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Campaign Updates

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Final settlement reached in Judicial Review

The claim for a Judicial Review of the Hendon Hub’s Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) has reached a final settlement. Therefore, we are, at long last, able to give you all a full update. Whilst, in the end, the claim never saw the inside of a court room, it did achieve much of what it set out to do.  

Background to the legal challenge

The claim for Judicial Review was brought by local resident Richard Lecoat in the autumn of 2021, an act of last resort only made possible by the generous support of hundreds of Hendon Residents. It argued that the SPD (the key planning document underpinning the entire Hendon Hub project) was in reality a Development Plan — a different type of planning document requiring, by law, a far greater level of public consultation, oversight and scrutiny than an SPD receives. The SPD, it was argued, was therefore unlawful and should be formally declared as such by the courts.  

Barnet Council counter-argued that the claim had no merit. However, permission for Judicial Review (JR) was granted by the High Court in February 2022, with the judge declaring the matter to be ‘significant’ and the claim ‘arguable’, meaning that the challenge DID have potential legal merit and was found worthy of being considered by the Court. Dates for a hearing were set for later in 2022. If the claim was successful then the SPD, the foundational document of the entire Hendon Hub, would be quashed.

What happened?

The date for the JR hearing was set for summer of 2022. However, in May of that year local elections took place and the Tories lost control of Barnet Council to Labour. Barnet Council requested that the hearing be delayed to give the new administration time to reconsider their official position regarding the SPD. This seemed reasonable and was, accordingly, agreed to. 

During this period of reconsideration, Barnet Council elected to withdraw the SPD entirely, making the document null and void. In practical terms, this resulted in the same outcome as would have been achieved by going to trial and winning.  

With the SPD no longer an active document, a trial over its status would have been meaningless and might have been viewed as a waste of the Court’s time. Accordingly, the case was dropped (though the argument upon which it was based was not conceded) and all that remained was to settle costs.

Mr. Lecoat argued that, because the outcome that he had wanted (i.e. the dropping of the SPD) had been achieved, he was entitled to his legal costs. After some negotiation, London Borough of Barnet agreed to pay the majority of the costs of bringing the challenge. 

Unfortunately, it also meant that we lost the opportunity to see the blueprint for the wholesale re-development of Hendon publicly scrutinized in the High Court.  

What was achieved?

  1. Hendon Library was saved. The legal challenge caused significant delays to the Hendon Hub project which allowed the campaign to save the library to gather momentum, and as a result the new Council administration have agreed to let the library remain in its listed building. The details of what that means are still unclear but is a major win for the community.
  2. Delays also meant that very little was enacted (in practical terms) prior to the May 2022 elections. This lack of progress allowed the incoming administration to at least reconsider the Council’s position on the Hendon Hub and to engage in fresh dialogue about its future.
  3. Those same delays also created the potential for time-limited tenders to expire and for the rising cost of building materials to possibly make the Hendon Hub unaffordable.
  4. Prior to its withdrawal, the SPD could potentially have been used by property developers (not just Barnet Council themselves) to support new planning applications for proposed developments in Hendon. That danger no longer exists.

Was the challenge a total knockout blow to the Hendon Hub?

No project as large and complex as the Hendon Hub is likely to be defeated by a single line of attack. Whilst many might have hoped that demolishing the SPD would be the silver bullet to scale down the Hendon Hub, the reality was unlikely to be that simple.  

As noted above, however, much was achieved, not least exposing the Council’s clear intention to try and push through their plans by hook or by crook, ignoring the views of residents.

For example: as soon as the SPD faced the prospect of serious legal scrutiny, Barnet Council’s response was to claim that they would be placing no weight upon the SPD when considering the Hendon Hub planning applications. In other words, a document they had spent years developing, at huge public expense, and upon which the entire Hendon Hub project was predicated, was now going to be discounted and ignored. Yet somehow, when those applications came before the Council, they were all approved anyway, despite ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of over 1000 submitted resident views being objections.

