Category Archives: Submissions

Capturing Cricket Green’s character

There is something very special about the character of Cricket Green.

It is widely recognised by those who live here and visitors often comment on the village-feel, our greens, a sense of history and the mix of interesting buildings.

We always ask developers to respect this character when they come forward with new buildings and it is important to protect it.

Describing Cricket Green’s character isn’t easy. It’s a complex place shaped over centuries of development and change. The task has been taken on by Merton’s new Character Study which is being consulted on by Merton Council.

We’ve welcome the study. It is much needed and a vital complement to the new Local Plan that will guide development well into the 2030s.

Merton Council has already had one false start when it produced studies for 22 of Merton’s 36 character areas between 2011 and 2015 but failed to finalise them and give them legal weight when planning decisions are made.

The new Character Study misses out on the richness of the unfinished work. By providing an assessment of the complex character of Cricket Green in just 103 words it leaves our special neighbourhood short changed.

The earlier Character Study now being set aside devoted over 1,400 words to Cricket Green.

Merton Council’s approach to preparing the Character Study means it owes more to the view of external consultants than local communities. Despite years of asking to be involved there has been only limited consultation and the character descriptions of 20 out of the 36 neighbourhoods across the Borough are informed by comments from fewer than ten people.

We have stressed the importance of recognising Mitcham as a village and addressing the importance of our registered greens and the special qualities of Mitcham Common. We have welcomed Merton Council’s acknowledgment of the importance of the historic crossing of the Wandle at Mitcham Bridge which has been misnamed in the controversy over building a new “Bishopsford Road Bridge”.

For Cricket Green we have taken Merton Council’s text and redrafted it to reflect local priorities. See our proposed changes in the graphic at the bottom of this post.

Our proposals have been informed by the work behind the Cricket Green Charter published in 2019 after we contacted over 5,000 households. The changes we propose recognise the true history of Mitcham cricket ground, put more emphasis on the important role played by mature trees and look towards the sensitive re-use of important sites such as the Wilson, Birches Close and the Burn Bullock.

Merton Council is also consulting on a draft Toolkit to secure better quality design in new buildings on the many small sites across the Borough. Sites of less than a quarter of a hectare have been responsible for over 60% of new homes built in the the borough in last 15 years.

We’ve welcomed the approach while also stressing that it will require more than the publication of a Toolkit to deliver the necessary sea change in Merton’s culture which will secure quality design informed by early community engagement and local preferences in new development.

You can read our comments on Merton’s draft Character Study here.

You can read our comments on Merton’s draft Small Sites Toolkit here.

Reviewing Merton Council’s Design Review Panel

In common with many local authorities Merton Council uses a Design Review Panel to help it assess the design quality of new developments.

This is made up of external architects, urban designers, transport planners, landscape and other professional who review schemes, often well before a planning application is submitted.

We welcome design review. When operated transparently and well it can provide insight and support to raise the game in the quality of design. There are also risks, especially when it operates in a deep seated culture that views the role of the Design Review Panel as a closed group of behind-the-scenes advisors that stands separate from normal standards of public scrutiny or engagement.

Government policy is placing ever more emphasis on design quality and the role of design review and it also features in Merton’s new Local Plan. It is timely therefore to have Merton’s approach put under the spotlight by the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel and we’ve drawn a number of issues and concerns to its attention in a detailed submission.

The bottom line is that Merton’s Design Review Panel is not fit for purpose.

It doesn’t meet the industry standard and Merton Council has chosen not to sign up to the Mayor of London’s Quality Review Charter.

Merton is an outlier in having the Chair of its Planning Applications Committee also as Chair of its Design Review Panel seemingly oblivious to the problems this causes.

There is evidence that Merton’s constitutional safeguards to prevent any conflict are being breached – including the then Chair of the Planning Applications Committee voting to grant planning permission for a development that was subject to design review at a meeting she also chaired.

The Design Review Panel has other failings including:

  • no agreed terms of reference
  • no details on the Panel members and why they are qualified to serve
  • no controls over the length of time Panel members serve, with some exceeding 10 years
  • no transparent mechanism for handling conflicts of interest where Panel members are
  • working on development projects in Merton
  • failures to publish reports or provide advance notice of meetings
  • holding reviews of Merton Council’s own developments behind closed doors
  • the same officer who provides professional advice on urban design also running the Design Review Panel and writing its reports
  • holding review by email despite commitments not to do so and failing to publish their contents even where meetings would otherwise be held in public
  • operating an outdated traffic light system that rates schemes as Red, Amber or Green and which is regularly abused
  • failing to design review some controversial developments, including a large block of flats on Metropolitan Open Land at Imperial Fields described by Merton Council’s design officer as an “office block in a car park”

We’ve made 22 recommendations for reforms which will guarantee the probity of design review and ensure the Design Review Panel operates transparently and effectively. These can all be delivered in six months.

