Tuesday, 27 November 2018 18:44

New sports and community hubs in the green belt?

Written by Robin Bishop
Barnet Playing Fields. The new hub would be built in the middle, beyond the playground (which would be replaced). Barnet Playing Fields. The new hub would be built in the middle, beyond the playground (which would be replaced).
The Barnet Society welcomes the Council’s intention to restore Barnet & King George V Playing Fields, and to widen public access by providing a café with toilet facilities and play areas for children and their parents or carers. However, we currently consider that the development suggested in the master plan would be too intrusive and requires a re-think.

The Council is consulting the public on a draft master plan for sports and associated community facilities on the playing fields, as Nick Jones reported on 20 November: https://www.barnetsociety.org.uk/component/k2/transforming-playing-field-into-multi-sports-attraction

There are several problems and questions not answered in the information online or in the public exhibition, which the Society intends to address in its submission at the end of this week.

The first is that the fields are within the Green Belt, which Barnet Council, the Mayor of London and the Government are all committed not to build on – and which the Barnet Society was founded to protect.

Planning law allows development of the Green Belt only in exceptional circumstances. Nonetheless the Barnet Society could support the right kind of building, the right landscape features, in the right place, and to high standards of design and environmental quality. But the published scheme doesn’t so far demonstrate any of these.

Right kind of building?

The demand for a new sports or community hub is unproven. Apart from a poorly-publicised local consultation last summer, no dialogue seems to have taken place with any stakeholders except for the Rainbow Centre and the Gaelic Football Club, nor with any of the neighbouring schools.

That is a serious omission in the case of Ark Pioneer Academy, which was only given planning permission on condition that its outdoor and indoor sports, music, drama and dance facilities would be available to the community. There’s a real risk of duplicating them unnecessarily.

Nor would the proposed hub be a sweet pavilion in the park – it’s as big as a small primary school! It would cost a lot and, at probably 6 metres (20ft) or more tall, it would be highly visible.

Right landscape design?

King George V Playing Field in spring (looking E)King George V Playing Field in spring (looking E)Improving the existing grass pitches would be welcome, and the K George V Playing Fields could be revitalised by Gaelic Football with a new pavilion on the footprint of its burnt-out predecessor. The proposed new Dollis footbridge and perimeter trail would also encourage walkers to enjoy this lovely site.

Some enrichment of Barnet Playing Fields would be good, for plant, wildlife and visual variety. For example, hedgerows could be thickened and groups of trees planted to form wildlife corridors between the existing Dollis Brook and Grasvenor Avenue copses; but those don’t appear to be proposed.

What won’t enhance Barnet Playing Fields is a concrete skate/BMX park, or yet more artificial surfaces, high fencing and floodlights – but these are all being proposed. Do we need another MUGA, when surely the existing Ark and Hadley Wood Trust’s pitches will be ample?

And are 66 extra parking places needed? They are bound to exacerbate existing traffic congestion in Barnet Lane.

Right place?

Assuming that these facilities are really needed, though, are they in the right place?

Undoubtedly the Rainbow Centre would benefit from a new home – but does it make sense in the middle of Barnet Playing Fields? And is that the place to locate the new café and sports facilities, far from public transport? It also seems perverse to bring 66 cars right into the heart of this green space.

A new building and car park would be so much simpler and cheaper to provide at the edge of the site, where they could be easily accessed and serviced (and more cheaply connected to utilities and drains). Better still, they wouldn’t dominate the parkland.

Barnet Playing Fields (looking S). The new skate/BMX park would occupy the foreground, and trees on the right would be felled for the 66-place car park.Barnet Playing Fields (looking S). The new skate/BMX park would occupy the foreground, and trees on the right would be felled for the 66-place car park.The location of the skate/BMX park is also questionable. It is doubtful that Ark or Grasvenor Avenue neighbours would welcome such a visual and audible attraction just across their boundary fences.

The proposals would be easier to judge if other possible locations had been studied (as is normally done with this sort of project).

For some reason, the former cricket pavilion (an obvious candidate for reuse) was excluded from this study. But why, for example, isn’t the hub located alongside Barnet Table Tennis Centre and the opportunity taken to tidy up the most neglected part of the present fields? Or at the south-east corner of the site, where it would attract users from Whetstone, and perhaps breakfast and after-school use by Grasvenor Avenue Infant School?

Sustainable?

The ecological assessment of the playing fields and their fringes should be made available to the public. Whatever finally emerges must minimise use of energy and water, and harm to the existing landscape. Any building or landscape development must be an exemplar of sustainable design if it is to be acceptable on these vaulable Green Belt sites.

The business case for the proposals must also be demonstrated. Barnet has made clear in its Parks & Open Spaces Strategy (and elsewhere) that no Council funding can be expected for such projects, so where will the capital and running costs be found? In Tudor Park and further down the Dollis valley, well-intentioned sports and community buildings have been left to decay. It would be sad and irresponsible not to do better.

You can submit your own comments direct to the Council up till Sunday 2 December at: https://engage.barnet.gov.uk/Phase_2_Barnet_Playing-Fields

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