Sunday 26 September 2021

A Perfect Storm: Barnet's Tory pro-development council ignites an unprecedented scale of rebellion in its heartland voters

Undefeated by the storm, local residents protested against the Hendon Hub plans

On the 20th of July there was a Policy and Resources committee meeting at Hendon Town Hall, at which the highly controversial plans for the Hendon Hub development were due to be discussed by councillors. 

A huge crowd of residents campaigning against the plans gathered outside before the meeting. 

As they did so, the sky darkened, and thunder began to growl menacingly overhead, quickly followed by a downfall of heavy rain. 

It made no difference to the mood of the residents, or rather seem to galvanise their resolution: the British response to adversity tending as usual to obstinate refusal to accept being beaten. 

In this case, with most of the protestors being formerly non political, and inexperienced in attending demonstrations, there was an added sense of rebellion, and even jubilation. They were determined to show their elected representatives, skulking in the committee room upstairs, how strongly they felt about these monstrous plans to foist what will effectively be a campus colonisation of not just a residential neighbourhood, but the historic heart of Hendon, comprising not one but two Conservation Areas. 

Such a large protest had not been seen outside the Town Hall for a very long time, even pre-Covid.

Fellow blogger Mr Reasonable and I stood outside, astonished at the scale of the turn out, and the impressive organisation of the Residents' Group, led by Professor Brad Blitz, and Gabbie Asher. 

Local residents Professor Blitz and (hiding behind the poster) Gabbie Asher

Returning home, I listened to the meeting via the audio link. Always unpredictable, this broadcast system, especially when, it seems, anything politically significant is being debated. It was clear that the residents who had packed out the public gallery were not going to sit there quietly, letting the usual rubber stamping exercise play out, with the Tory majority pushing through the Capita Barnet officers' reports. An exemplary display of perfectly tuned heckling ensued, disrupting the android default programming of Chair and Tory leader Dan Thomas, whose attempts to use this as an excuse to end 'debate' and move to a vote was no doubt restrained by the knowledge that this would contribute to the already robust case for challenging the nonsultation process - which has been rolled out (with of course no conflict of interest), by Capita subsidiary GL Hearn).

Since the Tories amended the constitution in order to stop the far too effective scutiny of residents, questions to committee are now largely forbidden, but Gerrard Roots, former curator of the Church Farmhouse Museum - (also, as proposed for the listed Hendon Library, closed, ransacked & handed over to Middlesex Uni) - had managed to slip one through, and a gloriously impertinent and yet highly pertinent one it was: 

This is a dreadful proposal, concocted in secrecy in 2019, and
finally presented for public consultation during the chaos of
the pandemic. The plan would ruin the two 'Heritage
Conservation Areas' in Hendon. It would remove essential
services to residents, and replace them with vast new
Middlesex University buildings - including student halls of
residence which are unlikely now ever to be used. The sole
beneficiaries will be the big builders/developers. The plan is
so awful that even some LB Barnet Conservative councillors
(backed up by Hendon's Tory MP) have broken ranks to
oppose it. (Those councillors already appear to have been
punished for their decency.)

I wish to know if the rest of Barnet's Tory councillors regard
themselves as representatives of their residents or simply as
the servants of powerful developers?

Of course asking any question of a Tory run committee - should you be allowed to do so - is always pointless, but you cannot give them the pleasure of thinking their stifling of debate is ever going to be accepted, if you really believe in democracy, and justice, and holding power to account.

The meeting progressed, and it was time for councillors to ask questions of officers. Labour's Arjun Mittra asked the officer in charge of the Hub project about the involvement of Historic England. 

Here is a curious thing. 

Capita of course makes most of its money in Barnet from its exploitation of our planning system. A system which now works to promote development, and profits for Capita, rather than to regulate planning, or benefit our communities. 

