Thursday, 22 August 2019 18:02

Design of quality proposed for Whalebones – so why does the Barnet Society oppose it?

Written by Robin Bishop
Masterplan of Whalebones development (Architects: Pollard Thomas Edwards) Masterplan of Whalebones development (Architects: Pollard Thomas Edwards)
A planning application (19/3949/FUL) has been submitted to build 152 new homes and a replacement artists’ and bee-keepers’ studio on the Whalebones site.

This is probably the most significant proposal for Chipping Barnet for many years (unless the High Barnet Station development goes ahead). Although Whalebones is not designated as Green Belt, it includes the last remaining fields near the town centre and is in the Wood Street Conservation Area. The Society considered it sufficiently important to consult as widely as possible among our membership.

Visualisation of proposed houses and apartment blocks (Architects: Pollard Thomas Edwards)

View of proposed park (Architects: Pollard Thomas Edwards)


Our Committee, President, Vice Presidents and expert advisers were minded to object, but we emailed some 500 members to check whether they agreed or not.

Approximately 10% replied – a fair response rate, taking account of the holiday period. A decisive majority – nearly 90% – objected to the scheme in its present form, and only three members supported it. So we have no alternative but to oppose the application.

We do so with some regret. We accept the principle of some new housing to fund replacement facilities for the artists and beekeepers and future maintenance of the estate, and it is unusual to have building and landscape design of such quality proposed in Chipping Barnet. So why are we opposing it?

We object to the proposals on two basic grounds: first, it is an unacceptable breach of CA policy; and second, in our view it would be overdevelopment of the site. We also have concerns about its sustainability. I’ll expand…

Conservation Area Policy

The Council's Wood Street Conservation Area Character Appraisal Statement says that, 'The Council will seek to ensure that new development within the conservation area seeks to preserve or enhance the special character or appearance of the area…' We believe that this application would do neither.

It also states, ‘The open rural character of the grounds and views in and across the site are highly important aspects of the character of the conservation area and echo the Green Belt and the open country beyond.' But if the project proceeds in its present form, they would be lost.

Historic England agrees that ‘this would present harm [to] the character and appearance of the conservation area.’

As is particularly evident from the top deck of the bus along Wood Street, in addition to offering fine open views across the site north and south, the meadow at the west end is an essential natural and visual buffer between Chipping Barnet and Arkley; without it, they will lose their separate identities forever.

Whalebones meadow looking south. Barnet Hospital in middle-distance, left. Dollis Valley in far distance.

Existing meadow between Whalebones house and Elmbank looking south to the Dollis Valley Green Belt. This long view would be lost.


Were the proposed layout to be flipped, with most of the housing at the eastern end of the site and a green corridor/park between the Whalebones and Elmbank, this could be avoided. But the developer does not seem to have considered that or other possible layouts.

We accept that commercial agriculture is no longer viable on the site. But the developer hasn’t explored other land-based activities of a kind likely to have interested the former owner, Gwyneth Cowing.

These include education, training and/or therapy in horticulture, animal husbandry and environmental studies, perhaps in partnership with a local school or college. A city farm for young and old people, including those with special needs, is another possibility in keeping with the spirit of Ms Cowing’s will.

Altogether, approval of this application would create a very bad precedent for other Barnet CAs.


We are unconvinced that so many homes are necessary to pay for replacing the studio and upkeep of the rest of the estate. Given the profits to be made on such an attractive site, such a large development needs proper justification.

A serious consequence of the quantity and type of new homes would be some 200 additional cars and 300 cycles (curiously scarce in the visualisations). These would exacerbate what is already heavy congestion at peak times.

This would be particularly problematic in Wellhouse Lane around the bus terminal, where ambulant and semi-ambulant pedestrians and wheelchairs compound the hazards of increasing hospital traffic.

A further consequence would be higher levels of air and noise pollution – especially unfortunate near a hospital.

We also have some concern about potential ground-water problems on this heavy clay site with a spring in the western meadow.


Although the developer promises a net gain in biodiversity, we are not persuaded that the ecological impact of such a large development and extended construction period could be entirely mitigated.

And although we acknowledge that the developer’s environmental standards represent an advance on today’s norms, they fall short of tomorrow’s challenge: we face a climate emergency. New homes need to be zero-carbon, but these will need a carbon-offset payment to achieve that.

Cutting-edge green technology is not (yet) a planning requirement, but in our view development of this exceptional site on the proposed scale could only be justified by adopting exemplary design targets. A more modest and revised scheme, with exemplary environmental technology, would be something Barnet could be proud of.


Since there’s no chance of altering the proposals at this stage, we must oppose them in the hope that the planning committee will reject them and the trustees will have a rethink – preferably in consultation with the Society.

