Category Archives: Planning Applications

Melrose School expansion will result in unnecessary tree felling

Melrose School makes an important educational and community contribution to the area.

It is strategically located in wooded grounds between Church Road and London Road Playing Fields.

Merton Council decided in August to expand the school and provide for children of primary school age.

We have reviewed the development plans for new classrooms, a hall, new car park and other changes. These have a direct impact on that part of the school grounds which is in Mitcham Cricket Green Conservation Area and our fundamental concern is that a significant proportion of the remaining open space on the site is to be developed.

This will result in felling significant trees without any details as to how they will be replaced. Given the development is put forward by Merton Council and it will result in trees being felled that are the responsibility of Merton Council we are particularly concerned that no assessment of its heritage impact has been provided despite this being a requirement for developments in the Conservation Area.

Merton Council’s Design Review Panel only gave the plans an AMBER rating.

It recommended a two-storey option was considered “in order to maintain more open space and improve the general site layout. This also may take pressure off tree loss.” We agree. It is also perverse that despite this loss of trees the school is planning to include a new “Woodland teaching area”. It is a contradiction in terms to create a woodland teaching area on a site where the quality and number of trees is being reduced by a local authority which has declared a Climate Emergency.

We recognise the need to expand the school. We believe it can be achieved in a less damaging way with a better design that avoids extensive tree felling and causes less harm to the Conservation Area.

You can read our full submission Melrose School development

New Mitcham Bridge falls short

We have written before about the opportunity presented by Merton Council’s plans for a new Mitcham Bridge across the Wandle. This will replace a 260 year old crossing and a new bridge is a rare and special event.

Working with Mitcham Society and Wandle Valley Forum we have tried hard to influence the plans and offered to support Merton Council in providing historic interpretation. We have also engaged in the limited public consultation opportunities which have been provided where two different options were presented late on in the design process.

Unfortunately Merton Council has chosen not to respond and has now decided to proceed with the option not chosen by the public.

The resulting bridge is of generic design. It also fails to meet official standards for cycling. The plans will result in the loss of open space to highway and require the felling of mature trees and the demolition of an historic wall protecting Ravensbury Park from visual, noise and air pollution caused by traffic on the A217.

More than half those responding to the public consultation favoured a design which combined brickwork with railings, sympathetic to the site’s heritage and protecting the Wandle from pollution and litter. Merton Council’s Design Review Panel provided sharp criticism of the plans when awarding it an Amber rating.

After many delays Merton Council is now pushing ahead at speed. It will have decided on contractors to build the bridge even before its Planning Applications Committee has decided whether to give the green light and the short gap between the planning application being submitted and the expected decision is something private developers can only dream of.

We’re asking Merton Council to rethink the plans. A replacement bridge is urgently needed but it needs to stand the test of time. We believe a better approach is possible which engages the National Trust and other local landowners in finding the long term solution this historic crossing deserves.

Read our full response with Mitcham Society and Wandle Valley Forum to the planning application for a replacement Mitcham Bridge Mitcham Bridge – application

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

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