Chairman’s Report 2014

2014 AGM Chairman’s Report

First I would like to make some apologies. The reason that the AGM is late this year was my fault. I was so caught up in other activities (which I will get to later). Similarly, there have been few Newsletters of late for the same reason.

To start I would like to pay tribute to our Deputy Chairman, Len Bull, who died in March of this year. Len has been involved with Association for at least the last 10 years or so, certainly for all the time I have been on the Committee. Len was an unassuming, modest man of great charm, who did important work for the Association. He will be missed.

During the last year the Association has put in great efforts in the area of planning. This work had been done by Bruce Standing and Robert Newton. The effort has been colossal. My colleagues have had to monitor what is going on, as well as, what is about to happen, they have to get the appropriate planning documents and understand the obscure language in which they are written. They have to assess any detrimental impact the planning proposals would have on the residents of Friern Barnet and Whetstone. If they find out that the proposals are disagreeable to the local residents, then they have to put forward their reasoned objections, based on existing planning rules and regulations. There are meetings to attend and the planning proposals have to be monitored by Robert and Bruce, as the plans are likely to go through a number of changes. Always Robert and Bruce work to lessen the impact of the planning proposals.

In the last year or so there have been a number of large planning applications that have been approved subject to revision, the revisions applied; the proposals re-submitted and then given final approval. These proposed developments, in total, are going to significantly change the nature and character of the area, along the High Road, between the old Furnitureland site and Whetstone. There are also nascent plans for significant developments along the High Road around the Tally Ho, North Finchley.

The list I am going to read out is for the larger developments. I will use the term “units” as short for “units of housing”. A unit maybe considered a 2,3or 4 bedroom house (detached, semi or terraced) or a flat. It is quite a broad term as a unit of measure. There are parallel measures like the number of bedrooms and the number of parking places which will be found with the planning applications. But not to complicate matters, I will keep to units of housing. So, …..

Northway House – the big office block opposite M&S (a conversion) – 145 units

Former BP Garage – next to M&S – 22 units

Furnitureland site – 60 units

Old Police Garage site – 95 units

EMC site just north of the Furnitureland sand and on the same side of the road – (opposite Swan Lane open space & High Trees estate) – 69 units

White Rose Motors & Woodside cars (opposite old police garage site) – 17 units

Well Grove – off Chandos Avenue (Brethren site) – 70 units

Sweets Way – old Army housing (latest revision) – 291 units

Site next to Lawson’s (Catalyst Housing) – 36 units

B&Q – 130 units (initial application) – may be refused (unlikely) – may be reduced

this gives a total of 935 units of housing. It is a lot of development in a small stretch of road. From the 2011 census there is an average of 2.4 persons per household, which gives a total increase in population of over 2,000 persons. Other than Sweets Way, none of the sites were previously residential. So, this area will have another 900 cars heading to work on a weekday morning.

In case some of you were not aware, Barnet (356,000 in 2011) is a more populous borough than the city of Leicester (330,000 in 2011). The GLA have issued directives that Barnet must increase its population in the next few years. The total number and the end year keep changing. For someone who has lived here for a long time these are important numbers and dates. Because, the questions to answer are, “what is it going to be like?” and “do I want to keep living here?”

In most of these instances the Association, usually in conjunction with other residents’ organisations, like the Finchley Society, have submitted reasoned objections – as to the nature and impact of the proposed developments. The effect of these objections has, on the whole, been to reduce the size of the development.

There is no protection from the Council for Whetstone. There is no overall plan for this area. Whetstone is not what is called a “strategic town centre”, Whetstone is a lowly “district town centre”. Effectively there is no overall plan. There are number of metrics (measurements) that are used in the planning guidelines for development. One would conclude that it is all smoke and mirrors. The average resident has a hard time coming to grips with anything substantial in the planning rules.

There are supposed to be guidelines, such as the number of habitable room per hectare for an urban centre, like Whetstone. It would seem reasonable that the number of habitable rooms per hectare in an urban centre should be less than that for a central, inner city area. Residents may have a little difficulty envisioning what 100 rooms per hectare might look like. Let’s pretend that we can handle the measure “habitable rooms per hectare” and understand what it means, if not in absolute terms then in relative terms (the smaller the better for us).

A small illustration. The guidelines for the development on the old BP garage site allows for a range between 200 – 700 habitable rooms per hectare. This is interpreted by the planners and council planning officer to mean 700 habitable rooms per hectare. In fact the council officer allowed 818 habitable rooms per hectare, as 818 is just above 700, which is 17% above the limit. But, 800 is the central London density.

You may say, “Hold on, what’s the council planning officer doing interpreting allowable housing density”, surely council officers work under the strategic direction of the leader of the council and the councillors.

