Category Archives: Submissions

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

Merton Heritage Strategy review risks being a paper exercise

Merton Council has published a draft Heritage Strategy to 2025. It should provide a basis to protect, manage and celebrate our diverse heritage and for Merton Council to demonstrate a strong commitment to its future.

We’ve welcomed the intent of a Strategy while asking for more evidence that the lessons have been learned from the weak delivery of the current Strategy agreed in 2015.

Regrettably in our experience the existing Heritage Strategy is all but invisible in discussions with Merton’s planners and those responsible for the local authority’s land and buildings.

Merton Council has delivered on only two of the ten commitments in the current action plan where responsibility lies outside the heritage team. The former Mitcham fire station has been sold off, the Borough Character Study remains unfinished and delivery of The Canons project is already a year behind schedule. There is little value in a Heritage Strategy which is all but ignored by its authors.

The Heritage Strategy places a welcome emphasis on the opportunities for collaboration with voluntary organisations and community groups with an interest in heritage. This sits awkwardly with Merton Council disbanding Merton Heritage Forum in January leaving no other means to collaborate available. The Merton Heritage Forum shambles is perpetuated by officers now claiming it has “not been disbanded” and confirming that doing so results in “no direct costs savings”. The truth is the Council meeting in January decided to “dissolve” the Forum and deleted it from Merton’s constitution.

Delivery of the Heritage Strategy at a time of tight public spending requires ever more attention to the ability of Merton Council to partner with other organisations. With the shining exception of the Heritage and Local Studies Centre, our general experience is one of a top down, uncommunicative organisation which offers little respect for local knowledge and is often absent from the heritage scene.

One example is that it is harder to secure participation of Merton Council owned buildings in Mitcham Heritage Day every year than working with any of our volunteer-run partners. The experience of trying to partner on The Canons project funded by the National Lottery has been head-bangingly frustrating over nearly 10 years, to the point of turning volunteers away.

As a result we have asked Merton Council to progress with the Strategy only when it can provide a clear corporate commitment to heritage, practical mechanisms for collaboration, and an ability to be a good partner. Without these in place the renewed Strategy will be a paper exercise.

We’ve also suggested a more robust approach with a much briefer document supported by principles, a delivery plan and success measures which can be used to judge progress. This should be supported by clear mechanisms for delivery and review and a visibly enhanced corporate commitment from all parts of Merton Council to our heritage.

You can read our full response to Merton’s draft Heritage Strategy here.

Replacing Mitcham Bridge

Mitcham Bridge on Bishopsford Road is the historic gateway to Mitcham across the River Wandle.

You can still see the remains of the old ford on the upstream side. It is located in an important green corridor linking Ravensbury Park and the National Trust’s Watermeads and supports the Wandle Trail.

It is a year since the bridge was closed by flooding while repair works were underway.

Eight months later Merton Council decided that the only way forward was to demolish and build a new bridge. Demolition is underway and Merton Council invited comments on two options for the design of the new parapets last month. We have teamed up with Wandle Valley Forum and Mitcham Society to respond.

The future of Mitcham Bridge is much more important than the design of its parapets.

It is an historic location and it is important that this heritage is recognised and protected. The current bridge carries parish markers as the river is the parish boundary. We have asked that these are incorporated into the new bridge.

There are opportunities for interpretation to tell the story of the area and we’ve offered to work with Merton Council on a project to deliver this.

The works also provide an opportunity to better connect Ravensbury Park and the new bridge should support a wider pavement and make space for those on bikes.

Crossing the new Mitcham Bridge should be an event. We’re asking Merton Council to be more creative and recognise the Wandle through some public art, such as images of a heron or trout rendered in decorative wrought iron railings.

We’ve asked Merton Council to demonstrate how the new bridge will meet the legal requirement to preserve and enhance Wandle Valley Conservation Area. It also needs to support the Catchment Management Plan for the Wandle by enhancing the river’s natural flow, naturalising its banks. reducing shadowing, benefiting wildlife and protecting the water from pollution and silt.

Building a new bridge is a rare and special event. We deserve the best for Mitcham.

Take a look at our joint submission – Bishopsford Road bridge.

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