Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Finchley Memorial Hospital - new proposals to build on our community green space

During lockdown, normal life, of course, has come to a standstill. 

We have been living isolated lives, distanced from each other, in fear and anxiety for the future, the preoccupations of our former existence falling away, or pushed away, for the time being.

In Broken Barnet, however, some things - one thing above all - must continue, even as all else comes to a halt. 

Even as churches, synagogues and mosques have remained locked, one God still demands our constant attention: the God of development, and the localised cult of Capita, continue unabated in their activities, and the assault on our landscape and our built heritage goes on, regardless. 

Covid 19, in fact, has been a great blessing for local developers, as it gives them almost free reign to push through their plans, when there is little opportunity for residents to be aware of what is happening, or to engage in meaningful consultation: or to object to the monstrous proposals now turning what Barnet Tories used to promote as a green and pleasant place to live, into a concrete jungle - a hideous, soulless sprawl encouraged in the Labour voting areas originally, but a viral infection now rapidly, and dangerously, spreading into their own territories.

During lockdown, the would be developers of the former gas works in New Barnet, who want to impose a stunningly ugly set of blocks on that site, faced a slight setback when protest from fellow blogger Mr Reasonable and other residents forced an extension to the consultation period. There have been at least 891 objections.

You can't object on the portal now but - despite two occasions on which Capita planning officers have wrongly, and possibly unlawfully, tried to refuse to accept written or later emailed objections, a practice which has had to be reported to members in order to be stopped - you may write in until the decision is made. 

The New Barnet development, despite a certain amount of 'interesting' lobbying and campaigning, has a chance of being turned down, as of course it is in a Tory area, and Theresa Villiers, and Barnet Tories, have a lot to lose if they are seen to endorse it. Ugly blocks of flats, of course, are acceptable only in Labour areas. 

What happens at the end of an external appeal process, of course - is another matter.

During lockdown it has been reported that the Edgware Broadwalk shopping centre has been bought by Irish housing developer Ballymore. This fits the rumours that have been circulating about plans by certain parties to develop this part of Edgware, (which includes the benighted 'Railway Hotel' listed building), between the Edgware Road and Station Road, under the guise of 'regeneration' - another service run by Capita.

During lockdown, the construction began on the block of flats which are to be built in Victoria Park, Finchley, thanks to local Tory politicians - including MP Mike Freer, and council Leader Daniel Thomas - who approved the sale of the beautiful Edwardian park keeper's Lodge, now demolished: another irreplaceable part of our history, lost forever.

Flats in Victoria Park, Finchley, in place of the demolished park keeper's Lodge, courtesy of your local Tory councillors

But now there is another threatened development being hurried through,, in a period when full consultation is impossible - and this time it is a proposal to build on a community open space - although you would not know this from the PR guff that is accompanying the proposals.

And this one has been predicted by me, some years ago: the development of housing on the green space surrounding Finchley Memorial Hospital. You might wish to read this post from 2017 to get some idea of what is behind the current plot to develop this land. 

As I reported then, when the hospital was built, the open space around it was designated as a much needed green space, with open access. It had been agreed that the following would also be provided:

Sports and play facilities for local residents: it was meant to be a landscaped, open community space, accessible to the general public, a “Communal Green,” with a children’s play area, adult fitness equipment, picnic tables, table tennis tables, and so on ...

This did not happen. Why, when it was required by the planning permission? 

Well, we know why, because when a local resident asked for an explanation, they accidentally released some emails - published in the 2017  post - which showed 'they' ie Barnet, Capita etc, knew full well the installation of these facilities would obstruct the chance of a housing development on the site. They then used the threat of pushing through the belated installation, in order to 'encourage' NHS properties to get on with plans.

'Enforcement action here would focus their minds on this matter ...'

You might wonder why your local council, and its profit driven privatised planning service, have put so much effort into depriving local residents of a much needed green space, and health and fitness facilities. To understand that, you have to grasp the utterly ruthless exploitation of this borough by developers, and their facilitators. When you realise the extent to which this sickness has taken hold of this borough - you will probably wonder then why you continued to return a Tory council that allows the best interests and well being of residents to come second to the profits of developers. At least: I hope so.

