Friday 17 July 2015

The Barnet Times – a snoozepaper, not a newspaper

What is going on at the Barnet Times? There is an important story surrounding the future development of the Underhill site, yet the paper remains totally silent.

An article was published on 8th June 2015, which raised more questions than it answered, yet there has been no follow up, despite the huge implications of the proposals.

The paper's initial report stated that the land at Underhill had been sold to the Department for Education (DfE). It hasn’t. Contracts have been exchanged but the DfE have so far failed to give any indication as to when, if at all, the sale will be completed.

An unnamed spokesman for the football club is quoted as saying that they "had been prohibited from making a public statement previously for legal reasons…”

Don’t Call Me Dave wonders what legal reason that could possibly be?

The spokesman helpfully adds “…and felt it better to wait until after the election…”

And there we have the answer. Another sale of Underhill involving taxpayers’ money to be kept secret from the electorate. Why haven’t the Barnet Times followed this up? Have they, perhaps, forgotten the last scandal relating to Underhill? The scandal where the Labour controlled council sold the land secretly, just before the 2002 Council elections, not to the football club, but to a company owned personally by the Chairman Tony Kleanthous. And for just £10,000. What a bargain, as we will find out if the DfE buys it back for public ownership.

But leaving the previous scandal to one side, why has the Barnet Times not even published the design for the proposed new school which wase lodged with the Council’s Planning Department on 24th June? This is a major development which will have a massive impact on the local community.

In a council report published on 15th July, the Planning Officer wrote:

In respect of the characteristics of the development proposed, it would represent a very significant increase in the size and scale of development found on the site.

The physical changes resulting from the scheme are considered to result in significant environmental effects.

The scheme would also result in a very significant change from a land use perspective.

That the physical and land use changes proposed would be occurring at a site located on land designated as Green Belt is considered to significantly increase the likelihood of the effects of the scheme resulting in a significant environmental effects

Given the change in scale of development and land use proposed it is found to be likely that the scheme would result in very different transport impacts to the existing development on the site.

Why is the local newspaper not reporting this news and canvassing public opinion?

Why has the Barnet Times not questioned why the Underhill site came to be chosen given that there is already an Academy school half a mile away – a school which DCMD is advised is currently undersubscribed?

Did Mr Kleanthous wake up one morning and decide that he wanted to build a school on the land or did the DfE approach the Council and ask them if they knew of potential sites?

There are many questions that need to be answered. But, as usual, Underhill residents are being kept in the dark. In the old days, the Barnet Times was fertile breeding ground for eager young investigative journalists learning their trade. If their web site is anything to go by, the paper now cares more about selling Hondas than providing local residents with information about a development which will have a major impact on their lives.

Thursday 16 July 2015

An open letter to Gary Lineker, OBE

Dear Mr Lineker

When Lewis Hamilton was refused entry to the Royal Box at Wimbledon for flouting the All England Club’s well known dress code, you described the decision as “England at its pompous worst.”

When the Royal & Ancient Golf Club decided not to appoint you to host the Open, you described them as “pompous.”

And yet you have seen fit to write a letter to the Prime Minister in support of the organisation that pays you £2million a year just for watching a few games of football on a Saturday night.

You, Sir, are a tedious bore and a sanctimonious hypocrite.

Yours truly

Don’t Call Me Dave

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Sale of Underhill: the return of BRASS?

Contrary to reports in the Barnet Times, the freehold of the site of Underhill Stadium has not been sold. Yet.

There is a proposal to build a new Academy school on the site. A spokesman for the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed to Don’t Call Me Dave that contracts have been exchanged, but the transaction has not yet completed.

Unless the DfE uses the same incompetent draughtsmen as Barnet Council, it is reasonable to assume it is a conditional contract that can be annulled in the event that planning consent is refused. So all is not lost for Barnet Football Club supporters hoping for an eventual return to Underhill.

A plan of the proposed layout for the school has been registered with Barnet’s Planning Department under reference 15/03135/ESR. To date, a full planning application does not appear to have been registered.

Given that the proposal is to build a school on green belt land, there will need to be a full public consultation before the matter can be considered by the Council’s Planning Committee.

The school aims to accommodate 1,830 pupils – similar to the attendance figures for Barnet Football Club when they played at Underhill. Will residents, who were used to this number of visitors on alternative Saturdays during the football season, be prepared to accept the increased traffic and disruption five times a week?

There is no question that demand exists for more school places; but given that there are already two schools on Mays Lane plus the Totteridge Academy on Barnet Lane, residents are entitled to ask whether the addition of another school in such close proximity will create too much of a strain on the local road network. Have alternative sites been considered?

There is also the issue as to whether a school is desirable on green belt land, which the Conservatives have pledged to protect.

In 2002, when Barnet Football Club proposed building a 10,000 seater stadium on the Underhill site, it gave rise to a pressure group called BRASS – Barnet Residents Against Second Stadium. Perhaps the proposals for the Ark Pioneer Academy School will lead to the resurrection of BRASS – Barnet Residents Against Secondary School?