Friday 21 December 2018

The Saving of the Midland Hotel - How to run a model community campaign

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John from The Midland receives an award
Is there a future for pubs and live music venues in London? Before we consider any issues about campaigns, we need to consider this fundamental question. The evidence I've seen this week confirms what I've long believed the situation to be. On Saturday night, at the #SaveLodonMusic/Barnet Eye Xmas Party and annual community awards, we presented The Midland Hotel in Hendon with Barnet Eye pub of the Year and the Campaign to save it with the community campaign of the year. I had a long chat with John, who is the Landlord. I've known John for a good few years now, but it is actually the first time I've had a proper conversation with him. The Midland was formerly owned by Greene King breweries, who sold it to developers three years ago. John explained that since he became a free house, when Greene King sold up, he's been making far more money. This surprised me, but John explained "Under Greene King, I was a tied Landlord and had to pay a fixed rate for the beers. Now I can shop around, I can get most at almost half the price and offer a better selection of beers". John has been highly supportive of the #SaveLondonMusic campaign, welcoming us on numerous occasions for gigs at the pub. It is clear that far more people are using the pub and the work John has done has massively improved the ambiance. He's brought in a table tennis table and transformed the ambiance. It has taken time. Sadly in September, the developer, who had not spoken to John of their plans, dropped a bombshell, as a planning application to knock down the pub appeared on the Barnet Council planning portal. The Barnet Eye blog immediately issued a rallying cry to the local community to object to the plans.

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At the heart of the community
That is the background to the campaign. A thriving pub business up against a developer who simply sees the site as a way to make a quick buck (or a million of them). It soon became clear that Barnet Council had been working quietly with the developers for a considerable amount of time behind the scenes on the plan. The Capita run planning department had apparently been advising the developers that there should be know problem getting their plans through. It really is quite astonishing that a local authority should not have considered the impact on local people, but that appears to be exactly what happened. There have been many worries about the effects of outsourcing the running of the planning department and the conflict of interest between the council making decisions and advising developers. The case of the Midland would seem to us to be a prime example.

As a result of the Barnet Eye blog, a flurry of objections were posted on the Council website. Once local people became aware of the issue, a group to Save The Midland was formed. The primary focus initially was on getting as many objections as possible, as this was the number one priority. This was highly successful, getting an unprecedented number (over 600) of objections. Local councillors were contacted, who in turn involved the local MP. Local community groups, both formal and informal were also involved. The next step was to get the pub listed as an asset of community value. This gives the pub a degree of protection from redevelopment, putting major roadblocks in the way of development. Local groups and campaigners made submissions. This then went to council and was granted this week.

This has been a major victory. Of course there are still many things that could happen. The planning application is yet to be officially determined, although it would be perverse if this was now granted. There may be appeals etc. But what the campaign has shown is that when a community gets together, it can change things. My expectation is that this is not done and dusted yet, but I think that ultimately the Midland is now highly likely to survive. The developers are still getting a decent income from the pub so have not lost money. I hope that they realise that they are actually sitting on a great asset, and whatever they do, they put the pub at the heart of it (although I know of few developers who actually think like that).

I think that the Midland Hotel Campaign is an absolute model of how to run a successful campaign.

Here are the key elements.

1. Kick start the campaign using all available social media resources, such as Twitter, Facebook, local bloggers, local Press and local radio. All of these have been deployed by the Save The Midland campaign.

2. Set up a committee to manage the campaign. Make sure this includes local people who are directly affected and also people with direct experience of running campaigns. For the Midland Campaign, an absolutely vital aspect was the support of local councillors, notably Councillor Helene Richman, who is a qualified Lawyer and has proven invaluable in ensuring that the campaigns arguments are legally sound. The Rev Julia Candy from St Johns had an influential role in gaining cross community support and should be acknowledged.

3. Ensure that the absolute maximum number of objections are posted. The Save The Midland Campaign actually set up an "objection station" in the pub with a laptop and someone to help locals object. A local council cannot ignore these. If more than five objections are received the scheme has to go the planning committee. If more than 500 are received, councillors will realise that the people who elected them are taking a major interest.

4. See if listing as an Asset of Community Value is feasible. This is the next best thing to being listed to preserve a building. It is worth checking out the details of the Midland application, as this is a model for how to do it.

5. Run local events to raise awareness. The Barnet Eye organised a party, which resulted in a packed pub and a whole stack more objections to the scheme. Ensure that all users of the pub make representations. The ACV application for the Midland had support from CAMRA, The Save London Music Campaign, the Montague Road Association and local residents. Angels Fancy Dress also provided a list of social events at their local pub.