The other question should be why our contractors and senior officers are spending so much time, paid for by Barnet residents, promoting this and countless other profit making developments, with other bodies, rather than addressing the question of the poor provision of local healthcare - at FMH, and elsewhere, especially in the largely Labour voting, poorer, western side of the borough.

You will note that still, three years later, the Hospital buildings are desperately under used, with much of the building empty, even at a time when there is so much pressure on the NHS and such long local waiting lists for access to consultants, clinics, and treatment. That the local CCG has allowed this to continue for so long, is simply impossible to understand.

In my view, if the proposed housing development is allowed to go ahead at this site, it is only a matter of time before Finchley Memorial Hospital itself is closed, and after another interval, the rest of the site developed.

If you look at the post from 2017, you will see how and why this proposal has come about, why it is being presented now - and why it is being presented in a way that they hope will make it impossible for it to be turned down. 

In other words, a development proposed to be built on community open space is being carefully branded as a scheme to ... oh: provide housing for NHS staff. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? 

At a time when we are all so deeply grateful for the NHS and the incredible work of its staff, how could anyone be so churlish as to oppose such a plan? Even if it is on open ground that is a community green space?

Well, except .... the devil is in the detail, as always, in Broken Barnet. Let's see what they are claiming these proposals are about, here, on their development website. To be clear, this is a 'consultation' by CHP, a property management and planning arm of the Department of Health and Social Care. As they boast on their home page:  'we have a strong track record of adding value to the NHS, offering a unique blend of investment, property management and strategic estate planning expertise'.

Adding value. 

That means: profit. Will any profit from this proposal be retained locally, to improve access to healthcare in Finchley or Barnet as a borough? That would be nice. Doesn't say so, does it? 

Warning: the website for the Finchley proposals includes a 'quick poll' which turns out to ask the question: 'Do you support the delivery of homes for NHS staff?' And a survey which begins in the same way - be careful which box you tick.

In other words, if you try to express your opposition to this proposal on what the developers have failed to admit is a community open space, you are a really horrible, selfish person, who thinks NHS workers should not be given homes. 

Nice touch.  

More details:

 What are you proposing?

Community Health Partnerships are proposing plans for up to 130 homes for NHS staff on the site that was formerly occupied by the hospital up until 2012. 50% of those homes will be classified as affordable housing in planning policy terms, and these will be designated for staff on lower salary bands.

The remaining 50% of homes will be open to individuals working or training in the NHS. We are confident that there will be sufficient demand for these homes from NHS staff, but if there not, opportunities will be opened up other public sector key workers, such as those working in the police or fire service.

Area defined in red is where developers want to put the proposed blocks of flats: pic courtesy CHP.

Doesn't tell you much, does it? Are these 'homes' - flats - for sale, or rent? What is 'affordable'? Rent at 65%, say, of local levels in this part of Finchley (some of the houses in Bow Lane have been marketed at £1 million plus) is not going to be affordable for many NHS or key workers.

130 'homes', not units: 'homes for NHS staff ' rather than just another local development consisting of ugly blocks of flats - some of which will be looking on to the Edwardian houses of Bow Lane.

No mention of the fact that this land was designated for community use, a rare and vital patch of open space in this area, and one which is well used by local residents, even in 'normal' times, before Covid.

Please note that there will be parking spaces only for 38 cars. 

And 195 bicycles. 

A prim note from the developers gives the pretext: 'Commuting via private vehicle will be actively discouraged on-site'. So only a quarter of the new residents will be able to park their cars on the site. The rest of them - very few of whom, in reality, will be abandoning their cars for bicycles -  will be parking in the residential roads around the Hospital - or even in the Hospital car park. 

That'll be fun, when you bring your elderly mother to the Walk In clinic, and can't find anywhere to park, won't it? And patients attending Finchley Memorial cannot get there by any other means (other than a long walk) because despite years of asking, no bus* has been allowed to stop there. Why? I think we know why now, as we knew before: the reason that there is - as they claimed - no turning point for a bus was nonsense, then - but will be true once the land is taken up by a new development. 

