Sunday 31 January 2021

In a green shade: Barnet's open spaces under threat - again - from Barnet's Tory councillors

Highlands Gardens, New Barnet: of 'low value', according to Barnet Tories
Pic credit here and last pic, Lucy Bridgers, High Living Barnet

Updated Monday evening:

Well, goodness me. 

After a week, and two appeals via councillors to extract further information about the scheme to use parks and open spaces in this way, the Service Manager has now sent a most curious statement:

Thank you for your email – I would like to clarify that the Council has no plans to building solar farms or batteries for substations on any of Barnet’s parks.

If you look at the latest budget documents, for next week’s meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee, you will see that there is no mention of parks where we are assessing feasibility. The Council is absolutely committed to improving our renewable energy sources – which are a key way that we can counter climate change, and ensure that Barnet is a green borough. We will therefore continue to look at how we can better generate and provide clean energy across the borough, but I would like to again reassure you that we have no plans to do this through the building of solar farms or batteries for substations on parks.

There are of course other methods of utilising our parks to help generate renewable energy, such as through ground source heating. The link below provides examples of how ground source heating is being piloted in some Scottish Parks

Kind regards ...

Got that?

"... the Council has no plans to building (sic, don't blame me) solar farms or batteries for substations on any of Barnet's parks."

Oh. Well, that's funny because ...  last week, it seems the Council DID have plans to install solar farms and batteries for substations on MANY of Barnet's parks and open spaces. 45 of them. 

Look again at the story in the local Times last week: the Tories had plenty of time to deny the plans but instead denied that parks would close, which had not been suggested anyway by Labour. 

Clearly what has happened is that the Tory members are frit, as a result of all the publicity. Good.

But look again at the wording of this statement.

No plans, on any parks. 

Doesn't rule out the open spaces that have been listed.

Furthermore, if you look at next week's P&R meeting's budget proposals, you find the following, under Environment: oh, still proposing a 'saving' of £75K from ... batteries at substations and solar farms ... and they refer to the use of 'open space sites'. 

They have removed reference to locations, however.

But ... where are these installations going to go? 

Anywhere they think they can get away with it, is my guess. And they are now referring to 'open space sites' - many of the places on the list come under that definition.

The story continues, therefore.

Good try, gentlemen. 

Didn't quite pull it off though.

Further questions have now been submitted.

For a map that you can use to zoom in on the locations, unlike the rubbish one in council docs, please use this link:  ...


Before Covid, Capita laid on an information evening in our ward of West Finchley, in a local church hall, in which they pretended to listen to local residents' views on plans for the area ... while unfolding a list of their own local development targets. 

It was clear that there has been a systematic evaluation of every possible square inch of the borough, for the purpose of development and fee generation, warmly approved by the developer friendly Tories at the Town Hall.

Capita is in charge of planning and regeneration in Barnet - but is also a developer in its own right. Is this a triple conflict of interest? You might reasonably think so. It would make no difference, in this borough.

Since getting their feet under our table in 2013, and the signing (almost entirely unread but approved by Tory members) of the two massive contracts, Capita has been slow to discharge its duties in regard to listing our built heritage, but quick to look for ways of maximising fees from planning and development  - hence the unparalleled extent of unaffordable housing blocks springing up everywhere you look. Does it address local housing need, for affordable family homes, or low rent homes? No. 

But even the most ambitious scalping of our borough's landscape for profit has finite possibilities. What then, when the last plot of ground has been bought up, and the money making machine threatens to run out of fuel?

Along come the latest plans to exploit our local parks and open spaces. The ones they think are 'low quality' or 'low value'.

Yes, you read that right. 

From the same council and planning service that brought you a block of flats in my local park, on land that was supposed to be protected by a covenant put in place by the Victorian philanthropists who gave the land to the people of Finchley, we now see a plan to exploit a large number of parks, playground, and patches of remaining green space. The list and a map, deliberately made impossible to match up locations to names, is here - or see below.

Getting away with immediate development on these spaces would be rather tricky, so they are doing the next best thing, and changing the use - perhaps as part of a process towards eventual development or sale - in which they propose, the wretched schemers, to foist 'solar panel farms' or 'expanding substations' - or building electricity storage units. 

What exactly does this mean? How does it benefit either the council or Capita?  We don't know exactly, as they haven't really spelled out how this would work. 

