having cut and shut our library service, effectively removed professional librarians from the management of the service, sacked workers and replaced them with unstaffed opening hours - and slashed the book stock to the point where there is simply no adequate supply of material for those children.

It's only right and fitting, perhaps, that they should take this rampage to its ultimate conclusion, and start demolishing the libraries, in order to facilitate the progress of development, and engineer further fat fees for contractors. 

Problem is: they can't actually knock Hendon Library down. Inside or out.

The listed features are not simply the external features of the front wall. There are other listed features - (I happen to know because a close friend was the conservation officer who listed this property, and the Town Hall, and so many other properties, before his job was deleted ... but you can see the listing for yourself here). These include external features, not just at the front of the building - but also internal ones. And it is interesting that the brief for the proposed demolishment has in the last few days been tweaked with weasel words glossing over this unfortunate obstacle in the way of demolition. 


The staircase is part of the listed internal features of Hendon Library - the building that Barnet Tories intend to demolish. Pic courtesy of RIBA archives.

So what can be done?

You can stand up and be counted, if you object to these plans, as residents already are: there is a very vocal, very well informed and determined group organising objections to this outrageous scheme. They have started a petition to stop the demolition of the library, which you can find here.

The horrified reaction of residents should send a real warning to the Tory councillors - one of whom, a local Hendon ward member, also objects to the proposals. This part of Hendon has always been considered a safe Tory ward. There are no safe wards for anyone, anymore, and increasingly it is the case that the scale of development in the borough now is so out of control it is affecting the Tory core vote. 

And in Hendon, the residents who will be affected by these plans are not going to tolerate their area becoming nothing more than a campus for Middlesex Uni, with the last community amenities steam-rollered out of existence. 

There is currently, in the time honoured tradition of Tory Barnet, a Nonsultation exercise taking place that claims to be seeking the views of residents in regard to the Hub and the library plans. 

It is clear, however, that the decision has already been made. Looking at the minutes of the Policy and Resources Meeting of December 8th last year, we find this: 


You will note that it states the OBC is approved, and a FBC is to be developed. In my view that suggests a decision in principle has been made, prior to consultation. In regard to the library, it is even more clear: the Committee took the decision to approve the move of Hendon Library to a temporary location - subject to consultation. The separate library consultation, however, did NOT consult residents on the question of whether or not they want the library moved, merely what sort of new library they want. The decision has already been taken to move, however they try to fudge the issue now - and no alternative has been offered. 

And there is absolutely nothing to stop them turning round after a couple of years with the library Portacabin, wringing their hands and saying, sadly, with rising costs, we can no longer offer a new library after all ... Like they did with North Finchley. Remember that this apparent new enthusiasm for a lovely library in Hendon hardly fits with what they did to the old one, and all the rest of them, only a couple of years ago.

You can find the Nonsultation survey here. Be careful, as always with Barnet questionnaires, as to how you respond.

Oh yes: and guess who is organising the Nonsultation? A company called GE Hearn. 

Owned by Capita, of course. 

Which means that the roles played by Capita, in regard to the Hendon Hub are: in planning, regeneration, and consultation with residents - the latter function being undertaken by the development side of Capita. We should also note that they are in charge of the management of council buildings, including the library portfolio.

Does this multiplicity of roles, with all the extra fees it will generate for the company, in the course of these proposals, present a conflict of interests? You might reasonably think so. Has this risk been assessed, and addressed? 

If you object to what is being planned for the Boroughs, and the Library, make sure you speak out: write to the Tory councillors, and write to Hendon MP Matthew Offord, who lives in the area, and has reportedly said he is 'keeping an eye' on the matter, whatever that means. 

Write to Historic England, and tell them to protect the listed Library from these vandals.

Oh, and there is an election coming up in a few weeks. Please remember how much depends on Tories being kept out of power in London, if we want to avoid further overdevelopment of our city: I will be voting for Anne Clarke, who has always fought against the Tory cuts to our library service.

And here again is the link to the petition to save the Library building: please sign and encourage others to add their names. 

Petition to Save Hendon Library.

O

Hendon Library, photo credit Museum of London