If you make a planning application in the London Borough of Capita, you are encouraged to pay a fat fee to our privatised planning service for 'pre-application planning advice'. If your application is turned down you will probably receive a letter noting that you did not avail yourself of this service, tut tut, and inviting you to have another go, after paying to take said advice.  (Being in the process of moving house - sadly not escaping from Broken Barnet, but we can all dream, can't we? - and looking at the past planning applications of various properties has given an interesting insight into this interesting practice ...)

Of course it may be that you made some crashing error in your design, before paying for this 'advice'. It could not possibly be a way of generating more income, could it? And anyway, there will be a full record of what they come up with, and an audit trail, & all that sort of stuff.

Well, no. As Mr Reasonable discovered, when campaigners asked for copies of the Pre Application advice for the Barnet Gas Works development ... it transpired there was nothing at all. Advice had been given but ... no record of it exists. 

No need for transparency over this sort of thing. No need to worry about the number of former Barnet Capita planning officers now working as agents for developers, who will have rung up their former colleagues for 'advice'. No need to worry about conflicts of interest in the same teams overseeing 'advice', consultation, recommendations etc. 


(And not to worry, after years of me bringing up the issue of paying a fee to name your own planning officer - and being ignored - that clear conflict of interest has now supposedly been quietly been disposed of. Why did it take so long: eight years, in fact?)

Interestingly, if a planning application is from the local authority itself for, say, hundreds of unnecessary units of student accommodation, and the virtual destruction of a listed Library, in a residential area, and not one but two Conservation areas, stuffed full of eighteenth century houses, an ancient parish church, a host of listed civic buildings, then - oh ...

There is, it seems, no need to take pre planning advice or guidance from the most obvious source, ie Historic England - at least, according to the senior officers of the London Borough of Capita.

Sitting at home, listening to the questions from Cllr Mittra at the P&R committee, I was absolutely astounded - and very cross - to hear the following response from the officer seemingly in charge of the Hub project, in answer to his question as to whether Barnet had engaged 'proactively' with Historic England - and erm, if it was not a resident who had informed them about the Hub plans?

No. It wasn't, she said. And she could prove this.

Oh really?

I knew this was could not be true. Councillors were being misinformed.

Because I was the resident who had informed Historic England, in April. And yes, I can prove it.

In April, I had written to HE with my concerns about the Hub plans, in terms of the scale of the impact on the Conservation areas and the threat to the listed library building. They responded, to my utter astonishment, with a response that said that they not only knew nothing about the Hub development, it had not been mentioned to them - even as they had been engaged in discussion with Barnet Capita officers, in February, over the draft local SPD plan. 

I say discussion: Historic England wrote to Barnet with criticisms of the draft. Barnet ignored these criticisms, as far as I can see from the final SPD.

HE even sent me a copy of the letter in which these criticisms are detailed: in which they objected to the many references to 'development opportunities' and criticised the lack of consideration for protecting heritage, and the character of this uniquely sensitive area- as well as noting the need to prevent multi storey buildings being erected. 

All of which, of course, is in direct conflict with the Hub plans, which as we now know, have been under consideration since at least 2019, and possibly even earlier. Yet this major proposal was one which LBB/Capita apparently decided to hide from Historic England, even when the new SPD was being drafted this February.

Engagement with HE only began when following enquiries from me and Professor Blitz, HE, alerted to the potential risk posed by the plans, said they would contact LBB. A meeting took place, according to the officer at P&R, only at the end of June, less than four weeks before this committee meeting. The officer informed members of the P&R committee that she had seen HE's report that morning. Yet the report had not been circulated to members, let alone added to the published documents, even though other late amendments were, at the last minute. 

Back to the Hendon Hub. You might reasonably expect that if Capita Re advice is needed at an early stage in the process of designing Mrs Bloggs's kitchen extension, Capita Re might be expected to consult HE about such crashingly inappropriate designs for two Conservation areas at an early stage, rather than so late in the day. 

You might expect officers to pass HE's report to members before the meeting in which they were due to make a decision. 

