A 652-home development planned for a suburban area has been slammed by councillors – with one describing it as like "transporting Benidorm to New Barnet".

The Victoria Quarter scheme, planned for the former British Gas Works in Albert Road, New Barnet, came under fire after hundreds more homes were added to previous proposals approved in 2017.

Members of the planning committee unanimously rejected council officers’ recommendation to approve the development during a meeting on Wednesday (September 2).

The final decision on the plans was deferred to the committee’s next meeting while chairman Cllr Shimon Ryde draws up detailed grounds for refusal.

During Wednesday’s meeting, residents and councillors lined up to criticise plans by Fairview New Homes and One Housing to build 14 blocks ranging from one to ten storeys at the site.

New Barnet resident Nick Hufton, an architect, claimed the current proposals were “inferior in almost every respect” compared to the previously approved plans for 371 homes on the site.

He criticised plans to site almost all of the affordable homes near a railway line, warned hundreds of windows overlooked their neighbours “at a distance of 12m or less” and said some rooms would have only 15 per cent of the “recommended daylight factor”.

Mr Hufton also raised concerns over safety, warning communal entrances would be shared “by up to 67 households” – placing greater reliance on costly fire prevention systems.

Under questioning from councillors, Mr Hufton claimed the current scheme was in breach of at least half a dozen planning policies.

Cllr Felix Byers (Conservative, East Barnet) described the plans as a “moral betrayal” of residents who had worked with the developer to design the smaller, 371-home scheme.

MP for Chipping Barnet Theresa Villiers said: “This current application would overturn a decade of community involvement in the future of Victoria Quarter. It would change New Barnet forever, irrevocably altering its landscape and its skyline (and) would open the door to further, intensive, city-style development.”

Mark Jackson, director of planning at Fairview New Homes, defended the scheme and claimed the earlier application, approved three years ago, was now unviable.

Mr Jackson said: “We completely understand and appreciate the strength of feeling about the application among some in the community, as expressed through our consultation and the representations made during the application itself.

“The opportunity now is to move forward and realise the full potential of the site.”

Mr Jackson said the scheme would provide 35 per cent affordable homes, investment into Victoria Recreation Ground and millions of pounds for local infrastructure improvements.

Under questioning from councillors, he claimed the smaller scheme was “unviable” and “undeliverable”. He also said the developer took fire safety “very seriously”, and his understanding was that the scheme complied with fire safety standards.

Councillors grilled Barnet’s planning officers over their decision to recommend the scheme for approval.

Cllr Tim Roberts (Labour, Underhill) said the scheme was “clearly in breach” of a local plan policy stating that developments should be based on an understanding of local characteristics.

He said: “The heights of these buildings are not to be found anywhere in East Barnet, with one exception. It is not representing the local character at all.”

A planning officer responded that the comparative heights “were referenced in terms of the gas holder and the taller buildings along Station Road”.

Cllr Stephen Sowerby (Conservative, Oakleigh) said: “I am surprised and disappointed the application has been recommended for approval by officers. Finding reasons to refuse it would have been far easier than finding reasons to approve it.

“The residential density is quite literally off the suburban scale.

“The tall, monolithic blocks in their grid patterns with their balconies, central plazas and shops remind me more of a Spanish hotel resort from the 1970s. Transporting Benidorm to New Barnet is neither reflective of local character nor an example of high-quality residential design.”

When it came to the vote, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat members of the committee voted against officers’ recommendation to approve the scheme.

If, as expected, they refuse permission at the next planning meeting, the application will be referred to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who has the power to overturn their decision.