Montreaux plans for B&Q site – our further objection

We’ve sent this objection to Barnet Council, in addition to our objection last October.

We wish to add to our objections of 5th October and 14th October 2020 and the objections made by our members and fellow-residents then and recently.

The new Urban Design Study reinforces our concerns and demonstrates their validity. The windows, balconies and other details make the scale of the proposed buildings clearer and the disproportionate and overwhelming scale of the proposal more vivid.

The images achieve this even though compression into a small picture easily scanned by the human eye doesn’t reflect the lived experience of seeing buildings from the ground, where the human eye and brain will not frame the view of the development with – as for example in the picture from Ashford Road, or those from Elm Grove and Oak Grove – nearby buildings on the left and right of our position. Councillors deciding on this application should see these pictures but should see them without such framing.

The images also make clear the poor quality of the proposed accommodation. The view from Lichfield Road above Cricklewood Station is particularly clear on this. The wide south-east face of each block (the 25-storey tower excepted) is deep in the shadow of the block beside it, even in the middle of the day. The overhead view, with stark shadows cast by a sun unusually high in the west, brings this out again.

The text of the Urban Design Study repeatedly praises the development with little or no explanation for its effusiveness. It makes aesthetic judgments without explaining or supporting them. It asserts, repeatedly, that the development has elegance (more elegant outline (twice), elegant proportions, elegant form, the elegance of each, elegant form and materiality, the elegance and crowning feature of the highest building, contribute to its elegance, the elegance and crowning detail, the building’s elegance and meaning, increased in its elegance) without ever explaining the basis of that judgment.

Likewise, the study uses “generous” or “generously” seven times without any explanation, let alone an indication of what’s being generously given. The summary paragraph states that the development “has the right to be visible”, though the idea that a building has moral rights is nowhere argued and utterly novel, and ends “Its joyful and generously designed top adds meaning and richness to the vistas and glimpses above existing buildings in a celebratory and thoughtful way.” Nowhere does the study explain what is joyful about the top or how the designers were generous, or what meaning it adds to vistas or how obtruding into views adds richness. It minimises the extreme visibility of the development by talking of glimpses, and then introduces the idea that it celebrates something, without saying what or how, and does so in a thoughtful way, without ever explaining what it is thinking.

Twenty times the study speaks of a “landmark”. It never establishes any need for a landmark or explains how one would benefit Cricklewood. Neither the centre of Cricklewood nor the railway station are hard to find; the centre is a simple crossroads on the A5, the station is signposted from there and elsewhere, and the area provide with Legible London signage. There’s no evidence that large numbers of people are struggling to find their way to either one from miles around, or that either one, once found, would be so easily forgotten that we need a marker visible all day, every day from miles around. In an early discussion, the architect remarked on how good the view would be for tower residents and was discomfited to be reminded this meant that it would be visible from far around. The attempt to justify this visibility as providing a landmark is entirely inadequate and self-serving, and the repeated assertions don’t make it any more valid.

The report begins by saying it “provides an independent design assessment”. Later in that paragraph, we read that the consultancy “has been commissioned independently by Montreaux Cricklewood Developments Ltd (‘the applicant’)”. It is thus not at all independent of the applicant and as we’ve seen, it can hardly be called an assessment; it’s a string of unsupported assertions using repetitive and frequently irrelevant terms, and once the absurd claim that the entire development is beneficial simply because it replaces a carpark. Indeed, it repeatedly claims that its assertions show the effect of the development to be beneficial, but instead it demonstrates repeatedly that the authors lack the ability to make that assessment or substantiate it.

For these reasons, we object not only to the application but to any reliance being placed, in assessing the application, on the claims made in this “Urban Design Study” or on any of its conclusions.

The revised Transport Assessment placed on Barnet’s planning portal in April not only has flaws but also reveals flaws in the application.

