Another sign of the mounting opposition to plans to replace much of The Spires shopping centre with blocks of flats was the strength of a Saturday morning protest in Barnet High Street.
Leaflets were handed out and shoppers queued up to sign a petition opposing the redevelopment.
Protestors fear that new buildings will tower above High Barnet’s historic skyline and that the town will lose what they believe is a popular and well used shopping centre connecting the High Street to Stapylton Road.
Developers BYM, who bought The Spires for £28 million in May 2021, have indicated they will publish revised proposals in the autumn for their scheme to build up to 300 flats in blocks of five to six storeys in height.
Two of the town’s largest representative groups – Barnet Residents Association and Barnet Society – have already agreed to combine forces to co-ordinate a community-led response.
Barnet Council officials and leading councillors are being asked to agree to open discussions with local organisations so that they can pass on the concerns of residents and shoppers.
Organisers of the “Save Our Spires” campaign – Diana Rae (left) and Sheila Ladd – say they are anxious to demonstrate to BYM and Barnet Council the anger of residents at the prospect of losing so much of the existing shopping centre.
“Since it opened in 1989 the covered walkways and squares alongside the shops within The Spires have become a really important central space for the town, a vital social hub,” said Ms Rae.
“The Spires is where we do our shopping, meet our friends, chat together. We can do that right in the middle of the town centre, away from the noise of the traffic, often out of the rain, and that sense of community is so important, especially for the elderly.”
Ms Ladd feared that replacing the shops with blocks of flats either side of a new narrow thoroughfare would destroy all the character and intimacy of The Spires.
“We all enjoy and appreciate the chance to walk through shopping centre, with its covered walkways and squares, perhaps sitting outside for a cup of tea or coffee. All that would go if it was just one straight pedestrian thoroughfare.
“BYM say they want to encourage a cafe culture – with cafes and restaurants under the flats – but there won’t be enough space for outside seating in their new thoroughfare. There won’t be any sunlight with tall blocks of flats. It’ll just be a wind tunnel.”
Shoppers signing the petition voiced their concern about the likely loss of many of the existing shops perhaps with the sole exception of Waitrose supermarket.
Redevelopment could take three to four years to complete, and the centre would become “a building site”.
Supporter of the protest Ian Callander hoped Barnet Council would wake up to the threat that blocks of flats would present to the character of High Barnet.
“It is so ironic. Just yards from the entrance to The Spires is an information board which explains how the twin spires of the former Methodist church were preserved to retain the original appearance of the High Street.
“So, on the one hand the council recognises the historic value of The Spires but on the other hand might throw away our heritage.”
Another High Street protest has been pencilled in for Saturday 7 October and by then organisers hope they might have seen BYM’s detailed plans and had time to prepare a leaflet explaining their concerns.