A planning permission dilemma

Context

Crouch End High Street has seen both increased turnover of tenants and lower occupancy rates recently, in common with much of the rest of the country. Our retail survey documents the comings and goings. Beam stands out in this as a business able to expand. To all outward appearances the original double fronted unit is quite deservedly popular, often with queues forming to take a table. Whatever the secret of brunchy / afternoon-tea-ish success, Beam has it. The expansion into a third adjoining unit is a welcome event in a business environment where closures have recently been more common.

The Neighbourhood Forum therefore experiences a tension between two of its goals 1) of encouraging and enabling local business, and 2) its duty to conservation and its support for Haringey planning policy as set out in the Development Management Development Plan Document adopted in July 2017.

In this case the duty to conservation prevails as the proposed changes are substantially out of character with the area and fail repeatedly to meet policy goals, and we have decided formally to object to Beam’s current planning application HGY/2020/2577 . We wish also to bring attention to the increasing tendency to implement first and to seek permission later. Haringey’s powers of enforcement must be preserved.

We are acutely aware that the changes to the shop front, the retrospective planning application and this commentary all take place against the background a serious worldwide health crisis, part of the response to which has been to prevent Beam trading for weeks at a time. But there is a deadline associated with the planning application (November 20th 2020) for the submission of comments. We will return to the topic of what might constitute the new normal.

Local Opinion

We believe that it would also be the view of many who live or work in, or who visit Crouch End that the look and feel of the High Street should be retained. The Neighbourhood Forum began its work with surveys of opinion in the Neighbourhood Area.

The Town Centre shopping featured very highly in responses and

Conservation of the town centre – improving shopfronts, etc

was one of 7 top priorities identified. In 2018 this question was revisited and 93 of 142 respondents re-affirmed this priority.

The appearance of the High Street is important to Crouch Enders.

The Application

This retrospective application has been made well after the work has been carried out to effect changes to the shop front. Our objections are:

  1. This application has been made on the basis of changes to what is in place now. (see 04 Existing Front Elevation AA.pdf – ) This is not the appropriate as the current shop front does not have planning permission. Had permission been applied for, the application would have brought an objection from the forum. The current shop front is itself in breach of planning policy for the conservation area for all the reasons given here. Haringey’s policy (for a list of the relevant policies see the foot of the page) demands consideration of tradition, quality and distinctiveness, and these standards should be applied against the former Honeycomb frontage, removed in March 2020.

  2. It is not clear exactly what is being proposed in 07 Proposed Front Elevation AA.pdf – . It is not clear which if any part of this structure opens and which parts are fixed. One element of the diagram is marked as provisional and there is a cross reference between the before and after pictures. This is confusing. This is also a deeply uninspiring design, which reveals something of the business inside but presents a grey mirror-like appearance reflecting just as much the street outside. Here the camera catches the ghostly outlines of passing traffic including a ubiquitous delivery lorry named for a messenger of the Gods.

unapproved Beam shop front

  1. What is being proposed is not an appropriate change to this particular row of shops.
    Two businesses at numbers 38 share a single unit. The two shop fronts are mirror images with central doors and canted glass and conform well to the historic and conservation ethos of this High Street and the Haringey policies.
    Numbers 40 and 41, the original Beam, granted retrospective planning permission in 2014, achieve similar policy goals but in an interesting and different way. The open fronted, recessed seating area provides visual interest, creates activity and enhances the row. This type of arrangement originally made it possible for the business to offer seating for smokers and may now have application for Covid-19 precautions.
    The former Honeycomb, at number 39, provided the almost ideal visual bridge between these two designs. The canted shop fronts with the central door and the outside seating provided the necessary active focus, was ideally suited to the business and entirely consonant with the planning and conservation policies. A photograph is included as a reminder.The 
    officer’s report on the previous application comments on this similarity which is used in part to justify the earlier decision.
    By contrast the current, unapproved, installation and the minor changes that are now proposed to it plant a big full stop in the formerly pleasing sequence. What is essentially three sheets of plate glass give no clue as to the nature of the business being carried on, provide no opportunity for any active interest, and pay only lip service to the shop front design principles of the area.
    The current installation contravenes the introductory sentiments of policy DM8 A (see below) , has wilfully and without permission removed an existing shop front in contravention of policy DM8 A b) , and has destroyed all the original materials in contravention of DM8 A c).The minor changes proposed in this application do nothing to rectify this situation.

