Saturday 27 June 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petition to save the community green space link here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll sit this one out, thanks. 

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

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

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

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

On our community space.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A suitable time to drop the curtain, I think. 

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

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

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

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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Residents are getting organised to block, or at least limit the damage of the proposed development. Join us at