I submitted questions to Capita about this last week, but they have not replied, despite being told to by a senior Tory member. So - we are forced to speculate.

We all know what a solar farm looks like - fields of panels. 

Substations, we can imagine. 

Storage units? Hard to find out more about this, but perhaps something like this?  


What is the point of this exercise, apart from altering the use of a green space? Is it to 'generate savings' - one must assume via contractors who provide the farms and units? And what do 'savings' mean? It means the council can spend even less than the nothing much they already spend on parks, and hurrah: perhaps Capita can claim more gainshare rewards for identifying this brilliant scheme. Yes: written into the contract that they couldn't be bothered to read properly were variation clauses including this sort of wheeze: for certain 'savings' that Capita identifies, it can claim even more fees from us, in the form of gainshare. Kerrching!

What's that, you don't want substations, storage units or solar farms in every last patch of green space in the borough? 


Let's see that list again. 

Apologies for poor quality - blame whoever uploaded this to the council/Capita report.

I've gone through everyone, looking them up and trying to identify where they are. It isn't easy, in many cases, not just because the list neither gives details of the location, nor a number which corresponds to the map, but because rather curiously, although the majority are listed on the council's own website here, even there it doesn't give full details, such as full postcode. And some don't appear at all, which made me one wonder if the council cannot be sure who owns the land. 

Why on earth would they not want us to know that these places are meant to be parks and open spaces, and why would they be so shy about telling us where they are? 

I just can't imagine.

Why do they think these places are of low quality, or low value?  Because value to Barnet Tories, and their contractors, necessarily must have some material scale, or be rated in a way to make exploitation more easy. 

Hence they appear to have used criteria to assess the worth of these places which are highly questionable, and which would, for example, considers the provision of bins more highly than areas of woodland. Clever. 

Or so they think.

Four on the target list are defined as playgrounds: Barfield Avenue, in Whetstone, (not far from Oakleigh school for  primary age children with severe learning difficulties and complex needs; Deansbrook in Burnt Oak, Hamilton Road - not on the website - and Market Place, in East Finchley. Several others are not listed as playgrounds but have play equipment there anyway. These are in areas where children are desperately short of access to green spaces and play facilities. Oh: mostly Labour wards? 

Ludgrove Playing Fields, in East Barnet? As Mr Reasonable has pointed out, "This makes no sense whatsoever. Ludgrove is a registered football space with changing rooms and disabled access. If Barnet tries this, I suspect they will be facing serious opposition from Sport England and the Football Foundation ..."

Dame Alice Owens Grounds, in Whetstone? Why?

Some of the places I know have caused much puzzlement. Boysland Open Space - this is the name they have given to the remaining part of what used to be open fields near to where I grew up in Edgware. It is next to Rosh Pinah primary school. Parents will be delighted, I'm sure.

Lyndford Gardens Sundial: was stumped with this one until I remembered the little green area near Cranmer Road, Edgware, where my friends and I used to play hide and seek (this was in the Olden Days, when children were allowed to play outside). It had shrubbery at either end, benches, and yes, a sundial. The shrubbery on one end has gone. And the sundial. It would still be a lovely little green, if properly maintained, and there are many young families in the area now, in the Charedi community that has grown there, who would benefit. But, you know: can't have space left unexploited, in Broken Barnet. 

Lawrence Green: a lovely, sloping green space in front of the Reddings, in Mill Hill, just round the corner from where my grandmother, aunt and uncle used to live, in Lawrence Gardens. Right in the heart of Mill Hill Preservation Society area. They will be thrilled to see this taken over by solar farms, or storage batteries, of course. Similarly the other sites in Mill Hill, such as:

Simmonds Mead, a lovely landscaped open space at the bottom of semi rural Lawrence Street, a much needed oasis of green next to the A41, and Mill Hill circus, used to be beautifully landscaped and maintained. The manicured flower bed, as I recalled, after thinking about Lynford Gardens, used sometimes to be in the form of a floral sundial, like Marvell's dial of 'flow'rs and herbs'. Still, no time for green thoughts, in a green shade, these days, in the London Borough of Capita. The sun is not for telling the time: its for generating energy. No not energy. 


Fees and rewards.

