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

Stop the chop – turning the tide on tree loss

Cricket Green is lucky to have such a wonderful abundance of trees.

We all benefit from their beauty, the wildlife they support and how they tell the story of the passing seasons.

They offer shade in a warming climate, trap air pollution and reduce flooding.

They are part of our heritage and vital to our future. It should be of no surprise therefore that when trees are threatened people cry out.

The ribbons round threatened trees at Mitcham Bridge and the signs warning of their imminent loss are the latest in a long line of public displays of the love for Mitcham’s trees. They need to be the last.

The public outcry at Mitcham Bridge (see photo) has prompted us to ask about the scale of what is being lost.

The results are a worrying reminder of just how easy it is to lose something so important to our neighbourhood. Our research into recent planning applications within just 800m of Mitcham cricket ground shows 138 trees are for the chop.

Many have already gone. All but eight are down to developments for which Merton Council is itself responsible. Here’s the breakdown and take a look at the map:

Mitcham Bridge – 22
Melrose School expansion – 7
Flats in Preshaw Crescent garden – 8
Flats and houses in former Canons nursery – 44
The Canons project – 38
Flats in Raleigh Gardens car park – 19

Total tree loss = 138

We would be interested to know what’s happening in other parts of Merton – email us with your thoughts.

There are plans for new trees within many of these developments. Unfortunately experience shows that too often the new trees never materialise or die within a few years and no enforcement action is taken.

We also see young saplings planted as false compensation for the loss of mature trees and we see a lack of attention to the importance of protecting the tree canopy as well as individual trees.

It is very welcome that Merton Council’s commitment to producing a Tree Strategy looks to be moving forward. Merton is also about to consult on the new Local Plan and to say what it intends to do to address the Climate Emergency. We’ve drawn up a Ten Point Plan for Trees to help. It covers land and trees in Merton Council’s responsibility as well as those for which other landowners and developers are responsible. We would welcome your ideas and proposal to care for our trees.

Our Ten Point Plan for Trees

1. Replace all lost street trees within two years and invite local communities to nominate new street trees every year.

2. Increase tree canopy by 10% by 2030 – faster than the London average – supported by revenue funding for maintenance and capital investment in new planting.

3. Audit the condition and distribution of existing trees as the basis for establishing management priorities and providing guidance on the best locations for future tree planting, including succession planting in areas of high amenity value and measures to reduce the impact of underground services, road signs, dropped kerbs (crossovers) and other Highways impacts.

4. Anticipate future climate change and maximise the benefits for wildlife, pollution control and shade in the choice of tree species.

5. Strengthen Local Plan policy to require a net increase in tree canopy and the overall value of trees where development proposals require their loss, including requiring the planting of semi-mature replacement trees and accounting for lost tree years when replacing mature trees with saplings.

6. Strengthen Local Plan policy to extend requirements for the evaluation of individual trees in development proposals to include assessments of the value of the tree canopy and its amenity and ecosystem benefit, including a financial assessment of the value of any trees to be lost in accordance with i-Tree Eco UK and CAVAT.

7. Introduce and rigorously enforce planning conditions requiring all new trees provided by new development to be maintained or replaced for a minimum of five years from completion.

8. Address the importance of existing and future trees and the tree canopy in character studies, design codes, masterplans and Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plans.

9. Provide the infrastructure and management systems needed to support effective tree maintenance and watering across the borough, including by: providing taps and mobile bowsers for use by local volunteers; changing the mowing regime for parks, green spaces and road verges to avoid tree damage; and requiring contractors idverde undertake planting, watering and maintenance of new trees in parks and green spaces in collaboration with Friends and like-minded groups.

10. Prepare and adopt a Supplementary Planning Document on trees and increasing the tree canopy.

The Tree Strategy should be independently prepared and involve all relevant parts of Merton Council, including planning, parks, green spaces, highways, schools, heritage and public health. It should be based on strong community collaboration co-ordinated by Tree Wardens Group Merton.

It’s time to stop the chop and turn the tide on tree loss.

Melrose School Heritage Assessment fails exam

Merton Council rightly requires all development proposals in a Conservation Area to be accompanied by an assessment of its heritage impact.

This was lacking in the plans to expand Melrose School and we were pleased to see an assessment provided in short time once we had pointed out the absence.

Unfortunately what has been provided would fail any exam.

The wooded character of the land occupied by schools and offices south of Church Road makes an important contribution to the Conservation Area, with significant green spaces around the various buildings.

This is recognised in Merton Council’s Conservation Area Appraisal which notes that the built form is much more open, with large footprint buildings set in open grounds” and that “trees make an important contribution to the character of the area and also contribute to environmental quality by mitigating the effects of traffic noise and counteracting the effects of pollution….. The trees on the south side of Church Road between Vicarage Gardens and Lower Green West are a major feature of the conservation area contrasting with the more urban character prevailing on of the north side of the road.

Any Heritage Assessment should address the impact of development on this sense of openness and the area’s important trees.

Given the Melrose School expansion urbanises a large part of the remaining open space in its grounds and will result in the felling of seven trees this could be expected to be a major part of the assessment. Remarkably, there is not a single mention of either trees or the loss of open space in the document and so it fails in its task to assess the impact on the area’s heritage.

The Heritage Assessment also makes a school-child error in claiming “the nearest heritage asset is the nationally designated remains of a 14th century chapel archway that was built as part of Hall Place and stands on the adjacent Cricket Green School site“. In reality the Grade II listed buildings at 60, 62 & 64 Church Road and the Vicarage of Sts Peter and Paul are both closer. As a result the assessment of the impact of the development on these designated heritage assets is missing.

These flaws undermine the credibility of the whole assessment and will need to be addressed before a decision can be made on the plans.

Our earlier post on the Melrose School expansion

Read our representations on the Melrose School expansion Melrose School development – Sep 20

Read our additional representations on the flawed Heritage Assessment Melrose School development – additional representations – Oct 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

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 representations Kings Arms development – Oct 20