Unless, of course, there was a determination to avoid any criticism, no matter how valid, from HE, at a stage when it might influence and possibly obstruct the proposal to erect such hideous and architecturally anachronistic student blocks - or even prevent what will be the virtual destruction of the listed Hendon Library.

As it happened, Labour members exercised their right to refer part of the decision, the business case, to Full Council, the following week. 

Residents then again gathered outside the Town Hall, making noisy representations to the councillors in the chamber.

By some strange circumstance, this time the audio link ... was not available. And no recording, it later turned out,  was possible. How unfortunate that a debate and vote on this highly contentious proposal now has no record. 

The excuse was that the storm the previous week, before the P&R meeting, had meant a lightning strike had selectively prevented the broadcast of Full Council. Even though other meetings during the week had not been affected. An Act of God, you see?

Hendon ward councillor Nizza Fluss was the only Tory who voted against approval of the Hub plans. She has been deselected since earlier taking this stand, which of course rather suggests that this was because of daring to oppose the leadership on this issue. Potentially evidence, as they now realise, rather late in the day, of 'pre-decision' in regard to this highly contentious proposal. 

Curiously, however, after this vote, Cllr Fluss was not deprived of the whip, or punished for her rebellion, unlike the only previous time I can remember, ten years ago, when a Tory member refused to support a motion in Full Council. Of course one vote would never had made any difference. Anyway, rumour has it that she will be offered a chance of standing in Childs Hill ward, instead. There may be a vacancy, as Councillor Shimon Ryde, most mysteriously, has temporarily 'stepped back' from the Conservative group, for reasons to do with a 'personal' matter  - temporarily since May, that is. 

If it is true, one might reasonably ask why she is now considered suitable for selection in this ward, but was dropped from the one in which she was elected. Is this an attempt at damage limitation?

Local Tory councillor Nizza Fluss, who has opposed the Hub plans - and who has now been deselected by Hendon Tories.

At Full Council, despite further visible (and audible) opposition from residents, the plans were approved, at the point they are now. So what next? The plans continue to be pushed through, of course.

But hello: here is an interesting revelation. 

You may not realise that once a year residents have the right to inspect the accounts of their local authority. Fellow blogger John Dix, aka Mr Reasonable, always makes sure to assert this right, and apply his own analysis of the information he is able to scrutinise. It is of course a statutory requirement that residents may have access to the accounts in this way. If it wasn't, you can be sure that Barnet Tories and their senior management team would do everything in their power to stop anyone seeing this material. 

The devil, in Broken Barnet, as always, is everywhere, but above all, in the age of Capita, he is to be found hidden in the detail - hidden in the books, in the fine print, in footnotes, or those naughty contractual variations that opened up endless possibilities for further income generation for our contractors. 

From Mr R's perusal of the last year's accounts, anyway, emerged two very remarkable pieces of information, in regard to the Hendon Hub. 

It seems Capita have already done very nicely out of the Hendon Hub proposals. 

Included in the accounts was:

"... a request for CSG to provide professional services for the development and submission of planning applications required to support the Hendon Regeneration Project; and the necessary professional services to complete the Final Business Case and progress both the funding and construction partner procurement strategies". 

Between November 2020 and March 2021 alone they were paid £2,280,587 for such work. Nice work if you can get it - and in Broken Barnet Capita can and will always get it. An 8,000 page contract, signed unread by Tory members, says so.

There are other fees, and more are expected to come to light, of course: just for writing the Hub business case they earned £31,928. Kerrching!

Oh, but ... what's this invoice, billed to some unknown company? 

'Hendon Hub Heritage Advice'? 

"This SPIR is for the Provision of Heritage advice on a Masterplan Proposal that includes a number of listed properties in the Townscape, from Pre-planning to full Planning approval and discharge of conditions ..." 

Two payments: one for £33,597 in October 2020 and a second one of £4,042 in January 2021. Paid to whom, I don't know. 