6. Remember the job is never done. I suspect that every pub under threat can expect to have to fight for years, or even decades. Until the planning laws are adjusted to reflect the distortions that skyrocketing property prices are causing in our communities, we will see more not less of this. The Midland is a successful local pub. The only logic for knocking it down is that a developer can make a quick buck. If developers know that an authority is not going to facilitate this, then maybe, just maybe they will think twice. That is why it is so important to fight. Why not pop into the Midland for a pint over Xmas. We will be and why not become a Facebook friend

If you need any help or advice in how to help save your local music venue, please contact the #SaveLondonMusic campaign for advice and help


Furious said...

Yesterday (20 December) was the expiry date for the planning application to build the monstrous blocks of 59 flats. It had been postponed from 20 NOVEMBER for unknown reasons.

Residents have waited anxiously for a month to find out if the unacceptable plans to demolish the pub and build close up towards Malcolm Park and behind the gardens of our homes in Station Road and Malcolm Crescent have been approved.

TODAY, we see from the planning website that the expiry date has been shifted to 31 JANUARY 2019!!!!! No new amended plans or new information have been released to the public. It is totally inappropriate for Capita/RE to delay a decision for this controversial application.

What are they waiting for? No one is telling us anything. We are left to wait out another month to find out if our lives are going to be turned upside down.

It is highly possible the planners are helping the developers come up with a plan to circumvent objections since they were the ones telling the developer that the loss of the pub is not going to be an issue.

As usual, the local residents do not matter; tough if development is blighting our homes, our lifestyles and our amenities.


Think about how many people have been affected with other inappropriate developments since Capita/RE formed.

The Midland success is an anomaly. Why was the White Bear lost? There were many residents who objected. What did the local councillors/MP do then? Local concerns were overridden by the developer's profit making plans. This happened in an area of conservation!!

We should NOT have to mount time and energy consuming campaigns to save our pubs. It was Barnet's planning policy that killed all the other pubs in Barnet.

Well done to The Midland but Barnet Council should be looking at itself to see how wrong they have been decimating the pubs in Barnet and not protecting the heritage in our area.

Unknown said...

Quite right.

Barnet has cheerfully admitted that 21 pubs have been lost in the Hendon area alone since the year 2000: that is to say, 40% of all pubs lost in the Borough. In addition to that Barnet heads the hit-list for pub closures in all of London's 33 Local Authorities... possibly the only list they do top.

We at The Midland were overwhelmed and indeed humbled, by the support we received from the good people of West Hendon and surrounds from all sectors of the community : Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish communities too, united in their sense that enough is ENOUGH!

With their help we have halted the cosy consensus between Barnet Council and get-rich-quick property speculators. Our victory sets a new benchmark right across the Borough.
Simply put, it changes everything!

On behalf of The Midland's regulars , management and staff our sincere and heartfelt thanks go out to all the good people of Barnet who have lent their collective weight to our case.

Rog T said...

My assumption is that the date has been pushed out because the decision will be taken by either the Hendon Area Planning Committee which meets on 10th Jan or the General planning Committee which meets on 4th Feb. As there were over 5 objections it has to be made by committee. I suspect that the officers need to prepare new papers following ACV so it probably isn't sinister in this instance. I will seek an update

Anonymous said...

I'm confused Rog T.

If you are referring to the planning application, I received this communication from the case officer, Friday 21/Dec: The deadline has been extended following discussions with the applicant and managers. At this stage the deadline has been extended until the 31st January 2019.

If you are referring to the ACV , the developers have eight weeks to appeal the sub-committee's listing granted on the 19/Dec.

We are battling on two fronts here.

Septimus Brope.
The Midland.

Rog T said...

I am referring to the planning application. The rules state that if the planning application gets more than 5 objections it has to go to committee, it cannot be determined under delegated powers by officers. So this has to be decided on by the planning committee regardless of what officers have told you. It may well be that the officers are in negotiations with the developers to withdraw the application and resubmit an amended proposal, which I think is likely. I will be emailing the local councillors for an update as they should be able to get a definitive answer from the officers as to the date. I will keep you informed.

Malcolm C said...

Officers can decide to REFUSE an application under delegated powers if they agree that the objections (5 or more) are valid enough. So they need not refer application to the planning committee.

See case 16/4524/FUL where there were more than 723 objections and 45 supporters. This case had an original determination deadline of 5 Sept 2016 and the application was refused on 1 Sept 2016 under delegated powers. Days before the determination deadline without a planning committee referral.

