Controversial plans approved last year are currently being revised but ‘substantive changes unlikely’, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter
Campaigners are calling for a major development planned for Hendon to be scaled down, warning it poses “great risks” to a “historic neighbourhood”.
Residents’ group Save Hendon has urged Middlesex University to reduce the size of the Hendon Hub – a Barnet Council-led scheme that is set to see hundreds of student flats built on sites in The Burroughs and Church End.
In January last year, councillors approved plans for blocks up to seven storeys high to be built on the sites, providing 565 student flats and 33 shared-living units – despite receiving hundreds of objections from residents.
Following Labour’s local election victory in May, council leader Barry Rawlings indicated the scheme would be amended. During a council meeting in July, he said the Hendon Hub scheme would not be built in its original form and the plans were a “work in progress”.
Plans to turn Grade-2 listed Hendon Public Library into a business school for the university were ditched in October. But deputy council leader Ross Houston this week said further “substantive changes” to the scheme were “unlikely”.
Professor Brad Blitz, an administrator of the Hendon Residents Planning Forum, which represents 2,500 residents, has written to the university to urge it to scale down the scheme.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service residents who saw the latest plans were “shocked” to find their scale was apparently unchanged, with the only proposed alterations to be made to internal space. Professor Blitz said if the council could make changes to the library, he believed it could make further amendments.
His letter states: “[The current proposals] present great risks to the residents, university, and council. We believe that the only responsible course is to avoid these at all costs, including by revising the scale, size and impact of the Hendon Hub plans.”
Although it welcomes the creation of “state-of-the art student facilities”, the letter says residents are worried about the impact on their “family-centred and historic neighbourhood”.
The letter warns of overcrowding, added pressure on local services, transport, and traffic” and the “further spread of HMOs [houses in multiple occupation] and house shares”, adding that residents are already affected by antisocial behaviour, noise from late-night parties and “inconsiderate parking”.
It states that a proposed GP surgery has now been removed from the plans, which will place more strain on health provision.
Professor Blitz also questions the financial basis for the scheme, with more students now living at home and an “extremely volatile” international student market that is “overly dependent on China”. Claiming the university was in financial deficit last year, he adds that it now has an “opportunity to review its position”.
The letter suggests that sites at the Brent Cross regeneration scheme could provide student housing and that there are “many ways to pool resources and provide accommodation without destroying local communities”. It states that when Middlesex University consolidated its campus on The Burroughs ten years ago, planning applications were approved “on the basis that there would be no further expansion”.
A spokesperson for Middlesex University said: “The Hendon Hub development is being led by Barnet Council in partnership with Middlesex University and aims to provide a mix of new academic and student accommodation, a refurbished public library and local regeneration. We continue to work with the council and the community on future development plans.”
Ross Houston, deputy council leader and chair of the housing and growth committee, said the Hendon Hub project was inherited from the previous Conservative administration and there was “a legal agreement in place with Middlesex University to deliver it”.
He added that the approved scheme “had already been scaled back from the original proposal, including reductions in building height, the total number of student accommodation units, and the scale of buildings on two of the sites”.
Cllr Houston continued: “Since winning the local elections in May we have also agreed to retain and refurbish Hendon Library in its historic building and are establishing a partnership board to work with the wider community so they can help shape the community benefits the project has promised.
“We have been clear, however, that the project will be going ahead, and that further substantive changes to the scheme are unlikely.
“Whilst I recognise that this is not what some residents want to hear, it is important to be honest about what’s possible. We are keen to work with residents as proposals go forward.”
Cllr Houston pledged to meet with Save Hendon campaigners “in a couple of weeks’ time” to speak to them again about their concerns.