Green Belt housing plans in Mill Hill approved despite objections

Barnet Council’s planning team assures councillors development meets ‘exceptional circumstances’ requirement for Green Belt construction, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

A computer-generated image of the proposed scheme in The Ridgeway (credit Marstead Living)
A computer-generated image of the proposed scheme in The Ridgeway (credit Marstead Living)

Plans to build 184 homes on Green Belt land in Mill Hill have been approved by councillors.

Developer Marstead Living has won permission to demolish Watch Tower House and Kingdom Hall in The Ridgeway and build ten new blocks, ranging from one to five storeys in height plus a basement level.

The scheme will provide 175 units of “specialist older persons housing”, which is designed to help those aged 65 and over to live independently. It will also provide nine affordable homes and a community facility.

National planning policies prevent building on the Green Belt except in “very special circumstances”. New developments are sometimes allowed, providing they are on previously developed land, will not have a greater impact on the Green Belt than the existing buildings and help to meet an “identified affordable housing need”.

In a report presented to a meeting of the council’s strategic planning committee on Wednesday, town hall planning chiefs claimed the exceptional circumstances test had been met. They said the harm to the Green Belt would be less than substantial and would be “outweighed by beneficial impacts”.

Benefits listed by officers include allowing public access to an adjacent field, the provision of a community hub, and a £1.5million contribution from the developer to provide affordable homes on other sites. Planning chiefs said in their report that the proposed scheme provided the “maximum reasonable amount” of affordable housing.

The council received 202 objections and 28 letters of support for the plans from members of the public. Opponents argued the proposed blocks, some of which are taller than the existing buildings, would cause unacceptable harm to the Green Belt. Others criticised the level of affordable housing, the loss of trees, and increased traffic and air pollution.

Planning consultant Elizabeth Fitzgerald spoke against the plans during the committee meeting, claiming the proposed scheme would be “about 104% bigger” than the existing buildings and would “without doubt impact on the openness of the Green Belt”.

Elizabeth said the proposal would lead to the loss of 30% of the mature trees on the site and criticised a “shortfall in the provision of affordable housing”. She added: “To approve this development would set a dangerous precedent for Green Belt development in the borough.

Local resident Elizabeth Silver, who lives adjacent to the site, said: “On Barnet’s own website, you promised to look after the environment, protect our green spaces and biodiversity for generations to come, [and] ensure our actions do not negatively impact future generations. What does this mean? It means making sure our precious Green Belt does not disappear.”

Elizabeth claimed the proposal was actually a “retirement village”, which would fall into a separate planning category to care accommodation. She alleged it had been proposed as care accommodation to avoid meeting City Hall’s affordable housing quota.

Mark Alper, chief executive at Marstead Living, said the development team had made the proposals “as green as possible” and that boundary trees would not be removed. He added: “There will be more green space than before – 14% more, in fact. There will also be more trees, up from 358 today to 472.”

Mark claimed there was a “huge demand” for the specialist housing, which would free-up demand on services, and that residents would benefit from the community hub and access to the neighbouring field.

Under questioning from councillors, he said the scheme was “not a care home” but also “not residential”. Mark explained it would provide “a minimum of four hours of care a week” in people’s homes, allowing them to retain their independence.

Opponents argued the development represented an “overprovision” of extra care accommodation, claiming Barnet only needs to provide 33 units per year. Under questioning from councillors, planning officers said the borough requires 275 units of specialist older persons’ housing per year, according to the adopted London Plan.

Conservative councillor Elliot Simberg, who also spoke against the plans, claimed residents could already access the adjoining field. But planning officers said the field was technically private land and would be opened up to full public access if the development was approved.

Following the debate, five Labour councillors voted in favour of the development, along with Conservative Eva Greenspan. Labour’s Nagus Narenthira and Conservative Nick Mearing-Smith abstained. Conservative Richard Cornelius was unable to vote after arriving late to the meeting.

The proposed development will now be referred to the mayor of London, who is able to uphold or overturn the committee’s decision.

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