The Canons – end of the beginning

The next few years should be exciting ones at The Canons. Ten years on from our first proposals to invest in its future the £5m Lottery funded project will come to fruition. The landscape contractors have already handed their work over to Merton Council and those working on the house are about to do the same. The place is being slowly opened up to the public and there’s lots to enjoy and the promise of more to come. As the works finish so the promise of renewed community activity should come to fruition and we have the benefit of a full time community officer supporting things till the end of 2022.

An early priority is to ensure that the promised work has been completed and delivered to a high standard. With Friends of the Canons and Mitcham Society we’ve already drawn Merton Council’s attention to a multitude of “snagging” issues ranging from poor build quality and rutted ground to a failure to provide replacements for felled trees or finish the entrance from Cold Blows.

You can read our “snagging report” along with Merton Council’s initial response here.

There is also the not so small matter of whether Merton Council has planning permission for the landscape work now completed. The simple answer is that it doesn’t. A key planning condition attached to the original planning permission has yet to be signed off and a request to do this has only just been submitted despite the works already being finished. We’ve been asking about the lack of permission since before the landscape contract began, including through use of Freedom of Information requests, email requests and The Canons project Steering Group, without success. Important details are still missing and fewer plants in the walled garden and around the car park have been provided than promised in the application. We are also concerned the new trees in the expanded car park have too little space to flourish.

The new opening by the obelisk is also causing concern. The original plans extended the railings as well as the hedge to provide a secure boundary and there are road safety concerns and worries about a traveller incursion with the unfinished boundary now in place. We’ve also asked for evidence that The Canons has a long term Management and Maintenance Plan capable of delivering what’s needed for the long term in place. Our requests for a copy have been rebuffed to date.

You can read our comments on the application to discharge the landscape condition here.

The next few years will also be a test for how well the investment will bring the lasting change we all want. The real test will be how well Merton Council can care for The Canons in the long term and a successful transition is critical. As the Lottery funded contractors leave site so the landscape gets handed over to Merton Council’s own contractors idverde to care for it in the future. The landscape idverde is being being given back is infinitely more complex and challenging to manage and they will need to step up.

There are some worrying early signs. As Friends of the Canons has reported, the wildflower areas along Commonside West and next to the walkway south of the track have been wilfully mown instead of being left to flower and then set seed. The rural character of the rough path running through Bellamy’s Copse has been damaged by cutting a double swathe through the vegetation and herbicide known to cause yellow disfiguring has been used on newly sown areas. Long grass under mature trees left during “no mow May” has subsequently and unnecessarily been cut rather than being left to grow and set seed. Too many plants have died from a lack of watering. It would be tragic if all the effort that has gone in was not followed by long term management and maintenance fit for the job.

Looking ahead it is clear the long term sustainability of The Canons will depend on the funds generated on-site from lease of the house and community cafe being re-invested into its long term care. We’ve been reassured by the National Lottery Heritage Fund that this is a requirement and will be looking for Merton Council to confirm it as the project moves into its next phase. There are also opportunities to share management of parts of the house and the landscape with local community groups.

The Canons is a jewel in Cricket Green’s crown. As a community we have invested heavily in its future. Very few of us can hope to see another investment at this scale in our lifetimes. Its time is now and it’s time to get things right.