What Next?

Ombudsman Complaint
In the autumn of 2022, a complaint was submitted to the Local Government Ombudsman regarding instances of alleged misconduct by certain Barnet councillors — including some pertaining to the Hendon Hub development process. This complaint has now been referred to an investigation team.

Tony Mason v The Information Commissioner & London Borough Of Barnet
Our neighbour, Tony Mason, sadly passed away last year in the midst of a tireless battle with Barnet Council. Tony had challenged Barnet over its withholding of reports on the Hendon Hub Business Case. He submitted a complaint first with the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO), which was escalated to the First-Tier Property Tribunal. His case has now been taken over by his widower and will be heard in court early 2023.  

United Nations - Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee
The Aarhus Convention is an international agreement that gives people the right to access information about the environment. It also promotes public participation in decision-making and provides access to justice on environmental matters.

Last year, we put in a request that the UN body which monitors compliance with the convention (the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee) review Barnet Council’s actions which we believe indicated a pattern of unlawful governance. The request was approved for a hearing in Geneva but our case was ultimately considered ‘premature’ as there was still a related Judicial Review in progress. Now that the Judicial Review has been settled, we are able to return to Aarhus. We’ll keep you posted on our progress!

Labour Councillors

We met with Labour councillors in July 2022. A further meeting, to include Middlesex University (MDX), was promised for September 2022.

The follow-up meeting with MDX has yet to be scheduled.

Additionally, an impartial financial company was to be appointed to assess the viability of the Hendon Hub business plan.

The company hired for this task was KPMG. We are yet to receive any explanation as to how KPMG can be considered impartial when the firm was instrumental in creating the Hendon Hub Business Case with Barnet Council and Middlesex University.

In October, the creation of a ‘Hendon Partnership Board’ was mentioned in Barnet Council’s Hendon Library Press Release “…to provide an opportunity for members of the local community to meet with reps of the council and work collaboratively to address local issues relating to the development of the Hendon Hub and make a difference on the ground”.  There has been no further information on this.

Finally, a huge thank you from us to everyone who has so generously supported Richard Lecoat’s JR and the Save Hendon campaign.  

Be in no doubt, we are going to finish what we started — ensuring that the catastrophic plan for a so-called ‘Hendon Hub’ (a misleading name for what is essentially another massive expansion by MDX into our community and residential areas) is scaled down.  

If you want to keep supporting our fight, watch this space for more info later this week.

Blueprint for the Hendon Hub Development dropped by Barnet Council

On 19th July 2022, under the new Labour Administration, Barnet Council’s Policy & Resources Committee voted not to pursue the formal adoption of The Burroughs & Middlesex University Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) – the document that served as the blueprint for the Hendon Hub development.

Although the Council has not formally admitted that the SPD is unlawful, it seems clear that they have taken this decision primarily in order to avoid having precisely that judgement forced upon them by the High Court. Therefore, the Council’s actions must be seen as validation for Richard Lecoat, who brought the claim for Judicial Review with a view to getting the SPD quashed (and for the wider Hendon community which so generously supported him in his claim).

Statement from Richard Lecoat:
“I am pleased that the Labour Council has recognised the need to withdraw the Supplementary Planning Document (SPD); I always contested that the SPD, created by the previous administration, grossly overstepped its bounds, to the point of being an unlawful document. I consider the Council’s recent decision to be a clear validation of the legal merits of my challenge. That said, we should bear in mind that until such time as the claim for Judicial Review is formally settled it very much remains in force; it is my hope that the new Labour Council, having seen fit to take this action in the face of a potential judgement in my favour, will now settle the claim once and for all by meeting my reasonable costs. I also very much hope that they will then do the right thing and live up to their electoral promises by really listening to Hendon residents.”

The SPD was always a preliminary (albeit foundational) part of the planning process. The legal challenge was brought, prior to any individual planning applications being made, specifically against that document because it was felt that such a far-reaching and transformative plan should not be based upon a foundational document that was unlawful by its very nature.

