Merantun developments put Merton Council planning probity to the test

Merton Council set up its own property development arm, Merantun, in 2017.

Its first four schemes include controversial developments on both Raleigh Gardens car park and the former Canons nursery. You can see what we thought of the schemes in earlier blogs for Raleigh Gardens car park here and the Canons nursery site here. They don’t make for pleasant reading.

Despite the controversy Merantun is pressing ahead.

Its first planning applications are to be decided by councillors on the Planning Applications Committee next Thursday 16th July.

Given Merton Council is both developer and local planning authority it is a major test of the probity of planning decisions in Merton.

The challenge is made even greater by the fact that two of Merton Council’s most senior officers – the head of Future Merton (responsible for planning policies) and the Assistant Director for Sustainable Communities (responsible for the Planning Division and for Future Merton) – are Merantun’s Director of Design and Managing Director respectively. Merton’s Chinese Walls must be particularly robust.

Merantun has made only small changes to its original plans for Raleigh Gardens car park. This is despite evidence that they are in flagrant breach of Merton’s own planning policies, will dominate the skyline, and will result in only 45% of Glebe Court’s windows facing the new development meeting official guidelines for daylight and a shocking 29% being “subject to noticeable losses”.

None of these issues are addressed by changing a pitched roof into a flat one. Any faith which we might have had in the architects is further undermined when the original planning documents hailing the importance of a distinctive pitched roof” for “referencing the common roof form seen on Mitcham’s high streets and adjacent residential buildings” and for creating variation” and a “suitable façade proportion are so easily set aside.

The changes to the scheme for The Canons are even more limited. This is despite the immense sensitivity of a development site located in historic ground and between listed mansion houses (The Canons and Park Place).

The development will create significant conflicts with the ambitions of the £5m Lottery-funded programme currently underway.

Even Merton Council’s own Design Review Panel described it as too harsh and clunky” and too busy, intense and slightly military in feel”. We still can’t quite believe the blank elevation shown in the image is still being put forward.

Adding insult to injury is recent confirmation that the original arboricultural report was flawed and that the magnificent Pagoda tree – Merton’s current Tree of the Year – will have to lose one third of its canopy and not be allowed to grow any larger to accommodate the development.

It is also of great concern that Merton Council is gerrymandering its own policies on providing affordable homes.

These require at least 40% of the homes being provided on each site to be affordable and state that affordable homes should only be provided on other sites in “exceptional circumstances”.

Instead Merantun is proposing just 22.5% of the 93 homes will be affordable and they will all be put on one site (Elm Nursery car park). This is the behaviour we sometimes see from profit-motivated private developers. It is unconscionable that Merton Council is even putting this forward let alone that it might give the green light to such a distortion of its own planning policies.

The papers before the Planning Applications Committee even admit that no legal mechanism has been found to bind one part of Merton Council (Merantun) to deliver affordable homes to another part of Merton Council (local planning authority) and that this “presents challenges”.

Councillors are encouraged simply to overlook this fundamental problem when deciding on the planning applications and told it “should not be an impediment”. We trust they will see through this approach.

We know it will be hard for Merton Council to refuse planning permission for a Merton Council development. Given the massive shortcomings in what has been put forward we cannot see that it has any other option. Merantun needs to be setting the standard and it simply must do better.

Read our latest views:

Development of Raleigh Gardens car park – June 2020

Development of former Canons nursery – June 2020