The successes of MHPS
The green Belt and Some Notable Successes:
In the fifties the Society’s main concern was the protection of Mill Hill’s green belt. The pressure for more housing was enormous. In one year alone members of the committee attended six public inquiries into proposed building developments in Mill Hill, many of them in the green belt. It speaks much for the determination and skill of the then committee members that most of them were refused on appeal to the Inspector, or were substantially scaled down. Without the Society’s efforts there would have been every much more development in Wise Lane, at laurel Farm and east end of Totteridge valley by Barnet Lane where no less than 460 houses were proposed.
Indeed so successful was the then chairman of the Society Mr W.A. Fells, in presenting evidence at public inquiries that in 1953 he was elected founder chairman of the Green Belt Council, later to become the London Green Belt Council.
Pylons across the Valley:
One of the most notable successes of the Society was its opposition to electric pylons across Totteridge Valley. In 1959 the CEGB gave official notice of its intention to erect a 275,000-volt overhead line from Elstree sub-station to the proposed sub-station at Partingdale Lane. This would have been a terrible eyesore generally and would have irretrievably disfigured the rural beauty of Scratch Wood, Moat Mount, and Totteridge Valley. The Society, with other interested bodies, made vigorous representations against the proposal, and following a four-day public enquiry at Hendon Town Hall, at which Mr Fells spoke skilfully and passionately, the Minister of Power eventually ruled that the line must go underground from Elstree to Partingdale Lane. No such length of the electric grid goes underground anywhere else in the UK.
The Belmont Hangar:
Another success in the early sixties was the removal of the ‘Belmont Hangar’. The owners of Belmont Farm erected in 1957 a large ex-Air Ministry aircraft hangar near the Sheepwash Pond on the Ridgeway. They claimed that it was an ‘agricultural’ building and as such did not require planning permission. It was an obtrusive structure and thoroughly spoilt the view across the valley. The Society pursued the matter to a public inquiry and in 1961 the inspector ruled that it must be removed. He stated that a riding stable was not an agricultural activity.
On the other hand, the Society did succeed in its campaign to retain Lawrence Farmhouse at Goodwyn Avenue. This 18th century warm, mellow-brick farmhouse was a vestige of farming off Lawrence Street, which, from manorial records, went back to the 12th century. The proposal in 1969 to demolish the building and replace it with a 3-storey block of flats and garages met with instant outcry. For nearly seven years the Society opposed various alternative plans for office development of the site, whilst the fabric of the building steadily deteriorated.
Eventually, in 1976 it was sold by the owners (Hendon North Conservative Association) to a small private company who implemented immediate repairs and renovations. Although now converted to offices, it stands a s a testimony to what can be done with thought and imagination in the cause of restoration.
Sometimes the Society has found itself opposing not a private developer but the local authority in its struggle to maintain the green belt. In 1983 Barnet Council submitted plans to build a large covered international sports arena at Copthall open Space. This would have been seven times larger than the existing swimming pool and would have been a major erosion of green belt land. Whilst not denying the need for such a sporting facility somewhere, the Society vigorously opposed its siting at Copthall, as it would have seriously damaged Sunnyhill Park, set a very bad precedent for further development in the green belt and caused great loss of amenity to surrounding roads. Ranged against the Society were the Local Authority, powerful sporting interests and substantial private capital. However, by holding pubic meetings and mounting a special fund-raising campaign we were able to retain learned counsel at the public enquiry, which lasted four days. Although the Council were able to retain an eminent QC to present their evidence, the Inspector’s eventual decision was a refusal of planning permission – a notable victory for The Society.
Later, the MHPS opposed the Barnet Football Club proposal for a 10,000 seat football stadium at Copthall together with a separate athletics arena, a proposal supported by the London Borough of Barnet. There was a Public Inquiry which lasted at least 3 weeks, and MHPS represented the Open Spaces and Finchley Societies and were fighting alongside the ad-hoc group ‘Keep Copthall an Open Space’. John Turtle led for the Society, and the proposal was defeated.
More recently a scheme by Saracens Rugby Football Club to renovate the old stadium was passed in 2012. The work included a new covered stand, renovation of the old stand, and maintains all the athletics facilities for winter training and summer competitions. The new all-weather pitch allows for use on a full time basis by Barnet schools and other community groups. MHPS objected to the proposals on green belt issues, although the membership were split 'for' and 'against'. In spite of some local objections, this time the scheme won through with the support of the Council and The Mayor of London.
Golf Courses in Totteridge Valley:
In the early 1990’s a rash of golf course applications were made to build various 18-hole gold courses in the valley. At one time as many as three were proposed and under consideration. These proposals would have destroyed the natural beauty of the area and so the Society fought them all, and the Valley remained protected.
Belmont Riding Stables:
After the rash of Golf course applications, the new owner of the Stables applied to build an international size equestrian centre on the land behind Sheepwash pond. This proposal would have been highly obtrusive and against the Green Belt and Conservation Area principles. The scheme was refused by the Local Authority. At considerable cost to the Society and to the Council the application went to appeal and was refused by the Inspector.
House beside Kingshead Cottage on the Ridgeway:
A proposal was made to build an ‘underground’ house on The Ridgeway in Green Belt land and in the Conservation Area. Despite the house being underground – like the ‘tele-tubby’ house in the famous children’s series – and not prominent from The Ridgeway, it would have been totally against Green Belt principles and would have set a very dangerous precedent. The scheme was refused by the Council and went to appeal. Our then Chairman, John Turtle, led the MHPS team at the public enquiry and the proposal was refused by the Inspector.
The Chalet Estate & Marshall Hall:
For sometime in the 1990’s the Chalet Estate was under threat. The Retail Trust proposed to replace the single-storey Chalet Estate bungalows with a large, modern, care home and sheltered accommodation, with the Marshall Estate sold off (though retained as dwellings), as well as the adjacent nursing home buildings put up for sale. The proposals were resisted by the Society and eventually the rebuilding scheme was withdrawn. The Retail Trust then successfully remodelled the Marshall Hall premises, a scheme that MHPS supported, and a buyer for the Chalet Estate was found who was prepared to renovate the existing buildings. The two schemes remain important contributors to the Conservation Area. The outcome of the nursing home site is still to be decided, although MHPS has been consulted about various proposals.
Simmond’s Mead Village Green:
On the 7th November 2007 an application to register Simmond’s Mead as a Village Green went before Barnet Council’s Planning & Environment committee and was approved. For details of this success see the ‘article’ section under Simmond’s mead.
St Joseph’s College:
Since the decision by the Brethren at St Joseph’s College to vacate and put their building on the market for sale, there have various schemes put forward for planning applications. Until recently none of these were acceptable to the Society and they were resisted even though planning appeals were threatened. This holding operation seems to have worked, for, in 2008 the Council passed a scheme which looks like it might work out to be quite good for the buildings and the area – only time will tell …