Each application has to be considered on its merits. However, once a precedent has been set it has proved difficult, if not impossible to turn down the next application. So, if one six storey application has gone through, then should it be wanted, development on the site next door is almost certain to get planning permission.

I have listed 10 significant sites. There are other large sites that are could be redeveloped – Lawson’s, Gerson’s and the even Barnet House itself. There are terraced rows of single storey and two storey shops that are vulnerable to redevelopment. The police station is scheduled to become a school at the moment but there could always be a change of plan.

As well as monitoring major developments, Bruce and Robert have been concerned with slowing down the rate of conversion of family houses to flats. There is an identifiable shortage of family houses in our area. Each conversion cuts down the size of the family house pool. The area is especially short of 4 bedroom family houses.

Before I leave housing I would like to mention what has happened just down this road to a building we knew as the Turrets. What we have now is a large cuboid, currently wrapped up in plastic sheets. It overwhelms the surrounding landscape. This housing development is in the middle of a traffic light zone. Coming straight out of the ground, it has no amenity space. If not at first then after a while there will be children. They will have a choice of play areas, either, among the traffic or on the railway lines.

With the developments I have mentioned, many come straight out of the ground. Instead of selling apartments where passing pedestrians could pass within inches of an apartment window, the developers propose shops or offices on the ground floor. There is no shortage of office space in Finchley and there are plenty of empty shops.

My efforts in the lat year have been drawn towards the Friern Barnet Community Library, where I am a Trustee, as well as being the Treasurer. Getting this project off the ground has been effectively a full time job, even more than a full time job. There have been lots to do and like all voluntary organisations – not enough Indians.

So, for example, when lead was stolen from the roof, I had to deal with it- all of it – from getting it patched up, to putting in the insurance claim, getting roofers to turn up and gives quotes, getting a quote approved, supervising the repair work, paying the builder and getting reimbursed from the insurance company. This is similar to what one would do if the lead was stolen from one’s house in the country, except that I have to deal with the Council as well.

The Library is open 8 hours a day for 6 days a week. It is manned entirely by volunteers, each doing a 2 hour shift. This means that the Library is manned by over 40 volunteers a week. We have volunteers from every decade from teenagers to 80 year olds. With one or two exceptions the rota volunteers area charming bunch. We have a young lady, Annette, who comes from the Isle of Dogs in every Saturday morning and has been doing so for over a year. She is apolitical but believes in libraries. Annette has a full time job as a librarian at one of our learned societies. Other than Annette our volunteers come from the local community; we have had a few from Muswell Hill and Southgate but they did not last.

There was a bit of argy-bargee from a couple of discontents, who wrote some nasty letters to the press. (I don’t mean from the Councillors – they are always jousting). These discontents were a couple of volunteers who didn’t like the way things were being done. A month ago, the Friern Barnet Community Library voted for its new trustees, at its AGM in June. The discontents were not elected and besides the local councillors, past and present, the new trustees are an apolitical bunch.

The Library exists because the local community want it to exist. The local community were prepared to agitate for its continued existence and it survives because of the effort the local community are prepared to put in. The local community includes the local councillors, past and present, as well as the leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius, who undertook the political task of “closing the deal”. At a recent “Any Questions” event at the Library, Richard Cornelius (Conservative) and Alison Moore (Labour) were on the panel The event was attend by another group of noisy discontents, some of whom claim to be possessors of the soul of the Library. They are not trustees, they do not do a weekly shift as part of the volunteer roster, they are not members and they do not even come into the library in normal opening hours.

The Library has a two year lease which finishes in May/June of next year. It is looking for a longer lease. With a longer lease we will be eligible for awards from funding bodies that are only prepare to award money to bodies that have a medium to long term future.

I have to mention Princess Park. As you may recall there are two parkland areas to the sides of the main drive, one to the east and one to the West. These two areas were supposed to be handed over for public access when building works finished. The tranche of land to the West was handed over some years ago. The hand over of the East tranche was held back because of the building of East wing extension. Part of the planning of the East wing extension was that the old cricket pavilion was demolished and the sales office on the North side be removed. What happened? Well the cricket pavilion has been demolished, the sales office remains open and Comer Homes have put up notices, on the East side, forbidding the public to use it. Our Councillors, to start off with, need to correct this.

Now for the depressing part. Like many other local voluntary groups, we are running out of people who are prepared to put in the necessary time and effort to ensure the continued existence. We need officers with time and energy. We require a couple of hours a week and commitment to do what is necessary.

As mentioned we have lost Len Bull. Bruce Standing our treasurer has suffered hospitalisation and ill health and can no longer continue as treasurer. Michael Harold, our secretary, has been seriously unwell in recent weeks. We need new blood, so, see me afterwards.