Charter Green: this was something of a challenge, but turned out to be the large green areas around the west side of the junction of the North Circular and Regents Park Road, in front of a synagogue on one side, and around Finchley's finest landmark, on the other. The latter being  the statue of 'La Délivrance', more commonly known locally as 'The Naked Lady', and adorned with a selection of ill fitting brassières, from time to time. 

The statue was given in 1927 as a present to Finchley council from the owner of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere, so you would think today's local Tories, whose view of the world is entirely filtered through the distorted prism that is the Mail, would pale at the thought of surrounding the poor woman with the dubious tribute of an electric sub station, but then, no: that's the sort of thing they do.

Wise Lane Green: turns out to be that open area of green space at the end of the affluent and unchanged Wise Lane, a residential area.

Gibbs Green Open Space: a road off Hale Lane in Edgware. The mystery space is not listed, but this is a residential area. 

Lyonsdown Road and the Great North Road: another small green area, that they probably think is a waste of space, but adds to the character of the area.

Lyonsdown Road Open Space: a sloping green area with trees, and a bench: in a typically Tory residential area. 

Brent Street Police Gardens: I remember the police station, closed many years ago, of course, but it took a lot of searching to find - there are no gardens. It is yet another development site. Not sure why this is described as a green space.

Many of the sites listed I didn't recognise at first or know personally, but some basic research reveals that they are beautiful, much needed parks in residential areas:

Highlands Gardens: off Leicester Gardens in New Barnet: a hidden gem, a beautiful late Victorian garden once adjacent to the home of Joseph Bevan Braithwaite, a Quaker who made his fortune, funnily enough, from the early electricity supply industry. He inexplicably failed to see the value in turning his garden into an electricity sub station, however, and instead stupidly paid a garden designer, James Pulham, some of whose work for Edward VII remains at Sandringham, to landscape the lovely grounds, with rockeries, water features and a pergola. 

But where is the profit in that?

Highlands and the gardens in their infancy

Local Tory councillor, small - but perfectly formed - retired Actor,  scourge (trigger warning) of that well known Enemy of the People, the Mayor of London: golden cheeked Oscar model, David Longstaff, has refused to answer when I asked him, via twitter, to explain why he and his colleagues voted to consider the proposals to destroy the beauty of Highlands Gardens, in his ward - and all the other parks and green spaces - by installing substations and solar farms. You may like to ask him about this, next time he comes ringing on your door wanting to be re-elected.

Similarly, Tory councillor Roberto "Bertie Wooster" Weeden-Sanz, who for some reason was chosen as the Tory GLA candidate, (he does look good in a blazer and cravat - and the poor boy (thinks he) looks like Justin Trudeau) but has as much hope of being elected as Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, ie none at all, has remained silent when asked about this. Councillor Tom Smith is struck dumb too. 

All of them - silent. The rule of Omertà is immoveable, in the Tory group, here in Broken Barnet. 

That the Tory councillors have dropped a clanger is evidenced by an article by the Barnet Society here which reports that the plans have 'met with an angry response from residents and conservationists'. 

This should act as a warning to them: and of course all Tory members will already be lobbying behind the scenes to insist that parks in their wards should be exempt. 

Elm Park: this is a curious one too, for different reasons - listed as an open space, but quite hard to find on google maps, it is next to Elm Terrace, and Hermitage Lane, and backs on to what used to be the Castle Pub on the Finchley Road, Childs Hill. The Castle was an historic local landmark, and an inn of this name had been on the site for 250 years. This of course meant that by Barnet Tory standards, it was a prime target for development, and yes, they allowed it to be knocked down and replaced by ... a block of flats. 

Elm Park: 'low value', according to Barnet Tories

Rather annoyingly for would be developers, this pretty park, a rare area of open space in a relentlessly urban district, had a number of mature trees which might have spoiled the view - but they were protected at least temporarily by a TPO, tree preservation order, due to the group's 'very high public amenity value'. And oh, how interesting: at that point, the TPO report admitted that ownership of Elm Park was uncertain.

Daws Lane: this is an odd inclusion. It is in fact part of Mill Hill Park, which is meant to be one of Barnet's Premier Parks, and has a 'Green Flag', which is meant to signal good management. Mill Hill Park is full of different sorts of sports facilities, as well mature trees and a nature reserve. It is in a residential area, and well used. Low value?