*Update Sunday 28th June: by an extraordinary coincidence, after years of blank refusal, and stating buses could not be re-routed to FMH, leaving patients without a public transport link, and a long walk to the hospital, it has just been announced the 383 will now run there - at exactly the moment when a housing development proposal for 130 homes and only 38 parking spaces has been announced!

This is also the reason, clearly, why, despite having agreed to allow the new Finchley War Memorial  to be put in place on this spot, in time for the centenary ceremonies of 2018, the only tribute that was allowed was a single wreath, while the newly carved memorial, with hundreds of names of local casualties, is left gathering dust in storage. I am told now that the Memorial site has been moved elsewhere - honouring the dead clearly having come way behind maximising the profit in a piece of land. 

The plot to develop this piece of land is also the reason the long awaited community facilities were never installed, as promised - but used as a lever to hurry along development, as revealed in the emails published in 2017.

 Only half of these new flats will be for sale at so called 'affordable' planning policy levels.

It remains to be seen if the average NHS worker - the care assistants, the porters, even the nurses, will be able to afford these properties. Oh, the remaining non affordable properties will be even more expensive, but 'open' to 'individuals working or training in the NHS'. And if they don't take up the properties? What then? Kerrching.

Then there is the other factor, which will not be mentioned in any developers' plans that propose a quota of affordable housing. 

There is every likelihood that should the developers, after planning permission is granted, decide they don't want to offer the same amount, or even any amount of affordable housing, they will turn around and demand this requirement is dropped, claiming it is no longer 'viable' - and they will be allowed to do so. 

Only recently there was an example of this practice in North Finchley, when the development of Britannia House was allowed to cancel its affordable quota - see here. The same happened, over time, in West Hendon.

So what happens if the new flats are not snapped up by NHS/key worker staff? 

That is one of the questions I have put to Mr Oliver Deeds, who is acting as the "Community Engagement Specialist" for these development plans, and who claims on the website that he is 'listening' ...  Last Wednesday I emailed him to ask some questions:

1. This is community ground, and was intended to remain so for local residents, of which I am one.

Why not build homes for NHS staff on available ground that does not remove community space?

2. What happens if NHS staff or key worker staff cannot afford the supposedly affordable level of purchase of these proposed properties? What is to stop these properties ending up on the open market?

3. What is to stop changes in use from NHS or key worker staff to open marketing to any purchaser?

4. Please confirm that there is nothing to stop the developers dropping the affordable/key worker designation of these properties, once permission has been granted, claiming it is no longer viable to designate the properties as affordable.

5. Who is paying for the development and building costs of these proposals? 

As of today, a week later, he has not replied. If and when he does, I will publish his responses.

Don't be fooled by the framing of this development proposal. We all want a better deal for NHS staff, and know how much they deserve a decent salary, working conditions, and a good quality of life. But NHS properties, or CHP, or the local NHS trust, have had plenty of opportunity to provide affordable housing for staff, even locally - and on NHS owned land. 

More than a decade ago, the developers of Barnet General turned down the opportunity to convert the former Barnet Workhouse, one of the first built in the country, in the early 1830s, and very probably one of the sources of inspiration for Dickens's 'Oliver Twist', into homes for key workers. The then Labour leader of the council put an emergency local listing status on the building. The developers knocked it down regardless, two weeks later. The site then stood derelict for years: then there were - surprise! - rumours that housing would be built there. Not for NHS staff, or key workers. Last time I had the misfortune to visit Barnet General, it was still derelict.

There was also the former Marie Foster site, not far from the hospital. That was sold no doubt at huge profit, to a private care provider. Why did they not build homes for NHS or key workers there? Or in any of the other large NHS owned estates now being carved up and developed as private housing, all over London?