Planning rules are confusing because the officers themselves at RE Ltd tell residents different things and yet you see decisions made and actions taken that do not reflect a definitive protocol and everyone is left guessing.

Planning procedures should be transparent; officers are often too busy/negligent to update case status or answer queries via email or phone.

If it is a withdrawal, it does not take 2 months to withdraw.

If it is a refusal, it doesn't take 2 months to refuse. The planning department is so inefficient it cannot produce a refusal report in the time from close of consultation (18 Oct) to 20 November. Who extended it to 20 December - the applicant or the planning officers?

If it has been recommended for approval, it also does not take 2 months to go to committee.
An officer assessment should have been available from time of consultation expiry (18 October) to 5 November (Full Planning) or 29 November (Hendon Planning committee).

Planning at Re Ltd is a shambles.

Who extended it now to the 31st January 2019 - the applicant or the planning officers?

Applicants can ask for and agree extended dates when they need more time to amend plans. These plans are sometimes not re-consulted before going to committee. Another unfair procedure as objectors cannot object to the amended plans which are suddenly presented to committee.

One can only wonder why the planning officer would ask to extend the determination deadline to end January 2019.

The ACV listing is decided under another department (community rights).Its listing is now a material consideration as of 19 December for any planning application and it should only take less than a working day to slot it into a refusal report or to request a withdrawal.

The only sensible conclusion is that planning is inept and maybe even worse, it is helping the developers to get their scheme through by hook or by crook.

The Fat Controller said...

@ Malcolm C

Agree that planning is horrifically hopeless. Are they understaffed?

Residents beware - a whole lot goes on behind the scenes at planning where paid for services to help the developers take precedence before residents' issues.

Do not stop challenging and questioning any proposals put in for development.

A plot of land is not just a money making investment for overseas or home grown investors.

For many of us long term residents, it is our only home and a stake for our future and our children.

Overpriced luxury flats only serve to devalue our properties and stress our services.

It is not just our pubs and our heritage that are lost. It's also our homes that are blighted.

Planners who work for developers also sit across colleagues who determine applications from developers. There is a clear conflict of interest. Planning should be brought back in house by Barnet Council and planning should not ONLY be about making money but about the sensitive planning of the Borough's residences,businesses and open spaces.

Unknown said...

Malcom C..

Who extended it? Most certainly the planners, specifically Nick Linford, Senior Planning Officer, Hendon Area Team. The developers have no powers themselves in that respect.

"Helping the developers"? Indeed... that is exactly what they do. There has been an institutional bias in Barnet Council in favour of developers for years. In this particular case Barnet/Re has been in formal discussions with the developers since Xmas 2016 at least, and the latest extension is no less than the third deadline extension.

It's quite clear that there are significant problems behind the scenes, and Barnet are clearly stalling for time. I've every reason to believe that I know just what the problem is and you'll read it here first, after the break. Stay tuned.

Disbelief said...


"Stalling for time"?

But why? And what for?

The case officer obviously had to refer to her area manager, Nick Linford, in it this case.

If they have decided to let the developer have a longer deadline, the public should know the reasons why.

Plainly inefficient or deviously colluding with profiteers.

Anon said...

The borough is littered with
many examples of poor planning and deficient enforcement. After the fraud case this year, no one trusts what Capita and Re did/do.

What has happened to The Railway Hotel? Come January, it will still be in its sorry state or worse.

The Midland Hotel pub needs to protected but Barnet had to try harder than at present to improve its Local Plans.

The council has lost the plot. How is it possible to have highly paid management and staff but no service worthy to the many residents?

Unknown said...

Part One.

10/Aug/2018: planning application for the development of the site and the demolition of The Midland Hotel submitted to Barnet Planning dept (a hybrid public/private arrangement between Barnet Council and Capita) by Nexus Planning on behalf of EEH Estates Ltd, the owners of the site.


Buried in the avalanche of technical documents submitted by Nexus Planning lurks The Planning Statement, the heart of the matter; the case why this development should go ahead, to which I now refer: Planning Statement, para 7.6: “[..] in accordance with the definition of community uses set out in Barnet’s Core Strategy (2012) and as confirmed through recent planning applications [Old Red Lion Underhill 2015 and The Castle Childs Hill 2014] a public house is not considered to be a public use.”

This obvious howler is easily refuted. At the time of the submission, Barnet included four public houses on its register of Assets of Community Value: ye Olde Monken Halt, The Griffin, The Sebright Arms and The Bohemia. Having awarded Assets of Community Value listing to four public houses in the borough (now five with the happy inclusion of The Midland Hotel, 19/12/2018) the proposition that public houses in Barnet are “not considered a community use” is untenable.

