North Finchley Town Centre:
Our Response to the Draft Proposals
In October Barnet Council published a draft Supplementary Planning Document (‘the SPD’) entitled ‘North Finchley Town Centre Framework’ and launched a public consultation to conclude by late November. The Finchley Society and the Friern Barnet and Whetstone Residents’ Association studied the draft and held a meeting to discuss it on 23rd November. More than a hundred people were at the meeting and heard from the Council’s consultants and officers.
We give the SPD a cautious welcome. We recognise the need for an appropriate planning environment to help revitalise North Finchley Town Centre, but consider that the existing proposals lack some essential detail and require substantial changes. Salient features of our comments are:
- Market: The proposed new courtyard space for the market is inadequately small.
- Bus station: Closing the bus station may not be realistic.
- Traffic Management: There should be no roadspace reallocation or other proposal affecting traffic flows through North Finchley that would reduce the volume of through traffic that the High Road / Ballards Lane can accommodate.
- Cycling: The SPD contains no specific proposals for cyclists. It should evaluate realistically whether features such as cycle lanes are desirable and practicable, given the crowded space of the town centre.
- Parking supply during redevelopment: Measures in the SPD should offset the loss of more than 45% of the off-street car park capacity in the town centre while the Lodge Lane car park is redeveloped. Local residents, drivers, and businesses must be reassured that there will not be such a loss as to strangle the town centre during redevelopment.
- Parking supply- general: Many people at the 23rd November meeting expressed great concern at the lack of available car parking in North Finchley, arguing that this lack is a major cause of the decline of the town centre and demands immediate Council action. The proposals for encouraging more efficient use of existing car parking spaces are welcome, but the number of public parking spaces should also be increased.
- Height of buildings: The proposals for tall buildings are inappropriate: overbearing in height and bulk, out of keeping with neighbouring buildings and likely to shade unacceptably them and nearby roads. 6 or 7 storeys, and less in some areas, should be the maximum.
- Wind tunnel effects: The SPD recognises that new developments may exacerbate wind tunnels, but is weak in remedies. Wind tunnel effects must, as far as possible, be eliminated, not merely mitigated. This issue was frequently and forcefully raised by people on 23rd November.
- Residential units: The SPD envisages many new residential units in North Finchley, but gives no indication how many. Residents need to know this to appreciate the scale of the likely change.
- Social infrastructure: The Council should accept responsibility for new health and educational facilities. The SPD should provide for a new health centre on a specific site.
- War Memorial: The War Memorial stands in front of St Kilda’s, the United Services Club building; under the SPD it, along with the offices to its north, could be demolished. This would give the Memorial a large and insensitive new building of up to 12 storeys as its backdrop. The original War Memorial is St Kilda’s itself, purchased in 1921 as a war memorial, for the use of servicemen, ex-servicemen and others. It is an important monument to the sacrifice of the men of Finchley in the Great War, and should be retained as part of the collective memory and social history of Finchley. Excluding it from the redevelopment would not impair the integrity of the remainder of the site. It should not purchased compulsorily, and any new building constructed on the remainder of the site should not be overbearing in relation to either the Memorial or St Kilda’s.
On the SPD process:
- Traffic Study: The lack of a technical traffic study and a demonstrably workable traffic scheme undermine the credibility of the proposals. The SPD must contain a clear and short timetable for a full traffic study and the subsequent formulation (including public consultation) of a highway plan.
- Phasing: The SPD contains no specific phasing strategy. This is wrong: at least some elements of phasing should be made mandatory. For example, before the Lodge Lane site is redeveloped the existing market must be established at its new location and adequate temporary public parking provided to replace the spaces in Lodge Lane car park until the replacement car park there is open for public use.
- Blight: The adoption of the SPD will create planning blight, particularly because of the proposal for Compulsory Purchase Orders “especially but not exclusively in the Key Opportunity Sites”. This creates unacceptable uncertainty throughout the whole of the area. The SPD should identify those parts of the area where compulsory purchase powers will be exercised, ideally only for Key Opportunity Sites and highways works, and powers should contain a sunset provision, to time-limit planning blight.
- Masterplan: It is unfair to require proposals to be “accompanied by an overall masterplan”, for only a party which secures control of key sites will be able to provide such a masterplan. It must be open to anyone to submit planning applications in conformity with the SPD.