The town’s hall’s successful conversion – as the coroner’s office and court for five North London boroughs – should be an inspiration to the owners of other semi-derelict public buildings and might encourage a sympathetic resolution to the uncertain future facing the disused Barnet Court House.
Once boarded up an air of hopelessness can descend and it was Barnet’s good fortune that the coroner’s court was relocated to the town hall once the building lost its final role as an office for the registrar of births, marriages and death.
For many years it seemed the most popular spot for post-wedding photos after a registry office ceremony was at the rear of Barnet town hall at the top of the Court House recreation ground; newly-married couples stood there with friends and relations with the tower of St John’s Church and the Barnet townscape providing an appealing backdrop.
The confetti that used to blow around outside the town hall steps every weekend has long since gone but there is the occasional excitement when press photographers and television crews are on hand to get pictures of relatives and witnesses arriving for a newsworthy inquest.
...a forlorn “To Let” sign hangs from the former Barnet Court House
In the three years since the North London Coroner moved in – serving the boroughs of Barnet, Brent, Harrow, Enfield and Haringey – the most noticeable Wood Street arrivals have been on the occasion of the inquests into death of Mark Duggan, who was shot by Police in Tottenham in August 2011, provoking last summer’s riots, and “Baby P” whose brutal death in 2008 became headline news and led to criticism of Haringey social services.
But the new lease of life for the town hall only serves to underline the lack of action over a string of blighted buildings along one of the town’s principal thoroughfares – the main road from High Barnet tube station to Barnet General Hospital.
At the bottom of the High Street, a short distance from the entrance to the tube station, a forlorn “To Let” sign hangs from the former Barnet Court House, which was opened in 1916 but has been firmly boarded-up for the last few years; further down the High Street are the empty offices of the magistrates’ clerks.
The Court House faces an uncertain future having been put on the market for letting after an application by the owners to demolish the building and replace it with flats and shops was refused by Barnet Council and then rejected on appeal.
A new planning application has now been submitted to convert the existing structure into nine flats – for more details see the separate report “Barnet Court House conversion to flats receives consent.”
A hundred yards up the High Street – just into Wood Street – stands the former town hall.
Once of the offices of the former Barnet Urban District Council, now the established home of the North London Coroner.
But from then on the journey towards Barnet General and The Arkley public house becomes a grim testament to years of inaction by the various health authorities.
Why has the abandoned Marie Foster Home been neglected for so long? It is a fine three-storey building but has been left to rot for years; roof tiles are missing and its walls daubed with graffiti.
Chipping Barnet’s MP Theresa Villiers told Barnet Society’s “Any Questions” session in February that a decision on the future of the Marie Foster building was imminent ...but six months later Barnet is still waiting!
Across the road is the recently boarded-up Black Horse public house – which Punch Taverns say will re-open at an unspecified date in the future – but which is another reminder of the dangers which can befall an empty property.
By far the most scandalous example of a wasted public building is the large block of flats – opposite The Arkley public house – which once provided accommodation for nurses at Barnet General Hospital.
Ragged blinds blow from the smashed window frames.
Part of the roof has collapsed in on itself. And the outer walls are blackened by fires; the graffiti is a shocking reminder of years of neglect.