Monday, 25 January 2021

Barnet Council Edgware Growth strategy consulatation

 Barnet Council have published a 'growth strategy' for Edgware Town centre. You can read it if you click here. If you are wondering what the purpose of this is, the strategy says

Why we are consulting?

Once adopted, the SPD will provide a material consideration for the determination of planning applications within the SPD boundary.

Barnet and Harrow Councils are undertaking joint consultation on this draft SPD and welcome your input. We want to hear the views of local residents, visitors, businesses and stakeholders. It is important that residents and other interested parties have their say on the emerging plan.

Due to Covid-19 and the continuing requirements for social distancing and the limitations on groups gathering indoors, all consultation sessions will be held online.

Clearly for residents and businesses based in Edgware this is a key document as it will define the shape of your community for the future. It will have a major impact on your quality of life, your transport options and many other aspects of life in the locality. The document has several annexes, a Town centre economic strategy, a transport strategy as well as equality and sustainability appraisals. 

Personally, my view is that this whole process should be put on the backburner until the Covid 19 crisis is out of the way. There are two reasons for this. The first is that no one can really be sure what the fallout from covid means for our town centres, transport, working arrangements or living arrangements. Working from home has become the norm for office workers. Retail has seen a massive shift towards online sales. Restaurants, cinemas, pubs, live music venues etc have been shut for the best part of a year. Many thriving businesses that may have been looking to expand a year ago, are in survival mode.  For example the strategy says

1.21 To secure its status as a major town centre Edgware needs a sustainable response to a changing world. There must be compelling reasons for people to choose to visit and stay in the town centre, generating a positive and selfsustaining circle of renewal. Edgware can draw on its unique character and features while seeking new offerings to enhance the town centre’s appeal and support its businesses. Edgware has an enormous opportunity to significantly improve its leisure and cultural experience to draw more people to the town centre during the day and evening. This could mean more entertainment such as a cinema, increased eating out options, and leisure such as sports activities.

 In normal times, this paragraph would make perfect sense, but the businesses and capital required to make this happen may well not materialise. I would love to see a cinema return to Edgware, but the better chains such as the Everyman will have a lot on their plate just rebuilding their existing business and balance sheet, let alone looking at new cinemas. My view of these sort of schemes is that they are often simply designed to attract developers to build luxury flats. The 'add ons' such as cinemas, leisure space etc are often the first thing to go one developers get planning permission. You only have to look at all of the so called 'minor changes' to the Barratts NIMR scheme in Mill Hill, to see what happens in the real world once developers get their hands on a site. 

If things such as cinemas are really desired, potential operators should be invited as partners, so that a purpose built space can be provided, rather than just giving them a large chunk of space and saying 'there you go'. Through my work in music, I was a consultee on the original 'Millenium Dome' development. I stated that they should engage a world class partner like Disney to ensure it worked. They ignored my advice and the whole thing was a flop. Designed by committees, politicians and civil servants, it was dire. It then sat idle for years. Eventually a dynamic entertainment company took on the space and it is now one of the most profitable and well used venues in the world. 

Another example of wishful thinking, that has been proven to be a pipe dream is this paragraph.

1.26. Developers will be expected to support wider infrastructure investment for improved community facilities, for example in terms of schools, health and well-being and GPs surgeries. This is also the case with improving the public realm, for example with a network of cycle and pedestrian links, new public open spaces, squares, performance and event space that can provide places for pop-ups artists, community activities and leisure.

If you look at the Millbrook Park development in Mill Hill east, started ten years ago, a GP clinic was part of the scheme. That has still not been delivered, although far more flats are now being put on the site than was originally planned. There was also meant to be all sorts of other community space, virtually none of which was delivered.


