Thursday, 25 March 2021

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams: the Burroughs, the Hendon Hub - and Barnet Tories' planned demolition of Hendon's listed Library



The Burroughs, Hendon. All of these buildings except the old Workhouse, right, have survived. So far.


Sometimes it is hard to know where to start, when writing about the political scene in Barnet. But the ending is always the same. Increasingly, so many stories now lead back to the same problem, lodged deep in the core of the current Tory administration. 

There is no longer even any pretence of political principle here, no vision for the borough, no democratic accountability: this borough is nothing more than a vehicle for delivering profit to developers - and through this process, profit to Capita, their outsourced planning and regeneration service. 

Everywhere you look there are conflicts of interest, lobbying, undeclared interests, declared interests that are left unmanaged: at every level, within a planning system that is neither accountable nor transparent. 

Want to choose your own named planning officer? (Why?) Well, pay a fee and name your man, or woman. 

Planning officers leave Barnet/Capita and immediately set up in business here, in Barnet, as agents and consultants - sometimes for the same developers they dealt with professionally weeks before. Some even advertise on their websites their former roles as local planning officers. 

A well run authority is meant to mitigate not only the risk from conflict of interests, but also the perception of risk from conflict of interest. But then - Barnet is not a well run authority. 

The biggest conflict of all, however, arguably, is present within the context of the Capita contracts themselves. 

The company is desperate to retain its outpost in Barnet, as it is so lucrative: so many opportunities to exploit, especially from services related to development, planning and regeneration. And with a Tory group in charge who are happy to help them milk as much profit from our borough as possible, therein lies the danger. There is barely an inch of Barnet's landscape that has not been assessed for development opportunity by Capita - even our parks now are at risk.

Most of Capita's income from the Barnet contracts comes from planning and regeneration: clearly the more there is of that, the better for Capita. But what is good for Capita and its shareholders (who have seen the value of their investments plummet over the last year or so) is not necessarily good for Barnet's residents and communities: or good for their built heritage, now at risk as never before.

Every where you look, there are monstrous new developments springing up, pushed through regardless of impact on the community, regardless of whether or not such developments meet the needs of that community, and very often in blatant defiance of agreed local plans for the area drawn up by the authority itself. 

Planning and regeneration, housing and 'growth' are now shaped to suit developers, not residents. There is no coherent strategy other than to push developments: no care for the huge problem of less advantaged families unable to find truly affordable, decent accommodation.

Multi storey towers are imposed in Labour wards, vehemently opposed in Tory wards. Endless blocks of flats have appeared, unaffordable for the vast majority of Londoners, let alone Barnet residents. Family houses, which are desperately needed in many areas, are not built, because there is a lesser profit for developers. Inappropriate conversions of family houses are pushed through, regardless of the impact on the surrounding residential area - again, unless you are lucky enough to be in a Tory ward, but even then, now, this may offer little hope. And Tory voters are beginning to get very, very annoyed by the encroachment on their residential areas. The landscape is changing around them: and they don't like it.

Where are the new schools, GPs, clinics, parks, libraries, needed to support all the new development? Well, who cares about that? Apart, of course, from the residents already suffering from lack of provision of healthcare, especially in the western, poorer side of the borough, whose hope of access to a decent state school is already minimal. Parks? The Tories, as we have seen in the last blog, want to stuff the ones they consider 'low value' with solar farms and electric battery storage. Or sell bits for development, as in my local park. Libraries? 

Ah. Now then.

Yes, here we are again, back with the story covered here, and the truly gobsmacking decision made - before consultation - by the Tories, during Covid, to launch a massive development in the Burroughs, in Hendon, in league with Middlesex University. This is estimated to be going to cost the authority, at the very least, £90 million, which adds to the already whopping pile of loans it will undertake from other development projects, including Brent Cross-Cricklewood, (and of course not forgetting the £23 million lent to Saracens, for a new stand. Any sign of it yet, btw?)

You can read about the council's plans for the Hendon Hub here.

