Suburbs of Greater London North

January 18, 2007

On Monday, 15th January OS and SG went on a field trip to selected suburbs in the north of the Greater London area: High Barnet – New Barnet – Whetstone – North Finchley & Finchley. All the suburbs feature as centres in the DCLG study and all except New Barnet are on the Northern Line. From a morphological and motor-transport perspective it is significant that all of the suburbs, again excepting New Barnet, are situated along busy roads (in three cases the Great North Road A1000) with a relatively high degree of residential densification – besides having close proximity to predominantly interwar suburban housing estates. This location along access roads may also explain the relatively high degree of office space apparent around the centres, especially south of Whetstone.

Four of the suburbs seemed more or less ‘successful’ in the sense that there was strong evidence of diversity and dynamism around the high streets. The exception, again, was New Barnet which seemed relatively quiet and run-down. The absence of a tube link, its situation away from the Great North Road and its location between the two larger centres of High Barnet, Whetstone and the minor centre of Cockfosters are likely to provide part of the explanation. Other explanations may lie in the absence of a strong connection between New Barnet overground station – where much of the recent intensification has taken place, and the town centre. It is possible that the centre has not benefitted from the these local developments.

High Barnet is a centre of two halves which pivots at the intersection of three roads at the point where the church and Barnet college are located at the top of the hill. The stretch of road going up Barnet Hill from the tube station into the High Street is distinctively more downmarket than the section along Hadley Green which runs from the church to the Spires shopping centre. Whereas the former had a studenty feel owing to the presence of Barnet College and snack bars to cater to the students, the latter is a typical high street with a mixture of chain and local businesses. The Spires shopping centre is certainly ‘clone town’ but is well integrated into the High Street and the cafes were more distinctive and populated by a range of local people.( Link to article giving local plans for redevelopment of Barnet College.)

Whetstone is located almost entirely along an extended straight section of the A1000. The road is particularly busy and wide at this point and divided by a central reservation. The pavements are wide and a number of new restaurants, including Ask and Pizza Express, appear to be thriving whereas some older comparison retail shops have recently closed down. There is office space located at the south end of the centre which generally serves an affluent suburban area. The predominant street life on our visit was provided by schoolchildren waiting for buses.

North Finchley is a distinctively more ‘urban’ centre in the sense that it is on a significantly larger scale to northerly suburbs and feels relatively metropolitan in its wide range of shops, offices and increased ethnic diversity. The recently constructed arts depot, situated at the intersection of the A1000, Ballards Lane and Woodhouse Road, is the natural focus of the centre (in a similar way to John the Baptist church in High Barnet). Unfortuntately it is rather cut off from the street life on either side of the High Road (A1000) owing to a plethora of secruity fences and the fact that it seems rather ‘hidden’. This is a shame as is a bustling centre.

Finchely proper (located on the A598) has a more urban feel again. There is a lot of office space, some vacant and a strongly multi-cultural population testified to by the variety of scripts on shop and estate agents’ signs. Once again the ‘natural centre’ of Finchley lies below the tube at the three-way intersection of Regent’s Park Road (A598), Gravel and Hendon Lane. (The triangular structures formed by these intersections seems characteristic of these suburbs located along major access roads to London and could provide a focus in our study). It is not clear whether this centre is working as well as it could though there is plenty of economic activity and street-activity; overall it seems rather fragmented along its length.

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