The Barnet Society’s AGM on 1st July gave me the opportunity to highlight the range of work we have done in the past, and continue to do, to enhance Barnet’s green environment.
The current pandemic has made everyone appreciate the importance and necessity of green spaces and the ability to get out and enjoy nature locally as we have been unable to travel for our health and wellbeing. It is therefore vital we protect the Green Belt and footpaths in our area.
The Barnet Society was founded in 1945 when there was a proposal to build on most of the green spaces around Barnet after the war. There was such an outrage led by Gwyneth Cowing (owner of Whalebones), amongst others, that most of the proposals were dropped.
Patrick Abercrombies’s Greater London Plan in 1944 – which was partly implemented by the 1946 New Towns Act – proposed that a complete belt of Green space was permanently safeguarded from development. The Barnet Society undertook to protect this Green Belt, and this is still one of our prime objectives.
We subscribe to the London Green Belt Council, and Robin Bishop is on the Executive Committee with our Treasurer Derek Epstein providing technical backup. The Council’s purpose is to identify threats and campaign to protect the Green Belt throughout London and the Home Counties. The Green Belt is always under threat either by large development proposals or small individuals encroaching on the land – just one more house!!
- The new Planning Proposals being put forward by the Government not only stops local people objecting to proposals but will encourage developers to develop on the Green Belt. This is one of the reasons the Amersham / Chesham by- election was lost by the Conservatives because they too fear the loss of the Green Belt. They are similar to us being the last stations on the Metropolitan Line and are commuter towns surrounded by the Green Belt.
- Hertsmere Council are proposing to develop the fields between the M25 and Potters Bar building up to 2,620 homes.
- Enfield Council are proposing to develop the fields along Enfield Road from Oakwood Station to the junction with The Ridgeway.
- Development of the Whalebones which although not Green Belt is in a Conservation Area and serves the same purpose as it protects the open space between Arkley and High Barnet so it does not become just one urban sprawl. We recognise there needs to be some development on this site in order to pay for upkeep but 152 new homes is completely out of character!!!
Rights of Way
After the Government announced that any footpath not on the Definitive map by 31st December 2025 would be lost for ever, the Barnet Footpath Group was formed in 2017 to protect the footpaths in Barnet and to ensure they are retained and maintained. It includes us, The Ramblers and other Resident Associations.
The Ramblers currently meet Barnet Highways every month to work on identifying the Rights of Way and making sure they are placed on the Definitive Map.
- The Definitive Map of Rights of Way is a map every Local Authority must maintain to identify all the routes in the Borough and can be viewed at the Council’s offices. However this has not been updated since the amalgamation of the Boroughs in 1965 so does not include all the urban footpaths in Barnet for example the Dollis Valley Green Walk is not a public right of way. In order for routes to be added to the Definitive Map you have to provide historical evidence or provide witnesses who can testify they have used the route for 20 years. There is now a deadline of 31st December 2025 for claims using historical evidence. If we do not get the routes on the map by this date they will be lost for ever.
- Barnet are taking this seriously – I think prompted by our Group. In February they appointed Darren Woodward as a Rights of Way Officer, who has lots of experience of this type of work and is currently carrying out a survey of the rural footpaths and is meeting local landowners. He has also had discussions with Planners emphasising the importance of thinking of Rights of Way during the Planning stage.
- Barnet have allocated £100,000 for footpaths in the coming year and Darren will be identifying priorities for spending this money and has already scheduled improvements to signage and prioritising maintenance work. He will also provide a Right of Way Improvement Plan.
- The first proper digitised draft of the original Definitive Map is nearing completion but we still need to confirm the exact legal lines of some paths. This will entail a lot of legal work which has been outsourced. The current estimate for completion is Spring 2022. We can then start recording urban alleys.
