Monthly Archives: March 2014

Our proposals for Merton Council scrutiny

Merton Council has a scrutiny process which looks at how the council does its job.

According to Merton Council’s web site “Overview and scrutiny is part of the democratic process that enables a constructive dialogue between the public, partners and elected members (councillors) to improve the quality of public services. Scrutiny ensures that the councillors who make the majority of decisions (the cabinet) are held to account for the decisions that they make and their impact upon the borough and its residents.”

There’s more detail at the Scrutiny are of Merton Council’s web site.

We responded to a recent call for areas to be looked at, suggesting ten areas for scrutiny. We are waiting to hear if any of these have been accepted, but in the mean time, we are listing our ten proposals below and sharing our submission: proposals for scrutiny by Merton Council.

Consultation procedures on planning applications – there is concern to improve consultation, including as a result of experience of limited neighbour notification; significant amendments being made to planning applications during the consultation period; and officers making recommendations to the Planning Applications Committee prior to the end of the consultation period.

Distribution of My Merton – there is conclusive evidence of large parts of Mitcham failing to receive copies of the Rediscover Mitcham consultation when it was circulated with My Merton, especially in blocks of flats. These circulation difficulties persist and need to be addressed, especially where the process is used as the basis for public engagement.

Effectiveness of street cleaning – there is a growing demand for action to improve street cleaning, including recent community-led campaigns. Concerns focus on known black spots and the failure to clean streets after regular rubbish collections.

Design Review Panel transparency – welcome improvements are being made to the working of the Design Review Panel but it still fails to publish material relating to pre-application consultation, even of Merton Council’s own developments (where commercial confidentiality will rarely if ever be an issue).

Quality of consultants used by Merton Council in preparing its own planning applications – the poor quality of consultancy reports used in support of Merton’s own planning applications is increasingly evident, including in relation to the recent proposals for Fair Green canopy (warranting a red rating from the Design Review Panel) and the development of Cranmer School (which was riddled with basic errors and poor evidence, including referring erroneously to a “proposed pipeline” rather than a proposed building (suggesting cut-and-paste re-use of consultancy reports prepared for other purposes)).

Effectiveness of Mitcham Common Conservators – an independent review of the Conservators’ role is long overdue, especially in light of recent representations on planning applications which do not appear to have the best interests of the Common at heart; unclear procedures; limited transparency; and the lack of effective community representation on the Conservator body.

Open space management – with increasing neglect and poor practice evident, such as annual weed control along verges in the local Conservation Area which leaves yellow scar for weeks and evidence of the use of contractors who are not best qualified for their roles – for example apparent flailing of a holly hedge around Mitcham Bowls Club.

Tree watering – failures to meet requirements for the regular watering of street trees resulting in the loss and decline of these essential elements of the street scene

School run and travel plans – the adequacy of measures to address problems caused by the school run – which are regularly raised by councillors during discussions over school expansion but which lack any follow up monitoring or action. School travel plans are poorly prepared and rarely implemented. Given the anticipated growth in rolls in the coming years, the measures the Council needs to take to ensure traffic plans are robust and implemented requires scrutiny.

Planning enforcement – there have been welcome signs of improvement in the
responsiveness of Council officers to enforcement issues being raised –
nevertheless, the process remains opaque and local residents and community
groups are frequently left in the dark as to whether and what enforcement action is taken on issues which they have raised.

 

15,000 local history photos now online at Merton Memories web site

We were delighted to attend the launch of the Merton Memories web site on 22 March.

This superb initiative by Merton Council, funded by a Heritage Lottery Grant, makes 15,000 historic photos of our borough easily accessible to the general public for the first time.

Merton Memories is a fantastic web site, whose production was only made possible by the hard work of volunteers and by dedicated staff in the Council’s Heritage and Local Studies Team. We thank them for their work on this project.

Along with a number of other organisations with an interested in history and heritage, we have been part of the ‘stakeholder group’ advising and supporting this project since late 2012. We are happy to have played our own small part.

The Merton Memories web site is at www.merton.gov.uk/memories. You can browse by subject, and view photos in large size on screen. You can even order prints. 

Merton Memories launch 2014 March 22 poster

Conversion of Brook House into flats

The owner of Brook House on Cricket Green has plans to convert the currently empty office block into 21 flats.

The plan is made possible by national government rules that allow the owners of offices to convert them into accommodation with very limited controls by local authorities.

We have commented on the proposal urging Merton Council to require a parking plan, ensure that the main access route is not along Cricket Green road and not allow external lighting which would be detrimental to the Cricket Green Conservation Area.

Read our comments on prior notification to convert Brook House into flats