Ward councillors – our first report

Each ward in Merton has three elected councillors whose “primary role is to represent their ward or division and the people who live in it” (Local Government Association).

Our work looking out for Cricket Green demands an active local authority which both uses its powers effectively and provides local leadership. Local authority decisions are largely made by a select band of councillors who are appointed to the Cabinet but ward councillors still have an important role in raising issues and getting them heard.

Mitcham Cricket Green Conservation Area spans two wards (Cricket Green and Figges Marsh) and is represented by six councillors.

Over the years we have raised many different issues with them with mixed results. Sometimes these issues spill over into social media although much work is done less publicly.

Given their importance we have prepared a report on the issues we have raised with our ward councillors since the last local elections. This will make things more transparent and also provide a public record of what has been achieved. It has been shared with ward councillors prior to publication.

This first report can be downloaded below. It summarises progress on sixteen different issues including:

  • securing the future of Mitcham cricket pavilion
  • providing information on Merton Council’s sale and swapping of land at Hallowfield Way
  • enforcing against unauthorised estate agent signs and hoardings around the Cricketers, Brook House and the old fire station
  • attending meetings of the Design Review Panel from which the public are barred
  • supporting the review of the Cricket Green Charter
  • speaking at Planning Committee on developments affecting Cricket Green
  • the continuing delay in Merton Council delivering on its promise to register new town green as part of the Rediscover Mitcham project
  • providing support for the repair and replacement of the distinctive road signs as part of the 50th anniversary of Cricket Green Conservation Area

There have been successful outcomes on six of the sixteen issues raised. Three issues have closed without any success. Nothing has been achieved so far on a further five issues although there is still an opportunity for progress. One issue saw progress separate from any councillor impact and a final issue is currently being acted on.

Read our Councillor report – November 2019

We would welcome your responses on what it says and how things can be improved.

Architects confirm negative impact of Mitcham scheme on Conservation Area

Plans to demolish and replace a large stretch of Mitcham’s shops on Upper Green East alongside Barclays Bank with a four storey block are being considered by Merton Council.

The scheme will set the precedent for future development around Fair Green and we believe it is both too high and lacks design quality.

It also fails to provide a single affordable home in any of the 20 flats.

The architects have made some minor changes in response to feedback from Mitcham Society and ourselves.

The changes fail to address the fundamental problem that the new building is too large, too high and too poorly designed for Mitcham’s centre.

There is even a suggestion that adding lavender mosaic tiles somehow represents an adequate response to the historic character of the area.

The new information also includes a new image that confirms the impact on the Conservation Area from near Three Kings Pond.

The architects believe the scheme will be “just visible”.

We believe the image confirms the creation of an intrusive bland elevation which doesn’t fit with the existing pitched roofline. Have a look and see what you think.


Read our original representation and our updated one

Our five year enforcement report

The quality of life in Cricket Green owes much to planning controls.

These ensure development meets minimum standards, trees and open spaces are protected, noisy and intrusive activity prevented and listed buildings aren’t neglected.

The effectiveness of planning controls is only as good as the quality of their enforcement. This has long been a Cinderella of Merton Council and the official record shows that the number of outstanding enforcement actions on the books across the Borough is reaching 1,000. This doesn’t include the multitude of breaches that go unreported.

We are seriously concerned by the impact of weak enforcement on Cricket Green and are publishing our five year report. This tracks the success, or otherwise, of our formal requests to Merton Council for action since 2014 on issues such as:

  • loss of trees due to failure to comply with planning permission for multi-use games area at The Canons
  • the unauthorised use of Burn Bullock car park for car sales
  • paving of front gardens without planning permission
  • removal of the characteristic yellow tiles at the former Bull pub
  • the proliferation of estate agent boards at Brook House and the Cricketers flats without permission
  • the failure to implement requirements of listed building repair notice at Burn Bullock
  • hoardings erected without permission around the fire station and straying onto others land
  • unauthorised tree clearance, new entrance and other works at Blue Houses site

The record speaks for itself.

Only two of the fourteen issues raised have been resolved and even with these we were not notified of the action being taken.

Our representations have been frequently ignored even after writing five or six times and some responses have taken literally years to secure.

On this evidence it is clear Merton’s enforcement team is stretched too thinly and needs to be both better resourced and supported in taking a more assertive approach.

Read our Five Year Enforcement Report

We plan to maintain it and hope that future reports will paint a more positive picture.

Is this the future of Mitcham’s village centre?

We’re backing the Mitcham Society in its efforts to retain a village feel in central Mitcham.

Merton’s new Local Plan has a key role to play by controlling the height of new development and respecting the modest plot sizes which avoid bulky buildings that dominate the street.

Our fear is that damaging development will happen before the Local Plan comes into force.

