It has been hard to miss the public controversy over plans for a replacement Mitcham Bridge. We are still hopeful that Merton Council will see sense and return with revised and less damaging plans that can be delivered quickly. With new leadership and some fresh faces around the Cabinet table the time is ripe to set a different tone which listens to the local community and protects the environment.
Merton Council faced a barrage of questions at it last Council meeting over the bridge. Many of these prompted evasive responses. They all but confirm councillors have clearly been spreading misleading information by exaggerating the number of dead or dying trees. The Council also cannot admit to having failed to talk to the National Trust about alternative designs for the bridge using some of its land. This is despite the National Trust saying it is open to discussing its use for cycle lanes.
The responses also confirmed some of the widespread concerns about the way the project has been handled. They mean we have no other option but to complain formally to the Council’s independent Monitoring Officer. Our complaint raises issues of probity and procedure which have caused widespread concern and undermined trust in the Merton Council’s decision making processes. We believe they also show maladministration.
We provide evidence that the Planning Applications Committee:
- was misled on the compliance of the plans with cycling standards
- was not informed by officers of any of the many organisations objecting to the plans
- was not informed about objections from those who followed the Council’s procedures for commenting on planning applications but was informed about supporters who bypassed the system
- based its decision on a consultation process that gave members of the public four different closing dates causing widespread confusion
- was unaware of the equality implications of the plans as no assessment was provided despite Merton Council’s responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 and the known impact of additional noise and air pollution on residents of Watermeads Estate
- was unaware of the significance of the proposed bridge departing from the policies in Merton’s Local Plan
The plans should be withdrawn or otherwise we believe the Planning Applications Committee’s decision should be reviewed and rescinded.
We also believe the issue should trigger a review of the way the Planning Applications Committee does its business. The Local Government Association’s guidance on “Probity in Planning” states that that this should be done “regularly”. Merton Council has confirmed no review has been undertaken for at least a decade. It is long overdue and particularly important right now as the make-up of the Planning Applications Committee has changed significantly with a new chair and several new members.