Category Archives: Planning Applications

Sparrowhawk Yard flats return little improved

The former Sparrowhawk Yard overlooking Three Kings Piece is a classic brownfield site which can benefit from development.

It is also an unfortunate example of how developers bring forward schemes that are too large for their site and don’t fit into the local area.

A four storey scheme for 29 flats was recommended for approval last year by Merton Council officers. Fortunately, the Planning Applications Committee held firm against its impact and were vindicated on appeal when the Planning Inspector concluded it would harm the “character and appearance” of the area and was in conflict with Merton’s Local Plan.

We might have expected Merton’s officers to have reached this conclusion earlier.

Undeterred the developers have returned with a scheme for 25 flats that is only marginally smaller and which suffers from many of the same design flaws that led to the previous refusal.

The new proposal is welcome for having some more design detail and improving the quality of the flats as living accommodation but it still falls well short of what’s required for a sensitive site adjacent to the Conservation Area.

The impact on Three Kings Piece could be significant but no images have been provided despite its importance to the planning decision.

The scheme is also based on parking assumptions that include the illegal fly parking on registered Town Green along Commonside East.

We have interrogated the assumptions that result in no affordable homes being provided and found them wanting. They fail to include any estimate of the cost of affordable homes and simultaneously claim to have been prepared “with regard to” and “not in accordance with ” the professional surveyor standards known as the “Red Book”.

We are asking Merton Council to reject the scheme.

Read our representation.

Reviewing Design Review during lockdown

Merton Council’s Design Review Panel provides important, independent and expert insight on key development proposals put forward in Merton.

It is made up of architects, urban designers and others who review developments, usually before they become planning applications, and offer an overall judgement of their merit as being Red, Amber or Green.

The Panel’s views have a major influence on the Planning Applications Committee when decisions are made.

The essence of design review is that the Panel discusses the proposals together and collaborates in arriving at an overall view. This is clearly challenging during lockdown but we have been surprised and disappointed to find “meetings” on two key developments in Cricket Green – the design code for the 850 home mega scheme on Benedict Wharf and the latest flats plans for the KwikFit site (pictured) – have been undertaken by email.

We have teamed up with the architects behind the latest KwikFit plans to write to Cabinet Member Martin Whelton and Planning Committee Chair Linda Kirby to share our concerns and ask for changes to be made. Conducting design review by email works against the:

  • opportunity for the applicant to explain their design thinking and answer any questions
  • chance for a shared panel view to emerge through discussion
  • ability to correct any misconceptions such as if the panel suggests something that has been explored and discounted
  • transparency of applicants and officers hearing the panel’s view emerge during the meeting
  • scope for the chair to moderate the discussion, especially if different views are expressed, or points are unclear
  • process for arriving at a shared outcome (Red/Amber/Green) among independent members, leaving it to officers and members who are also responsible for advising on and determining the application
  • ability of the public to observe and record proceedings in those instances where a planning application has been submitted

We believe these issues could be addressed during lockdown by adopting the same approach to online meetings as Merton Council has taken for Cabinet and Planning Applications Committee.

It also points to the opportunity for further strengthening the process post Covid-19, including the benefit of having an independent secretariat for managing the Design Review Panel so the views of officers and councillors who are also responsible for making decisions on planning applications are kept separate.

Read our letter

Much loved former fire station would be swamped by new flats

Mitcham’s fire station on Lower Green West served the local community for nearly one hundred years.

It has a special character and is locally listed.

It sits alongside the Vestry Hall and the new Cricketers flats as well as the nationally listed war memorial.

Its future has been uncertain ever since the new Mitcham fire station opened in 2015. Our worked up plans for a community arts centre developed with a successful community theatre company were thwarted when Merton Council chose not to exercise its right to acquire the building when it fell vacant.

The latest plans involve a near doubling in the size of the building with a massive two storey rear extension as well as conversion of the old fire station for residential use.

While welcoming the efforts to mimic the fire station doors and the plans to replace uPVC windows with aluminium frames we believe the new plans do not adequately address the sensitivities of the location or secure an appropriate future use.

The sheer scale of the extension will swamp the existing building. Lower Green West will see more clutter and light pollution. The sensitive gap between The Cricketers flats and the Vestry Hall secured after long debate over many different planning applications for The Cricketers will be blocked by a two storey building. And the setting of the listed war memorial which provides a focus for Remembrance Sunday will be damaged.

