Wednesday 22 November 2017

North Finchley Regeneration briefing at Cafe Buzz

On Tuesday morning I went to see a presentation from a member of BDP, the architects responsible for the North Finchley masterplan and one of the senior planners from Barnet Council. I will not name them as they suggested that they stated that they did not want to be filmed or identified when I asked if I could video the presentation (the explanation was that they do not 'want to be film stars')

So out of respect, I will not name or identify them, although this rather scuppered my plan to video the session and share it. I must confess I was rather disappointed as this is a very good way to ensure that as many people as possible are able to see what they had to say.

As an alternative I tried to tweet the key points. Here is a summary of what we heard.

The issue of compulsory purchases of buildings where the landlord did not want to participate in the redevelopment was discussed. It seems that the council sees this as a last resort, however did not rule it out.

The team said that developments could occur at any time and anyone could initiate schemes that did not necessarily complement the overall objective of improving North Finchley. They said that an overarching scheme was useful to signpost the direction for the regeneration and redevelopment.

For many it was unclear what the proposal actually meant. This was clarified, to some extent. The plan is not detailed, it is just a refinement of an already agreed policy, with the aim of moving the plan to the 'next stage'. This was part of the consultation and the purpose was to see what local stakeholders wanted.

The representative from BDP explained that the developer Jonathan Joseph (the developer behind the Brent Cross Scheme) was making a good offer, in as much as that he was prepared to shell out cash for High Street regeneration that would not necessarily benefit his business financially. To be clear, this is my interpretation on what was said and there may be nuances to this.

Jeremy Leaf was of the opinion that North Finchley did not need an external large stakeholder such as Jonathaan Joseph and local stakeholder, who have significant land and expertise in North Finchley may be a more appropriate partner for the council. He mentioned that they've been trying to engage the council for three years to discuss this, without success.

BDO have produced a map of the North Finchley with various areas classified as what they want to do with them and how this may affect local businesses and residents.

It was commented that some of the existing buildings etc should be left and others, the facade should be retained, with new buildings behind them. The Bohemia was identified as one that would definately be retained.

The subject of pedestrianisation and traffic flows were discussed. There was talk of making the area around Ballards Lane more pedestrian friendly. The one way system will also go.

There is also talk of a pedestrian town square area in the area in front of the art depot. Mention was made of the wind tunnel effect. BDO said this could be mitigated by good design and new buildings.

There was also the subject of how many new flats, the mix of businesses and what would be where. As the number of dwellings and residents would be increased, the subject of where these new people would park was also discusssed. BDO stated that there were no estimates of how many new dwellings there would be. I personally found this a little hard to take seriously. I don't believe that a developer would have put money on the table without some idea.

Then there was the elephant in the room. North Finchley traders has been a hotbed of anger ever since the council abolished pay and display parking. Ever since this was first mooted in 2011, Traders have been highly critical of the high handed behaviour of the council. Traders have had continual lectures from various councillors and consultants associated with the council explaining why they are wrong about the effects of the council parking policy on their turnover. Traders have their accounts and the 30-40% drop that happened on the day that pay and display was abolished and replaced with pay by phone.

As soon as this subject was raised, the local traders became visibly more hostile. When the representative from BDO start talking about parking, it really was noticeable how the mood changed. The plan mentioned that a parking plan should be developed to optimise parking. BDO stated that 'car parks weren't full'. It was suggested that for the high street, parking charges could be used to optimise turnover. I suggested that this didn't need a  big plan. Improvements should be developed and brought forward ASAP. I also suggested that any changes should be trialled. I believe there is a "best policy". I was surprised that BDO as consultants couldn't comment on this. If I was a regeneration consultant, I'd investigate models and set up local forums to discuss various models. These could then be trialled. Jeremy Leaf accused me of being psychic at this point, as he was just about to say the same thing.

Another issue was the effect on local businesses. There was a desire for some guarantees for the small businesses in the room. They wanted assurances that the regeneration wouldn't leave them High and Dry. Luxmi, who recently bought a local opticians, was keen to ensure that new parking policies wouldn't affect her elderly customers. There was a discussion as to the mix of businesses. BDO suggested more co-working spaces and a different mix of offices & retail to the existing one. A local business owner with 40 staff felt that this didn't reflect the reality of his requirements.

After the meeting I bumped into Keith Martin, local arts and libraries campaigner. I discussed the meeting. Keith was disappointed as he'd like to have attended and was unaware of the meeting. He was pleased to hear of the Town Square area proposals. He also wanted a commitment to see a department store, along the lines of Owen Owen. This wasn't mentioned, however this doesn't mean it isn't on the cards.

My observations and recommendations

1. Don't wait for the scheme to start addressing the parking issues. Bring forward a scheme ASAP.
2. Involve local experts such as Jeremy Leaf, who know the area, the market and the Landlord.
3. Hold regular briefings and involve business stakeholders such as the Federation of Small Business(FSB).
4. Hold regular local engagement sessions.
5. Ensure that in future, presenters are comfortable with the presentation being video'd. I am sure many would like to see this (Keith Martin was disappointed).
6. Send a few councillors along. There should be democratic oversight.

I hope none of these seem too unreasonable.

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