Interesting how some Tory members and senior officers are so keen to play developer with other people's money - public money, taxpayers' money - yours and mine. In the private sector, none of them would be likely to be entrusted with such huge undertakings, certainly almost no councillor in Barnet has any experience or expertise in managing such large scale projects, and probably no senior officer -  but of course in the public sector, if it all goes wrong, they will not carry the can. You won't see them for dust.  You and I, the local residents and tax payers, will be left paying the cost of their folly. Again: no transparency, no accountability, to us, the residents. We are just the mugs who have to bankroll all this development. And they have made sure we can't ask questions, altering the Constitution to make sure we are effectively bound & gagged. Or so they imagine - if you really want to speak out, then you will find a way. 

The idea, or rather the excuse given for these high risk ventures is that they will generate income or interest for the authority. But such ambitious plans were high risk even before Covid and Brexit: now we are where we are, anyone but a fool can see that these plans, even though they may be awfully alluring to Capita, amount to a breathtakingly stupid gamble with public funding. The example of councils like Croydon who have played the same game and ended up in catastrophic circumstances ought to work as a warning to Barnet Tories and their management team. It hasn't. 

The Burroughs scheme - known as the "Hendon Hub' - is centred on completing the apparently unstoppable expansion of Middlesex Uni in this area, linking the properties they have now and those they want to annex - and building a load of new student accommodation. The income from the new accommodation is supposed to pay back Barnet's investment in the development.

Again, these plans were made before Brexit and Covid: there is no reason to think that student numbers will remain stable, and every reason now to expect numbers will plummet, especially from overseas, a market depended on by so many London universities. And there is every reason to question why students coming to Middx Uni would want to pay to live in what will be very expensive accommodation - many of their students come from comparatively poor, BAME backgrounds, and either live at home, or house share.

Looking at the very carefully limited information supplied by the authority,  we learn that they consider it necessary to shove these new buildings up in the Burroughs because ... the old ones they want to get rid of are SO awful, and really should not be in a Conservation Area. Let alone two Conservation areas. Oh yes, did we mention this? The planned new blocks, which are truly awful, but in a new and more dramatic way, are going to be in the oldest and most historic part of Hendon, full of listed buildings, many of them from the early eighteenth century, or earlier - some later, in a grouping of thirties civic buildings, such as the Town Hall, Library, Fire station, the church and other properties.

You might recall that, not so long ago, developers got away with knocking down the lovely 1930s pub in the Burroughs, the White Bear. An inn with this name had been on the spot for hundreds of years. Tory councillors allowed them to demolish and develop it. The developers were told they had to leave the front wall, but somehow ... it was accidentally  knocked down too, and when residents tried to contact council enforcement to save what was left ... too late, there it was, in a pile of rubble.

So what do the new Hendon Hub plans now propose to put in the middle of this historic area? 

Buildings so ugly and intrusive they cannot even bring themselves to put them in the foreground of any of their whimsical, deliberately faded illustrations (which cleverly cut out the large number of eighteenth century buildings which survive beyond the cropped frame ...)

Just look at this: what they plan to put right slap bang in the centre of the Burroughs Conservation area, right opposite the listed Town Hall, and the listed Library ... you'll need to enlarge the image, and squint ...




RAVENSFIELD AND FENELLA 

"The Ravensfield and Fenella buildings are currently leased to the university for administrative and teaching purposes. The buildings will be reaching obsolescence by the end of their current leases, are not of any architectural merit and do not complement nearby historic buildings, failing to make the most of their key position on The Burroughs. 

Barnet Council is proposing to redevelop this important site and create a trio of architecturally outstanding landmark buildings that will greatly improve the look and feel of this part of The Burroughs, ranging from four to seven storeys in height. They will greatly improve the frontage onto The Burroughs compared with the current buildings and improve the local environment with high-quality landscaping and a boulevard atmosphere ..."