The application can viewed here:

You can still make your own comments; the deadline for public comments has been deferred to Monday 16 September 2019.


  • Comment Link Thursday, 22 August 2019 19:05 posted by Pat Fuller

    Just look at the plan and see that the density of Whalebones is 50% more than the Linden/ Elmbank / Collison Avenue development immediately next door. Then go and see Elmbank / Collison Avenue and see how overcrowded it is. We cannot have another estate that is even more dense. The strain on local services will be excessive. The air pollution caused by 300 extra vehicles (two per dwelling as at Elmbank) and visitors and delivery vehicles will be completely unacceptable. The proposed roundabout will cause even more tailbacks and consequent air pollution and will make crossing the road to the bus stops dangerous

  • Comment Link Saturday, 24 August 2019 13:26 posted by Nick Saul

    Great to see the strong and unequivocal Barnet Society Whalebones objection on the planning portal. Beware of comments praising with feint damnation. And I agree with the comments made by Pat Fuller. If anyone feels they have an objection about this make it on the barnet council planning portal – google the site, dive in and search for “Whalebones” and make your views a matter of public record to be counted and considered by the council committee.

    Just about every planning policy insists green open space in towns and cities should be left as green open space rather than built over. When the space in question is miraculously preserved farmland it should be even more sacrosanct. The obvious benefits to towns and cities of improved air quality and general environmental issues are generally accepted.

    What it faces now is not death by a thousand cuts but rather about four. If this application isn’t stopped we inevitably lose the whole site one slice at a time. Some people may suggest the benefactor Miss Cowing would have reluctantly approved the previous development although, having been acquainted, if she was alive I for one would never have dared suggest such a thing to her face. This is simply another chunk sliced off it and no such interpretation of Miss Cowling's intentions is possible.

    What we seem to be losing is farmland traded for a couple of areas of parkland while keeping facilities for some local organisations. Even in itself such a change of use would have to be considered critically even if it wasn’t a sweetener for the building on yet another field beside it.

    We would now only have to wait an indecent period before further development on either another chunk of the trust’s land or the grounds of Whalebones House are suddenly declared unavoidable. That could quite predictably be because of the public open space conflicting with the security of community group facilities.

    Whenever money can be made from land in some sort of established historical use that would otherwise be impossible to change suddenly that use is presented as unsustainable. Market traders, bakers and small holding farmers can’t be found even if this shortage is unique to the immediate vicinity of the vulnerable property.

    Where there is money to be made there is a will to find a way to make it. It makes no difference whether the land is owned by international investors, a local worthy or held in some form of trust.

    Rule one of managing land bequests is to not to set them up with amenities that can’t be funded from income. We are expected to believe that money from the sale of the land to build on will guarantee an income in perpetuity to fund these open spaces. Why is that such arrangements always seem to fail?

    The existing users alongside a smallholding with its limited income from agriculture multiplied by public access as a cash stream is a successful model operated in many parts of the country. Farming requires some sensitivity waiting for the right season to sew crops to come in its own good time. Perhaps the season for such a change is not here yet. It must not be hurried, but it will come if the opportunity for it is still here.

    This site is perfect for such a venture being right in the town but completely unspoiled and completely rural. Such a treasure could be passed down through the generations. The proposed mini-parks would predictably fail in very few years and we will be back exactly where we are now, with another planning application for another part of the estate.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 27 August 2019 21:31 posted by S.Aghighi

    It should be noted that GLA strongly objected to the current plan in their pre-planning application meeting with Hill and suggested: "The proposed residential development on this site is not supported in strategic terms, as the quantity and quality of proposed publicly accessible open space does not outweigh the significant loss of existing green space. The applicant is therefore encouraged to investigate increasing the quantity and quality of public open space (and if necessary a reduction in the quantum of housing), through a more appropriate site layout that better responds to the existing context". pre-application report GLA/4918/AP01

  • Comment Link Thursday, 29 August 2019 11:52 posted by Local resident

    The problem with these kinds of developments is that there appears to be very little thought put into how local infrastructure will cope / change to accommodate it.

    Public services are almost non-existent, parking provision is scant and pollution from traffic is already at unacceptable levels.

    There is a need for affordable housing but the prices of these properties will not be realistic for most young people.

    I am not opposed to new development in Barnet but there needs to be some proportionality.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 12 September 2019 22:31 posted by Ruth Lederman

    The Development on Elmbank was supposed to be non visable from Barnet Road this is not the case. The Architects visuals are very pretty but completely incorrect. Where are the cars? This historic part of Barnet must be conserved for future generations.


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