Council facing legal challenge over Hendon Hub plans

Judicial review proceedings set to begin as opposition mounts
By Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

How the redeveloped sites in Hendon could look if built
How the redeveloped sites in Hendon could look if built

Barnet Council is facing mounting challenges over controversial plans to build student flats and facilities for Middlesex University in Hendon.

Local resident Richard Lecoat has said he plans to take the council to court over the Hendon Hub scheme, claiming that a key document setting out planning guidance for the area is “unlawful” and has not been given enough scrutiny.

An outline business case to build student accommodation and other facilities on council-owned sites near the University of Middlesex campus in The Burroughs, Hendon, was revealed by the town hall in December last year. The plans immediately sparked objections from residents, who warned over the impact on the character of the area, parking and heritage – including a proposal to turn the Grade 2-listed Hendon Public Library building into a business school.

Despite public opposition – 88% of people who responded to a consultation question were against the initial Hendon Hub plans – the council, which claims the scheme will “transform rundown buildings” and provide community facilities, is pressing ahead and has now applied for permission to redevelop several of the proposed sites.

Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, Richard began judicial review proceedings against the council on Thursday, 14th October. He said: “Having made every effort to get Barnet Council to engage meaningfully with our concerns during the four consultations they put us through this year, and with every plea having fallen on deaf ears, residents have no remaining option but to seek justice from the courts.”

He added: “We are putting London Borough of Barnet on notice that such brazen disregard of our views will not be tolerated without facing the strongest challenge that we can muster.” 

Richard claims the council’s adoption of The Burroughs and Middlesex University Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), which provides guidance for development in the area, is “unlawful” and “should be given no weight in the consideration of planning applications”.

He alleges that the SPD identifies “an area of significant change” and contains the council’s planning policies in relation to that area, so it should have been prepared as a development plan document (DPD) forming part of the borough’s Local Plan. Richard said DPDs are “subject to far higher levels of scrutiny and rigour” than SPDs, including scrutiny by a secretary of state. He claims that because the only Local Plan containing policies for the redevelopment of the Hendon Hub area is the one currently awaiting approval, the SPD cannot lawfully be considered supplemental to it.

A council spokesperson said the authority will not be commenting on matters that are subject to the legal proceedings.

Separate plans are underway to challenge the lawfulness of the Hendon Hub business case, while another resident has complained to the Information Commissioners’ Office alleging the council has been withholding financial information in relation to the scheme from public scrutiny.

Planning applications for key sites forming part of the Hendon Hub project have now been submitted, allowing residents six weeks to comment until the consultations close in November. Earlier this month, Hendon MP Matthew Offord, who has previously warned of “serious issues” with the Hendon Hub plans, called on the council to give residents more time to have their say.

Offord posted on his website on 11th October: “I have written to the leader of Barnet Council, Dan Thomas, asking that, in the interests of transparency and reasonableness, the council extends the deadline for the submission of comments. I believe residents deserve a fair opportunity to comment on applications which, potentially, will irrevocably change this part of Hendon forever.”

The council says it is allowing 42 days for residents to submit comments on the plans – longer than the 21-day period that normally applies to planning applications.

The Hendon Hub plans came up during questions to the leader at a full council meeting on 19th October. Pointing out that 88% of consultation respondents had opposed the initial Hendon Hub plans, Labour councillor Anne Clarke asked Cllr Thomas “what level of dissatisfaction is necessary for the council to take heed and alter its course on these colossally unpopular proposals?”

Cllr Thomas replied that “88% of respondents is not the same as 88% of all residents”, adding that the opposition had been balanced with “the benefits the scheme will bring to the wider community”.

A council spokesperson added: “Some matters outlined by Mr Lecoat are now subject to legal judicial review proceedings, and the council will not be commenting outside of these proceedings on matters that are subject to these proceedings.

“In reference to the planning applications submitted, the local planning authority has been advising residents that an extended statutory consultation period of 42 days has been applied to all eight Hendon Hub applications. 

“All representations received up until the decision is made at a future meeting of the strategic planning committee will be considered and taken into account (even if they are received after the end of the statutory consultation period).”

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