Thursday, 26 July 2018

Pentavia Park redevelopment scheme rejected by Barnet Council

Image result for pentavia park development
Pentavia Park - Architects impression
Last night I attended the planning committee of Barnet Council. I was asked by a group of residents and the Barnet Cycling Campaign to represent them. Yesterday I published the presentation I gave to the committee. The developer has achieved a feat almost unheard of in Barnet, he has united the Mill Hill Residents Association, The Barnet Cycling Campaign, The Mill Hill Preservation Society, Matthew Offord MP, Andrew Dismore AM, the three Mill Hill Conservative Councillors, The three Mill Hill Lib Dem candidates, the three Mill Hill Labour candidates and even the coordinator of the Mill Hill Churches homeless shelter scheme. I found myself in the unusual position of being warmly congratulated by Mill Hill Conservative Councillor Val Duschinsky for my presentation to the committee. I returned the compliment as Val gave an excellent speech following mine, as did John Gillett from the Neighbourhood forum and Andrew Dismore, the Labour assembly member.

The developer also gave a presentation in support of the application. It has to be said that he really didn't cover himself in glory. He claimed that the proposal had received over 1,000 letters of support. A member of the committee checked and found only three (his mum, dad and auntie Peggy maybe?). He explained that the support was for a previous scheme that was so bad he withdrew it and resubmitted it. He was sure that all of the thousand would be even more chuffed with this scheme, but were probably too busy to write another letter. Committee member Gabriel Rosenberg, perhaps the brightest of the young crop of Tory Councillors, proceeded to give the developer an extremely hard time, much to the satisfaction of all gathered (perhaps apart from the developers mum, dad and auntie Peggy?). He pointed out that the lack of genuinely affordable flats was justified because the site used to be a thriving retail centre. He made the rather obvious point that it is now a bunch of derelict sheds as various former tenants had gone bust, downsized and generally knocked the concept of retailing on the head. The developer explained that he was being quite generous, as by his calculations the scheme needed no affordable element. Councillor Rozebberg was having none of it, telling the developer that such a scheme would have zero chance of success and he knew it.  Burnt Oak Labour councillor, Claire Farrier was worried about air quality, picking up on the theme that Councillor Duschinsky had so eloquently made.

Veteran Tory Councillor John Marshall started to get rather irritated by the whole thing. He stated that it was clear the committee would be rejecting the scheme, for the reasons that the Council officers outlined. He saw no point wasting any more time talking about it. Several other councillors suggested that other reasons for rejection needed to be added to the list. Jon Klaff from the Barnet Cycling Campaign provided a live twitter feed for the meeting. He noted what happened as these were put forward.

 The affordability issue was raised by Councillor Rozenberg and easily secured the support of the committee. The other proposals split more or less along party lines, with the Tories using their majority and casting vote to vote down the other rejection reasons. What rather puzzled me was why Councillors Cohen and Shooter seemed far keener on the proposal than any other committee member. They did not ask any questions and offered no real support, but were the first hands up to reject the additional refusal reasons. It also appeared that Councillor Prentice, the chair did not really understand that as chair she had the casting vote, when one of the votes split 5-5. She voted to reject the amendment. It appeared to me that this was because it was proposed by a Labour member. She did not give any justification for her vote.

As I left, I discussed what had happened with Andrew Dismore. He was livid with the committee. Dismore is a former Westminster City Councillor and he stated that it was time that councillors in Barnet woke up to the fact that it was their job to direct officers, not the other way around. He stated that the more reasons for rejection, the harder it would be for the Mayor to reverse the decision.

After the meeting, a few of us adjourned to the Greyhound for a pint. It is clear that this is only round one. It is over to the Mayor of London now to decide. It is quite interesting to note that a local developer has been on social media trolling residents. One of his parting shots was
"so you’ll all be fully supportive of a high rise development in another part of Mill Hill, where there isn’t a pollution issue? Brilliant! Watch this space....."
I suspect that this is just the beginning of a huge battle which will determine the shape of Mill Hill for the future generations. I suspect that these developers are just a tad deluded. In the week when we've seen Brexit do for the Brent Cross redevelopment scheme, I suspect that maybe the planning committee have done the developers a massive favour. There is a high probability that with the government completely unable to sort out any sort of a Brexit deal, the economy is in for a massive shock. The developers may well find that this has spared them the cost of putting up a huge white elephant that no one would touch with a barge pole. If I was a developer, I'd certainly think twice about spending a couple of hundred million on such a development at the moment. 

From my perspective, I think that the first priority of the council and the mayor should be to get the existing housing stock full occupied, up to scratch and affordable for key workers. Proposals such as this, where the vast majority of flats are for transient workers at sky high prices will do nothing for London.  I will finish by saying that the developer seemed to think he was doing us all a favour by having any social housing element at all in the scheme. I get that developers want to make the most money possible. What I don't always get is the fact that they don't seem to realise that if they don't act in a socially responsible manner, their schemes will always be far harder to bring to fruition.

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