Latest decision on New Barnet gasworks site postponed as committee hears objections

The long-running saga over the future of the former British Gas site in Albert Road took another twist this week, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

The Albert Road site remains vacant while (inset) plans by Citystyle Fairview have still not been approved
The Albert Road site remains vacant while (inset) plans by Citystyle Fairview have still not been approved

A decision over a major mixed-use development in New Barnet has been postponed amid concerns over “poor design and scale”. 

The Victoria Quarter development in Albert Road comprises 420 residential homes and 347 square metres of commercial space across eleven buildings, ranging from four to eight storeys in height, alongside 291 car parking spaces.

The former British Gas site remains vacant as various iterations of plans have been proposed and rejected for over the past seven years, mainly owing to concerns with scale.

In terms of its affordable offering, the latest version of the plan proposes 66 of the homes are planned to be let at London Affordable Rent rates while 77 will be sold as shared ownership – representing 34% affordable housing provision in total.

Barnet Council planning officer James Langsmead recommended to the strategic planning committee on Tuesday (20th) that councillors approve the scheme.

However, John Dix, a local resident and community activist, told the committee that although he wanted “homes built” the quality of the homes proposed was “inadequate and in breach of numerous policies”. 

Due to the design, “overheating” would be a big problem, he claimed. John said  44.5% of the flats required active cooling systems, and this figure rose to 77% of the London Affordable Rent flats. He added this system would be expensive for these tenants to “switch on when needed”.

He said there were inadequate daylight levels in 25% of the flats with some having “no windows” in kitchens. He also said some homes did not meet design standards.

Committee member Rishikesh Chakraborty asked about the park element of the plans being “overbearing”. John said “four large blocks across the face of the park” around six-storeys in height would have an “overbearing nature” which was “significant”. 

John said the current plan had been proposed, in place of previous ones, because it had “more affordable rent flats” but added that they had to be “livable”. He said: “We’re condemning people to live in what could be really poor quality housing and it could be better with some minor modifications.”

Pete Redshaw, a local resident, spoke in support of the development. He said the site had declined to what he described as “a massive eyesore” and that his biggest concern was that “nothing happens”, adding this was “the worst case scenario”. 

Pete said: “We need something better than a festering hole the size of several Olympic swimming pools, we need something to revitalise Barnet.”

Committee member Danny Rich asked Pete what was his reaction was to some of the homes not meeting design standards. Pete said given the choice to approve or disapprove the plan, he would approve, because “it’s not perfect but it’s definitely an improvement”. 

Cllr Chakraborty questioned if it would be “the worst case scenario” compared to many people living in “substandard accommodation”. 

Philip Cohen, a ward councillor for East Barnet, spoke on behalf of those in the local community who opposed the scheme based on its “poor design and scale”. He voiced a preference for the initial 371 homes proposed in the original plan, back in 2017. Cllr Cohen added there was concern over the lack of GPs to cope with the potential 1,000 new residents if plans went through.

Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers also spoke in opposition to the scheme, saying the application amounted to an “overdevelopment” and should be rejected as previous scaled-up versions had been. 

The Conservative MP said it sacrificed “design standards to increase density”, reiterating this meant “poor quality homes”.

The debate concluded without a vote on the scheme due to overrunning time and committee chair Nigel Young proposed reconvening as soon as possible to have the vote.

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