Alternatively, there are plenty of brownfield sites or other locations which would be suitable for housing development: but our access to open space, to community space, in this borough, in this part of the borough, is rapidly diminishing. Victoria Park, as we have seen, was designated open space, and protected by a covenant, intended to keep it as such. This was ignored. Now we have another precious open space, meant to be for community use, targeted for more profit led development - and please don't imagine profit is not involved in this scheme, whoever the intended tenants of this housing may be.

Just as bad as the loss of this space would be, is the precedent it would set for every other similar remaining site in this borough. Nothing will be safe from development. And the way in which it has been covertly organised by interested parties, over a period of years, frankly, is cynical beyond words: look at those emails again, and wonder at the rare glimpse it affords into what happens under the cover of our local council and their privatised planning service.

We have reached a point now where this service is run entirely to benefit developers and Capita, who milk this borough for every last fee they can generate from us.  In terms of planning there are so many fees they can screw out of development, and some of the practices this encourages are deeply concerning.

Why, for example, has it been made possible for developers to pay for a named planning officer of their choice?

Why are former senior planning officers able to leave Barnet/Capita and immediately go to work for the same developers they were dealing with in their former posts? And to deal with former colleagues in the promotion of their new clients' applications?

Then there is the question of impact on the local community of such large scale development. 

Where is the expansion in infrastructure, education and healthcare provision?

With more and more development and greater density of an enlarged population, is there not a greater not lesser need for green and open spaces, for the physical and mental well being of all residents?

The site of Finchley Memorial Hospital is not just another plot waiting for development - or at least, it is, only in the eyes of developers and those agencies and companies that benefit from the massive, virtually unregulated expansion of such development in this borough.

It is not only a tiny, precious piece of open space, a community asset - it is part of our local history.

This area of Finchley was once part of Finchley Common, and on this particular spot there was a small settlement of cottages, at Fallow Corner. Look carefully at the aerial photo, and you will see  trees and shrubs, which, close up, you will realise are ancient remnants, boundary markers, of a more rural era.

Dickens came here to visit the clown Grimaldi's cottage right here, at Fallows Corner, and later returned to stay at nearby Fallow Farm, then known as Cobleys's Farm, to write Martin Chuzzlewit. Grimaldi's residence is now marked exactly on the site targeted for development with a plaque that no doubt is in the way of the proposed blocks of flats, just as the new war Memorial intended for this spot has been shoved aside, and the installation made impossible, inexplicably, for years.

The very name 'Finchley Memorial' was given to the old cottage hospital here, replaced by the empty modern building carefully located a suitable distance away, across the empty fields. The name was given in order to commemorate the fallen of Finchley, who did not return from the fields of Flanders, in the first World War.

The new War memorial had many names added to it, and should have been in place for 2018. For the last four years, it has been left packed in wooden crates in a stonemason's yard in Scotland. At the time of the centenary, all that was allowed to be put in place was this wreath:

What greater insult to the memory of those local men, than to prevent this commemoration from taking place, without admitting the real reason, that it was in the way of development?

Literally nothing is safe anymore, from the hands of profiteers: our built heritage, our local history: our parks and open spaces.

The only way to stop this madness is to make sure you make your objections heard, loud and clear, even now, at this awful time.

Although the CHP has launched a campaign and website, you will not there are no detailed plans available, so this cannot be considered in any way as proper consultation.

They say that:

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic we are unable to hold a physical public exhibition, but we have provided other means through which you can feedback to us, through this site.

You might think that after all these years of waiting developers might not wish to hurry through plans during a global crisis, but then ... that would be rather naive, wouldn't it?

I am still waiting for a response to my questions, sent a week ago. I will attempt to register for these 'consultations' and 'presentations' - and I hope others will too:

We will also be holding two online presentations on the scheme which you can book to attend by emailing Oliver Deed on These are taking place on Thursday 25th June, between 7pm - 8pm and on Tuesday 7th July between 12pm - 1pm. You can also email to organise a one to one telephone consultation with a member of the project team by emailing

If you wish to oppose the building of housing on our open community space, there is a petition started by a local resident, which already has more than 800 signatures, and which you might wish to sign: link here.

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