In 2019, the Barnet Society – as part of the Chipping Barnet Town Team – asked Barnet Council for a Community Plan to enable us to bid for government, private or charitable funds to help regenerate the town centre. The Council agreed, and a team of design and business consultants led by Architecture 00 was recruited last year to work with local stakeholders to agree a shared vision for the future. It’s a unique chance for us to vote on our priorities for the town centre for the 21st century.
It will also identify five deliverable regeneration projects. By having a range of proposals already professionally analysed, designed and costed in advance, the Council and Town Team will be well-placed to pitch for future funding.
The Community Plan process was launched in January 2020; virtual workshops took place in early spring; and a long list of possible projects was discussed in May with stakeholders, including the Society. A public exhibition was to have to gone online in August, but was delayed by Covid-19.
The delay may not have been a bad thing. It’s forced all of us to radically rethink what kind of town centre would work in future. Perhaps surprisingly, much of the consultants’ original analysis is still relevant. But unsurprisingly, the need for solutions is even more urgent.
By the way, if all this seems purely High Barnet-focused, it isn’t. A more thriving town centre would mean more jobs, retail and cultural choices for residents in New Barnet and Underhill, Arkley and Hadley.
The Plan lists seven key principles, such as ‘We want high street businesses and ventures to thrive’ and ‘More reasons to visit and stay in the town centre throughout the day, evening and week’. It also gives reasons, for example to ‘Adapt to new work patterns’ and ‘Develop an outdoor visitor economy around rambling’.
It divides the town centre into four character areas, with helpful bird’s-eye views onto which possible projects are mapped.
Finally, it offers 31 ‘emerging project ideas’. These aren’t necessarily buildings; in fact few buildings are proposed. But several ideas call for imaginative re-purposing of under-used or vacant properties for e.g. co-working space. There are also other interesting proposals including a community fund, seasonal events celebrating Chipping Barnet, a community energy company, and a network of rewilded pocket parks.
The Barnet Society Committee is setting up a sub-group to look at the Plan in detail, and we’ll publish our draft thoughts on our website later this month. Your comments will be welcome.