  2. Section 2.52 of the Development Management DPD list Crouch End as one the borough’s historic and vibrant Town Centres and asserts that
    replacement shopfronts should respect, and where lost, reinstate, traditional features” This proposal and the current unapproved shop front achieve almost the exact opposite of this.

  3. Policy DM9 refers to the management of the historic environment. Crouch End’s vibrant and historic town centre should be protected under this heading. For all the reasons given here this proposal will have a significant impact on the town centre heritage asset. Indeed it will begin to unpick the good done by the changes made to numbers 40 and 41.

  4. The proposal if approved would make a significant change to the appearance of the conservation area. The application should provide a heritage impact statement.

The forum notes that this seeking for retrospective approval is a repeat of the sequence of events of 2014 reference HGY/2014/0723 when the same applicant substantially altered the shop front at numbers 40 and 41. On that occasion the changes were innovative and exciting and resulted in an improvement to the streetscape and were approved. This does not give the applicants carte blanche to make further unauthorised changes, and clearly ignorance cannot possibly be an excuse.

Alternatives to be considered

Taking into account all that has been written here the ideal proceeding would have been for the proprietors of Beam to retain and refurbish the Honeycomb shop front. As set out above this satisfied all the conditions of the planning policy, and would have received support from many quarters.
Indeed, given subsequent initiatives this form of design would have been welcomed nationally, internationally and locally. Outside seating for cafes and restaurants is now encouraged. Haringey has provided additional pavement space for both the Haberdashery and for Floral Hall. Banners is currently applying for a street trading licence.

  1. We take the view that the re-creation of the Honeycomb style of shop front would be acceptable. Further benefit would arise if it were possible to combine this with further local authority intervention to increase pavement space
  2. A minor variation to this approach would be to mimic the split shop front of number 38. This too would satisfy all the criteria of the various planning policies and be amenable to the pavement widening intervention
  3. Referring back to the Officer’s Report on the previous planning application is informative. This very thorough analysis sings the praises of the new design and provides a full description of the row of shops. An application setting out a riff on a similar theme would almost certainly be acceptable.
  4. The Forum acknowledges that it cannot assess the commercial impact of any alternative design and would be open to other suggestions which are both commercially viable and consistent with planning policy.

Planning Policy

The relevant planning policies are set out in Haringey’s Development Management DPD adopted in July 2017.

Policy DM8 (page 20) sets out specific requirements for shop fronts.

Policy DM9: Management of the Historic Environment is also relevant to the conservation of Crouch End’s historic Town Centre

Policy DM42: Primary and secondary shopping frontages also refers with reference to continuity and active frontages.

DM8A paragraphs a, b and c read:

A The Council will require shopfronts, including their signs, security shutters and canopies, to be designed to a high standard and contribute to a safe and attractive environment. In particular:

a The Council will seek the retention of traditional shopfronts of distinctive character contributing to the visual, architectural or historic quality of the local townscape;

b Replacement shopfronts should conserve original materials as far as possible;

c The alteration or replacement of an existing shopfront or a new shopfront must allow for easy access by all members of the community;

8 Comments

  1. Kristen Dusting

    Look, it’s not to my visual taste when the windows are closed but over the warmer months, they usually keep them open which makes it a lovely indoor/outdoor feel.
    I would be hesitant to enforce a change on an independent business who has likely struggled significantly this year. That’s not carte blanche to make illegal changes but in this case, I think just leave it alone.

