Category Archives: Planning Applications

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

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

Merton Council plans to develop eyesore in central Mitcham

This is the first of two blogs about the housing developments planned by Merton Council’s new development company, Merantun.

We blogged back in September about the opportunity for Merantun to “be a force for good, providing both inspiration for what new development can achieve and respect for what already exists.”

Merton Council has a special responsibility when bringing forward its own development to set the standard and to be able to look other developers in the eye and demand well-considered new buildings when making planning decisions.

It is with a heavy heart therefore that we we have reviewed Merantun’s first planning applications and found them falling woefully short of the mark.

Even before looking at the impact of the buildings it is clear that Merantun has skimped on community engagement, left it all to the last minute, and provided no information online. To make a bad situation worse the current crop of four applications (three in Mitcham) were all submitted at the same time, with an opportunity for public comment that coincided with the Christmas break, a decision which was either wilful or incompetent.

We are also dismayed at the limited approach to providing affordable homes. These are planned for only one of Merantun’s sites, at Elm Nursery car park. This is despite it being Merton Council planning policy to integrate affordable homes into all new development. The schemes also fall well short of providing the amount of affordable homes expected by Merton Council and the Mayor of London’s planning policies.

By far the largest of the four Merantun schemes now being considered is for Raleigh Gardens car park. It is earmarked for 36 flats in a development reaching 6 storeys that would set a damaging precedent for both the height and the quality of the new development we can expect to see in Mitcham’s centre over the next few years.

The quality of information commissioned by Merantun to support its plans is well below standard.

Even the Government’s own heritage advisors Historic England has said the archaeological assessment “does not provide enough information” and has told Merton Council’s planners that “if you do not receive more archaeological information before you take a planning decision, I recommend that you include the applicant’s failure to submit that as a reason for refusal.”

Remember, this is an application by Merton Council to itself which is being spotlighted for failing to provide even basic information.

We would support a well designed development on the Raleigh Gardens car park as part of wider plans for the future of Mitcham which also tackle other empty and poorly used sites. This could extend the shopping parade from London Road to Lidl and provide affordable homes.

Instead Merton Council has put forward plans on the boundary of the Conservation Area which overwhelm neighbouring buildings, including Glebe Court and the modest two storey homes along the remainder of Raleigh Gardens.

It will set the future of Mitcham’s centre off in a direction that will irreversibly harm the opportunities to retain and enhance its distinctive village character. The scheme appears more driven by a desire to maximise financial return than respond to and enhance Mitcham.

Our concerns are shared by Merton Council’s own Design Review Panel which concluded, in giving the scheme an Amber rating, that the “site was overdeveloped”.

The impact on Glebe Court is profound.

The Design Review Panel describes it as creating a “canyon effect” and the extent to which Glebe Court will be overwhelmed is clear from the architects own drawings.

The impacts won’t just be felt in how the area will look but also in the quality of life for Glebe Court residents. Merantun’s own Daylight and Sunlight Assessment concludes that after the flats are built only 45% of the windows facing the new development would meet official guidelines for daylight and a shocking 29% would be “subject to noticeable losses”. This level of impact is wholly unacceptable.

We remind you again that this is a development being proposed by Merton Council.

The scheme falls down on many other counts. The architectural quality lack any distinction and the analysis of other local developments from which it might take some cues is substandard.

The design singularly fails to break up the monolithic appearance from Raleigh Gardens and it is to be fringed by a wall and not hedgerows despite the high levels of local air pollution. The sustainability ambitions for the development are either unclear or too weak. The plans add to light pollution with no fewer than 17 uplighters in a way that makes no sense.

It is Government planning policy that “permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions”.

Merantun’s plans for Raleigh Gardens car park are of poor design and do not respond to the local area or improve it. They harm both the setting of Mitcham Cricket Green Conservation Area and Glebe Court and fall foul of at least seven Merton Council planning policies.

Merton Council simply has to do better. Merantun should withdraw the planning application for a rethink or face up the the fact that Merton Council will have to refuse planning permission for its own development.

Read our full comments on Merantun’s plans for Raleigh Gardens car park Development of Raleigh Gardens car park – January 2020.

Tree felling shock reverberates down the years

This is a sad tale of lost trees and bureaucratic inaction played out in a Cricket Green garden behind Preshaw Crescent.

Back in 2015 a large number of mature trees were felled and a large garden cleared in anticipation of development plans for a block of flats being submitted.

All mature trees in the Conservation Area are automatically protected and Merton Council needs to permit their felling.

No permission was given for an act that the landowner later described as an “embarrassment”. The photo shows before and after images and the garden has now been cleared by a digger to bare earth.

We joined with local residents in asking Merton Council to take action against this blatant breach of planning safeguards.

The response was to deal with the issue as part of the decision on the planning applications subsequently submitted to develop the garden site. Merton’s Tree Officer emailed in December 2016 that “I have written to the owner about this matter, and he is now aware that the council expects new replacement trees to be planted.”

In the event two planning applications were submitted. These included the statement that “This occurrence is an embarrassment to the applicant and all involved with developing the proposals for this development and something that we all wish to put right as part of the development process.

One application was never progressed and the other was turned down in late 2019 after two years of consideration.

Imagine the dismay, therefore, when we asked Merton’s Tree Officer what action was being taken to put right the wrong done to the trees in 2015 and were told that “the power to enforce tree replacement is time limited to 4 years, and as this time has now expired no further action in the form of enforcement can be taken.”

We have asked our ward councillors to look into the issue. There is every impression of officers asleep on the job and allowing the wilful loss of mature trees just as Merton Council announces a climate and ecological emergency. A simple calendar reminder to take action if the situation had not been resolved would have served to ensure the enforcement deadline was not missed.

There is one potential silver lining. A new application has been submitted for the site. While the proposed flats are too large and develop too much of the site it does provide an opportunity for the owner to put right the wrong and for Merton Council to insist on trees being provided equivalent to those that were lost.

We ask you to join us in watching what happens next.

Read our full representations on the latest development for the garden of 8 Preshaw Crescent Land behind Preshaw Crescent – January 2020