We believe a sensitive conversion and minor extension of the former fire station is possible. In achieving the right outcome we are asking Merton Council to do more than refuse planning consent. It owns the land between the fire station and the road and so can exercise real influence over what happens. We fear its ambitions will be no greater than to lease the front apron for car parking. It has already failed to take enforcement action against the intrusive hoardings on its land which have been erected without permission.

The former fire station is a much loved feature at the heart of Cricket Green. It demands the most sensitive treatment and any new building should be of a quality that could warrant listing within 30 years. The current plans fall short and we stand ready to work with the new owners to find a way forward.

Read our full comments on the plans for the former fire station Fire Station – conversion & extension – Apr 20

Basement homes too damaging for listed London Road villa

We’re fortunate in Cricket Green in having not one but two Conservation Areas.

Wandle Valley Conservation Area stretches from Watermeads to opposite the Nisa supermarket where London Road is lined by a pair of nationally listed villas. It includes the soon to be demolished Bishopsford Road bridge and the building for the oldest railway station in the world at Mitcham.

There is currently a planning application to develop three homes alongside 472 London Road. This makes up one half of one of the early 19th century Grade II listed villas. It includes the listed coach house which many will remember took on a new and very different life as a tyre warehouse for many years. The coach house is to be converted and two houses built behind it. The two new houses will involve major excavation works as they will be two storey but only one storey above ground.

The plans fall at the first hurdle for not being accompanied by an application for Listed Building Consent. This is required for any changes to the coach house.

Once the full documentation is available then we are asking Merton Council to consider the impact of the two new houses on the setting of the listed villa.

We welcome the opportunity to address the declining quality of the coach house but the grounds of the villa have already been eroded with the development of Taplow Court.

We think the two new houses cross the line of what’s acceptable without damaging the historic integrity of the villa. If the development were to be permitted then it is essential that it is preceded by a full archaeological investigation given the size of basements being proposed.

Read our full submission 472 London Road – April 2020

Justin Plaza development would block cricket pavilion

The pressure for residential development around Cricket Green can be seen in the variety of ways in which developers are finding new sites.

A few years back Justin Plaza facing London Road was converted and the promised Co-op supermarket on the ground floor never materialised.

Now there are plans to demolish the imaginatively named four storey Justin Plaza 2 office block and replace it with a six storey block of flats. This will be designed to fit in with the refurbished Justin Plaza block.

We’ve no objection to the principle of the plans although it is important the backlands behind London Road continue to provide places to work. To this end we would support the new block retaining offices on its ground floor with flats above.

Our main concern is the impact of the plans on the view from Mitcham cricket ground where, as our photo shows, Justin Plaza frames the cricket pavilion and fills the key gap between it and the Burn Bullock.

It is important that this view isn’t further damaged and any new building sits in front of the Justin Plaza flats and doesn’t break the skyline.

At six storeys the new Justin Plaza 2 will simply be too visible.

We’re asking Merton Council to refuse the application and encouraging the developers to come back with a four storey scheme that has offices on the ground floor.

Read our full response – Justin Plaza 2 – April 2020

Benedict Wharf – turning the tide

Merton Council has been clear that planning decisions carry on through Covid-19 and so, therefore, must we.

Mitcham faces a dozen simultaneous development proposals for new blocks of flats which risk changing its character for ever.  The largest of these – for Benedict Wharf – has just got larger. A whole lot larger.

SUEZ has revised its plans to increase the number of homes by over 40% to 850 and increase the height of the tower blocks to up to 10 storeys. The proposed development is far and away the largest seen in Mitcham for a generation.

And let’s not be fooled into thinking this will do anything to house those most in housing need. At best we will see some flats with a small discount on market rents for households earning up to £90,000 per year.  The average salary in Mitcham is nearer £25,000.

In this blog we explore the downsides of the current plans and why they should be rejected. But we also point towards the opportunity that Benedict Wharf can provide to open up a new future for this part of Mitcham – one which can ultimately provide even more homes, target them to match more of those in true housing need and provide green space and a well designed network of streets and houses that is recognisably Mitcham.

There are countless reasons why SUEZ’s plans are a bad way to go.

