Planning approval for new council offices obtained amid constitutional chaos

A controversial planning application for Barnet council's new offices at Lanacre Avenue, Grahame Park, Colindale that will accommodate 1,200 staff but only provide 192 parking spaces was agreed at this week's Planning Committee (31 March) despite a vote to refuse the plans at the previous Planning Committee held on 16 March.

Following the vote to refuse the application at the 16 March Planning Committee where legitimate planning reasons were discussed (access, size of the development and blocking of sunlight), the plans were then referred up to Full Council by the Chair of the committee, Cllr Melvin Cohen. Councillors were later told that this referral was contrary to the Council's constitution which forbids planning applications being referred to any other body for decision.

Labour councillors have argued that the vote to refuse the application should therefore stand as the final decision, but the Council maintain that no decision was taken - despite the vote being clearly recorded in the minutes. The Council instead brought a slightly revised application that proposed an extra 100 car parking spaces, making a total of 192, back to the 31 March Planning Committee. Two Conservative members of the Planning Committee sent their apologies for not attending this meeting - including the Chair, Cllr Melvin Cohen - and substitutes attended in their absence, including Conservative Leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius. The application was agreed amid anger from local residents.

The revised proposals for parking do not say where the additional 100 spaces will be located or when agreement for them will be obtained from the owners of the land, but they do say their availability will be reviewed annually.

The plan to locate the Council's premises on Grahame Park will mean a much smaller community centre which will not cater for the needs of community groups that used the longstanding Grahame Park community centre. There are also no agreed temporary arrangements for a community facility while the building work is underway.

Labour Colindale councillor, Gill Sargeant said: "Residents are absolutely outraged at the way this planning application has been handled, as many of them believed it had been rejected at the 16 March meeting.

"We now have a situation where over a thousand council officers will be coming to their place of work with insufficient public transport routes, no green travel plan and only 192 parking spaces, 100 of which have not even been identified on a map.

"Residents are rightly angry and worried that the traffic and parking situation will become unbearable, and the end result will be the introduction of CPZs where they will be expected to foot the bill for protected parking while Conservative councillors park for free using their free council parking permits."

Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Barry Rawlings said: "I am extremely surprised that Cllr Cohen made the referral up to Full Council - he is a lawyer and a former Chair of the Constitution Committee, and should have known the rules as set out in the Constitution.

"This has resulted in the whole process being questioned.

"Barnet continues to be a byword for bad government and complete incompetence."

Ends.
Notes:
1. For a link to the 31 March Planning Committee papers see: http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=703&MId=8307&Ver=4
2. For a link to the 16 March Planning Committee papers see: http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=703&MId=8663&Ver=4

For more information contact:
Cllr Gill Sargeant: cllr.g.sargeant@barnet.gov.uk
Cllr Barry Rawlings: cllr.b.rawlings@barnet.gov.uk
To contact the Barnet Labour Group: 020 8359 2568

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