Recently described as the ‘Guardian of Highgate’ in a Ham and High letter critical of the newly revealed development at 69 Highgate High-Street, (the old flower shop site,) The Highgate Society is not the all-powerful body some might imagine. Rather its role is to represent members and the community at large as it seeks to make Highgate a better place to live and work.
The application to develop No 69 was opposed not only by the Society, but by the Highgate Conservation Area Advisory Committee, by local residents and Haringey’s Planners (since it would impact badly on their side of the High Street ) and, exceptionally, English Heritage. Camden rightly refused it, but the developer appealed. The Planning Inspectorate allowed it.
The decision in Highgate was considered so bad that Camden and English Heritage sought legal advice on the prospect of success of a Judicial Review. Unfortunately, they were advised that it was unlikely, as the only ground on which a Judicial Review can succeed is if it can be proven that the inspector did not follow correct procedure. Design, expert opinion, and even local and national planning policies – let alone local democracy, appear to count for nothing.
It is clearly wrong that a single individual, a Planning Inspector, with little knowledge of the area, and who did not even permit the Society to speak at the appeal, can cavalierly allow a development which they know is so strongly opposed. It is a facet of a Planning system which is weighted against communities and in favour of the developer, is based on a presumption in favour of an ill-defined “sustainable development”, and relegates such issues as design quality and the integrity of the local historic environment to a secondary role.
Highgate has, in the recent past, been the recipient of excellent decisions from other appeal Inspectors, on such controversial and potentially damaging developments such as Athlone House and the Highgate Garden Centre land. However, in the case of this decision, the Society reflects the concerns not merely of one amenity society, but a whole community, and such organisations as English Heritage and two London Boroughs.
The Highgate Society welcomes good modern development. In 2016 it mounted a popular exhibition on post-war housing in Highgate, which celebrated the diversity of modern architecture over the past half-century. However, new development must be sensitive to local needs and the local environment. Regrettably, the development at No. 69 is not. In our opinion, and that of too many others, it has destroyed the northern gateway to our historic village and what was a gently rising roof-line, leading the eye in to the historic village centre, and closed off important views into and out of Pond Square.