Mitcham is defined as much by its green spaces as its buildings. Once linked to the vastness of Mitcham Common they remain central to Mitcham’s story and to its future. Mitcham’s Greens were originally put in the hands of the Mitcham Common Conservators in 1891. Responsibility was transferred to the local authority in 1923 and they are now managed by Merton Council. Five were registered as town greens in 1967 – Figges Marsh, Fair Green, Three Kings Piece, Cranmer Green and Cricket Green – and given high levels of protection. This recognition provides a reassuring certainty in an area experiencing rapid development and change.
Or so it seemed.
In June 2016 Mitcham saw the open grassland and green road verges of Three Kings Piece and Cranmer Green replaced by tarmac, kerbs, bus stops and road crossings (see photos). This happened without warning and there was no consultation. Land which had survived undeveloped for hundreds of years was lost. The special character of an important area of the town greens was destroyed.
The damage was the talking point of our stand at the Mitcham Carnival and questions were asked as to whether Mitcham’s Greens were safe after all.
We moved quickly to raise concerns with Merton Council and seek an explanation. The response was emphatic – Merton Council believes it has the power to tarmac the Greens and does not need to consult. Further, Merton Council believes the protections afforded town and village greens do not apply to Mitcham’s greens and its duty to make bus stops accessible overrides other concerns.
We turned to the Open Spaces Society for advice – as the UK’s oldest conservation body it is a national source of expertise on common land and town and village greens. With its help we have explored the complex legal position and arrived at very different conclusions to Merton Council.
Over 10 years ago the House of Lords ruled that laws protecting greens applied to all greens, new and old. This set a precedent and means Mitcham’s greens are protected in the same way as other greens. As a result, any encroachment or development requires consent from the Secretary of State. The fact that Merton Council has the power to undertake the works affecting Mitcham’s Greens does not override the need for it to seek this consent. Nor does the requirement to take steps to make bus stops accessible override these protections.
We believe Merton Council has overstepped the mark. It has damaged the Mitcham Greens without authorisation. We are asking Merton Council to come clean and either seek permission from Central Government or undo the works and return both Cranmer Green and Three Kings Piece to their former condition. And most important of all we are asking Merton Council to be clear about the procedures protecting Mitcham’s Greens so we can all avoid a repeat and be secure in their future.