There is a beautiful detached house at the top of Courthouse Gardens very close to West Finchley station. It is not only pretty but sits in so well within the local neighbourhood. For the last five years the local residents have been battling to prevent a property developer pulling down the house and building six flats in its place.
When the developer first put in his plans to build eight flats, the Council Planning Officers recommended them for approval – a decision which clearly showed their ignorance of this part of West Finchley.
The presence of a large number of residents at the subsequent Council Planning Committee Meeting ensured that the plans were carefully scrutinised and the Councillors voted against their Officers’ recommendations. Local residents were determined to save 1 Courthouse Gardens and a 5-year battle began. Our West Finchley Councillors have been vociferous in supporting the campaign along with MP Mike Freer.
Over 100 local residents have written letters of objection to the Council and to the Inspectorate at each stage of the process, and have attended each of the Council Planning Committee Meetings in large numbers. In response, the Councillors continued to vote against the recommendation of their Officers who (residents felt) were particularly obstructive at the last meeting. In fact, the last Inspector commented on the “somewhat clumsily worded” Council report which might have given her the grounds to dismiss the last appeal.
At a residents’ meeting in the Gordon Road Scout Hall in April last year (forty attending) it was decided to form a residents’ association and the West Finchley Residents Association (WFRA) was duly formed.
There have been FOUR appeals to date and the last one reads:
I allow the appeal, and grant planning permission for demolition of existing building and erection of a part single, part two storey building plus rooms in the roof space, comprising six residential units.
So it now appears to be a “done deal” and the WFRA have lost. The next step of taking the appeal to the High Court would result in huge costs.
All the residents can now do is to memorise the conditions laid down by the Planning Inspectorate on how the building should be done, and keep a firm eye on the builders when they start work. In this case, the Planning Inspectorate will have the free services of over a hundred residents to police the building or the flats.
Peter Pickering of the Finchley Society says:
“It is a depressing result. But Inspectors’ decisions can be challenged only in the High Court, and this seems to me to be (with one exception) a well reasoned and balanced letter; the Inspector has covered our arguments, as well as the narrower grounds of the refusal, and has done what she can to weaken the precedent effect. There was a recent case in Wentworth Avenue where the decision letter was much less good, and we sought advice on the possibility of a High Court challenge, and were advised that there was no hope. The exception, to which I referred above, is the argument that this proposal could contribute to an objective of PPS3, to wit the creation of a mixed community. I believe that this is a misreading of the intent of this provision of PPS3, which was, I think, aimed against the creation of new large upper class ‘gated’ developments, or acres of unrelieved ‘social housing’, not to encourage the disturbance of currently harmonious areas.
The Inspector turned down the appellants’ request for costs against the Council, accepting that the Councillors had reasonable grounds for coming to their decision to refuse the application (even though she did not agree with it), that they were fully entitled to go against the advice of their officers, and that they were not unduly swayed by the local opposition.”
I am sure that there was no hidden agenda with the council over this sorry state of affairs.