The document states the following

3.10. Vacancy rates have increased significantly in recent years to 6% of all units, matching the London-wide position, but below the national average of 12%. There is a significant amount of non-retail uses within Edgware Town Centre, with extensive office space providing opportunities for professional services and business to locate there. Leisure uses are present, for example a fitness gym is located on Station Road. Diverse community uses such as community organisations, education, healthcare, religious uses, and a library, all add to the range of activities which jointly underpin the functioning and attraction of the town centre.

I doubt anyone expects this paragraph to accurately reflect the post covid world in Edgware. Non food retail businesses are going to be especially hard hit.

The document states the following in section 4.6

Provide a significant new cultural and leisure offering with attractions that make Edgware a destination location during both the daytime and evening. Potential options include a new cinema, swimming pool and a diverse range of eating-out options that reflect the multiple and distinctive cultures that thrive around Edgware. Other uses will be considered where they support the creation of a town centre fit for the future; providing a suitable variety of uses and able to adapt to future challenges.

It seems to me that whenever our local planners want to sell something to locals, they mention cinemas and swimming pools. If they are serious about getting a cinema, as stated before, they should make an organisation such as Everyman a strategic partner and listen to their ideas as to what make a cinema work. I am rather bemused by their ideas that a Swimming Pool would be a good addition to Edgware Town centre. This would be far better placed by other existing sports facilities, many of which are run down and neglected in the Borough of Barnet. One of the best developments in the Borough of Barnet in recent years is the Asian food hall at Bang Bang Oriental. Despite this being a huge success, our planners do not seem to recognise that this is a great concept. It could work really well in Edgware, maybe with a Mediterreaneian theme. 

This section also says

Retain local town centre users while seeking to draw in visitors from a wide area of North London and South Hertfordshire.

For this to be feasable, there will need to be better parking in the Town Centre. There is no tube line from South Hertfordshire. The type of people who use fancy restaurants are not usually bus users.

The section on housing is also informative

4.20. To meet the housing needs development at Edgware will: 

• Encourage residential development - the core of the centre could accommodate a substantial number of new market and affordable homes (subject to planning permission). 

• Provide for a mix of unit sizes and tenures, including affordable housing, in line with Local Plan policies. The varied requirements of both individuals and families should be accommodated where these are appropriate to create a varied and sustainable community. 

• Optimise sites to provide high quality housing in suitable locations. 

• Barnet’s emerging new Local Plan will establish a future housing capacity for the town centre.

With the massive increase in working from home, it is very likely that areas like Edgware will need a different mix of housing to the one which has emerged in the Borough over the last few years. Far fewer people will need commuter pads and more will need homes with decent work spaces. This has not been mentioned, which implies that post covid planning has not been addressed in this document.

Buried away in the section on community facilities, there is a rather ominous note that, to me at least, gives the game away, as to what the council and their development partners really want.

4.37. For the appropriate provision of community infrastructure in Edgware: 

• The need for community facilities must be assessed to ensure sufficient, suitable space for uses including education, health and community groups, with a likely increase in provision to support redevelopment of the town centre. 

• Seek opportunities for relocation to better serve the community and offer more appropriate accommodation.

 • Ensure the community facilities support the needs, health and wellbeing of Edgware’s diverse community.

I've highlighted the giveaways. In the first bullet point, I note the use of the word 'likely' rather than 'required'. 

As to the second bullet point, this implys that community facilities will be moved to 'more appropriate accomodation. My experience of this, from the experience of Watling Boys club, was that new accomodation is offered, then once the council got its hands on the space, the offer was withdrawn.

On the subject of local employment, the strategy states

4.39. Opportunities should be sought for new business in emerging growth sectors, for example digital, creative industries, and ICT. 

4.40. Economic dynamism and the retention of more local spending within Edgware will help to boost the town centre and support a sustainable, thriving community. More employment opportunities in the local area will mean fewer people travelling out to places of work, reducing pressure on the transport network, particularly at peak hours.

There is no mention of the major effect of covid, ie homeworking. For people working in digital and creative industries, homeworking is now the norm.