But how curious that apparently some sort of 'heritage advice' was paid for in October and in January, but no consultation took place with Historic England until residents told them about the Hub, and no meeting took place until June, less than a month before P&R! Perhaps the advice was along the lines of 'don't tell Historic England about these plans, & hope no one grasses you up in the meanwhile?'

Here is the most important thing to remember, however, and perhaps even some of our more dopey Tory members have not grasped this yet. Capita's best interests are not so much in seeing through so called regeneration and development plans to the moment of construction, but in the course of the very process of encouraging and managing development proposals, from which they extract fees. Look at the millions already chiselled out of the Brent Cross Cricklewood plans, plans which may never end in anything like the vision worked up so many years ago. 

Capita has come to Barnet with a list of development opportunities which it is pursuing with grim determination, regardless of the impact on our communities of what is now seemingly an unstoppable process of overdevelopment - on an epidemic scale. 

Barnet's Tory councillors are of course pro-development: several work in this area, or in services connected with it - and many are landlords. 

Although some effort is being made by the more politically astute development pushers in the council to hide behind a pretence of giving residents things they don't need, such as a new library in Finchley Central (which mysteriously still has no 'Library' sign attached to it, presumably so as to deter use) or apparently socially benevolent plans such as the Finchley Memorial 'Homes for Heroes', presented so as to justify the confiscation of community green space for a load of ugly blocks that will almost certainly end up on the open market, rather than for the 'key workers' they claim will live there.

The Hendon Hub they thought gave them an excuse to push development in a Conservation area under the guise of providing something Middlesex Uni didn't need, ie student accommodation for which there was no real call, pre Brexit and pre Covid, and certainly is not now. Interesting to see Cllr Gabriel Rozenberg ask a question which revealed there was effectively nothing to stop these blocks becoming residential properties, should the plans prove unviable. What a surprise!

In the meanwhile, in Hendon, residents are fighting back: a well organised and funded campaign group is already engaged in a legal challenge of the proposed development. Letters before action have been sent, earlier in the summer. The response, which appeared only at the very last moment, claimed, preposterously, that any challenge focused on the SPD plan for the area is premature, as the SPD 'has not been approved' ...

Yes, you may be perplexed by this. It was of course approved by a Tory majority on July 20th, at the Policy and Resources committee, and the following week's Full Council. If this is their best effort, well ... campaigners are on to a winner.

More games are reportedly being played with local Hendon stakeholders, as noted on the Hendon campaigners' Facebook group: 

Mid-consultation, “in response to our feedback”, some of the student units in the giant new buildings on The Burroughs were reallocated for social housing. 
The general public were told it was for nurses and independent living for young adults. 

The African Cultural Centre was told it was for disadvantaged young “BAME” people.
Some Jewish residents have been told it’s for an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish charity who provide housing for people with special needs and large housing units for extended families.
Which are we to believe, if any?

None of it, is my guess.

Hendon campaigners been there, seen that - and produced some T shirts: now you can help by donating to the legal challenge fund here. Above, Gabbie Asher

Now here in Finchley there is a rather puzzling new nonsultation on the question of whether residents like me would like to see a new 'public square' in our high street. Doesn't that sound lovely? Let's have a look at the plans. You know, the details, the small print etc ... oh: is that a whiff of sulphur? 

Now where in Finchley, you might ask, could we have a public square, and what would we use it for? Protests against an oppressive authority, perhaps? Think Place de la Concorde, or Tiananmen Square, or even Trafalgar Square, poll tax riots, etc. 

No. 'To create an inclusive space'. Ah. 

Healthy and green. Ok ... quite a challenge, in that location ... 

And of course with 'a regular market offer'. Marvellous. An inclusive space. Market 'offer'. Sounds good.

Except that the place that Capita and chums are thinking of is outside Tesco, and maybe across the road from Tesco. Well yes, with the ceaseless, toxic traffic of Ballards Lane running through it: displacing the shelter 'offer' depended on by Finchley's desperate homeless citizens, and the pigeon feeding station, and the fag break area used by employees at the offices above Tesco and oh: hang on.

