Many local authorities now have development companies and we have welcomed Merantun as providing Merton Council with the ability to intervene directly in the development of land and to raise the bar when it comes to the quality of new building.
Two years on Merantun is about to put in planning applications for flats and other residential development on four sites where Merton Council owns the land. These include the former nursery at The Canons (image above) and Raleigh Garden car park (image below).
We have reviewed the plans and found them wanting.
They highlight deeper weaknesses in the way Merantun has been set up and operates. Instead of tasking Merantun with improving the quality of design, setting new standards for community engagement and intervening on difficult sites, its sole purpose is to “generate income for the Council.” In other words it operates like any other private developer. It also takes away capacity from the vital Future Merton team at Merton Council with senior staff now working for Merantun for much of the week.
We hope and expect Merantun to engage local people in its plans and show others how this can be done well. Instead, it chose to have its first schemes examined by Merton’s Design Review Panel behind closed doors and gave less than 48 hours notice of an exhibition of its proposals held at the height of the August holiday period. It then failed to make any of the exhibition material available online. This is worse practice than most private developers we engage with over emerging development.
Originally, Merantun’s intended each of its four sites to be designed by different architects. This could have provided innovation and new thinking. In then end its procurement was too weak and they are all designed as a job lot by architect giant Weston Williamson.
The Merantun contract is a small one for such a large company and it isn’t getting the attention it deserves.
Merantun is about to import bland designs that could be from anywhere. Worse, the schemes will actively damage the Conservation Area by looming over Glebe Court and damaging the historic setting of The Canons. The architects cannot even get the name right of the striking Pagoda tree which lies at the heart of their own designs for The Canons nursery.
We are asking Merton Council to take stock and learn the lessons from Merantun’s first two years.
Work on the planning applications should be paused and the schemes reworked with strong community engagement and a real sense of place. Merantun’s role should be reimagined so it not only makes money but also raises the bar on design and community engagement. The success of Merantun should be judged as much by the impact on other developers as it is on the quality of its own plans. It should be resourced so there is no net reduction on the capacity of the Future Merton team.
Merantun can be a force for good, providing both inspiration for what new development can achieve and respect for what already exists. It’s not too late to create both a company and developments we can all be proud of and given the quality of other development in the pipeline this leadership can’t come soon enough.
You can read our full Merantun submission here.