As SUEZ announced its move to a new Beddington Lane site it promised to create a legacy to be proud of. At first SUEZ invited the community in to debate the options and design the future.  We even shared a submission to Merton’s Local Plan.

And then SUEZ turned its back, closed its ears and listened only to those demanding extra height and density.

SUEZ has presented misleading information and provided false assessments of the visual impact of 10 storey blocks on the surrounding area. The plans give every impression of being designed to meet excessive housing numbers demanded by the Mayor of London as a quid pro quo for allowing the land to be repurposed from industrial to residential use.

They offer the wrong future for Mitcham.

Despite the London Plan requiring such development to be “design-led” and the Government amending the London Plan to say that “gentle densification should be actively encouraged by Boroughs in low- and mid-density locations to achieve a change in densities in the most appropriate way” we are faced with what has been labelled “Suezgrad” – an alien, excessively high and placeless development that harms the local area and feels like anything but a natural extension to Mitcham.

We have presented alternative proposals for mixed-use gentle density and these have been ignored.

The development at Benedict Wharf should respect the character of Mitcham and be led by an urban design vision that emphasises the importance of streets and houses. It should be of a height that avoids visual intrusion, shadowing and encroachment on London Road Playing Fields and negative impacts on views from the two adjacent Conservation Areas. It should rule out any possibility of being visible from either Morden Hall Park or Mitcham’s historic cricket ground. The quality of the scheme should be such that there is public pressure to include the whole site within a Conservation Area within 10 years.

Achieving this would mark a fitting transformation of Benedict Wharf with its long history of “bad neighbour” uses and provide the positive legacy which SUEZ states it wants to leave for the site.

The scheme has deteriorated so far that questions are now being raised as to whether the site might not be better in industrial use after all.

SUEZ has told us it has had offers to buy the land and use it for a distribution warehouse that are worth more financially than its use for homes. With careful controls over lorry movements there is an alternative future here which we believe is best explored through Merton’s Local Plan review.

There is a bigger prize, however, that we are asking Merton Council and the Mayor of London to recognise.

Benedict Wharf lies adjacent to the extensive Phipps Bridge estate to the north (see image).

This provides social housing through Clarion Homes. Parts of Phipps Bridge are in urgent need of renewal. When combined with the opportunity at Benedict Wharf there is potential to create a significant new Mitcham neighbourhood. By renewing Phipps Bridge this can provide a more diverse range of housing that better meets housing need. It would also reduce the likelihood of Benedict Wharf becoming a dormitory neighbourhood. Merton Council is also a landowner in the area, including development sites along Hallowfield Way.

This opportunity could provide more homes in total by making better use of under-used open land on Phipps Bridge and by taking a design-led approach, incorporating the concept of gentle density, integrating significant open spaces, and providing a streets based neighbourhood it would fit in with the local character.

An integrated approach to both Phipps Bridge and Benedict Wharf sites will deliver more homes that better meet local housing needs than can be provided by treating the sites separately. It will also meet the aims of the London Plan better than imposing unsuitably dense and tall development on Benedict Wharf.

The decision by Transport for London to route a new tram line running between the sites is a further stimulus for a re-think which takes advantage of this strategic opportunity.

This decision was made after the Mayor’s intervention on the earlier Benedict Wharf scheme which led SUEZ to increase the size of the development planned. The London Plan has also been revised by the Government since this intervention was made. These two changes alone trigger a need for the Mayor to rethink the approach. We ask him now also to recognise the strategic opportunity of a more integrated approach which supports his ambitions for estate renewal.

This is not the time to rush to a hasty decision on Benedict Wharf. It is a time to pause and see the bigger picture.

The outline planning application for Benedict Wharf has come forward ahead of the Local Plan review and it is this which should determine the future of the site and its relationship with Phipps Bridge. The Local Plan can show the way to creating a new Mitcham neighbourhood which renews Phipps Bridge, repurposes Benedict Wharf, delivers more homes overall and ensures they better meet Mitcham’s needs.

We ask Merton Council and the Mayor of London to consider the plans as they stand today premature and address these alternatives. We ask Clarion Homes to join the endeavour and promote the opportunities for estate renewal through the Local Plan review. This can be supported by a masterplan and design brief for the wider area.

Working together we can turn the tide.  We stand ready to contribute.

Read our full submission on the plans for Benedict Wharf Benedict Wharf – revised draft outline application – Mar 20