Shock and dismay at Merton Council’s plans to build over former Canons nursery

This is the second of two blog posts about plans put forward by Merton Council’s own development company, Merantun, for new development in the area.

It addresses proposals for blocks of 11 flats and seven houses on the former Canons nursery between The Canons house and Park Place.

We have already blogged about the development planned for Raleigh Gardens car park and also about the scope for Merantun to be a force for good across the borough.

Merton Council could hardly have chosen a more sensitive site for its first foray into housebuilding. It lies at the centre of the historic Canons landscape that is currently the focus of a major multi-million pound National Lottery funded project. It is in the middle of Mitcham Cricket Green Conservation Area, in a highly sensitive location between two nationally listed mansion houses, in the setting of a nationally listed 16th century dovecote and is bordered by a Grade II* listed boundary wall.

The site includes a magnificent Pagoda tree, which is Merton’s current Tree of the Year.

When we reviewed the options in a major public meeting back in 2013 the local community was clear that the former nursery should be used for purposes that respect its history and link it to the wider Canons landscape.

We have reviewed all 30 reports, drawings, assessments and other information which make up the planning application and concluded that the development proposed falls woefully short of what is appropriate.

It is sad to report that the longest and most detailed response we have ever made is to a planning application is for a development proposed by Merton Council on one of its own flagship historic sites. We conclude:

  • the designs lack inspiration and, in the words of the Design Review Panel are “too busy, intense and slightly military in feel” – have a look at the drawing above of the view from Park Place’s car park and let us know if you see barracks or homes
  • in all 30 documents we can find no reference to the Canons Conservation Management Plan despite this being adopted by Merton Council as a Supplementary Planning Document in September 2017
  • the “Heritage Assessment” accompanying the plans should shame any heritage professional – a 26 page document devotes just six weak paragraphs to assessing the impact of the new development and concludes by singing its praises. Even Merton Council’s own Design Review Panel concluded “There was some scepticism from the Panel regarding the rather emphatic conclusion reported in the review material”
  • there is no assessment of the impact of the development from The Canons, Park Place or the east lawn and dovecote – this may be because it could only conclude that the developments will create a major new built intrusion that will cause substantial harm to these heritage assets and open spaces
  • the designs include a three storey blank wall which should have no place in any new building let alone one in such a sensitive location – see the image below
  • on the one hand the reports state that “the site is currently an underused, poor quality open space” as justification for its development while on the other the ecological survey concludes that the “site has significant ecological value, as it has been left unmanaged for some time, and has developed a seminatural character” – both cannot be true and the site could have been a major beneficiary of Lottery investment with a different approach
  • Merton Council proposes to gate the site off to the public instead of opening it up in direct conflict with the wider ambitions of the National Lottery funded project to increase public access and enjoyment of The Canons grounds
  • there are other unresolved and seemingly unaddressed conflicts with the National Lottery project, including conflict over use of the car park, bin lorries and other servicing and how the two major construction projects can be progressed at the same time
  • the scheme’s architects have displayed a woeful understanding of the local area and could not even name the wonderful Pagoda tree that lies at the heart of their plans when questioned at our Open Meeting in August
  • the future of the Pagoda tree is imperilled by being so boxed in by development on three sides that there is at one point barely one metre between the building and the tree’s canopy, remembering that this already large tree is only middle aged and can be expected to grow much larger
  • a mature yew tree deemed “essential” in earlier tree surveys and identified as a potential bat roost is proposed to be felled rather than used a starting point for the design
  • despite careful controls over lighting elsewhere in The Canons grounds because of feeding bats there are plans for five uplighters and significant light pollution
  • there is no affordable housing provided and this is planned to be included in another scheme on Elm Nursery car park despite it being contrary to Merton’s own planning policy for affordable homes to be integrated into all new development

The Canons deserves so much better.

We are asking Merton Council to withdraw Merantun’s scheme or otherwise see it rejected for its impact on this historic area and its conflict with Merton’s own planning policies.

 

 

Read our full submission on Merantun’s plans for the former Canons nursery – Development of former Canons nursery – January 2020