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.

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

Slow start for Merton’s Covid-19 Active Transport Strategy

With fewer cars on the road and everyone respecting the two metre rule we are seeing local authorities across the country working hard to create more space for people.

Pavements are being widened, parking bays suspended, new cycle lanes installed, crossing times changed to favour pedestrians and rat runs blocked off to create new outdoor space.

We can hope and expect that many of these initiatives will become permanent as our lives change and adapt in the years ahead.

The Mayor of London has announced a “London Streetspace” programme in response to a possible ten-fold increase in cycling and five-fold increase in walking.

Merton Council has now launched its own Covid-19 Active and Health Travel response  in the face of a growing clamour for action. The ambition is strong Merton Council will repurpose some of our borough’s streets and key locations to serve this unprecedented demand for walking and cycling in a major strategic shift to meet our long terms sustainability and active travel goals”

But the accompanying delivery falls well short of what’s needed.

There are only 14 proposals for immediate action across the entire Borough. The document itself is undated, hard to navigate, full of links which don’t work, missing information on most of its proposals and even lacks a Merton Council logo.

We’ve identified a number of shortcomings:

1. Geographical bias. One of the standout problems with the plans is that eight of the 14 proposals are in Wimbledon. The only place in Mitcham to benefit is London Road between the White Hart and Mitcham tram stop, with plans for first a temporary cycle lane and then a permanent cycle/bus lane on opposite sides of the road. The other places outside Wimbledon to benefit are confined to three proposals on the A298 Kingston Rd/Merton High St and one for Haydons Road bridge. Without a dramatic shift in emphasis the inequalities between the east and the west of our borough will be perpetuated.  

2. Whose roads? Most the main roads in Merton are the responsibility of Transport for London and not Merton Council. The plans are silent on which of the proposals can be delivered by Merton Council and where a green light is needed from Transport for London. We need a clear strategy for what Merton Council will be delivering itself as well as what it depends on others to permit.

3. Selection criteria. The plans are silent on how the first 14 proposals have been selected. Are they the easiest to implement or those which will bring most benefit? Have choices which will slow traffic down been ruled out? Are they the schemes most likely to get funding or those which will most improve lives? What proposals have already been rejected and why? We need to know the basis on which decisions have been made as well as what has been decided.

4. Funding choices. The plan includes the commitment of £80,000 Merton Council funding but the costed proposals add up to only £19,000. It remains unclear whether the rest, and any additional proposals that might follow, are entirely dependent on funding from Transport for London or off the back of development taking place in the Borough. Given the ambition for a “major strategic shift” we need to see more than a funding bid to Transport for London as the main commitment by Merton Council to deliver change on our streets.

5. Collaboration vacuum. Local authorities across the country have tapped into the knowledge and expertise of local communities in devising their Covid-19 transport plans. Many have collaborated online and gathered ideas and proposals from the communities who know their area best. A wide range of collaboration and mapping tools are now available free of charge to local authorities to help. None of this is visible in Merton Council’s plans. Instead they are based on a seemingly haphazard mix of, says the official online document, “officer observations, feedback from business groups, local councillors and picking up residents’ concerns via social media.” Far from reaching out to involve people the plans promise to “accelerate” the limited consultation already carried out on street works.

The approach perpetuates the misguided belief that consultation causes delay and that it is about navigating the legal procedures necessary to gain permission rather than a source of ideas and inspiration. Merton Council is way behind the curve in its attitude and approach.

6. Publicity drought.The lack of publicity for the transport plans is striking and they were placed online without any announcement. Even Merton Council’s lone tweet set a strange tone in stating it was “working with” the responsible Cabinet Member Martin Whelton. To his credit Councillor Whelton was the first to announce the proposals and has engaged in the subsequent discussion on social media. Nevertheless, we need a communication strategy based on more than the social media following of a Cabinet member and we need the future of our streets and public places to be higher on Merton Council’s priorities.

7. Limited choices. The plans focus on a very limited number of ways to improve our streets and public spaces in a very limited number of places. There is so much more that can be done than replacing parking with pavements in five locations, widening pavements in five more, providing cycle lanes in four locations and putting some stickers down on the pavement outside two shops to help manage queues. Every neighbourhood should be benefiting from such measures and more space being provided in every one of Merton’s high streets and shopping areas. The phasing of traffic lights and the timing of crossings should be changed to favour pedestrians wherever possible. Existing pedestrian and cycle routes should be promoted and the plans extended to block off some roads as through routes for cars and make them available for pedestrians. Existing controls over travel plans, fly parking, pavement parking and vehicle speeds should be better enforced. We need a much more comprehensive and ambitious approach.

For Cricket Green having just one short cycle lane and an even shorter bus/cycle lane on the opposite side of a small stretch of London Road is a very slow start. Our Cricket Green Charter already provides a way forward for both immediate and longer term plans:

“Pedestrian routes should be enhanced throughout the area, including more pedestrian priority at road crossings and new links through Benedict Wharf, the Wilson, Worsfold House and the Birches, and to the Wandle Trail, Watermeads and Morden Hall Park.  Highways investment should support measures to reduce, calm, pacify or eliminate road traffic and reduce air pollution including: ending Lower Green West’s isolation as a traffic island; improving conditions for pedestrians in Cricket Green Road (east), Church Road, Church Path, Three Kings Pond and at Jubilee Corner and the cricket pavilion; and closing King George VI Avenue to cars.”

Immediate priorities should also include rephasing traffic and crossing lights and taking action to create space for people around Mitcham Junction station, Mitcham tramstop and central Mitcham. Heavy lorries should be banned from the narrow part of Church Road and more space provided for pedestrians along London Road from Cricket Green into Fair Green. This can all be achieved without harming the character of the area or losing green space. Let us know if you have others and they can be fed in direct to Merton Council via future.merton@merton.gov.uk.

The “major strategic shift” envisaged in Merton’s plans is ambitious and welcome. Its benefits need to be felt in every neighbourhood and to make it happen we are asking Merton Council to listen harder and collaborate more.

2019 annual review published

Tuesday 28th April 2020 should be the day of our Annual General Meeting. One of the features of this meeting is a celebration of our work in the previous calendar year.

In the current circumstances, with social distancing governing all our activities, our AGM has been postponed until later in the year, but we are still publishing our annual review.

2019 was the 50th anniversary year of Mitcham Cricket Green Conservation Area. Find out how we celebrated – including eating cake, planting a new golden privet hedge, Tweeting 50 things that make our Conservation Area so special.

Learn how we refreshed the Cricket Green Charter, and about other milestones in our year.

Even at the current time, our work continues. If after taking a look at our annual review, you would like to support us, please consider becoming a member.

Annual review 2019 screen (read on screen)
Annual review 2019 booklet (print double sided and fold into booklet)

See our other publications here

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