Plans for 115 homes at Whalebones Park approved by councillors

Previous plans to build 152 homes in blocks up to four storeys high were rejected by the council in 2020, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

The plans by Rolfe Judd Architects and (inset) the entrance to Whalebones Park
The plans by Rolfe Judd Architects and (inset) the entrance to Whalebones Park

Controversial housing plans for Whalebones Park in Chipping Barnet have been approved by councillors amid disagreement over the impact on a conservation area.

The latest proposal is to build 115 homes ranging from two to five storeys in height, with 35% affordable housing and two hectares of public open space.

Previous plans to build 152 homes in blocks up to four storeys high were rejected by the council in 2020, while an appeal was also thrown out by a government planning inspector who ruled the harm to the Grade 2-listed Whalebones House and Wood Lane Conservation Area would not be outweighed by the scheme’s benefits.

The revised plans were designed to reduce the potential impact of the development on the site’s local heritage assets. 

At a planning committee meeting on Wednesday 13th, councillors and residents disputed the benefits of the new plan, which was recommended for approval by planning officers.

Barnet Society member Robin Bishop said the group objected “decisively” to the plan on the grounds of “overdevelopment”. He said the plan was “far beyond” what was needed to provide for the the artists, beekeepers, and current tenant farmer and general estate.

He said it would cause “fragrant harm” to the conservation area and that despite the scaled-down plans the negatives still “outweighed the benefits” of the scheme.

Robin added: “If you allow such harm to one of our conservation areas, what is the point of them, can we trust you to defend the others?

“What hope is there for the Green Belt and other urban green space?”

Labour committee chair Nigel Young said the conservation officer who looked at the application had assessed it as having “less than substantial harm” but Robin said he “totally” disagreed. 

In stark contrast, Barnet Resident’s Association member Gordon Massey said in the last ten years he estimated he’d objected to “more than 150 applications” but the association considered the latest Whalebones plan “one of the best schemes” they’d ever seen. 

Gordon said the design was “not dense”, it included family houses, affordable housing, the artist would get a new building, and overall the design should be “commended”. 

He said: “We always look carefully at the impact on residential neighbours, often a reason we oppose a scheme.

“Only part of Collison Avenue, a local road, and a small part of Wood Street are in sight of the housing development.”

While he said there was “substantial screening” from trees and hedges between the properties, he acknowledged the loss of green space, the main focus of opposition, and said this would have a “negative impact”.

However, he said that of the green space that would remain “almost 50%” would qualify as a public open space while the area currently was not publicly accessible. 

Gordon said: “We consider the scheme before us is most unlikely to be bettered, it offers a positive contribution to meeting housing needs while offering valuable open space for public use.”

Theresa Villiers, the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, said the site was a “local landmark” and the planning system existed to “protect” spaces like Whalebones. 

She said the changes made since the last application hadn’t rectified all the issues and added there was no “clarity” of the long-term ownership and management of the proposed new public space. 

Labour committee member Claire Farrier said the opening of the conservation area to the public was preferable to being able to view it from a busy road. 

In response, Villiers said: “The value we place on them [conservation areas] goes beyond whether they’re publicly accessible or not, we have strong rules to protect Green Belt land but much of that is not publicly accessible.

“The site supports bats, badgers and deer, birdlife; including species on the red list.”

She asserted the site was “genuinely nature rich” and that would be lost if it went “under the bulldozer for homes and a public park”. 

Following questioning on what she would prefer for the site, Villiers said: “No housing at all.”

Colin Campbell, an agent for the developers Hill Residential Ltd, said the agricultural use of the site was “no longer viable or practical” and the latest plan had come after “years of engagement” with tenants and stakeholders. 

He said they were planning over 750 metres of hedgerow and over 200 new trees, adding they were committed to achieving a “minimum 10% gain in biodiversity”. 

Colin said Historic England, the government’s advisor on the historic environment, had said they were “broadly content” with the proposal. 

He added there was a guarantee the open space would be retained in perpetuity as a public space and the park would not be designed as a formal  urban park but would retain its current “informal parkland character”. 

Cllr Young asked for an informative to be added to the plans stating there would be unfettered public access to the space in perpetuity and the council would not be precluded from taking an interest in the land in future.

Six councillors voted in favour of the informative, while two abstained. Regarding the plan as a whole, five were in favour and three against. Because of its size, the plan will now be referred up to the Mayor of London for final approval.

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