Villiers and Byers campaign against overdevelopment in New Barnet

Theresa Villiers MP and Cllr Felix Byers are campaigning against revised plans for Victoria Quarter in New Barnet. Formerly a gasworks site, the future of this land has been debated since 2006 when proposals for an Asda superstore were announced. Local residents, alongside their MP and ward councillors, successfully fought off those plans. After lengthy discussions, planning permission was granted for new homes in 2016 (slightly altered by a second application in 2017). Although this proposal for 371 homes was fairly dense and involved some relatively high buildings, it represented a compromise which many local people felt they could accept.

There was widespread dismay when One Housing, the owners of Victoria Quarter, recently submitted a new planning application to increase the density of the development by 76% from 371 dwellings to 652, with blocks of up to ten storeys. Theresa and Felix are encouraging residents to send their objections to the planning committee so their voices will be heard when the council decides whether the new plans can go ahead. Guidance on how to send in your views can be found here.

This is the letter Theresa and Felix have sent to the planning committee explaining why they think the One Housing planning application should be rejected....

Objection letter to Barnet Council Planning Committee on plans by One Housing and Fairview for Victoria Quarter

We strongly oppose this planning application, as do many of the people we represent, and we urge the planning committee to reject it.

In this letter, the term ‘Barnet Local Plan’ is used to refer to the existing plan first published in 2012; and ‘Draft Barnet Local Plan’ refers to the 2020 document recently published for consultation.

Process

We believe that, because of the Covid emergency, when the local democratic process is limited, free association is curtailed, and so many residents are understandably distracted by serious health and economic concerns, the determination of this application should be delayed. This will enable the cancelled consultation organised by the developers to take place, and One Housing and Fairview can take into consideration and respond to legitimate concerns about their proposals for this sensitive site. Letting highly controversial applications like this one go ahead now will mean residents are deprived of their full right to engage with the planning process.

Whilst electronic means of taking part in planning hearings may be feasible, much of the campaign activity that would normally take place (and has done regarding this site over a period dating back several years) is impossible, for example public meetings. Moreover, planning officers and councillors need to be publicly accountable for their recommendations and decisions, in a meaningful way and this is not achievable through virtual meetings.

The 2016 and 2017 planning applications

We recognise the need for more housing and we support the principle that new homes should be built on this site. But we strongly believe that One Housing should build in accordance with the plans for which it already has permission under planning permissions granted in 2016 and 2017.

Even those earlier plans were controversial, dividing opinion because of the bulk and height of the buildings and the number of units permitted. But after much engagement in good faith between the previous owners of the site and residents, they were adopted as a compromise and received considerable local acceptance. At the time, this appeared to be a successful conclusion to over 10 years of debates and campaigns on the future of the land. Abandoning this compromise is a betrayal of trust.

Over-development: height, massing and density

It is deeply worrying that this latest application by One Housing, in partnership with Fairview New Homes, nearly doubles the proposed size of the development. The number of units would go up by 76% from 371 to 652, including buildings of seven to ten storeys – rendering the proposals, not a revision of the 2016/17 plans, but entirely new and inconsistent with them.

The plans would involve ten new buildings in excess of six storeys, which would be totally out of place in our suburban neighbourhood where most homes are just one or two storeys and for which height, with the sole exception of the lone-standing Desmond House, there is no precedent anywhere in East Barnet ward.

The new plans would be a massive over-development of the site. They would have a significant negative impact on the surrounding neighbourhood because of the height, density, massing and bulk of the buildings.

The blocks proposed would contravene policies in the Barnet Local Plan on tall buildings. Policy CS5 on page 69 of the Local Plan, on “Protecting and enhancing, Barnet’s character to create high quality places,” states that tall buildings (defined as eight storeys or more) will only be approved for certain parts of the borough. The list of strategic sites and local town centres identified as suitable for tall buildings does not include New Barnet Town Centre nor the Victoria Quarter site. This approach is replicated in the new Draft Barnet Local Plan (CDH04 page 111).

Furthermore, Paragraph 8.1.3 of Barnet’s Core Strategy states:

“Current national planning guidance on housing set out in Planning Policy Statement 3 –  Housing, advises that high quality housing should aim to create places that meet the needs of people, maintain and improve local character.”

Paragraph 6.8.1 in the Draft Barnet Local Plan states that:

“Proposals that significantly harm the amenity of neighbouring occupiers will not be acceptable. Protecting amenity helps to protect residents’ wellbeing and privacy. It is important to ensure that development does not significantly overshadow neighbouring buildings, block daylight, reduce sunlight, or result in a loss of privacy or outlook.”

We would argue that in no way would the development maintain and improve local character. In fact, the proposals would be inconsistent with, and permanently damage, the character of the surrounding neighbourhood.

The proposed scheme has a housing density to 625 habitable rooms per hectare. This breaches current Development Management Policy DM02, and Draft Barnet Local Plan Policy CDH01 which seeks to optimise, rather than maximise, housing density. The Victoria Quarter site is not identified as a either an Opportunity Area or Area of Intensification in the current London Plan.

The plans would also be inconsistent with Development Management Policy DM01(g) and DM02 that provide that developments should include outdoor amenity space including sufficient play space for children and young people.