Planning Statement, para 7.7: “[…] furthermore, as confirmed in pre-application advice received from the Council on 28/12/2016, the Council raise no objection in principle to the loss of the public house.”

“In principle”!?

What principle?

Unknown said...

Part Two

The central propositions of the applicant’s Planning Statement fly in the face of statutory legislation, namely the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and The London Plan (2014 & 2016) which together place a duty on Councils to resist the loss of community spaces, specifically: “local shops, meeting places, sports venues, open space, public houses, places of worship.”

Barnet’s blithe “no objection in principle” to demolition makes them non-compliant with their statutory obligations. And as Nexus Planning themselves admit: “where the local plan is currently silent on NNPF, NPPF policies will apply and take precedence.” Indeed. My point entirely.

The London Plan has long obliged all Greater London Local Authorities to have Pub Protection Policies in place. At time of writing, Barnet have no such pub-specific policies: a response to my Freedom Of Information (FOI) request elicited only the information that they were “gathering evidence”. That is to say, four years after the statutory requirement contained in 2014 London Plan for them to do so.

One could easily be forgiven for thinking that the basis of the Nexus Planning Statement was mere hyperbole, but not so. I have a copy of a document obtained under an FOI request, dated 26/Oct/2018 headed Subject Re: The Midland Hotel – Update, which exposes Barnet’s hand in this sorry tale. It was sent by a “Senior Planning Officer - Hendon Area Team”, name and signature redacted. The names of recipients are also redacted although one can safely assume it was sent to the developers, EEH Estates Ltd and their agents Nexus Planning.

The document had this to say: I am aware of the pre-app advice previously issued to you. However, the latest NPPF is in favour of retaining pubs as a community facility. The Policy advice is there are policies in our development plan, ie London Plan that afford more protection to public houses.

Unknown said...


These are more recent than the 2012 plan and should’ve been reflected in pre-app advice. More consideration should have been given to the protection of pubs in line with London Plan policy 3.1B which requires us to have better understanding of how the pub as a community facility serves the needs of particular groups […] these needs to be established in justifying a decision.”

Wow! Do you see what I’m getting at? Barnet have admitted that the pre-app advice they gave to EEH/Nexus, 28/12/2016 was incorrect.*

The document then went on to say: “Policy consider the scheme is some way off meeting community facility policy requirements. I suggest that any scheme which comes forward for this site must include retention of the pub with potential for a development to the rear of the site or provide more justification for the loss of the pub. […] At present in its current form, the application would be recommended for refusal.”

Which brings us to the point in hand: having been so explicit about the non-chance of the development plan going ahead in its present form, why did Barnet opt to give the developers yet another extension of breathing space? The developers have had since 26/0ct/2018 to withdraw their application. That they have chosen not to do so raises serious concerns. Clearly it was open to Barnet to reject the plan outright by the December 2018 deadline. Why didn’t they do so? The 26/Oct document was quite specific: “Please note, the scale of the changes required will be significant and take time for a design to be presented which satisfies the concerns. In this regard we would expect a new application is required.”

Unknown said...

Part Four

In my opinion Barnet’s procrastination makes sense if we view it primarily as a “damages” limitation exercise. It seems to me that the developers have a slam-dunk case for exemplary damages against the Barnet/Capita hybrid having spent c.£3 million acquiring the site and proceeding with development plans under Barnet’s guidance only to be told two years later that the pre-app advice they were given was incorrect.

Sadly, I suspect there’s more to it than that: if the developers scamper back with a re-jigged proposal in line with Barnet’s concerns before the latest deadline expires on 31/01/2019 it would be open to Barnet/Capita to pass it through on the nod, no doubt to their undoubted relief and without the tiresome business of further public consultation. In short, they could present the community with a fait accompli, once again.

So much for local democracy.

Fairness and transparency should be the name of the game, not stratagems and secret deals hatched with property developers behind closed doors.

The National Planning Policy Framework exists to resist the commercial exploitation of public spaces, not to empower it. With their relaxed “no objections in principle” attitude to the demolition of public places Barnet Planning have been failing in their legal duty to protect residents from the loss of valued community spaces to rapacious property speculators.

* Barnet’s admission that they were giving advice in 2016 which was inconsistent with national policy hides within it the bones of an emerging scandal. Could it be that the recent demolitions of The White Bear, Mannings Lounge, The White Swan, The Little House, and the change of use granted to The Bell and The Chequers were equally inconsistent with national policy?