The offices above Tesco ... remember that presentation that Capita officers were obliged to make, a couple of summers ago, for Finchley residents, at which there were helpful lists of the 'development opportunities' they had identified in our area, swiftly whisked away and never seen again? To my astonishment, yes, hidden in the detail, had been a proposal to build on and around Tescos, more unaffordable housing. 

Bla bla bla: a photo taken of an uncharacteristically quiet Ballards Lane shows the location proposed for an alleged 'town square' ... with a busy road in the middle, surrounded by all the new development they forgot to mention ...

And hidden in the latest nonsultation is a clue as to how they will pay for the unasked for act of generosity in providing a supposed  'town square' that will be nothing of the sort. In fact it is so well hidden, I can't find it again. Suffice it to say that the 'infill' development of Finchley is the price you will be expected to pay for this nonsense. Who knew? 


Well: ok. Infill my neighbourhood, regardless of Conservation areas, or local history, or listed buildings, or the hard won character of our suburbs. Build on my community open space. Sell off part of my park and shove up a block of flats.  Ignore the real housing needs of residents, especially those who are disadvantaged, or social tenants: ship them off to Peterborough. Throw bucketloads of my council tax at Capita, while you do it. 

Problem is that you can allow a privatised planning service to push the destruction of our built heritage only just so far. 

There is a tipping point, which we have now reached, and passed, where the political impact of such policy begins to turn voters that Barnet Tories need to stay in power against them. 

The uprising over the Hendon Hub folly is the most obvious example of this: as we have seen, previously loyal Tory voters have had enough, and are not taking it any more. 

In Barnet the truly awful Gas Works proposals are having the same effect, even though they are in the less Tory loyalist part of the constituency. Fortunately fellow blogger Mr Reasonable has been helping the residents' campaign to fight the latest, awful plans, in which the few social tenants will be shoved next to the railway track with windows that won't open, and obliged to pay for air conditioning for their overheated rooms. 

More information here: there is still time to object to this awful development: it's not that people think there should be no housing built here, it is a question of the density of the units proposed, which will unload a huge extra burden on the local schools and health care services - and the low standard of design, tiny apartments to maximise profit.

In Edgware, another mass development is planned (and will surround the neglected, listed Railway Hotel, recently having suffered the third fire in six years). 

In North Finchley Capita are pushing yet another faux regeneration, backed by Barnet Tory leader, Dan Thomas, seen in a rare appearance here, in which they are plotting to flog off the 'refurbished' shrunken library, the Arts Depot, and two car parks to a developer, Regal London. 

Yes, getting rid of another library, after spending £14 million on cutting the service to shreds, under the guise of 'refurbishment'. It was always about this, biding time before they could point to carefully engineered declining use, directly the consequence of devaluing and undermining the library service, so they could flog off the sites. 

North Finchley Library, 'refurbished' at vast public expense in 2017 - in fact robbed of its children's library - now to be flogged off by Barnet Tories

Does it serve the best interests of residents and taxpayers, to sell off such community assets? Or is this all so as to increase the fees for Capita, and the profits of private developers? Yes. 

Does it meet local housing need? No. 

Recently a poll revealed that both Hendon and Chipping Barnet constituencies are at risk of being won by Labour. Finchley's fate hangs in the balance too, if and when the boundaries are redrawn. The sky is darkening: the inevitable storm moves ever closer.

Barnet Tories have a chance now: call a stop to the pillaging of our borough by Capita and developers, and return to the people whose interests they are meant to represent the power to decide how their communities will be managed ... or continue on the road to perdition, and the end of their feckless administration, brought about entirely by their own hands. They won't, unless the faction that is pro development, to the point of weakening their own hold on power, is overcome by the few senior Tories who have more sense. 

Relatively speaking, of course.

Watch this space.

Hendon campaigner Hayley Blitz

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?


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


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.


Sign and circulate this petition:

 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 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: 

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.