Visual impact and overlooking

If this application is allowed, the blocks of flats would overlook the adjoining park and existing housing. The detriment to the landscape, particularly in Victoria Recreation Ground, resulting from these proposals would reduce many residents’ amenity and enjoyment of what has long been, and remains, a landscape populated by largely by low-rise semi-detached and terraced family housing. This is reflected in the majority opposition by local residents acknowledged in both the developers’ own consultations in 2020 and in objections submitted in relation to this planning application.

We would highlight Policy ECC05 of the 2020 Draft Barnet Local Plan which provides that:

“Development within or adjacent to Metropolitan Open Land should minimise any adverse impact on the openness of the MOL and respect the character of its surroundings”.

Whilst it is not clear that Victoria Recreation Ground is Metropolitan Open Land, we believe similar principles should apply given the importance of this open space to the local community.

The new blocks would also be clearly visible in the locally important local view D, looking down from Hadley Green and King George’s Fields through New Barnet to central London and Canary Wharf, and the east-west view between the summits of High Barnet and Cockfosters. This application would therefore be inconsistent with planning policy to safeguard such views, as set out in Paragraphs 10.6.4-5 of the Core Strategy.

Policy CS5 of the Barnet Local Plan dictates that developments should both ‘respect and enhance the distinctive natural landscapes of Barnet’ and ‘protect important local views from places within Barnet’. These proposals do neither.

Housing mix

The application is inconsistent with the Barnet Local Plan which states in Policy CS3 9.2.13 to 14 that priority will be given to three and four bedroom homes (see also Development Management Policy DM08). The development here proposes predominantly one and two bedroom units, with three bedroom units constituting just 18.6% of the total. The 2020 Draft Barnet Local Plan also emphasises that priority will be given to three-bedroom homes (HOU02).

Public transport access level (PTAL)

The application overstates the public transport access for the site. A PTAL score rates a location based on how close it is to public transport and how frequent services are in the area, and ranges from 0 (poor) to 6 (excellent). It is claimed that the site has “good transport connections”. The report uses a PTAL score of 3 in all of the calculations and assumptions used to justify the development. The local campaign group, Save New Barnet have pointed out that more than half of the proposed units will actually have a PTAL score of only 1a.

The site is some considerable distance from the nearest tube stations. Although the closest national rail station is quicker to get to, services there have limited capacity and are already very crowded at peak travel time.

Since submission of this application, Transport for London have published a decision on 24th April 2020 to withdraw the 384 Bus service from local roads including East Barnet Road and Crescent Road, further reducing public transport capacity and connectivity in East Barnet ward. This comes after reductions in the frequency of the service which have already taken place.

Parking, traffic congestion, and infrastructure

The proposed decrease in car parking provision per unit, as compared to the 2016/17 consented plans, sees this decrease from 107% to 58%. That would leave almost half of households without any on-site parking at all, despite the predominance of travel by car and multi-car households in this part of London. 

As acknowledged in the 2020 Draft Barnet Local Plan, there continues to be high car usage in this borough. This site is some considerable distance from Tube stations. Although a national rail station is closer, services there are limited, both geographically and in scheduling. The comparatively poor public transport options nearby mean that people living in this new development will inevitably be dependent on car travel.

There would therefore be a considerable impact on local roads both in terms of traffic congestion and parking. Overspill parking will occur in streets which are narrow and are already filled with the cars of residents whose homes cannot accommodate off-street parking.

A CPZ in the vicinity is neither wanted, nor will it be acceptable to a majority of local residents and local elected representatives. It is wrong for the developers to presume that their willingness to fund consultation and implementation of a CPZ in any way mitigates the traffic concerns arising from their proposals. Their attitude on this point illustrates the developers’ failure to listen to the local community.

A particular location of concern is the junction of Victoria Road, Albert Road and East Barnet Road, which is already under pressure because of existing traffic problems. Transport for London’s intention to reroute the 384 Bus across this junction down the already narrow and heavily parked Victoria Road through Park Road will exacerbate existing problems. 

Residents have raised concerns about safety issues at the junction of Victoria Road, Albert Road and East Barnet Road and the junction was the focus of considerable controversy during previous consideration of the future of the gasworks site. This application would see hundreds more cars using this problem junction every day, with no mitigating adaptation of the junction, with negative impacts for congestion, air pollution, and safety. We are especially concerned about the safety of cyclists using this junction.

Impact on local services

We note the comments made by nearby residents about the pressure on local infrastructure such as GP surgeries, dentists, schools and other essential local services. The scheme is expected to accommodate between 1,395 and 1,485 new residents including between 137 and 174 under 5s, and between 98 and 120 primary school children.

The scheme is outside Cromer Road School catchment area and Livingstone is only a one form entry, so it is hard to see how such a big increase in pupil numbers could be accommodated in nearby schools.

There is already a need to expand local GP services because of increasing healthcare needs, and a significant increase in the local population would see pressure on local NHS practices increase still further.

Having asked repeatedly for reassurance that the developers engage with the CCG and local authority on these matters, we have yet to receive any.

Conclusion

We believe that the application should be refused because it contravenes a number of planning rules and would damage the quality of life and local environment for New Barnet residents. It would also set a dangerous precedent for similarly damaging development in the constituency. Any merits this application might have are demonstrably outweighed by its adverse impacts. In our view, the developers should be advised to revert to the original plans for which planning permission has been granted.

We would be grateful if you could ensure that our views, and those of our constituents, are brought to the attention of the planning committee. We also wish to notify you that we would both like to address the planning committee when this application is considered.

Yours sincerely

Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP
Cllr Felix Byers