Whilst the legal claim for judicial review did not, in and of itself, make the Hendon Hub go away, the claim was not without effect. Firstly the Council, having adopted the SPD via a vote in Council Chambers, had to claim that it had not actually done so after all. Secondly, the Council found itself in the absurd position of being seen to force through planning approvals without being able to rely upon the very document upon which those applications had been based, and on which they had spent so much time and money ‘consulting’.

Regrettably, the previous Tory-dominated Council was able to wield sufficient political muscle to get resolutions to grant the individual planning applications in spite of the legal challenge. There was nothing that residents could do about that; lest we forget, the plans were approved despite fully one hundred percent of 1000+ resident responses being wholeheartedly OPPOSED to the developments going ahead. 

So, where are we now?

Well, one Hendon Hub Planning Application has been referred to the Mayor’s Office for review and three of the other Planning Applications are currently being officially assessed to decide whether or not they should be ‘called in’ by the Secretary of State for further scrutiny.  

At the same time, the emerging Local Plan (of which the Hendon Hub is merely one component) has also been scheduled for further ‘examination’ by the Secretary of State’s office.  

Meanwhile, the appeal for the right to information regarding the Hendon Hub Business Case, initiated by the late Tony Mason and continued by his partner Diego, is still in progress.  

So the Hendon Hub may yet be subject to change, regardless of the Council’s, or the University’s, intentions.

Furthermore, the wider situation is now significantly changed, both politically and economically. Residents have long held grave, evidence-based doubts regarding the financial viability of the Hendon Hub project as a whole, and Middlesex University in particular. These doubts are further compounded by the state of the post-pandemic economy, Brexit’s impact upon the higher education sector, and the cost of living crisis in which the UK currently finds itself.  

As residents, we would therefore hope and expect that both the new Labour-run Barnet Council and Middlesex University will, together, take this opportunity to pause and reappraise the situation in light of an economic landscape that is very different to the one under which the Hendon Hub was originally conceived, and which leaves all of us including residents, at financial risk.

We would similarly hope and expect both the Council and the University, having acknowledged this new financial reality, to work with each other AND with local residents, to agree upon a modified set of planning proposals that genuinely factor in the legitimate views of the local community.

What we can report is that Labour have already approached Save Hendon, and discussions regarding how best to move forward have commenced. They have agreed to bring in an independent financial expert to assess the economic viability of the Hendon Hub project. We feel greatly encouraged by this.  

What is NOT yet clear to residents is whether it is Labour’s intention to action the Planning Applications that were subject to resolutions to grant in January 2022, thereby green-lighting the wholesale redevelopment of Hendon.

With trust having been severely eroded under the previous administration’s tenure, we feel that it now becomes the ongoing responsibility of both the Labour-run Council and Middlesex University to demonstrate to the people of Hendon that their claims of wanting to listen to residents are both genuine and meaningful. We very much look forward to them doing precisely that.

Local resident takes Barnet Council to Information Rights Tribunal for withholding financial information

A Judge at the Information Rights Tribunal is to hear an Appeal by Hendon resident Tony Mason. The appeal concerns Barnet Council’s withholding of crucial financial information from the public regarding the controversial Hendon Hub scheme.  

Mr Mason made a formal request for the Hendon Hub Business Case information that was withheld at the 8th Dec 2020 and 20th Jul 2021 Policy & Resources Committee meetings. Barnet Council refused to release the requested information, and the Information Commissioner upheld the Council’s decision.

But when Barnet Council submitted the Hendon Hub Planning Applications last year, Mr Mason claims he realised that it is unlawful to withhold this financial information from the public because Barnet is both the Developer and also the Statutory Planning Authority for the proposed Hendon Hub. Mr Mason explains that “the statutory intent of the legislation (Paragraph 9 of Schedule 12A of LGA 1972) is to ensure that the public has access to the same information that Barnet Officers provide to Barnet Councillors”.

