Wednesday 24 July 2013

Picnics and such tricks: Barnet Tories approve the Welsh Harp development

Stormy weather: an eventful week, and more trouble ahead for Barnet Council after last night's vote to approve the hugely controversial development plans for a monstrous housing development  by Barratt Homes alongside the Welsh Harp reservoir. 

The Welsh Harp is a  a broad expanse of water originally created in the 1830s as 'Brent Reservoir', not for the conservation of drinking water or other domestic use, but as a feeder for the Grand Junction Canal. 

Local historian Philip Grant has written about the background to this well loved location, and you can read more about it here: 

A visit to the Welsh Harp became a popular outing for Victorian Londoners, especially once a pub and pleasure gardens were added to its attractions by a Mr William Warner, whose enterprise inspired a music hall song, sung by Miss Annie Adams:

Warner's Welsh Harp! - Have you ever been there?
Pic-nics, such tricks, are everyday seen there ...
You couldn't find its equal, if you walked for miles about,
There's no mistake about it-it's the Jolliest Place About

See here for the twenty first century developers' vision of loveliness that our Tory councillors have just approved, albeit only by a vote of five to four members, ie all Tories sticking together, unwhipped, of course:

The development is controversial not just for the evident ugliness and inappropriate design of the proposed housing - including 29 storeyed high rise flats - but due to the sensitive location, a site of 'special scientific interest', and one which is of incalculable importance to the ecological well being of the surrounding heavily populated and congested area.

This proposed development - already being marketed - is on the border with Brent, whose opposition to the plans is clearly expressed here. Note the comments listing the likely impact on wildlife: the intrusion of infrastructure into the water area in the form of bridges, the loss of green space between the buildings and the water's edge - the developers admit no part of the new buildings will be less than 20 metres from the SSI area - the felling of trees and the effects of of heightened levels of lighting.

There are of course also real difficulties in terms of the density of the proposed development, and the demands of providing access to the site, which will have a hugely detrimental impact on the area.

According to this report here , at last night's meeting Labour AM Andrew Dismore attacked the development and described the luxury tower blocks as intended for 'Russian oligarchs', rather than local people. 

Tory Cabinet member Tom Davey, who has responsibility for housing in Barnet, supported the application, of course and, Mrs Angry's spies tell her, retorted that he would welcome Russian oligarchs with 'open arms'. 

Mrs Angry salutes your remarkable political judgement, yet again, Councillor Davey, and is not in the slightest bit surprised.

Dismore and Brent councillors objected very strongly to the 'hard sell' of the report submitted by planning officers in favour of the proposal.

Undoubtedly the estate currently on site is ripe for regeneration, if not complete redevelopment, but what is desperately required in this borough is decent, affordable housing for ordinary families. We cannot hope that this council will encourage the building of social housing on any meaningful scale, despite the overwhelming need for such accommodation, but only 25% of the housing provided by these plans is definable as 'affordable' - and that definition is itself exclusive of most ordinary residents living on modest incomes.

Time and again we see this Conservative administration supporting the best interests of developers and private enterprise rather than the best outcome for residents, from the privatisation of One Barnet to the exercise of its planning policies,this is absolutely clear, but should our councillors be facilitating the profiteering of property developments, rather than developing a coherent housing policy?

There is currently a major development proposed for the Gateway House site in Finchley Central, for example: this is an empty building bought by the Pears Family Trust for a mere £5.25 million and is planned to accommodate around 74 residential properties, a deal which will give a whopping profit to the developers. A spokesman confirmed to Mrs Angry that there will be no 'affordable' housing. The developers have offered to host a new library, that we do not need, in the new building, and one imagines that this alone will help to persuade the council to agree the proposal.It should not be: surely there should be a requirement to include properties that will address the need for lower rental housing in this borough?

And of course in the meanwhile, the three council houses that Barnet has built this year: yes three, will go a long way to answer the pressing need for social housing. These three houses, if you are wondering, will be in Coppetts Ward, currently a marginal ward represented by two Labour members and one Tory councillor.

The council is also currently consulting (yes, really) residents for their views on a new housing allocation system - see here . Do take part, and tell them what you think about it.

Already the ruthless new rules on allocation have given priority to applicants who can, in the view of their morally judgemental Tory council, prove a positive contribution to the community.

This reversion to Victorian values, and the rewarding of the deserving poor, is discriminatory, and repellant: punishing the children of those parents who are too busy earning enough money to pay the rent to start up a local charity is a simply mind boggling piece of social engineering - but that is not radical enough for our Conservative councillors. 

Not only are they planning to reduce offers to one only, in order to deal with the catastrophic impact of the bedroom tax, and other benefit 'reforms', our Tory masters are now proposing to export the poor to cheaper areas, outside the borough. 

Those who remain in the borough and struggle with financial hardship as a result will be advised to take comfort from the Lord, in the shape of counselling provided by 'Christians Against Poverty' (apparently some are For, but they tend to keep it under their hat), invited by our very own Barnet Homes, who are clearly born again Big Society people.

Oh dear: now let's look at the wider picture, shall we? 

The encouragement of  luxury developments such as that proposed by the Welsh Harp in West Hendon, a Labour ward, which will be occupied not by the poor, deserving, or undeserving, but a large number of affluent home owners, and will significantly change the demographics and voting patterns of that area.

Add to that a restriction on the ability of ordinary and often disadvantaged residents dependent on low rate or subsidised housing to find any decent accommodation anywhere in the borough.

And now we have the offer of housing outside the borough to those who cannot afford anything in this one.

You might think that this could reasonably be considered to be effectively a policy of social cleansing, or even gerrymandering, if only by default: exporting the poor, exporting those most likely to vote Labour? 

In Broken Barnet?

Perish the thought, Mrs Angry.

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