So: this illustration chooses to flood your view of the Burroughs with some of the lovely listed buildings that are included in the Conservation area: the Town Hall, the library, the Methodist church, all presented in a charming, helpfully smudged ink and watercolour image, with some of the new and most ugly blocks, tall and rigid, relentlessly out of character with the area, carefully hidden behind a sponged out blur of trees. 

These blocks, frankly, can only have been imagined by someone determined to ignore the context and architectural language of the surrounding historic buildings.

Opposite the Library, painted in colours which are similar to the shades of the older properties, but otherwise again in a crashingly modern style, is another student accommodation block, shoved on the only remaining car park in the area, which is relied on by visitors to the Town Hall attending meetings, events, weddings or registration of births and deaths.

Ravensfield and Fenella, by the way, are the names of early nineteenth century properties that once stood on those sites: with a very interesting forgotten history. But our history, in Broken Barnet, is meant to be forgotten. It gets in the way of development, and profit.

Still, looking forward to the promised new 'boulevard atmosphere', aren't you? Reminiscent of the old days, caf├ęs in the Boulevard Montparnasse, Paris in the thirties, (we'll always have Paris, won't we?) Maurice Chevalier tipping his hat as he passes, Piaf standing forlorn on a street corner, warbling La Vie en Rose, and - oh. Look at this. 

Maybe not, then. 



We are informed that the buildings that will be knocked down 'are not of any architectural merit' and 'do not complement nearby historic buildings'. The absurd implication being that the new ones are of architectural merit and do complement those historic buildings ... And of course, as we are told, they are not only going to (greatly) improve the 'look and feel' of this part of the Burroughs, but will provide something called, what was it  ... 'an exemplar high street' ... Oh. At the same time as a Boulevard? 

Who are they trying to kid? In what sort of way could this possibly be compared to a local high street?

Round the corner in the  centre of the old parish of Hendon, known historically as Church End - there is another Conservation area - and the Hub proposals plan new crashingly modern buildings here, around the ancient parish church of St Mary's and the Grade II * listed Church Farmhouse. (This latter property was formerly our local history museum, which Barnet Tories closed and ransacked in order to sell off the collection and then sell off the building, which they couldn't, so they gave it to ... can you guess? Yes, Middlesex Uni ...)


Church End, Hendon

This part of old Hendon has been the site of a settlement for at least two millenia: there is evidence which suggests there was a Roman temple here, somewhere around the area of the church, and clearly this site is of uniquely important archaeological and historic significance. But who cares? Not our Tory councillors, or Capita. All that stuff in the Church Farmhouse Museum, our local heritage, donated by local residents, was declared to be 'of no value' by then Tory leader Richard Cornelius, and flogged off. Why would they care about the layers of history that lie beneath the soil here?

One of the few remaining community amenities in this area which has not been pushed out by the Uni or the council is the much relied upon PDSA centre. This they propose to demolish, and offer in replacement something plonked on a council car park in far away Osidge.

Osidge really is an awfully long way from Hendon and there is no easy transport link: the people who use a bus to get here with their sick animals (and lots of them do, as anyone who uses the 143 will know, almost always with a mewling, panicking cat in a carrier on its way to see the vet) will have to subject them to a long and difficult journey miles across the borough. Having the PDSA in the less advantaged side of the borough makes sense: after all it exists to provide medical care for animals whose owners cannot afford expensive vet fees - moving right across to the affluent area of Osidge, in the east, does not. 

But let's go back to the Burroughs. Take another look at that rounded student block opposite the old Library. Yes, the old Library. The listed Library. The one they are going to demolish. 

What?

Yes. Demolish. Leaving all but a shell.

They intend to knock down Hendon Library, listed or not. 

All they intend to leave is the facade of the old building. And let Middlesex Uni build their own monstrous carbuncle inside, behind, and attached to the remaining, pointless front wall - and possibly some of the sides. We don't know for sure, because the plans are so carefully vague.