Mr Mason has now Appealed the Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice to a specialist Tribunal that deals with Information Rights Appeals. The Appeal will be heard on 13 April 2022 at 14.00.

“The Barnet Monitoring Officer refuses to acknowledge that Barnet’s actions are unlawful, and therefore it does not surprise me that Barnet continues to withhold the requested information,” says Mr Mason. “However, what does surprise me is that Barnet has not provided any counterargument why they are entitled to withhold the information. The law is unambiguous; when a Local Authority is both the Developer and the Statutory Planning Authority then the information provided to Councillors cannot be withheld from the Public”.  

On 27th Feb, Mr Mason sent an email to all Barnet Councillors explaining that Section 15, Sub-section 6.4 (item 8) of the Council Constitution clearly states that it is unlawful to withhold the requested information and therefore Councillors should take action in advance of the Tribunal Hearing. To date, Mr Mason has received no formal response from either Council Leader Mr Dan Thomas, or the Barnet Monitoring Officer

Links:  

Even though Mr Mason is not a qualified lawyer, he has prepared a more detailed document that explains the relevant legislation and why Barnet’s actions to withhold the information are allegedly unlawful.  
Click here to read the explanatory document as a PDF.

How to watch the Tribunal hearing live

The date of the Tribunal Hearing is 13 April at 14.00. The Appeal Reference is EA/2021/0339.

This is a public hearing and anyone can attend the hearing by logging into the “Cloud Video Platform” (CVP)

For general information go here: 
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-join-a-cloud-video-platform-cvp-hearing/how-to-join-cloud-video-platform-cvp-for-a-video-hearing

To access Tribunal hearing at 14.00 on 13th April

The Judicial Review is going ahead!

The battle to save Hendon from Barnet's development plans reached a key milestone last week when permission was granted by the courts for a Judicial Review into the lawfulness of the SPD. The legal action to request a Judicial Review was initiated by Hendon resident Richard Lecoat back in the summer of 2021; the courts have now agreed that the JR should take place. 

This is a major step forward in the ongoing legal challenge to the SPD’s legitimacy, and as such we have prepared a press release to get the word out. The text of the press release is given below, along with a downloadable PDF version.

So, without further ado, here is the news…

Judge grants permission for Judicial Review

High Court to hear Hendon resident’s case against Barnet Council

On Thursday 17 February 2022 a High Court Judge, Mr Justice Kerr, granted permission for a judicial review in the matter of Richard Lecoat v London Borough of Barnet and Middlesex University [CO/3519/2021]. The judicial review will examine the lawfulness of the Burroughs and Middlesex University Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), which supports the wholesale redevelopment of Hendon.

The claim put forward by Hendon resident and graphic designer Richard Lecoat is that the SPD, by virtue of its scope and content is, in truth, a Development Plan — a different type of planning document requiring a far greater level of public consultation, oversight and scrutiny than a Supplementary Planning Document receives — and that the so-called SPD should be treated as such or be deemed unlawful. Barnet have sidestepped the usual legal requirements, including the duty to hold a public inquiry so that members of the public can fully engage in the policies which support the development.

The judge declared the matter to be ‘significant’, meaning that it will now be expedited through the courts and will be heard by a senior planning judge in the High Court. Among the reasons given for granting permission, Mr Justice Kerr recorded that the substance of Lecoat’s claim, that the SPD is actually a Development Plan, ‘is arguable’ (that is, it has potential legal merit and is worthy of being considered by the court).

This Judicial Review takes place against a backdrop of community opposition to the ‘Hendon Hub’, part of London Borough of Barnet’s emerging Local Plan which, in the view of local residents, seeks to redevelop the Borough's historic centre in Hendon as an extension of the Middlesex University campus. The Hendon Hub plan has been resoundingly unpopular with residents, in particular the move to hand over Hendon's 100-year-old purpose-built Grade II listed library building to Middlesex University for use as a business school. Over 1000 responses were received from residents during the Hendon Hub planning application process, and 100% of those responses were objections. Despite this clear message from the community, the Tory-led Council has continued to push ahead with their development plans. Representatives of Middlesex University have, in the view of residents, similarly failed to meaningfully address the community's concerns.