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  2. Kirsten

    Personally I wish Beam well and I’m happy that they’ve been able to expand in these dire economic times and wouldn’t want them punished by having to redo the front and spending lots of money on top which they probably can ill afford. The front looks, nice, clean and modern unlike many of the other shop fronts in Crouch End and all over London. Whilst I understand that many local people would want to preserve the older features on their shop fronts, businesses are just not looking after them and let them rot. Chipped paint, rust, dirt everywhere, so where’s the point? Same parts of Crouch End and Hornsey even worse, just look shabby. Shabby looking neighbourhoods encourage littering and antisocial behaviour. Old doesn’t equal better. I for one wish Beam well and other businesses should be encouraged to clean up and/or redecorate their shopfronts.

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  3. Kirstie

    Beam looks great, the old frontage along with lots along the street are nowhere near as appealing. I’m confused as to why this is even up for discussion!

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  4. M Springer

    I desperately feel the need to share my views in regards to the negativity being placed against Beam and their new expansion and the irrelevant questioning behind the expansion and improvements. Beam has become a hub of the community and the expansion was not only necessary but welcomed amongst not only Crouch Enders but others who visit. The new shop front is neither inappropriate, garish or not in-keeping with the other shop fronts. If you look directly across the road there are several shops with the same or very similar frontage as Beam.
    I feel attention and time is best placed further into Crouch End towards the green where shops have closed down and are boarded up, where a prominent bank is covered in boarding and graffiti.
    Beams brings a lot of vitality to Crouch End, the staff and proprietors are incredibly polite, friendly and welcoming. They have made Crouch End a little brighter.
    There are greater things to worry about right now and Beams shop front is not one of them.

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  5. John

    This one feels very much a matter of opinion. I find the updated facade bright, fresh and modern, creating a welcome contrast with the next unit.

    I’m also not sure how you square the assertion that the previous changes “were innovative and exciting and resulted in an improvement to the streetscape”, with the notion that “replacement shopfronts should respect, and where lost, reinstate, traditional features”. Going by that guidance, we should be reverting plate glass and modern materials back to whatever we had in Victorian times.

    Overall, I just can’t get worked up about this. Given that Tottenham Lane is a traffic-choked mess of narrow pavements where the vast majority of streetspace is given over to motor vehicles, there are bigger problems to solve.

    All that said, while we might disagree on this point, I do appreciate your efforts to improve Crouch End and it’s great to read so much detail from people who clearly care about our neighbourhood!

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  6. pete

    It’s completely fine! Looks good too. Like John said it’s bright and fresh. It’s great to see a thriving business in the town. The council should concentrate on getting businesses into the empty shops. Also there are worse offenders in the town look at TSB!

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  7. Adrian Essex Author

    In my view it is neither bright – the huge expanse of glass is clearly grey and reflective of the asphalt and the passing traffic. By contrast the more recent picture I have now featured still shows the traffic reflected but has the seats and the door as possible points of activity and the angled facades to add a bit of life – nor fresh – the dull black surround offers nothing, but at least it won’t show the dirt.

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  8. Meagen

    I agree that a habit of retrospective planning permission is wrong however we must remember that BEAM started converting the adjoining shop front after the start of Lockdown v1. I question whether the council planning team were even available for consultation.
    A picture of the streetscape including sheet glass does not represent what the human eye sees so I contest what picture represents. If the the glass in the picture shows messy pavement, that is a representation of the messy pavement.
    The objection also doesn’t take into account our current and future environment needs in a world of viruses. A business that can keep their customers safer through open window air circulation will be a more resilient business going forward.
    Issue a fine if the planning permission process was available but leave all in place.
    I wish BEAM and their team all the best.
    Crouch End forum is important but this is not important enough for more time. Focus on empty shop fronts, atrocious driving behaviour, improving cycling conditions, improved public transport movement.

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