Friday 9 February 2018

Barnet Tories approve Cricklewood aggregates superhub

Last night, the Barnet Conservatives forced through the planning permission for the Cricklewood aggregates superhub. This was a story first broken by The Barnet Eye.  We noticed some "unusual" building building works on the railway land to the west of the Midland Mainline. A quick review of Barnet Council's website revealed that a rather sketchy planning application for an aggregates hub. This revealed that there would be a huge number of lorry movements. When we posted the story, the local community were unaware. Within days, there were hundreds of objections. Eventually this was withdrawn and a new scheme submitted, which has attracted over 800 objections.

What disgusted me was that the work had begun without planning permission. Whilst there appears to be one rule for ordinary residents, there clearly is another for large companies such as DB rail. With regards to the actual proposal, I have very mixed feelings. I had a very interesting conversation with the leader of Barnet Council about this subject several months back. Richard stated that "whether the aggregates come in by road or rail, they will come in anyway. Bringing them to Cricklewood by rail will mean less lorries and less pollution". He is of course correct in his statement, but it is a far more complex issue. The reason this is required is to support the Brent Cross regeneration, which will be one of the largest building projects in Western Europe. If you accept that Brent Cross/Cricklewood has to be raised to the ground and rebuilt, then Councillor Cornelius is correct. If however you think that the project is a huge overdevelopment, will bring gridlock to the local roads, overload the local schools, doctors and other services then there is perhaps a less compelling case to proceed with the development. If there was no scheme, there would be no requirement for an aggregates superhub. The Barnet Eye actually filmed a train operating in the Superhub last April, nearly a year before the planning permission was approved!

The planning request was highly misleading. It implied that this was simply an upgrade to existing freight facilities on the site. Whilst anyone with any knoweledge of the rail history of Cricklewood would know that it is a traditional rail centre, an aggregates hub has never been part of the equation. The area where the hub is situated was a rail marshalling yard. For those of you unfamiliar with rail operations, this is where trains would arrive and be split up to form different trains. For example a train may have come down from Nottingham with 20 coal wagons. This would be split at Cricklewood with 12 going to Battersea Power station and 8 going to another destination. There was no loading or unloading of freight in this area. In the days when rail was the primary way of moving freight, wagons were moved around the country and hundreds of marshalling yards such as Cricklewood were used as forwarding points. There was a builder merchants in Cricklewood that was supplied by rail, but this is not where the marshalling yard is. Following Dr Beechings report, British Rail got out of wagonload trains. Beeching decreed that only bulk movements were economical on rail. Oil, Coal and containers were deemed the way of the future. The marshalling yards such as at Cricklewood declined. With the closure of many coal fired power stations such as Battersea, coal train movements ceased. For several decades the marshalling yard became the home to non rail businesses using cheap industrial land.

Of course nothing stays the same. Huge development projects such as Cricklewood have given a new opportunity for rail freight. Whilst pork pies from Melton Mowbray and cattle for Smithfield meat market are no longer transported by rail, projects like Cricklewood require humungous amounts of aggregates to make concrete. Not many people realise this, but there is already a huge cement works just down the road from Cricklewood at Kings Cross. Trains chug up and down and this was required for the Kings Cross development. People in the rail business originally thought Cricklewood could be used for container traffic, but then realised that aggregates would be more lucrative. The quantity surveyors associated with the Brent Cross project realised that the only way that they could get the required volume of materials into the area was by rail. I spoke to one of the people involved with the scheme. They explained that the logistics of running such a project meant that having such an aggregates delivery point meant that the project could be delivered far more quickly and at a much cheaper cost. The planning documents state that 20% of the materials would arrive at the hub. His view was that this was likely to be more than 50% and at the peak of the project, the site will be running 24 x 7. I pointed out that this is not what it says in the planning brief. He stated that the scheme will ramp up over a period of years and once people get used to it, no one will notice. He also made an observation that may well disturb local residents. He stated that "logically it will be far better to move the aggregates from the hub to the building site in the middle of the night as there will be far less traffic, so it can be done more economically. If you think of it, during rush hour it might take 25 minutes to get a lorry out of the hub and into the actual building site. At 3 in the morning, this would take 7 minutes. So you'd probably get three journeys overnight in the same time you'd get one during the working day". I asked whether they were worried about resident complaints and council enforcement action. He replied "The council desperately want this scheme to happen. There won't be any problems". I asked if the council were aware of this. He said "Our plans reflect what will happen when the site opens. The council are aware that from time to time we may have to vary the operation for logistical reasons and know that there may be a conversation when the need arises".

What local residents really need to be aware of is that this enormous project will not mean an evenly spread requirement for aggregates. The first thing that will need to be put in is service roads, temporary power supplies and logistical facilities. This hub is one of those facilities. Then the groundworks will start. Much of that will actually meant taking spoil away from the site. This may well be the worst part for residents. Anyone familiar with excavations will know that this smells very bad. Once all of the holes have been dug, then the aggregates will be required. The most economical way to do concreting is to do as much of it as possible in the shortest time. So that will be an intensive period of activity. As frost can damage newly poured concrete, the vast majority of this will be done in the summer months. It is also more productive to do this when it is light.

Once the sewers have been laid, the water, gas and electric mains services supplied the roads put in, the foundations laid and the building shells erected, the requirement for the aggregates at the site will dramatically decline. In most building projects the "heavy" side of the operation is the most disruptive. Developers like to get this stage done as quickly as possible. That is why I believe that once the project ramps up, the prediction of the QS I know will come true.  Once the heavy side is completed, it will be the teams fitting out. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc. Their requirement for heavy aggregates is minimal. So what happens to the Superhub then?