You can read our submission on the Design Review Panel here

You can also see our submission as a paper for the Merton Council Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel meeting on 23 February 2021 here

You can watch that meeting and meetings of the Design Review Panel on Merton TV

Merton’s Local Plan – friend or foe?

Question – What do the following have in common? The fate of Mitcham cricket pavilion. Proposals for over 1,000 new flats within 10 minutes walk of the cricket ground. The future of the Wilson Hospital. Having shopping parades on London Road and Bramcote Avenue. Protecting Mitcham’s greens and village character. Keeping business and jobs alive in workshops on Lower Green West. Enjoying the avenue of trees on Three Kings Piece. Whether new tower blocks will be built in Mitcham. How many local people can afford new homes in Cricket Green. Proposals for a new road built across Mitcham Common for heavy lorries?

Answer – Merton’s new Local Plan

The fate of all of this and more depends on developers getting planning permission to make changes to our neighbourhood. The main guide to whether planning permission is given is the planning policy in Merton’s Local Plan. The Local Plan is now up for review and a new set of draft policies has been published which will last till 2035. The new Plan also earmarks eighteen sites around Mitcham for development.

It is no surprise, therefore, that a new Local Plan has prompted our most comprehensive representations yet to Merton Council about how it should plan for new building, support the community and protect the heritage, open spaces and wildlife that makes Cricket Green so special. Too much of our neighbourhood has been changing for the worse, forever, as a result of poorly located and designed new buildings and conversions and the unnecessary loss of trees, green space and heritage.

The new Local Plan is a chance to turn this around. With a strong approach driven by local needs and priorities it can be the friend that will care for Cricket Green, raise standards and turn away those who will damage our neighbourhood. In the wrong hands it could turn out to be Cricket Green’s worst enemy. We’ve set out our stall for what needs to happen. One thing is clear – much more work is needed on the Local Plan to make it fit for purpose.

Our 12,000 word submission includes proposals which seek the following:

  • Policies which can actually deliver on the Plan’s strong ambitions, including to remove disparities between the east and west of the Borough, rather than leave them as an undeliverable wish list.
  • Putting protection of Merton’s green spaces, wildlife and heritage assets at the heart of a “Spatial Vision” that currently omits them.
  • Recognising Mitcham’s village character as the centrepiece of its planning policies with a broader focus on social, community, cultural, environmental and heritage and less emphasis on encouraging anywheresville high street brands.
  • Policies to protect an inventory of identified community assets, neighbourhood shopping parades and scattered employment sites in Mitcham.
  • The addition of the Merton Dementia Hub site following announcement of its closure as a new allocation with the potential for community-led housing.
  • Strengthening 13 other development site allocations, including securing community ownership of Mitcham cricket pavilion and development at The Wilson which respects its heritage and open space.
  • Deleting the site allocations for the former Canons nursery and Raleigh Gardens car park as undeliverable following the closure of Merantun Development Ltd.
  • Deleting the site allocation at Imperial Fields which continues to be designated as Metropolitan Open Land, Green Corridor and Open Space.
  • Major strengthening of the Plan’s approach to securing high quality design, including preparation of a Design Code for Mitcham Cricket Green.
  • Recognising Mitcham’s registered Town Greens as heritage assets and identifying The Canons as one of a new local list Merton historic parks and gardens.
  • Protecting the panoramic Wandle Vista on Mitcham Common identified in award winning research.
  • Proving more protection for scattered employment sites and supporting environmental improvements on Willow Lane Industrial estate.
  • An overhaul of Merton’s weak planning policies for protecting trees, supporting an accelerated increase in the tree canopy and measures to ensure any essential tree felling is accompanied by new planting of trees of greater value.
  • Deleting the dinosaur road scheme providing another access to Willow Lane Industrial Estate which was rejected in the 1990s and which would cause unnecessary loss of Mitcham Common and damage to the Conservation Area at Aspen Gardens.
  • Providing for improved cycling conditions along Commonside West without losing any part of Three Kings Piece to a cycle lane.
  • Six additional proposals for improvements to Cricket Green’s public realm and for people on foot.
  • Strengthening policy to secure an increase in truly affordable homes and require all new homes to have opening windows in at least two different elevations.
  • A major edit to address the draft Plan’s myriad errors, grammatical mistakes and omissions and provide a structure and approach that makes sense to all who will need to use it.
  • Further public consultation on a Plan that looks at least the required 15 years ahead and is supported by much stronger evidence to back up its approach.
  • An overhaul of the measures to ensure delivery of the Plan is effectively monitored and reviewed.

You can delve deeper into our full submission here.

