A major council-led regeneration project has taken a step forward despite evidence of strong opposition from those consulted on the initial plans.

The full business case for Hendon Hub – a redevelopment of several sites centred on The Burroughs, Hendon – won the backing of Barnet Council’s policy and resources committee on Tuesday, July 20.

Some 88 per cent of those who responded to a consultation question on Hendon Hub were opposed to the scheme, and a petition calling on the council to scrap plans to move the library out of its Grade 2-listed building gained nearly 1,400 signatures.

But Conservative councillors voted in favour of the business case after council officers claimed changes had been made to address concerns raised during the consultation.

Residents staged a protest outside Hendon Town Hall and repeatedly vented their frustration with council officers and members of the Conservative administration during the meeting. At one point, committee chair and council leader Cllr Dan Thomas threatened to end the debate and go straight to the vote, following repeated heckling.

The Hendon Hub scheme is designed to provide student accommodation and facilities for Middlesex University. The revised plans would see 583 student flats built – down from 792 under previous proposals.

There would also be 33 independent homes for young adults on the Meritage Centre site in Church End, 28 affordable homes above the new library, a health and wellbeing centre, and a community hub. The council also claims there would be no loss of parking spaces.

The local authority plans to look for private backers to fund the construction of the buildings, which would be leased to Middlesex University over a 40-year term.

During the meeting, Gabbie Asher, who drew up the petition to save Hendon Library, implored councillors to rethink the plans, which would see the current library building turned into a university business school. She urged the committee to consider that the building be “returned to the people” so it could be used as a community hub by the whole of Barnet.

Cllr Nizza Fluss, a Conservative councillor for Hendon, called on the committee to “wait for the dust to settle after Covid and see what regeneration we actually need” after listing a range of concerns that had been raised by residents.

Opposition councillors were also critical. Labour’s Cllr Alan Schneiderman asked why there was no option in the consultation to keep the library in its current building and upgrade it. “What [residents] want is access as a library and not just as a building or to have a look at the staircase,” he said.

In response, the council’s head of libraries, Hannah Richens, said the proposals presented an opportunity to have a “bigger space” that would be more flexible than the current building.

Under questioning from Labour’s Cllr Arjun Mittra, a council officer revealed the local authority had consulted Historic England about the proposals “in the last month” and received feedback from the organisation “this morning”. Cllr Thomas suggested consulting too early would have avoided a “meaningful conversation” with Historic England, but Cllr Mittra branded the response “nonsense”.

Councillors also raised concerns over the financial risks posed to the council. Liberal Democrat councillor Gabriel Rozenberg suggested the risks posed by one of the funding options could leave the buildings open to other uses. 

Labour leader Cllr Barry Rawlings proposed that the committee defer making a decision to a future meeting given the possible risks to the council, but his motion was voted down by Conservative committee members.

Cllr Rawlings called for the business case to be put to a vote at a meeting of the full council, and this was agreed after Labour colleagues supported the plan. 

Cllr Thomas called an indicative vote to allow councillors to give their views on the proposals. The seven Conservative members voted in favour, with the four Labour members and one Liberal Democrat voting against.