Basing Hill Park: another location in Childs Hill, and again, with Childs Hill Park, supposed to be a 'Premier'  Park. It is a large expanse of green space, fringed with mature trees, offering sports and play facilities. Again: low value?

Of course Finchley's Victoria Park, my local park, is meant to be a Premier Park as well, but it did not stop Mike Freer, now the local MP, but formerly Leader of Barnet Council, putting the Edwardian Park Keeper's Lodge and garden up for sale. This led to demolishment and development, in a park: a block of flats is now being built there. Yes, in the park.

Is this what is going on now? Changing the use of part of these well placed urban oases, so as to prepare them for flogging off to developers? 

Many of the places on this list are liminal in nature:  on the edge of junctions, at the side of a road between two roads, on the edge of vision, seen but taken for granted; some half forgotten, neglected: but all of these places are part of something precious, and irreplaceable, remnants of our rural heritage, with old boundary hedges, copses, shrubs, a network of green spaces, green corridors, vital for our environment, for local wildlife. Vital for the physical and mental well being of residents, especially now we live surrounded by an increasing volume of over development, increasing traffic, and of course increasing population.

I have a copy of an ecological survey 'Nature Conservation in Barnet' undertaken for the authority, by the London Ecology Unit, and published in book form in 1997. As far as I am aware, this has never been updated, and under the rule of Capita, it never will be, on this scale. 

So much listed here has already been lost, or deliberately forgotten. We must not allow the Tory councillors and their privateer contractors to allow our remaining green spaces to be pillaged and destroyed, or there will be further substantial loss of wildlife.

Looking at the first area on the parks at risk list, Barfield Playground: according to the Survey, this is attached to the former Barfields Allotments which were turned into a nature park. The nature park area itself was saved from being landscaped when it was realised that this would disturb the habitat of slow worms and common lizards - clearly both are protected species, and it would be unlawful for their habitat to be put under threat. 

There may or may not be endangered species immediately dependent on the other parks and open spaces under target now: we don't know, and any survey commissioned by the council will fall over backwards not to find any. But that is not the point: all of these places contribute to the increasingly threatened ecological well being of our environment: every blade of grass, every plant, every bird, every insect, every animal, and every tree. 

Apart from removing areas of those listed places, the impact of energy generating equipment is likely to be profound. 

There are also serious grounds for questioning the unknown health risks to residents, especially children, from such electrical installations, close to play and sports areas.

Finally there is the hugely detrimental aesthetic impact of such ugly installations in our green spaces. 

Again, the vital role played in mental well being of access to nature cannot be underestimated. Only in Barnet would we need even to raise questions about why such proposals would be inappropriate in such locations. Why anyone would think otherwise, is incomprehensible.

At the last full council meeting, Labour's Anne Clarke, member for Childs Hill, and candidate for the GLA elections this May, and Alan Schneiderman, Labour's Environment lead proposed a motion and amendment calling for the scheme to be dropped, and for all parks and green spaces to be protected.

Guess what? Unanimously opposed by Tory members.

Today the local Times paper published a story about the plans, in which reports an extraordinary statement from the Tory Chair of the Environment Committee, Councillor Dean Cohen:

But environment committee chairman Cllr Dean Cohen (Conservative, Golders Green) accused the Labour group of lying about the Tories’ plans. He said the council had “absolutely no plans to close any parks or green spaces”, and the Tories say the council has “no intention of restricting access to any parks”.

Oh, hang on, though. The Tories are not being accused of 'closing' parks or green spaces (although we know they would, if they could get away with it). But it's easier to deny something you are not accused of than to defend something you hope to get away with, isn't it? 

And to say the council has  "no intention of restricting access to any parks" is a completely wrong. Their own reports noted that access may be restricted - and quite clearly space will have to be removed from the public, if only on the grounds of health and safety.

Look and compare the documents highlighted by Labour: 

It is clear that this is another example of an idea dreamed up by contractors, embraced by the more challenged Tory members who fail to understand that what they consider to be of low value will be fought over tooth and nail by their own voters should any of these monstrous installations be put in place. It is a huge political blunder: the whole idea should be thrown out - not just favoured exemptions, in 'sensitive' areas.

If you wish to add your name to the petition to protest about this madness, you may do so via this link.

I would also strongly recommend that you stop voting for these idiots.

Highlands Gardens, low quality, and low value.