Record temperatures and an unprecedented red alert heatwave warning are claimed to be further justification for opposition to a scheme to build high-rise blocks of flats on the former gas works site at New Barnet.
John Dix, representing the New Barnet Community Association, told the opening day of a planning inquiry that the climate emergency and recent extreme weather only reinforced their argument that half the proposed flats would be at risk of overheating.
Developers Citystyle Fairview are appealing against Barnet Council’s refusal to grant planning approval for the construction of 539 flats in 13 separate blocks, ranging in height from four to seven storeys.
Permission was rejected on the grounds that the latest scheme – which is almost twice as dense as an earlier plan – would be harmful to the character and appearance of the area.
It would damage the “sense of openness” in the adjoining Victoria Recreation Ground.
Unacceptably high blocks of flats would also be out of character in a neighbourhood of two and three storey Victorian and Edwardian houses.
The former gas works site – which would be known as the Victoria Quarter – is the largest brownfield site in and around High Barnet and has remain unused because of unresolved planning issues.
Originally it was to become the home of a new Asda supermarket but that was dropped and in 2015 a plan was agreed to build 371 flats on the site.
In 2020, after that scheme was considered no longer viable, Fairview applied to build 652 flats in blocks up to ten storeys high.
When that application was rejected by Barnet Council in 2021, an alternative scheme providing 539 flats was proposed, but that too was refused in February 2022, a decision that led to the inquiry which opened at Hendon Town Hall on Tuesday 19 July, and which was expected to last between eight to ten days.
In his opening statement of behalf of 800 objectors, Mr Dix explained to the planning inspector that the New Barnet community had co-operated with previous developers and was prepared to accept the 2017 approval for 371 flats on the gas works site.
But subsequent schemes had been prepared without negotiation with the community and the latest proposed increase in the density of the development would be harmful to both new and existing residents.
Building 13 blocks of flats was a massive over-development of the site and the design was totally flawed because 50 per cent of the flats – alongside the East Coast main railway line – would be west facing and at risk of overheating in extreme heating.
Mr Dix said this problem could easily have been avoided and the recent heatwave and red extreme weather warnings were, yet another indication of how unbearable living conditions could become in high-rise flats with non-opening windows.
“New homes should be resilient to climate change, yet 50 per cent of the flats in this development are at risk of overheating.”
Mr Dix’s warning was all the more pertinent because of the record temperatures that day – a factor which necessitated the inspector to cut short the inquiry because of the heat and postpone the hearing until the following morning.
In opening statements, Fairview defended the scheme arguing that the 539 flats and 334 car parking places represented “a high-quality residential development”, which would help meet London’s housing needs, and which made use of a scarce brownfield site capable of taking schemes of a higher density.
Robin Bishop adds:
The first week of the Public Inquiry has been intense and demanding for NBCA, who have opted to be a ‘Rule 6 party’ entitling them to cross-examine witnesses.
On Day 2 (20 July), John Dix and Karen Miller detailed local community concerns about the proposals. On Day 3 Karen was cross-examined closely by Fairview’s QC (see photo above: Karen and QC are on each side of the Inspector in the centre; John is far right). Local teacher and former architect Fiona Henderson then summarised SNB’s criticisms of the designs, and defended them under torrid interrogation.
On Day 4, NBCA got their turn to cross-examine the appellants’ consultants on aspects of design such as transport and dayllghting of the flats. The Inquiry will continue for at least four more days. Theresa Villiers MP is expected to speak on Tuesday 26th.
On Day 3, the Inspector had invited comments from other interested parties. Powerful statements were made by Councillor Simon Radford, Cllr Edith David and Colin Bull of Cockfosters Local Area Residents Association (CLARA) – which has successfully resisted high-rise development of their tube station car park.
The Barnet Society had already submitted a detailed representation, but I took the opportunity to emphasize a couple of key points.
Firstly, back in 2010 we’d been impressed by the Council’s exemplary New Barnet Town Centre Framework, which was based on local consultation and set out a clear direction for development of the former gasworks site. Out of that had grown the mixed housing proposal that was granted planning approval in 2016, in which NBCA had been proactive.
I also made the point that, as a former architect and RIBA Client Design Adviser, I acknowledge that what was acceptable in 2016 might need updating in the light of technical and other developments. However, the latest scheme is a generic international modernist solution that has nothing in common with New Barnet’s character. It is a design approach that had been discredited when I was an architectural student over half a century ago, and New Barnet deserves better.