The risk is real and we are now faced with plans to demolish and replace the parade of shops running along Upper Green East from Barclays Bank with a four storey block of flats and shops promised beneath.

The redevelopment of 33-39 Upper Green East is the first major scheme in Mitcham for years.

It needs to set the standard for the future and establish the right precedents. Instead we have a bulky block of flats using designs that could be found anywhere and owe little to the rich heritage of Mitcham.

They will dominate the visual link between Fair Green and the Conservation Area at Three Kings Pond and erode rather than add to Mitcham’s character.

The developers also plead poverty over development costs and propose to provide no affordable homes.

We are asking Merton Council to demand better and reject what’s on offer. Mitcham is going to change over the next few years. It contains underused land and some poor quality buildings. This change must avoid development of ubiquitous design and provide an opportunity to strengthen its village character and draw on its rich history.

You can read a full copy of our representations here.

Old Mitcham fire station plans a non-starter

The future of the much loved old fire station by the Vestry Hall has been uncertain ever since London Fire Brigade moved to the shiny new building over the tram line.

We developed plans with a theatre company for a community arts centre but they were thwarted by Merton Council being unwilling to take up its right of first refusal on sale of the fire station before it went on the open market.

After much delay the old fire station was sold to Parkside Property Limited for just £670,000. Its plans for new flats were then considered by Merton Council’s Design Review Panel behind closed doors.

The plans are now public and they fail on all counts.

They are technically flawed in taking land owned by Merton Council without even notifying them. They fence off and tarmac an area of registered town green. They are supported by a “heritage assessment” which fails even to identify the adjacent war memorial as Grade II listed. And they block off land where the Deed of Assurance under which the land was originally transferred requires “a right of way on foot only at all times”.

This means the planning application should be summarily dismissed even before considering its impact on the Conservation Area.

The plans involve a large extension to the rear and the loss of the historic engine bay in the locally listed fire station. They present an incongruous elevation to the listed war memorial and sit awkwardly alongside the Vestry Hall. They will also introduce fencing, lighting, bin stores and other visual clutter where there should be none.

We’re keen for the old fire station to be put to good use. A modest development which respects the sensitivity of this prominent site at the heart of the Conservation Area is needed. We look forward to working with the new owners once planning permission for this scheme has been refused.

You can read our full comments on the plans for the former Mitcham fire station here

Merantun – seeking inspiration and respect from Merton Council’s own development company

Merton Council established Merantun as its own development company in 2017.

Many local authorities now have development companies and we have welcomed Merantun as providing Merton Council with the ability to intervene directly in the development of land and to raise the bar when it comes to the quality of new building.

Two years on Merantun is about to put in planning applications for flats and other residential development on four sites where Merton Council owns the land. These include the former nursery at The Canons (image above) and Raleigh Garden car park (image below).

We have reviewed the plans and found them wanting.

They highlight deeper weaknesses in the way Merantun has been set up and operates. Instead of tasking Merantun with improving the quality of design, setting new standards for community engagement and intervening on difficult sites, its sole purpose is to “generate income for the Council.” In other words it operates like any other private developer. It also takes away capacity from the vital Future Merton team at Merton Council with senior staff now working for Merantun for much of the week.

We hope and expect Merantun to engage local people in its plans and show others how this can be done well. Instead, it chose to have its first schemes examined by Merton’s Design Review Panel behind closed doors and gave less than 48 hours notice of an exhibition of its proposals held at the height of the August holiday period. It then failed to make any of the exhibition material available online. This is worse practice than most private developers we engage with over emerging development.

Originally, Merantun’s intended each of its four sites to be designed by different architects. This could have provided innovation and new thinking. In then end its procurement was too weak and they are all designed as a job lot by architect giant Weston Williamson.

The Merantun contract is a small one for such a large company and it isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

Merantun is about to import bland designs that could be from anywhere. Worse, the schemes will actively damage the Conservation Area by looming over Glebe Court and damaging the historic setting of The Canons. The architects cannot even get the name right of the striking Pagoda tree which lies at the heart of their own designs for The Canons nursery.

We are asking Merton Council to take stock and learn the lessons from Merantun’s first two years.

Work on the planning applications should be paused and the schemes reworked with strong community engagement and a real sense of place. Merantun’s role should be reimagined so it not only makes money but also raises the bar on design and community engagement. The success of Merantun should be judged as much by the impact on other developers as it is on the quality of its own plans. It should be resourced so there is no net reduction on the capacity of the Future Merton team.

Merantun can be a force for good, providing both inspiration for what new development can achieve and respect for what already exists. It’s not too late to create both a company and developments we can all be proud of and given the quality of other development in the pipeline this leadership can’t come soon enough.

You can read our full Merantun submission here.