Category Archives: Planning Applications

Is this the future of Mitcham’s village centre?

We’re backing the Mitcham Society in its efforts to retain a village feel in central Mitcham.

Merton’s new Local Plan has a key role to play by controlling the height of new development and respecting the modest plot sizes which avoid bulky buildings that dominate the street.

Our fear is that damaging development will happen before the Local Plan comes into force.

The risk is real and we are now faced with plans to demolish and replace the parade of shops running along Upper Green East from Barclays Bank with a four storey block of flats and shops promised beneath.

The redevelopment of 33-39 Upper Green East is the first major scheme in Mitcham for years.

It needs to set the standard for the future and establish the right precedents. Instead we have a bulky block of flats using designs that could be found anywhere and owe little to the rich heritage of Mitcham.

They will dominate the visual link between Fair Green and the Conservation Area at Three Kings Pond and erode rather than add to Mitcham’s character.

The developers also plead poverty over development costs and propose to provide no affordable homes.

We are asking Merton Council to demand better and reject what’s on offer. Mitcham is going to change over the next few years. It contains underused land and some poor quality buildings. This change must avoid development of ubiquitous design and provide an opportunity to strengthen its village character and draw on its rich history.

You can read a full copy of our representations here.

Old Mitcham fire station plans a non-starter

The future of the much loved old fire station by the Vestry Hall has been uncertain ever since London Fire Brigade moved to the shiny new building over the tram line.

We developed plans with a theatre company for a community arts centre but they were thwarted by Merton Council being unwilling to take up its right of first refusal on sale of the fire station before it went on the open market.

After much delay the old fire station was sold to Parkside Property Limited for just £670,000. Its plans for new flats were then considered by Merton Council’s Design Review Panel behind closed doors.

The plans are now public and they fail on all counts.

They are technically flawed in taking land owned by Merton Council without even notifying them. They fence off and tarmac an area of registered town green. They are supported by a “heritage assessment” which fails even to identify the adjacent war memorial as Grade II listed. And they block off land where the Deed of Assurance under which the land was originally transferred requires “a right of way on foot only at all times”.

This means the planning application should be summarily dismissed even before considering its impact on the Conservation Area.

The plans involve a large extension to the rear and the loss of the historic engine bay in the locally listed fire station. They present an incongruous elevation to the listed war memorial and sit awkwardly alongside the Vestry Hall. They will also introduce fencing, lighting, bin stores and other visual clutter where there should be none.

We’re keen for the old fire station to be put to good use. A modest development which respects the sensitivity of this prominent site at the heart of the Conservation Area is needed. We look forward to working with the new owners once planning permission for this scheme has been refused.

You can read our full comments on the plans for the former Mitcham fire station here

Merantun – seeking inspiration and respect from Merton Council’s own development company

Merton Council established Merantun as its own development company in 2017.

Many local authorities now have development companies and we have welcomed Merantun as providing Merton Council with the ability to intervene directly in the development of land and to raise the bar when it comes to the quality of new building.

Two years on Merantun is about to put in planning applications for flats and other residential development on four sites where Merton Council owns the land. These include the former nursery at The Canons (image above) and Raleigh Garden car park (image below).

We have reviewed the plans and found them wanting.

They highlight deeper weaknesses in the way Merantun has been set up and operates. Instead of tasking Merantun with improving the quality of design, setting new standards for community engagement and intervening on difficult sites, its sole purpose is to “generate income for the Council.” In other words it operates like any other private developer. It also takes away capacity from the vital Future Merton team at Merton Council with senior staff now working for Merantun for much of the week.

We hope and expect Merantun to engage local people in its plans and show others how this can be done well. Instead, it chose to have its first schemes examined by Merton’s Design Review Panel behind closed doors and gave less than 48 hours notice of an exhibition of its proposals held at the height of the August holiday period. It then failed to make any of the exhibition material available online. This is worse practice than most private developers we engage with over emerging development.

Originally, Merantun’s intended each of its four sites to be designed by different architects. This could have provided innovation and new thinking. In then end its procurement was too weak and they are all designed as a job lot by architect giant Weston Williamson.

