Category Archives: Planning Applications

Local groups in united call for Merton Council to withdraw Mitcham Bridge plans

Merton Council has just announced that its plans for the new Mitcham Bridge over the Wandle are being lined up for a planning decision on 22 October.

We’ve written before about how far the plans fall short here and here.

The new bridge is being designed to last more than one hundred years and yet we are faced with a scheme that fells trees, demolishes an historic wall, tarmacs green space, removes Ravensbury Park’s protection from noise and pollution and breaches minimum standards for cycling provision.

Everyone agrees we need a new bridge and we need it to be opened as soon as possible. It also needs to stand the test of time.

A significant cause of the problem is that Merton Council’s designers have limited themselves to considering only Merton Council’s land in drawing up the designs. Our own Freedom of Information request has confirmed that other landowners, including the National Trust, haven’t even been approached let alone engaged in thinking about different designs. Yet the National Trust has also confirmed to Merton Cycling Campaign that “we would be prepared to consider the use of Watermeads to accommodate a wider bridge if the additional width was for cycle lanes”. Everything points to Merton Council boxing itself into a wrong decision instead of properly evaluating the alternatives.

The range of objections to the new Mitcham Bridge plans is significant – civic societies, local residents and groups concerned with parks, cycling, active travel, trees and the Wandle Valley among others. We have joined up seven of these groups to write to Cabinet Member Martin Whelton asking Merton Council to withdraw the application and think again before it gets to the Planning Applications Committee. This is the letter we have sent:

Dear Councillor Whelton

We are writing to ask you to withdraw Merton Council’s planning application for a replacement to Mitcham Bridge. We recognise the urgent need to reinstate a crossing of the Wandle but the proposed design is not fit for purpose and there has been a lack of effective consideration given to alternatives.

We’re sure that you share our ambitions for the new bridge to support active travel, respect the crossing’s heritage, enhance the treescape and green space, and respond to the climate emergency. The bridge is being built to last well over 100 years and it needs to be fit for the future.

We believe the best way forward is for you to withdraw the application and ask officers to bring forward options which are less constrained about the land available and better able to meet modern standards of bridge design. We are aware, for example, that the National Trust is open to a discussion about the role of Watermeads’ land but it has not been approached about the bridge design. We all stand ready to contribute.

Yours sincerely

Wandle Valley Forum
Merton Cycling Campaign
Merton Residents’ Transport Group
Mitcham Cricket Green Community & Heritage
Watermeads Residents Association
Friends of Ravensbury Park
Mitcham Society
Tree Wardens Group Merton

Kings Arms plans are a bloated intrusion

The Kings Arms occupies one of the most prominent locations in Mitcham’s village centre.

The pub is a locally listed building and it overlooks the historic Fair Green, a registered Town Green and protected Open Space.

The future development of this site is important for the standards it sets and the precedents that are established.

Studio Suites has submitted a planning application to create what is being marketed as 28 high end “studio suites” in a new five storey block in multiple occupation. The proposed studio rooms will be a new residential concept for Mitcham and the development will reduce the space available to the Kings Arms by 29% and the space currently used by Cafe Rose by 14%.

We support mixed use development in the centre of Mitcham but it should not be at the expense of key uses such as pubs and cafes.

The plans have failed to impress Mitcham Society which says the Kings Arms will be “overshadowed by a greedy and poorly designed new building”. We agree. The Kings Arms and adjacent White Lion of Mortimer should remain Mitcham village centre’s premier buildings and not be overwhelmed by development of this scale.

The design results in a bloated building that damages the integrity of the locally listed Kings Arms and obstructs the key elevation facing Fair Green by imposing a glazed ground floor extension which has the appearance of an extended bus shelter.

The developer is kidding nobody by claims that there will be “minimal alterations to the external appearance” and that the new glazed extension will “provide a stunning feature to compliment [sic] the ornate Victorian architecture of the public house”.

The developer has so far failed to talk to either Merton Council or the local community about the plans. They should be refused and we stand ready to discuss how an alternative might be brought forward which respects this important site in the heart of Mitcham.

Read our full representation Kings Arms development – Oct 20

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.