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Don’t Believe The Headlines….And Don’t Take Your Eye Off The Ball…..

hornsey baths

hornsey bathsA few issues back, I talked about the folly of taking sound bites like “greedy landlords” at face value, often whipping up in the process a frenzy of what I believe is popularly termed “outrage” on social media and in the press  based on little or no understanding of the attendant issues, picking on easy but ill-advised targets, and becoming distracted from the realities of a situation, and from what really matters.

Over the past couple of weeks – I’m writing this in mid-December – a couple of aspects of the debate over the proposed development of Hornsey Depot have prompted me to return to the ill-effects of misleading headlines and focusing on the wrong issues, and although it’s the season of goodwill I’m afraid I have a couple of brickbats to throw…

On 5th December,  the Ham&High Broadway published a piece by Alex Wellman about the seemingly controversial plans for a new Sainsbury’s to be built as part of the project should planning permission be granted by Haringey for the development in its currently intended form:  many of you may have read it, but for the benefit of those who haven’t:

Mr Wellman quotes a report, prepared as part of the planning application by Turley Associates (a firm of consultants), which warns of a drop in “convenience turnover” of 11% and 11.4% in Muswell Hill and Crouch End Crouch End respectively, and also quotes the apparent concerns of Councillor Dave Winskill and Chris Ostwald, the proprietor of Crocodile Antiques in Muswell Hill about the potential presence of a medium-sized (c. 20,000 square feet) convenience store  – plus 116 dedicated parking spaces – in Hornsey High Street.

Terrifiying picture isn’t it? It’s retail apocalypse…a huge percentage of customers deserting Crouch End and Muswell Hill in their cars, bound for Sainsbury’s on Hornsey High Street and then, where? home?

Well….not quite……

The “whopping” drops in convenience turnover (approximately 11% for both Muswell Hill and Crouch End and 5.6% in Hornsey High Street) are single numbers extracted and quoted entirely out of context,  from a report of almost two hundred pages – they don’t mean,  as the tone of the article and quotes (assuming they’re accurately reported) from messrs  Winskill and Ostwald tend to imply, that more than one in ten people will suddenly disappear from our Broadways.

The estimated 11% drop in turnover in Crouch End and Muswell Hill must be looked at in the context of factors such as convenience food stores’ relatively low market share within both centres, that there are so many other aspects of the Broadways which will continue to attract customers, and that there is, in technical terms, no direct correlation between footfall and turnover.  Space doesn’t permit me to go into detail on these, but you get my point, I hope.

The Turley report, by the way,  is a very interesting read if you have the time or share my nerdish tendencies, and can be found on Haringey’s planning portal.

http://www.planningservices.haringey.gov.uk/portal

I’ve  been around long enough to know how the world, politics and journalism work, but I nonetheless believe that this sensationalism of this kind does nothing to help the debate on such a significant and  highly complex matter.

My other brickbat, albeit a softer one, goes towards  those who are objecting vociferously to the Hornsey Depot development on the grounds of some issues that in my view don’t perhaps rank among the highest of priorities in terms of considering such a massive development.

I’ve been at two public meetings to date and have left both  a bit bemused by the degree of concern about  issues as the view down Hillfield Avenue, the “iconic and much-loved ” (according to the Hornsey Action Group’s petition – see below) view  of Alexandra Palace from certain perspectives,  and the fate of  the remains of the old public baths.

The Hornsey Action Group’s concerns are as stated in their petition posted on the Haringey website in September. I’ve also seen just seen published on the OpinonN8  blog a long letter to Haringey from the Hornsey Conservation Areas Advisory Committee making similar, albeit more detailed, arguments; again, space doesn’t permit me to discuss this at length.

The HAG petition states that the “bulldozing” of the Hornsey Baths and Washhouses to create a 3-lane car-park access and delivery road “is a highly contested act of unnecessary destruction”;  the HCAAC express similar sentiments. The reality, in my view, is that the building has been abandoned for years and no serious attempt has been made to find a new use for it since it closed – so it can hardly be described as a “cherished historic building” can it? The HCAAC also claim that the entrance road replacing the baths site will “ effectively fragment” the high street – from the artist’s impression I’ve seen, and even allowing for the new entrance road, the development will if anything add cohesion of that part of the High Street with a new retail unit where there’s currently nothing.

Likewise the apparent loss of the “iconic view of Alexandra Palace framed above the Baths Building” – is that really, as the HAG claims, “part of our social fabric and identity”?

The harsh reality (that word again) is that, the Sainsbury’s issues discussed above notwithstanding, there is a crying need for housing stock in Haringey – the overriding considerations, to my mind are that on a long-unused and suitably located site there will, as 42% of the residential element, be 178 new affordable dwellings,  and that 120 new and entirely locally-sourced jobs will be created as a result of this development.

Concerns about traffic, pressure on existing local resources – they’re issues in my view: not the front wall of an abandoned building, the view down your road, or the view of Alexandra Palace from one aspect.

Jonny Browne

Do you have a view on this development? Please email Jonny with your thoughts: [email protected]

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About Jonathan Browne (13 Articles)
Libertarian, gourmand, Villa fan, guitar player, bar stool philosopher and mensch; I also know a bit about about buildings and businesses; and businesses in buildings