The Merantun contract is a small one for such a large company and it isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

Merantun is about to import bland designs that could be from anywhere. Worse, the schemes will actively damage the Conservation Area by looming over Glebe Court and damaging the historic setting of The Canons. The architects cannot even get the name right of the striking Pagoda tree which lies at the heart of their own designs for The Canons nursery.

We are asking Merton Council to take stock and learn the lessons from Merantun’s first two years.

Work on the planning applications should be paused and the schemes reworked with strong community engagement and a real sense of place. Merantun’s role should be reimagined so it not only makes money but also raises the bar on design and community engagement. The success of Merantun should be judged as much by the impact on other developers as it is on the quality of its own plans. It should be resourced so there is no net reduction on the capacity of the Future Merton team.

Merantun can be a force for good, providing both inspiration for what new development can achieve and respect for what already exists. It’s not too late to create both a company and developments we can all be proud of and given the quality of other development in the pipeline this leadership can’t come soon enough.

You can read our full Merantun submission here.

SUEZ legacy for Benedict Wharf found wanting

The scale of SUEZ’s redevelopment plans for Benedict Wharf has emerged in an outline planning application for 600 homes that will transform the site.

SUEZ has put great store in its commitment to leave the site with a positive legacy when it moves its waste operations to a yet-to-be-permitted site in Beddington Lane.

In reality another developer will buy the land from SUEZ once it has secured outline planning permission and what gets built may not live up to the standards SUEZ espouses.

We are working hard to lock in as many commitments as possible to ensure the legacy is a positive one.

The Benedict Wharf development is the largest proposal in the area for a generation. We have warmly welcomed the change of use from industrial to residential development and support Merton Council’s emerging Local Plan which makes new provision to increase the capacity of other industrial sites in the borough.

We are asking the Mayor of London to back this change of use for a site currently allocated as Strategic Industrial Land.

It makes sense to local people; removes lorries, odours and disruption from managing waste in a residential area, and Merton Councils plans mean there is no overall loss of the industrial land available.

We have worked hard to secure effective community engagement in the development of the scheme.

Despite our efforts resulting in some additional events we have in the end been left to respond to what SUEZ is proposing rather than collaborate over what should be developed.

The approach might best be summarised as a “Goldilocks’ consultation” over false choices – with feedback usually invited on three options where the first is stated as not being viable or compliant with externally driven housing targets and the third is presented as major overdevelopment of the site.

Unsurprisingly, the outline planning application has emerged from the second option.

SUEZ has even refused point blank to share details of a scheme based more around houses and streets than blocks and flats despite speaking about it at a Community Liaison Group meeting.

Our hopes for the development are that it will become a natural extension of Mitcham and be of a quality that leads to public demands for the new neighbourhood to be included in the Conservation Area within a decade.

This would be a fitting legacy of the kind SUEZ says that it wants.

Unfortunately this quality is not achieved by the outline application.

It largely comprises pavilion and other blocks of flats of moderate design quality which are excessively high, lack local character and will cause significant visual intrusion.

The plans are further undermined by official assessments of the impact of eight storey blocks on London Road Playing Fields that fly in the face of reality.

As a photo-montage provided as part of the planning application shows, it is not credible to associate the self-evident visual impact of the scheme with a written assessment that the scheme will have a “moderate & beneficial impact” and “not appear overly dominant”. It won’t and it will.

The application includes other photo montages from other viewpoints, many of which show the excessively tall blocks as damaging and intrusive (See below).

We have identified opportunities to create new pedestrian and cycling routes through the site linking Mitcham to Ravensbury Park, the Wandle, Morden Hall Park and Morden (including through the Phipps Bridge green spaces) and to provide direct access to London Road through Baron and Fenning Courts.

We welcome their inclusion in the proposals but there is no confidence in their delivery.

We are also asking for a rethink of plans to put a cycle route down the residential stretch of Church Path and build new shops alongside existing homes. This stretch of Church Path is much loved for the distinct character of low rise terraced houses fronting almost directly onto the road. Cycling infrastructure, delivery vans and the clutter of signage and street markings can never be sensitive enough not to damage this character. We are asking instead for the cycle route and new shops to help transform the sea of tarmac that is currently Hallowfield Way which the development should repurpose as a much narrower, residential street.

