25 March 2024

Nimby Watch: Cockfosters’ Nimbys stand to attention


In a new series, CapX is celebrating the way our planning system tries its very best to save the country from affordable housing or decent infrastructure. This week, the case of the Cockfosters car park… 

Where? Cockfosters, the end of the Piccadilly Line, and official funniest Tube station.

What’s there now? The car park attached to said Tube station.

Who wants to build what? The ‘who’ is Connected Living London, a long-term joint venture between Grainger, which describes itself as ‘one of the UK’s largest professional landlords’, and Transport for London (TfL), which runs transport in London. This is one of a number of bits of TfL land which has been identified as having potential for new housing: the proposed scheme would include 351 homes, 40% of them affordable, in four blocks up to 14-storeys high, as well as residents’ lounge, gym and 4,000 square metres of new green space. Rather sweetly, the scheme’s website describes it as ‘Cockfosters, EN4’, presumably in the hope we all mistake that for a proper London postcode.

This all sounds glorious. It really is: the scheme jumps through a load of hoops that you’d think would make it perfect for this Government. It’s brownfield, not greenfield. It’d also be ‘transit-oriented development’, new homes which won’t put more cars on the roads because they’re literally right on top of a station. And its ownership means it would generate money to subsidise the city’s transport network – a model used in many Asian cities, and exactly the sort of thing that national government, determined that TfL should sweat its assets rather than expect subsidy, has been demanding that it do.

So what’s the block? Well, you’re never going to believe this, but – the Government. 

The national one? Yes.

The one which has been demanding TfL find other sources of income? The very same. Just weeks after Enfield Council’s planning committee approved the plan in February 2022, the then Transport Secretary Grant Shapps dusted off the previously unknown Section 163 of the Greater London Authority Act, which requires the consent of the secretary of state for any change of ownership of ‘operational land’. This scheme would require such a change – from TfL to the partly TfL-owned CLL – and Shapps declined to give his consent.

The national government’s transport secretary stopped TfL from doing something that would meet the financial demands imposed on it by the national government? That’s about the size of it. Shapps’ complaint was that developing the site would mean reducing the number of parking spaces at the station from 336 to just 47, 12 of which you’d need a blue badge to use. 

Surely that was the point. Yes, but the locals, or at least their political representatives, don’t like it. The Enfield Southgate wing of the Conservatives has been furiously campaigning against the development; anti-Tory Nimbys need not worry, though, as the area’s MP Bambos Charalambous, elected as Labour but suspended from the party last June, doesn’t like it either. He’s described the plans as an ‘overdevelopment [which] would substantially change the green suburban character of Cockfosters’ while also complaining that ‘the plans do not even address the local need for family homes’. If he saw any contradiction there, he’s keeping it to himself.

This one’s resonated outside the constituency, too. Theresa Villiers, Tory MP for the neighbouring seat of Chipping Barnet and Nimby in chief – a woman who told the Times that she couldn’t think of a single housing story that had touched her – has warned that such schemes will make suburban constituencies ‘indistinguishable from central London’ and turn the suburbs into (you’ll like this bit) East Berlin.

Yes, well, with her majority she won’t be bothering us much longer, will she. Almost certainly not. And last May, Communities Secretary Michael Gove declined to call Enfield’s decision to grant planning permission for the scheme in, essentially giving his blessing.

So, now the scheme can go ahead? Alas no – although DLUHC is happy with the scheme, and although TfL is understood to have reapplied to the Department for Transport for permission for the required change of ownership, and even though Grant Shapps hasn’t been Transport Secretary for a year and a half now, the required permission has still not been granted. And at risk of being cynical, with just months to go before an election, can you imagine his successor making a decision that tells the drivers of North London and Southern Hertfordshire that other people’s need for homes matters more than their right to park? And so Shapps’ decision stands.

And you’re sure this wasn’t Michael Green’s doing? How long have you been holding that one in?

About a dozen years. London’s funniest non Tube station is Mudchute, by the way.

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Jonn Elledge is a journalist and author.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.