Hendon's listed Library

This is a favoured ploy adopted in the course of some of the most terrible assaults on historic properties now being perpetrated - although only in areas with compliant councils - in London and elsewhere, at the moment. 'The Gentle Author', who writes the fabulous 'Spitalfields Life' blog, has published a book on the subject, entitled 'The Creeping Plague of Ghastly Facadism', in an effort to shame those responsible into some sense of remorse for their architectural vandalism.

These villainous plans for Hendon Library, and the attempted destruction of another part of our built heritage, hidden behind a fake frontage, of course presents the perfect metaphor for everything wrong, in Broken Barnet. Behind Barnet Tories' facade of lies and faux democracy is nothing but a naked contempt for our history and sense of community. Worse still: behind the hollowed out library there is not only a total lack of respect for the idea of a public library service, but for the very idea of the public sector, as we have seen in their failed agenda of mass privatisation, the now discredited, hollowed out council model, meant to save money, now costing us more and more each year.

Of course our Tory members will point to the fantasy new library they claim will be built to replace the one that they want to knock down. They said first of all that a 'state of the art' library would be built on the car park across the road from the Town Hall. Now they admit it will be something shoved in the bottom of the rounded off building you see in the illustration, on that car park.

They are remarkably vague about the timing of this proposed new 'library' and have made plans to stuff a few books in a Portacabin as a 'temporary' replacement. A bit like the five shelves bunged in the Arts Depot that was meant to be a temporary replacement for the new, 'state of the art' library at North Finchley, that was the pretext for shutting South Friern Library. The Invisible Library, as it was known, is still Invisible, and indeed, non existant.

Even if a mini library space is put in the student block, clearly it will be very small, and certainly not 'state of the art'. Plus: this ground floor is supposed also to accommodate the borough's Archives, which require a lot of room, and specialist storage conditions. There simply isn't enough space. And where will the archival material go in the meanwhile? Given by Capita to their subcontractors to store, and never seen again, like the Heritage Collection, and the Grass Farm stained glass windows?

The illustration looks an awful lot like the replacement for the old Church End Finchley library, now next door to Waitrose. There was nothing wrong with the old library, in fact: it only needed refurbishment. But the developers who bought Gateway House wanted planning permission for a luxury development, which they were given after they offered something we did not need, ie a library room on the ground floor, on a leasehold basis. There is absolutely nothing in the new library fittings that could not be removed in the course of a day's work - and they will be, when the Tories think they can get away with closing it, in another round of cuts, simply allowing the lease to revert to the freeholder. They didn't even bother to put the sign for a library on the building above the door. The same temporary feel will be true of the Hendon replacement - if it ever appears in the intended new student block.

If you recall, when they recently spent hundreds of thousands of pounds gutting Hendon Library and reducing the library space in the building to a tiny fraction of its former size they did so claiming there was no real demand for anything better. When reminded (by me) of the legacy of Eileen Colwell, the Hendon librarian who pioneered the international children's library movement, they shrugged, reduced the children's area to a couple of shelving units and stuck a picture of her in the corner.


Eileen Colwell

Now here is the biggest demonstration of the complete hypocrisy of this council's new plans: they claim they want to pay 'tribute' to Miss Colwell, by demolishing her library and putting up a plaque to commemorate her work. Her work, and her legacy, they have already systematically trashed in this borough, in the rounds of savage cuts which even their own consultants told them had gone too far. Children's libraries? In some branches now this consists of a table and two chairs, and a few bookshelves. In North Finchley, and Golders Green, the purpose built children's libraries were gutted, and closed, on the pretext of creating space for income generation - which never happened.

It is absolutely sickening to see these people pretending to give a sh*t about her legacy, while actively complicit in working to destroy it, not just in demolishing the building where she launched her vision of the children's library movement, but in so cynically cutting our library service to pieces, removing from the borough's most disadvantaged children the right to free and easy access to a library, and the joy of reading, having cut and shut our library service, effectively removed professional librarians from the management of the service, sacked workers and replaced them with unstaffed opening hours - and slashed the book stock to the point where there is simply no adequate supply of material for those children.

