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.

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