Last chance for Benedict Wharf

The fate of Benedict Wharf and the largest development in Mitcham for generations is coming to a head. Following refusal of planning permission by Merton Council back in June the Mayor of London has taken over the decision and will cast judgment after a Representation Hearing on Tuesday 8th December.

We’ve written before about the plans for Benedict Wharf triggered by SUEZ moving its waste management operation to a new location in Beddington Lane. We’re glad to see the back of the lorries, noise and smell, and SUEZ committed itself to leaving behind a legacy to be proud of.

The reality is very different. Instead of providing a natural extension of Mitcham which meets local housing needs, SUEZ is dumping a mega development of 10 storey flats and 850 homes on the area and still failing to provide homes which are in reach of local people. Once permission is granted SUEZ will cut and run. The site will be sold to London Square, the self-professed “property company with a difference” whose team largely learned their trade at Barratt Developments.

We have commissioned new research from the influential social enterprise Create Streets which confirms our worst fears. SUEZ’s plans are a major overdevelopment of the site, they prioritise housing numbers over design quality and they ignore community preferences.

We have been dismayed to find Merton Council’s new leader, Mark Allison, has written to the Mayor supporting the plans. Remember, this scheme has been rejected by the Planning Applications Committee. It has been opposed by all three Cricket Green ward councillors and local MP, Siobhain McDonagh has described it as “an extraordinary overdevelopment of the site”. Siobhain is speaking against the plans at the Hearing. For all this to be undermined by the Council’s leadership is truly shocking.

The Mayor’s officers have admitted that “that the proposed development would alter the setting of the Mitcham Cricket Green Conservation Area” and cause “harm”. They have also recommended not only that permission is granted but that the detailed plans that follow should provide no fewer than 840 homes. Their report barely pays lip service to the concerns of the local community articulated over many years.

As a result we have called on the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, to intervene and call-in the planning decision. The Government has recently amended the London Plan to support “gentle densification” in areas like Mitcham and the Benedict Wharf plans ride roughshod over this new approach before it is even out of the starting blocks. This is the last line of defence against a damaging decision being made that will scar Mitcham for decades.

Benedict Wharf is the largest of a flood of proposals for new flats all within 10 minutes walk of the cricket ground. Our efforts to protect trees and green spaces, provide truly affordable homes and protect the Conservation Area is putting extra demands on our charitable resources. We have launched a crowdfunder to raise £1,500 to support this work.

If you would like to turn the tide on damaging development then please make donation.

Read our representations to the Mayor’s Hearing on Benedict Wharf, including the independent critique by Create Streets Benedict Wharf – Mayoral Representation Hearing

Read our request to the Secretary of State to call-in the planning application  Benedict Wharf – call in request

Formal complaint over Merton Council’s handling of Mitcham Bridge plans

Signs on trees at Mitcham Bridge

It has been hard to miss the public controversy over plans for a replacement Mitcham Bridge. We are still hopeful that Merton Council will see sense and return with revised and less damaging plans that can be delivered quickly. With new leadership and some fresh faces around the Cabinet table the time is ripe to set a different tone which listens to the local community and protects the environment.

Merton Council faced a barrage of questions at it last Council meeting over the bridge. Many of these prompted evasive responses. They all but confirm councillors have clearly been spreading misleading information by exaggerating the number of dead or dying trees. The Council also cannot admit to having failed to talk to the National Trust about alternative designs for the bridge using some of its land. This is despite the National Trust saying it is open to discussing its use for cycle lanes.

The responses also confirmed some of the widespread concerns about the way the project has been handled. They mean we have no other option but to complain formally to the Council’s independent Monitoring Officer. Our complaint raises issues of probity and procedure which have caused widespread concern and undermined trust in the Merton Council’s decision making processes. We believe they also show maladministration.

We provide evidence that the Planning Applications Committee:

  • was misled on the compliance of the plans with cycling standards
  • was not informed by officers of any of the many organisations objecting to the plans
  • was not informed about objections from those who followed the Council’s procedures for commenting on planning applications but was informed about supporters who bypassed the system
  • based its decision on a consultation process that gave members of the public four different closing dates causing widespread confusion
  • was unaware of the equality implications of the plans as no assessment was provided despite Merton Council’s responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 and the known impact of additional noise and air pollution on residents of Watermeads Estate
  • was unaware of the significance of the proposed bridge departing from the policies in Merton’s Local Plan

The plans should be withdrawn or otherwise we believe the Planning Applications Committee’s decision should be reviewed and rescinded.

We also believe the issue should trigger a review of the way the Planning Applications Committee does its business. The Local Government Association’s guidance on “Probity in Planning” states that that this should be done “regularly”. Merton Council has confirmed no review has been undertaken for at least a decade. It is long overdue and particularly important right now as the make-up of the Planning Applications Committee has changed significantly with a new chair and several new members.

Read Mitcham Bridge – complaint to Monitoring Officer – Nov 20

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