For me this is a fascinating question and one that I am rather disturbed about. If you look at the on the Google Satellite map, it is clear that there is a huge area to the West of the Edgware road, in the Borough of Brent that is what local planners would consider ripe for development. This is also true of the area to the East of the Edgware Road, north of the North Circular. With a superhub with spare capacity, all of this will become "highly developable". If the Brent Cross regeneration is successful, this will be the next phase.

I suspect that many developers will be looking at the industrial premises on the north of the North Circular road, bordering the Welsh Harp and be thinking "Prime real estate". In short, I see the whole area being subjected to a whole succession of mega schemes. This of course is dependent on the Brent Cross scheme actually being a success (in the financial sense).

I have no doubt that the developers will make a pot of money, the upgraded shopping centre will be a huge financial success, the new Brent Cross railway station will be one of the busiest on the Thameslink line and that the Conservative Councillors who forced all this through will sit back happily, patting each other on the back for having not been "distracted by NIMBY's".

But there is the other side of the coin. The local residents of Cricklewood, who have paid council tax for decades, who have built a fantastic community, will have decades of noise, pollution from lorries, congestion, dust, sleepless nights and declining quality of life. I have been involved in supplying sound systems for events run by the Cricklewood Town team. At the last one, just before Xmas, I asked a couple of locals what they thought of the Brent Cross scheme. I was not surprised when they said they were unimpressed, but I was surprised that both said that "most people who live in Cricklewood never go to Brent Cross, we tend to shop locally on the High street". Given that Brent Cross is about half a mile away, I was shocked that they do not consider it to be anything to do with their community. One even described it as a cancer that is slowly destroying their local community.

Childs Hill ward covers Eastern Cricklewood and western Golders Green. One Cricklewood resident told me that the Cricklewood side of the ward was Labour who shopped in Cricklewood and the Golders Green side were Tories who shopped at Brent Cross. I pointed out that the ward had been Lib Dem for most of the last 30 years. They said "Tories who don't want Labour to run the council and Labour who don't want Tories to run the Council tend to vote tactically for the Lib Dems. Jack Cohen is well known and people trust him".

I think Childs Hill will be the most interesting ward to watch in the forthcoming Council elections. At the moment there are two Tories and one Lib Dem (Jack Cohen). Anything is possible. A straight Tory victory, a straight Labour victory, a mix. We could even have a Lib Dem, a Labour and a Tory Councillor. If that happened and every other seat remained the same in Barnet, then there would be a straight tie in the Borough between Labour and Tories, with Jack Cohen controlling the balance of power. Personally, if I had to trust one councillor to have such a role, I'd choose Jack, but then I am biased. It will be interesting to see how Lib Dem Suzette Palmer does this time. She was a councillor for many years, but did not stand in 2014. She is giving it another go, it will be interested to see if her strong personal vote plays a role. I am fascinated that the Tories have chosen Vanessa Gearson as their candidate. She is best known for her role in deposing ex Tory Leader Iain Duncan Smith from power. Whilst I am generally all for deposing Tory leaders from power, I am not entirely sure I'd vote for someone based on the behaviour described in this account. For Labour, Anne Clarke is a very passionate local campaigner for Cricklewood. She has been at the forefront of the campaign against the hub. A local Tory I was talking to on Wednesday night suggested that Childs Hill could see Suzette Palmer, Anne Clarke and Vanessa Gearson winning.

Here is the result from 2014. You can see just how close it was.

Childs Hill (3 seats)[6]
ConservativeShimon Ryde1,544
ConservativePeter Zinkin1,536
Liberal DemocratJack Cohen1,509
ConservativeRohit Grover1,500
LabourAndrew Smith1,463
LabourAde Ajakaiye1,408
LabourNila Patel1,381
Liberal DemocratCharlotte Henry1,222
Liberal DemocratJonathan Davies1,198
GreenFrancesco Marasco501

I think Suzette will be buoyed by her performance in 2010, which would have seen her top the poll. 

Liberal DemocratSusette Palmer
It will be interesting to see who the Tories backing the Superhub will change the maths. My own suspicions are that quite a lot of Tories will switch to Lib Dems in disgust. There have been quite a few Labour voters moving from Islington to the ward. My personal suspicions are that the seat will be a very tight run off between Lib Dems and Labour with Tories slipping to third place. I wouldn't be surprised to see Jack Cohen, Suzette Palmer and Anne Clarke take the seat. Mind you, my record on predicting results is truly awful. I sincerely hope that the Greens don't stand. The 500 votes they took could make all the difference.

When it comes down to it, politics should be about trust. Our council should be open and accountable. Are they? Voters in Childs Hill have to ask themselves who they trust. Do they trust the two Conservative councillors who's party steamrollered this through. Do they trust their third candidate given her record when working for Ian Duncan Smith? The leaflet to the left was delivered by the Tories in Childs Hill yesterday. How they can claim to be trying to control the level of development in Barnet is simply breathtaking on the day the Superhub was passed.

I am assuming they hope that no one notices before the elections on May 3rd.  It seems to me truly bizarre that the Tories see overdevelopment of sheds as a bigger problem than a monster freight hub on a former marshalling yard. As to the cleaner streets. The Tories have run Barnet Council since 2002. I always say judge a party by their record. If the Childs Hill Tories are saying that the streets are in a bad way, then it is completely their fault. The one thing we can be sure of though. They will deliver on their commitment to build new roads. They have passed a brand new freight hub, so all of the roads in North West London will have aggregates delivered to Cricklewood for the lorries to collect when building them. 

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