Recent examples of threats to local footpaths:
- Sewitts Hill - Hadley Wood Golf Club blocked paths from Sewitts Hill on to Hadley Common with logs etc. We wrote to the Golf Club but did not get a response. The Ramblers have submitted a Right of Way claim to Enfield Council to put it on their Definitive Map as we have witnesses who can testify it has been used for at least 20 years. The Golf Club said they are having problems with motorbikes and horses crossing the land but agreed to meet The Ramblers and a representative of the Monken Hadley Common Trust. They offered to create a one fenced-off permissive path across Sewitts Hill if we withdrew our claim. However since this could be closed at any time we did not accept the offer. Enfield have added the claim to their Register of Applications but as far as we know they have not started processing the application. There have been no further attempts to close the paths.
- Former allotments North of Calvert Road – The Ramblers met with Wrotham Park representatives to discuss the continuing problem of the blocked northern right of way across the former allotments and two new kissing gates have been erected so the route is now passable without climbing over the fences.
- Totteridge Cricket Club – A local resident submitted a claim for paths across Totteridge Cricket Club after they were closed without notice by The Club. Barnet Council have agreed most of the paths but the orders still need to be drafted and go to public consultation. This will take several months but thank goodness we now have a Rights of Way Officer.
Again recognising the importance of walking in this current time to maintain both our physical and mental health the following are being proposed:
- London Green Walks – The London Walking Forum have proposed 6 new radial walks from the centre of London moving outwards into the suburbs linking green spaces and bringing nature closer to London. The one that goes through Barnet is the Forgotten River and goes from Brent Cross through Colindale, Mill Hill to High Barnet.
- Revised Barnet Local Plan – The current draft was formally adopted in June and it includes the proposal for a strategic walking network for Barnet (as well as for a new Regional Park around Moat Mount). The idea is to create a Barnet Loop connecting various transport hubs with footpaths. The route will be upgraded so it can be used for running, walking, cycling and other environmental uses. This will require a lot of work.
- ‘Rambles round Barnet in the Footsteps of EH Lucas’ – The Barnet Society’s contribution to encourage walking has been to produce its own booklet. In 2012 The Barnet Society produced ‘Rambles round Barnet in the Footsteps of EH Lucas’. In 1947 Barnet Society had asked EH Lucas to carry out a survey of footpaths running through what became the Green Belt, as it was known many had been lost during the war. In 2012 the Green Belt was again under threat so we produced this booklet with a selection of Lucas’s walks, amended to take into account changes which have happened over the past 75 years (e.g. the M25 was not built when EH Lucas produced his first book ) . To celebrate our 75th Anniversary and with the Green Belt yet again under threat we are reprinting this booklet as a Limited Edition with an insert that brings it up to date and includes the latest threats. This book should be available soon so watch our website and it will be sold in Waterstones and the Museum.
In 1990 The Barnet Society planted a copse of trees on Whitings Hill, and in 1998 David Lee (a Vice President of the Society) had the inspiration to create a green chain from the railway bridge along the High Street to Hadley. Lee’s Trees are a row of splendid London Planes and Norway Maples from Underhill to Milton Avenue and can now be fully appreciated as they are reaching maturity. However we have not stopped there. We got the Council to plant trees in the High Street which was enabled by the pavement widening In December we planted 75 hawthorn saplings on Barnet Hill together with Kisharon a Jewish Charity. We planted 50 the previous year and would like to complete David Lee’s landscaping masterplan but it requires funds and volunteers. Please watch the website for more information.
Jeffrey Newman has formed the Dollis Brookers to help clear the litter and maintain the Dollis Valley Green Walk. The Council cut the grass and provide some services but there is always more to do. The idea is to keep the brook clear from Mutton Brook where it flows into the River Brent to Moat Mount. There are other groups working on the stream to the South of us but there was nobody between Whetstone and Moat Mount. The main objective is to maintain the living health of the river and all dependent on it – plants, insects, wild life as well as human beings.
They met on 13th June to carry out their first litter pick and unfortunately found a fresh sewage spill in the brook which emphasised the importance of monitoring the brook. It was reported to the relevant authorities. Another unexpected find was an abandoned motor cycle, but mostly it was old tyres, abandoned furniture, builders rubble as well as the inevitable litter.
The Barnet Society is working closely with the Brookers and the date of the next litter pick will be published on our website.