The plans are very weak on the investment in local green spaces and community facilities that will be needed.

The success of the scheme depends on the new residents being able to enjoy London Road Playing Fields and community resources such as Mitcham Parish Centre and they need to benefit from both direct investment and an endowment for their future. Surrounding green spaces need management plans prepared to benefit both people and wildlife and the scheme needs to improve public transport, including the 200 bus.

Everyone with an interest in the scheme is encouraged to feed in comments. You can do this by letter, email or online and access the application (reference number 19/P2383) here.

Read our full representation on this planning applicaiton – Benedict Wharf – outline application – July 19

The lessons from Worsfold House

Merton Council is a significant landowner in Cricket Green as well as being the local planning authority.

Its Cabinet will make a key decision tonight (July 15th 2019) on one of the Council’s most important sites – Worsfold House.

This is located alongside Church Path and next to Cricket Green School. It was formerly used by Merton Council as a satellite office and is now rented out to a range of local organisations, including important voluntary groups such as Merton Centre for Independent Living.

Out of the blue we have learned Worsfold House is to be sold to Clarion Housing to develop 60 homes.

These will be used to house residents of Eastfields Estate who have to leave as a result of the major regeneration plans.

The Eastfields plans have been in preparation for several years and this is the first time Worsfold House has been identified as being critical to their success. The report being considered by the Cabinet gives every impression that Worsfold House’s role in delivering these plans has been developed post hoc. It also fails to give any consideration to Worsfold House’s strategic importance to Cricket Green.

We agree this is a site suitable for new homes and included it in our representations on Merton’s new Local Plan.

It has the potential to open up a new route between Church Road and London Road Playing Fields and contribute to the wider changes now underway with the redevelopment of nearby Benedict Wharf. These proposals all go with the grain of what Merton Council supports through its planning policies but none of them feature in the decision making over the future of its own land.

Merton Council policies also look for good design and it says it encourages community engagement.

So often we face proposals from private sector developers which are poorly designed and already finalised as planning applications. Unsurprisingly this often means that people object to the plans.

With its own land Merton Council has the opportunity to raise the standard and require the new owners – in this case Clarion Homes – to collaborate with local people from the very beginning and meet demanding design standards.

We welcome the fact that Merton Council officers have told us they will “encourage Clarion to engage with the local community in advance of any planning application coming forward for the site” and Cabinet Member, Martin Whelton has told us “we would want Clarion to undertake full consultation with local residents as plans are progressed and it’s something we would emphasise as part of the land transfer” but this feels too weak, too little and too late.

What Merton Council “encourage” and “would want” is not what will necessarily happen. As landowners the Council can insist on it.

We are also asking Merton Council to exercise a stronger duty of care to all of the important local organisations who will lose their offices at Worsfold House.

They need to be helped to find accommodation of at least the size and standard they are leaving and end up in a better position to carry on the important work they do for Merton’s communities.

The future of Worsfold House is important for Cricket Green.

We will continue to do what we can to secure the best use of the site and the highest standard of development. The lessons of Worsfold House go wider than Cricket Green. They speak to the potential of Merton Council to take a much bigger stake in the future of our neighbourhoods as landowner as well as local planning authority.

Eyes are now turning to how its new development company, Merantun, will design and involve local people in the future development for homes of more Merton Council land – the former Canons nursery and the car parks at Raleigh Park Gardens and Elm Nursery.

Mitcham Garden Village – vehicle barrier

Mitcham Garden Village is one of the jewels of the Cricket Green Conservation Area.

It is a living legacy of Sir Isaac Wilson’s local philanthropy and an architectural gem.

We’re greatly concerned, therefore, by proposals for a intrusive road barrier across the key view into the estate from Cranmer Road.

This view is specially recognised in Merton Council’s appraisal of the Conservation Area and the design of

the barrier shows no respect for the sensitivity of the site.

We’re asking for any changes to Mitcham Garden Village to be informed by a management plan to ensure they are well considered and don’t harm what makes it special.

Read our comments on the barrier application.Mitcham Garden Village barrier – June 19