Criticism of the scheme, which the residents’ spokesman claimed would turn living in their road into “a nightmare”, was supported by the committee chair, Councillor Wendy Prentice, who is one of the three High Barnet councillors.
But when the application was put to the meeting (5.11.2018), she was heavily outvoted with seven votes in favour, three against and one abstention.
Councillor Prentice expressed her opposition from the start, challenging the evidence given in support of the hotel by Gordon Massey, former chair of the Barnet Residents Association, who spoke on behalf of Chipping Barnet Town Team and who had explained that all the town’s traders and community groups were in favour of the project.
“I don’t think a new hotel on the market site will improve the shopping centre,” declared Councillor Prentice when challenging Mr Massey.
“It’s my ward...I am not sure a majority of people are for this hotel...I want to know how it will regenerate the High Street...I am worried about congestion in the St Albans Road...There will be a tailback in Bruce Road...I think the parking will affect the High Street.”
Mr Massey – who earlier had argued that building a Premier Inn in the centre of High Barnet would create confidence in a shopping centre that faced decline – expressed sympathy for the residents of the ten houses in Chipping Close and commended their “very well-orchestrated campaign”.
I have talked to many people. They are for it.
“Notices were pinned on lamp posts, leaflets pushed through doors, a lot on social media, but it has given the impression of a disproportionate amount of opposition.
“I have talked to many people. They are for it. The Barnet Residents Association held three events in the Spires over the summer and we estimated over 80 per cent were either in support or neutral. There is not overwhelming opposition to it.”
Except for the ten houses in Chipping Close, there were only three objections from the 200 houses in the three nearby roads, and the Barnet Society, which had consulted the 23 members living nearest the site, found that of the 12 who replied, eight were in favour and four against.
“We all know shops are leaving High Barnet...the current vacancy rate is around 10 per cent; the Spires shopping centre has a vacancy rate of over 20 per cent. “
“The wider issue is the future of the town and how we adapt to a primarily service-based economy.
“This is already happening with noticeably more hairdressers, health spas, coffee shops and restaurants.
A Premier Inn precisely fits this model, it will bring jobs and more important up to 100 people a day who will spend money in the local economy, especially evening food and drink,” said Mr Massey.
Richard Gardham, a Chipping Close resident who voiced the opposition of his neighbours, appealed to the committee to reject a plan for a three-to-four storey hotel that would have an irrevocable impact on their homes.
“It will be a nightmare 24/7 with additional cars turning our close into a noisy alleyway.
“All guests will do is eat breakfast. They won’t shop in local shops and the restaurant will under cut independent eateries.
“The vision of the Premier Inn as an economic saviour is an exaggeration. All those working in the hotel will be in low-paid, minimum-wage jobs.”
It will be a nightmare 24/7 with additional cars turning our close into a noisy alleyway.
When questioned by councillors, Mr Gardham said the residents accepted the site would be developed and he thought they might well be supportive of a smaller hotel with its own on-site car parking.
Chris Benham, planning consultant for Locate Developments, which purchased the site and will build the hotel for Premer Inn, outlined the steps that had been taken since the rejection of their previous application.
After consultation with the council and local groups, the room size of the hotel had been reduced from 120 to 100; the main entrance to the hotel had been removed from Chipping Close and relocated to a new access and exit in Bruce Road; the restaurant entrance would front directly on to St Albans Road, rather than the corner with Chipping Close; the Chipping Close pavement would be cushioned to reduce noise from wheeling suitcases; and the hotel windows glazed so as to reduce overlooking into the Chipping Close houses.
Councillor Prentice questioned the arrangement reached with the NCP car park in the Spires for Premier Inn guests to park at a charge of £3 a night. What would happen if there was no enough room for shoppers? “People will turn away and this will encourage people to park in local streets,” said Councillor Prentice.
Mr Benham insisted there was more than sufficient space in the car park to meet the hotel’s requirements. The current car park occupancy was 39 per cent in the week, and 55 per cent during the Saturday peak, but this was day-time parking and the guests would be there overnight.
He said the developers were ready to finance a review of the local controlled parking zone should this be required: £10,000 towards monitoring a travel plan; £10,000 for CPZ monitoring; £15,000 for consulting on any changes; and £10,000 for implementation.
The Spires had agreed to provide improved facilities for the market once it was moved permanently to the bandstand site for which approval had already been given.
Locate Developments estimated that 40 jobs would be created during construction of the hotel – due for completion in late 2019 – and there would be 50 full and part-time jobs in the hotel. To assist recruitment, the company would contribute £91,000 to apprenticeships and employment training.
Mr Benham was challenged by several councillors when he claimed the new hotel would generate £2.8 million a year in visitor expenditure in High Barnet.
This was based on a hotel occupancy rate of 86 per cent, but he struggled to convince councillors this spend equated to an average spend of £73 per person per night – a figure which Mr Benham said was supported by London tourist authorities, but which the councillors believed might apply in central London, but not the outer suburbs.
Before the vote, Councillor Stephen Sowerby explained that he would support the plan not least because the developers had met their concerns about the original application with “an extra-ordinary amount of mitigation.”
“This is a very sympathetic design that enhances the conservation area and the site is currently an abandoned car park from which the local economy gets no benefit.”
Gail Laser, founder of Love Barnet and a member of the Town Team, congratulated Gordon Massey on the effectiveness of his arguments in favour of the hotel.
“I am so pleased the hotel has got the go ahead. I am not saying that it will on its own turn round High Barnet’s fortunes, but it will help to encourage further investment in the Spires.”