Major housing development on former gasworks finally approved after years of wrangling

Various proposals for the site in New Barnet had been rejected before last night’s decision to approve the latest plan for 420 homes, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

New Barnet gasworks (credit Citystyle Fairview)
The plans for New Barnet gasworks (credit Citystyle Fairview)

Councillors have finally approved redevelopment plans for the former British Gas site in New Barnet following tense discussions at a planning committee meeting.

The gasworks site in Albert Road has been at the centre of planning discussions for several years as various iterations of designs have been proposed and rejected.

The latest proposals – dubbed ‘Victoria Quarter’ – comprises 420 residential homes and 347 square metres of commercial space across eleven buildings, ranging from four to eight storeys in height. The scheme includes 143 affordable homes, representing 34% of the total residential offering.

During the previous planning committee meeting on 20th February various objections were heard along with some people speaking support, but the meeting overran its allotted time and finished without a vote.

At the meeting yesterday (Wednesday 13th) committee members were split on issues around the development’s energy system and its maintenance as well as 25% of the flats having inadequate daylight levels.

At the previous meeting, a community activist warned overheating could be a big problem as 44.5% of the flats required active cooling systems, and this number rose to 77% of the affordable flats.

During yesterday’s meeting Ryan Clark, the energy sustainability officer for Barnet Council, said he had assessed the application and was satisfied the developer’s approach was the “correct one”.

He acknowledged there was an overheating risk but stated the cost of mediating was “actually very minimal” as the system proposed was “not like traditional air conditioning” but more advanced.

Ryan also said computer models had been used to assess rooms in “worst case scenarios” and stated the plan had an “extremely efficient design” and compared to traditional developments was “very well performing”. 

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Conservative committee member Richard Cornelius said he accepted there was a need for more housing but said the number of issues were “building up” and that producing homes “we know are bad” was a “retrograde step”. 

He said: “This will be known as the ‘rich slum’ if it gets approved because it will be absolutely ghastly.

The site in Albert Road has stood vacant for years
The brownfield site in Albert Road has stood vacant for years

“You can have no pride in producing affordable housing that is deliberately sub-standard, that’s a disgrace and I’m surprised members of the Labour party are willing to do that.”

In response, Labour committee chair Nigel Young said it was regrettable the design had issues but said they had been mitigated “as much as possible”. 

Cllr Young said: “In the end this is about us speaking for the people who are not here, for all the people who come to our surgeries and say they don’t have a home, the people who are living in hotel rooms, the people who are living in bedsits. 

“This will provide 143 homes which will help those people. I think there are things that weigh against it but in terms of weighing for it, my personal opinion is the things that weigh for it are more significant.”

But Conservative committee member Shuey Gordon supported his party colleagues in opposing the scheme, saying there was a need for “habitable homes and affordable housing at the same time”. 

Cllr Gordon said: “We can’t create little boxes people can hardly live in and call them affordable housing just to tick boxes.”

In response Cllr Young said all the homes complied with housing technical standards and that there was no reason to refuse the application on that basis.

Cllr Cornelius and Tory colleague Eva Greenspan proposed a vote to refuse planning permission for the scheme due to its “bulk, mass and density”, but the motion was defeated.

Cllr Young then proposed conditions be added to the application, with one calling for an energy management plan to focus on properties that may have to spend more on the cooling system and a second on working with developers to evaluate impacts on the 25% of properties that didn’t meet sunlight and daylight guidelines.

The committee voted in favour of adding these conditions with six in favour and three abstaining. It then took a vote on approving planning permission with five in favour, one abstention and three against.

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