Opposition councillors in Barnet have held up a decision on a regeneration deal they dubbed a “blank cheque for developers”.

The borough’s Labour group called for more detail on plans to build homes and improve the shopping experience in North Finchley town centre – including selling the library, Arts Depot and two car parks – and claimed there had been a failure to engage with residents.

Council leader Cllr Dan Thomas hit back, accusing Labour of playing politics over a scheme that will “greatly improve North Finchley” and pointing out that the group backed a regeneration agreement in 2018. 

Labour housing and growth spokesperson Cllr Ross Houston said his group had accepted a supplementary planning document (SPD) setting out development guidelines for the town centre, but it had reservations at the time and expected more details to be published.

Read more: Council backs planning document for town centre revitalisation

During a meeting of the housing and growth committee on September 13, a report asked councillors to approve the site assembly and land agreement. It includes the proposed sale to developer Regal of the Arts Depot, North Finchley Library, and Lodge Lane and Woodhouse Road car parks.

But Labour warned the agreement would start the sale process before any detail about the plans had been published. Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Houston said: “This agreement is like signing a blank cheque to the developers. Key sites will be sold off and yet no-one has any idea what the town centre will look like and what will happen there.

Times Series:

Ballards Lane: Photo: Google

“The council makes grand claims that they are ‘delivering the community’s ambitions for North Finchley’, and the regeneration will be ‘in partnership with communities’, but it’s complete nonsense. The community has been told virtually nothing about the plans, and the stakeholders’ partnership board has never been set up.”

The supplementary planning document published in 2018 reveals blocks up to 12 storeys high could be built in parts of the town centre. But Cllr Houston said the council should not be handing over public assets without “putting robust conditions in place to ensure that the SPD is the absolute limit for things like height”. 

He added: “The Conservatives do not stand up to developers and they wave through scheme after scheme with mega-dense, high-rise towers and insufficient community benefit. We cannot rely on them to put the community first, so until more detail about the height and scale of new buildings in the regeneration is published and the community is consulted properly, we will not support this agreement.”

Times Series:

Lodge Lane car park. Photo: Google

Labour referred a decision on the agreements up to full council, meaning they are set to be debated again during a meeting on Tuesday, 19th October.

Cllr Thomas said: “The council originally entered into an agreement for the regeneration of North Finchley in 2018, which was supported by local Labour councillors.

“Indeed, Cllr Houston was at the meeting and voted for the proposal. Cllr Houston spoke in favour of the scheme at that meeting – showing that his recent statement and new stance on the project is nothing but politics and misinformation.

Times Series:

North Finchley library. Photo: Google

“The project will greatly improve North Finchley, creating a greener, more resident and business-friendly town centre.

“Councillors have simply been asked to approve a change of developer for the project. Regal, the new developer, has delivered successful projects, including a number in Labour-run Hackney.

“This forced delay from Labour simply highlights their willingness to play politics with the improvement of our borough, while they sit silently as Labour mayor Sadiq Khan proposes out-of-character tower blocks across Barnet.”

A council spokesperson said: “The process of establishing the partnership board awaited the appointment of a developer first. Unfortunately this was delayed when the previous potential developer withdrew from the scheme. We will work with the new partner to set up the partnership board as soon as their role is confirmed, subject to the council meeting on October 19.

“As agreed in 2018, the council will work with the developer on the design of the scheme and subject to a satisfactory scheme receiving planning permission, is agreeing to sell to the scheme at best value a number of council properties which cannot be included in any compulsory purchase order, as they are already owned by the council.”