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