4.44. While evidence suggests that unemployment levels in Edgware have been relatively low in recent years, the long-term impact of the Coronovirus pandemic is yet to be fully assessed. The long-standing need to increase the level of skills and training for some parts of the working age population is likely to be supplemented by a requirement to assist the workforce where jobs have been lost due to Coronovirus. 
This is the only real mention of Covid in relation to employment. As I mentioned at the start, how can you have a strategy, when the effects of a generational step change such as covid has not been assessed?

There is a mention of car parking in section 5.20. This demonstrates that the aspiration of attracting wealthy customers for businesses from South Hertfordshire is likely to fail

• There should be retention of some car parking for town centre users, and potentially commuters, depending on assessed need. Car parking provision must be efficient, utilising approaches such as multi-storey, basement or podium parking.

This clearly implies a net reduction in parking spaces.

One of our key issues is The Railway Hotel. The strategy mentions this saying

5.28. New developments must be supportive of the existing frontages on the A5/ High Street and Station Road to complement the existing Town Centre. This includes supporting the restoration of the Railway Hotel and its frontage area of hardstanding which has great potential to benefit this part of Station Road, for example through outdoor seating for a café, restaurant or bar.

I believe there is huge potential for the space. It used to be the venue of choice for wedding parties and other family events. It is clear that for a 'Big Pub' to work, innovation is needed. We'd like to see the council enter a partnership with the owners to encourage a MicroBrewery to take over the space, using the upstairs space for community space and wedding venue usage. If Edgware had its own microbrewery, we believe this would put the area on the map for night time and leisure. The proximity of Barnet FC would make this a popular stop off point. Real Ale drinkers are well behaved and travel to try good beers. For this to work, the council will need to be far more proactive with regards to engagements with owners of such sites. The owners have clearly bought the site to redevelop. As the site is grade II listed, it must be made clear to them that this will not happen and if anything happens to the building, they will need to rebuild it in its current form. That will encourage them to do the right thing.

There are some interesting comments regarding signage in section 6.4. 

6.4. Shop signage is often too large and ill-matched with adjacent shops, visually dominating the frontages, giving an overall disjointed appearance and covering architectural features that would otherwise add character.

I agree that this is something that needs to be addressed. The Mill Hill Neighbourhood Forum tried to address this in Salcombe Gardens securing a grant for new signage. Sadly, they did not engage anyone who understoof good design and by making all the signage the same colour and design, the parade looks drably reminiscent of an East German suburb. Good signage is diverse and tasteful. Planning guidelines need to be agreed and enforced, that dictate scale and size, but are not too prescriptive.

Another section that does not reflect the new reality is section seven. This is especially true on the section about the tube.

7.6. Edgware tube station operates as an integrated interchange with the adjacent bus station with one third of tube station users arriving by bus during the morning peak. Whilst busy at peak times, and despite recent growth in entry/exit flows, the station currently operates within capacity. The trains, however, are highly congested during peak hours towards/ from central London. The station forecourt prioritises vehicles, but this does not prevent congestion and queuing onto Station Road during the peak period.
Again, we have no idea whether any of this will be true post lockdown, as we see how many people return to their former London offices.

I agree with the Council that we need a plan. I agree that there are many issues that need addressing. I agree that we need to see modal change. I agree with many of the aspirations here. But I think the council should pause this process until we can ascertain the post covid landscape. That does not mean allowing assets like the Railway Hotel to deteriorate further. These should be addressed. But how can a council have proper engagement on such an issue with Zoom meetings?  We doubt that this is properly inclusive. Many residents will not have the ability to join these. Proper public meetings are required for such important subjects, with online access for those who can't attend in person. We believe the council will leave itself open to Judicial Review if they proceed at this time in this manner.

Local Resident Mark Amies made a video detailing why this consultation is needed last January. Much has changed since then. We want this job done, but it must be done properly with full community involvement

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