It's only right and fitting, perhaps, that they should take this rampage to its ultimate conclusion, and start demolishing the libraries, in order to facilitate the progress of development, and engineer further fat fees for contractors. 

Problem is: they can't actually knock Hendon Library down. Inside or out.

The listed features are not simply the external features of the front wall. There are other listed features - (I happen to know because a close friend was the conservation officer who listed this property, and the Town Hall, and so many other properties, before his job was deleted ... but you can see the listing for yourself here). These include external features, not just at the front of the building - but also internal ones. And it is interesting that the brief for the proposed demolishment has in the last few days been tweaked with weasel words glossing over this unfortunate obstacle in the way of demolition. 


The staircase is part of the listed internal features of Hendon Library - the building that Barnet Tories intend to demolish. Pic courtesy of RIBA archives.

So what can be done?

You can stand up and be counted, if you object to these plans, as residents already are: there is a very vocal, very well informed and determined group organising objections to this outrageous scheme. They have started a petition to stop the demolition of the library, which you can find here.

The horrified reaction of residents should send a real warning to the Tory councillors - one of whom, a local Hendon ward member, also objects to the proposals. This part of Hendon has always been considered a safe Tory ward. There are no safe wards for anyone, anymore, and increasingly it is the case that the scale of development in the borough now is so out of control it is affecting the Tory core vote. 

And in Hendon, the residents who will be affected by these plans are not going to tolerate their area becoming nothing more than a campus for Middlesex Uni, with the last community amenities steam-rollered out of existence. 

There is currently, in the time honoured tradition of Tory Barnet, a Nonsultation exercise taking place that claims to be seeking the views of residents in regard to the Hub and the library plans. 

It is clear, however, that the decision has already been made. Looking at the minutes of the Policy and Resources Meeting of December 8th last year, we find this: 


You will note that it states the OBC is approved, and a FBC is to be developed. In my view that suggests a decision in principle has been made, prior to consultation. In regard to the library, it is even more clear: the Committee took the decision to approve the move of Hendon Library to a temporary location - subject to consultation. The separate library consultation, however, did NOT consult residents on the question of whether or not they want the library moved, merely what sort of new library they want. The decision has already been taken to move, however they try to fudge the issue now - and no alternative has been offered. 

And there is absolutely nothing to stop them turning round after a couple of years with the library Portacabin, wringing their hands and saying, sadly, with rising costs, we can no longer offer a new library after all ... Like they did with North Finchley. Remember that this apparent new enthusiasm for a lovely library in Hendon hardly fits with what they did to the old one, and all the rest of them, only a couple of years ago.

You can find the Nonsultation survey here. Be careful, as always with Barnet questionnaires, as to how you respond.

Oh yes: and guess who is organising the Nonsultation? A company called GE Hearn. 

Owned by Capita, of course. 

Which means that the roles played by Capita, in regard to the Hendon Hub are: in planning, regeneration, and consultation with residents - the latter function being undertaken by the development side of Capita. We should also note that they are in charge of the management of council buildings, including the library portfolio.

Does this multiplicity of roles, with all the extra fees it will generate for the company, in the course of these proposals, present a conflict of interests? You might reasonably think so. Has this risk been assessed, and addressed? 

If you object to what is being planned for the Boroughs, and the Library, make sure you speak out: write to the Tory councillors, and write to Hendon MP Matthew Offord, who lives in the area, and has reportedly said he is 'keeping an eye' on the matter, whatever that means. 

Write to Historic England, and tell them to protect the listed Library from these vandals.

Oh, and there is an election coming up in a few weeks. Please remember how much depends on Tories being kept out of power in London, if we want to avoid further overdevelopment of our city: I will be voting for Anne Clarke, who has always fought against the Tory cuts to our library service.

And here again is the link to the petition to save the Library building: please sign and encourage others to add their names. 

Petition to Save Hendon Library.

O

Hendon Library, photo credit Museum of London

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