Critical questions about the future of the town centre will have to be addressed by Barnet Council if plans go ahead to replace much of the Spires with blocks of flats.

Real estate advisers Savills announced last month that the shopping centre opened in 1989 is up for sale at a cut-price offer of £25 million and has the potential to be redeveloped with a mix of flats and retail units.

Freehold ownership of the land was retained by the council when the Lovell Group put together the original deal to build a walk-through shopping centre with the main entrance on the High Street, leading to a Waitrose supermarket and NCP car park on Stapylton Road. 

Adding to uncertainty about the future of the town centre is the fate of the adjoining vacant site of the former Barnet Market where there is no sign of construction starting on a 100-bed Premier Inn for which permission was granted in 2018.

The new hotel was due to open in time for Christmas 2020 but so far Locate Developments, which intended to build the Premier Inn for the parent company Whitbread, has announced no new start date for construction and the three-year time limit on planning approval expires in November.

High Barnet councillors and the Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers are being asked to intervene and seek further details as to how the council as the freeholder might respond to attempts to build blocks of flats on the five-acre site.

There were long-drawn discussions and negotiations during the 1980s leading to the construction of a shopping centre on land being used as a car park after previously housing Barnet barracks.

The Lovell Group worked with the council to create the site. Some of the land and buildings were acquired through compulsory purchase. The High Street Methodist Church was demolished to provide space for the main entrance, but the twin spires were retained and gave the shopping centre its name.

The prospect that much of the Spires might now be demolished and replaced with flats was regarded as a matter of "considerable alarm" by Theresa Villiers.

"It would be completely wrong if the Spires was replaced by housing. We need to retain our shops and we need the Spires to remain the driving force in a successful and thriving retail sector in Barnet's town centre."

Barnet Society member Nick Saul has written to Ms Villiers and the three ward councillors to alert them to the fact that as the council retains the freehold of the land it does have a role in preparations of any scheme to redevelop the Spires.

He said that the idea of a mixed development of housing and retail was specifically rejected in the 1980s on the grounds it would be of poor quality and out of keeping with the area.

The Spires was built to scale to be in character with its surroundings and there were great efforts to block “cliffs of concrete or brick” towering over the surrounding area.

If blocks of flats up to five storeys high were built on the site, they would be far taller than the tower of the parish church.

“Such new structures would dominate the skyline as highly prominent landmarks from a distance both to the south and when approaching High Barnet by St Albans Road or the Great North Road.”

Mr Saul says he personally doubts whether the Premier Inn will be built and hopes Savills, Whitbread and Barnet Council will indicate what if anything is planned for the market site off St Albans Road.

If an application is made to redevelop the Spires, he hopes the council will address the problems that shoppers would face if access through the centre was closed off to the public and the difficulties in persuading displaced shop tenants to return.  

 

Comments (4)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

A prolonged if temporary loss of direct access from the car park during any demolition and rebuilding would be a huge commercial stress on businesses in the High street. The same can be said of the reduction in footfall in the town from the closure of the existing Spires tenants, temporary or otherwise.

Can that commercial challenge be...

A prolonged if temporary loss of direct access from the car park during any demolition and rebuilding would be a huge commercial stress on businesses in the High street. The same can be said of the reduction in footfall in the town from the closure of the existing Spires tenants, temporary or otherwise.

Can that commercial challenge be survived? What would apartments built over what could quite probably be long term empty commercial units be like?

While housing may have been an option in the past does it work here now? It is perhaps not a question of whether HAVING housing on the site could have been a good idea, it is whether closing so much while BUILDING it now is a wise move.

I share Theresa Villiers's hope for the Spires to remain the driving force in High Barnet's role as a shopping area. The existing shopping centre reinvigorated by imaginative new owners and the emergence from Covid could be the best option. These are all questions that need to be asked, they are not the answers.

However Initially we are at the mercy of whoever decides to buy the Spires and what they want to do with it. That will be a commercial decision, albeit hopefully taken by people who actually want to make a success of running shops. That is unlikely to be the same people who wish to build anything else.

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Nick Saul
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

To clarify I am concerned moving forward from here the closing of the access and existing courtyard and central link shops for months or years to build anything new would have a profound impact on the character of the town and as its function as a shopping centre.

However when the Spires was built I personally thought perhaps two floors of...

To clarify I am concerned moving forward from here the closing of the access and existing courtyard and central link shops for months or years to build anything new would have a profound impact on the character of the town and as its function as a shopping centre.

However when the Spires was built I personally thought perhaps two floors of apartments or town houses over the new shops would have been at least an option within the same height. That wasn’t the view that prevailed in the town and council. The starting point today is what we have now. It also seems certain any potential developer is likely to want to build far higher structures that would be taller than current policy and the character of the town could accommodate.

I am confident the council and in particular our ward councillors will consider the challenges the town faces. I just want to make sure everyone hits the ground running.

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Nick Saul
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I agree with the sentiments about a couple of floors of apartments or town houses over the Spires being possible in a sympathetic development. I could even see potential for a tiny bit higher if the developer could come up with a sympathetic, and perhaps 'stepped' design.

Clearly considerations would need to be made around: light in the...

I agree with the sentiments about a couple of floors of apartments or town houses over the Spires being possible in a sympathetic development. I could even see potential for a tiny bit higher if the developer could come up with a sympathetic, and perhaps 'stepped' design.

Clearly considerations would need to be made around: light in the courtyards, the impact on shops below to operate, a decent quality of housing, accomodating the market, supporting the existing businesses and I'm sure numerous other things that I can't think of.

Of course, a lot of this depends on a developer being able to see beyond their profit line and work for the benefit of the community.

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Simon Watson
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I agree with Simon and Saul that a sympathetic mixed, use carefully thought out and high quality redevelopment plan with limited height restriction is probably the best outcome as many of the units have been empty since well before Covid. I would hope that the council, with community input, will work with whoever develops the site to ensure...

I agree with Simon and Saul that a sympathetic mixed, use carefully thought out and high quality redevelopment plan with limited height restriction is probably the best outcome as many of the units have been empty since well before Covid. I would hope that the council, with community input, will work with whoever develops the site to ensure that it offers the best opportunity for our town centre, local and business community.

We have much to consider

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Gail Laser
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