Lecoat is being represented by Leigh Day solicitors, supported by a crowdfunding campaign. For more information, go to https://www.savehendon.org  

You can download this press release as a PDF

Letter to the Governors of Middlesex University

The Hendon Residents Planning Forum has today submitted an open letter to the Governors of Middlesex University setting forth the deep concerns of residents with regard to the University’s conduct vis-à-vis the Hendon Hub development project.

You can read the letter as a PDF here.

Resident points out key flaws in business case

Local resident Alexander Fischbaum, who is both a chartered accountant and a chartered surveyor, has also written to London Borough of Barnet councillors. His letter highlights numerous flaws in the Hendon Hub's business case — a business case that LBB has been at pains not to disclose to residents, despite repeated requests.

You can read Mr Fischbaum’s letter as a PDF here.

Professor Blitz’ letter to Councillors

Professor Brad Blitz — industrious backbone of the Save Hendon campaign — has submitted a letter to London Borough of Barnet councillors in which he clearly sets forth the main points of local residents’ numerous objections to the Hendon Hub. 

You can read Prof. Blitz's letter as a PDF here.

A New Year update

Dear neighbours, families and friends.  Happy new year to all of you!

12 months ago, when the first Hendon Hub consultation hit us and this group was created, we could not have possibly foreseen our battle would take us to the law courts, the United Nations, the Secretary of State’s office etc.  But here we are because Barnet Council have repeatedly refused to listen to us and just keep bulldozing ahead with their Middlesex University expansion plans at the expense of our community.

On January 10th at 7pm, the Strategic Planning Committee will meet to discuss Planning Applications.  https://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=703&MId=10831&Ver=4

The agenda doesn’t yet specify which councillors will be attending. Various members of our group will be making objection speeches in person.

It has become increasingly clear as time has gone on that despite hundreds of brilliant objections from local residents and businesses (and hardly any statements of suport) and to the great dismay of Hendon Conservative voters, the Tories seem hellbent on ignoring the views of the community and on making this development happen… and they make up the majority of councillors on the committee.  

For us, this means that we will finally be able to activate several challenges, many of which are not available to us until after planning applications have been approved.

Unfortunately, there’s been no time to organise a demo at the meeting but everyone who wishes to can attend.  Having said that, we’re waiting to hear if there will be any online arrangements because the Covid rates are so sky high.

Challenging Barnet Council over such an intricate development process has not been straightforward.  It will continue to be a long and complex process. However:

As a direct result of us bringing Judicial Review proceedings against the SPD (thanks to so many generous donations), Barnet Council have just made the extraordinary statement that “the SPD has been given no weight in the consideration” of these Planning Applications.

What does this mean? It means that to try and cheekily bypass our legal challenge, Barnet Council have decided to disregard their own blueprint for the Hendon Hub that was created for one purpose: to give weight to Planning Applications for the Hendon Hub!

Aside from this meaning that the SPD consultation was effectively a huge waste of taxpayers’ money and time, it significantly weakens any Hendon Hub Planning Application approvals, making them far easier for us to now challenge, which we will be doing in a number of ways.  Over the next few weeks, we will also be bringing myriad challenges and claims against the council through various official bodies.  

The legal team that we engaged and that you all generously helped us to pay for continue to offer advice and opportunities of challenge to both the development plans themselves and Barnet’s attempts to evade proper legal scrutiny.

In the meantime, thank you all so much for your support this year, particularly as it’s been so incredibly hard for so many of us due to Covid. 

Here’s to a 2022 of light and hope and good health.  And in which these grotesque plans for our home and community are scaled down so we can move forward with a plan that equally benefits residents and Middlesex University.  

#StopTheHendonLandGrab #HandsOffOurLibrary #SaveOurCommunity

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