The estimate of 88 passengers travelling south by train in the morning peak hour is one example. On the one hand, it undermines the case for placing a very large development beside a station if only 88 commuters from 1100 residential units use trains to go into town. On the other hand, it is very weakly founded, guessing that two-thirds of commuters will be southbound with no evidence, and avoiding evaluating the impact of those commuters on train crowding, with neither statistics for train crowding nor recognition of the lived experience of commuters that already trains are often too crowded at Cricklewood for anyone to board. The covering letter suggests that the 88-passenger “result” “will inform any further discussions regarding CIL payments or S106 contributions.” There is no indication how CIL or S106 funds could be used to alleviate overcrowding on trains, so this seems an entirely irrelevant suggestion designed to avoid the problems being taken into consideration when considering whether the application should be approved.

The assessment also avoids evaluating the impact of cycle users on local traffic and pedestrians, or the likely experience of cycle users. It asserts that cycle users will be so intimidated by the nearby junction with the A5 Cricklewood Broadway that they will wheel their bikes across, and so avoids evaluating the impact of cycle users on traffic there. If this was credible, then it would be necessary to evaluate the impact of many cycle users wheeling bicycles on busy pavements round corners, across pedestrian crossings and through torturous fenced pedestrian islands, continually obstructing and in conflict with pedestrians. It is however not credible; this is not the observed behaviour of cycle users in London nor how new generations are taught to use the roads in their school Bikeability courses. Rather, the Transport Assessment needed to evaluate on-road cycle movements.

Meanwhile the claim that the A5 is too intimidating is then ignored in calculating the area in easy reach, which does not factor in time spent wheeling across the road through pedestrians and negotiating the various phases of traffic lights, nor consider what would be in easy reach of cycle users if they fear to ride along the A5.

The assessment also neglects to assess cycle use of the supposed public benefit of narrow unsegregated shared-use paths through the development. If levels are to be high enough to constitute a public benefit, how will those users interact with pedestrians in the development and how will conflict be managed? How will they access Cricklewood Lane, and how will speeds of cycle users dropping from the development to Cricklewood Lane be managed without obstructing free movement of pedestrians and significant numbers of cycle users? Or will the combination of climbs into the development, narrow paths, obstacles and conflicts with pedestrians deter cycle users and render any public benefit insignificant?

Evaluation of pedestrian movements is similarly flawed and lacks consideration of interdependencies. The pedestrian isochrones assume all pedestrians can walk in every direction at the same uniform speed, with no delay at busy roads, and in straight lines across railways and through buildings. Routes are often evaluated as at current levels of usage rather than the increased levels following development. We see, for example, no estimate of the increased numbers passing under the Cricklewood Lane bridge to access trains, buses, schools and other destinations, but we do see an acknowledgment of that route’s restricted with a suggestion that barriers might be required under the bridge, not accompanied by any estimate of how those would affect pedestrians or road users with regards to congestion or journey times, let alone wellbeing.

In short, this assessment fails in many ways to evaluate the effect of the development and its residents on the movements of either the current working and residential population of Cricklewood or the new residents themselves. The evaluations it does make show serious problems and its omissions signify more.

In about two weeks, this new consultation has attracted another 500 objections, some reinforcing their previous objections and some new. There is no good reason to discount any earlier objections and Barnet Council has given no indication that it might. In particular, the empty phrases of the Urban Design Study do not provide any basis on which to discount objections. Rather, they make it more starkly obvious that the harm this overwhelming and excessively intense development would cause cannot be justified.

Barnet’s planning portal shows they’ve received another 600 objections in two weeks and you can read most of them there. Tepbrook, the owners of 194-196 Cricklewood Broadway (the Galtymore site) and Depot Approach have also sent very strong objections dated 28 May 2021 and 10 November 2020, but they’re not visible on the Barnet website. Instead, you can read them here, as forwarded by Cllr Anne Clarke with Tepbrook’s permission.

Barnet’s letters say the deadline’s 3 June 2021 and the website says the consultation expiry date is 3 June too, though the site notice says 17 June 2021.

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