Basement homes too damaging for listed London Road villa

We’re fortunate in Cricket Green in having not one but two Conservation Areas.

Wandle Valley Conservation Area stretches from Watermeads to opposite the Nisa supermarket where London Road is lined by a pair of nationally listed villas. It includes the soon to be demolished Bishopsford Road bridge and the building for the oldest railway station in the world at Mitcham.

There is currently a planning application to develop three homes alongside 472 London Road. This makes up one half of one of the early 19th century Grade II listed villas. It includes the listed coach house which many will remember took on a new and very different life as a tyre warehouse for many years. The coach house is to be converted and two houses built behind it. The two new houses will involve major excavation works as they will be two storey but only one storey above ground.

The plans fall at the first hurdle for not being accompanied by an application for Listed Building Consent. This is required for any changes to the coach house.

Once the full documentation is available then we are asking Merton Council to consider the impact of the two new houses on the setting of the listed villa.

We welcome the opportunity to address the declining quality of the coach house but the grounds of the villa have already been eroded with the development of Taplow Court.

We think the two new houses cross the line of what’s acceptable without damaging the historic integrity of the villa. If the development were to be permitted then it is essential that it is preceded by a full archaeological investigation given the size of basements being proposed.

Read our full submission 472 London Road – April 2020

Justin Plaza development would block cricket pavilion

The pressure for residential development around Cricket Green can be seen in the variety of ways in which developers are finding new sites.

A few years back Justin Plaza facing London Road was converted and the promised Co-op supermarket on the ground floor never materialised.

Now there are plans to demolish the imaginatively named four storey Justin Plaza 2 office block and replace it with a six storey block of flats. This will be designed to fit in with the refurbished Justin Plaza block.

We’ve no objection to the principle of the plans although it is important the backlands behind London Road continue to provide places to work. To this end we would support the new block retaining offices on its ground floor with flats above.

Our main concern is the impact of the plans on the view from Mitcham cricket ground where, as our photo shows, Justin Plaza frames the cricket pavilion and fills the key gap between it and the Burn Bullock.

It is important that this view isn’t further damaged and any new building sits in front of the Justin Plaza flats and doesn’t break the skyline.

At six storeys the new Justin Plaza 2 will simply be too visible.

We’re asking Merton Council to refuse the application and encouraging the developers to come back with a four storey scheme that has offices on the ground floor.

Read our full response – Justin Plaza 2 – April 2020

Benedict Wharf – turning the tide

Merton Council has been clear that planning decisions carry on through Covid-19 and so, therefore, must we.

Mitcham faces a dozen simultaneous development proposals for new blocks of flats which risk changing its character for ever.  The largest of these – for Benedict Wharf – has just got larger. A whole lot larger.

SUEZ has revised its plans to increase the number of homes by over 40% to 850 and increase the height of the tower blocks to up to 10 storeys. The proposed development is far and away the largest seen in Mitcham for a generation.

And let’s not be fooled into thinking this will do anything to house those most in housing need. At best we will see some flats with a small discount on market rents for households earning up to £90,000 per year.  The average salary in Mitcham is nearer £25,000.

In this blog we explore the downsides of the current plans and why they should be rejected. But we also point towards the opportunity that Benedict Wharf can provide to open up a new future for this part of Mitcham – one which can ultimately provide even more homes, target them to match more of those in true housing need and provide green space and a well designed network of streets and houses that is recognisably Mitcham.

There are countless reasons why SUEZ’s plans are a bad way to go.

As SUEZ announced its move to a new Beddington Lane site it promised to create a legacy to be proud of. At first SUEZ invited the community in to debate the options and design the future.  We even shared a submission to Merton’s Local Plan.

And then SUEZ turned its back, closed its ears and listened only to those demanding extra height and density.

SUEZ has presented misleading information and provided false assessments of the visual impact of 10 storey blocks on the surrounding area. The plans give every impression of being designed to meet excessive housing numbers demanded by the Mayor of London as a quid pro quo for allowing the land to be repurposed from industrial to residential use.

They offer the wrong future for Mitcham.

Despite the London Plan requiring such development to be “design-led” and the Government amending the London Plan to say that “gentle densification should be actively encouraged by Boroughs in low- and mid-density locations to achieve a change in densities in the most appropriate way” we are faced with what has been labelled “Suezgrad” – an alien, excessively high and placeless development that harms the local area and feels like anything but a natural extension to Mitcham.

We have presented alternative proposals for mixed-use gentle density and these have been ignored.

The development at Benedict Wharf should respect the character of Mitcham and be led by an urban design vision that emphasises the importance of streets and houses. It should be of a height that avoids visual intrusion, shadowing and encroachment on London Road Playing Fields and negative impacts on views from the two adjacent Conservation Areas. It should rule out any possibility of being visible from either Morden Hall Park or Mitcham’s historic cricket ground. The quality of the scheme should be such that there is public pressure to include the whole site within a Conservation Area within 10 years.

Achieving this would mark a fitting transformation of Benedict Wharf with its long history of “bad neighbour” uses and provide the positive legacy which SUEZ states it wants to leave for the site.

The scheme has deteriorated so far that questions are now being raised as to whether the site might not be better in industrial use after all.

SUEZ has told us it has had offers to buy the land and use it for a distribution warehouse that are worth more financially than its use for homes. With careful controls over lorry movements there is an alternative future here which we believe is best explored through Merton’s Local Plan review.

There is a bigger prize, however, that we are asking Merton Council and the Mayor of London to recognise.

Benedict Wharf lies adjacent to the extensive Phipps Bridge estate to the north (see image).

This provides social housing through Clarion Homes. Parts of Phipps Bridge are in urgent need of renewal. When combined with the opportunity at Benedict Wharf there is potential to create a significant new Mitcham neighbourhood. By renewing Phipps Bridge this can provide a more diverse range of housing that better meets housing need. It would also reduce the likelihood of Benedict Wharf becoming a dormitory neighbourhood. Merton Council is also a landowner in the area, including development sites along Hallowfield Way.

This opportunity could provide more homes in total by making better use of under-used open land on Phipps Bridge and by taking a design-led approach, incorporating the concept of gentle density, integrating significant open spaces, and providing a streets based neighbourhood it would fit in with the local character.

An integrated approach to both Phipps Bridge and Benedict Wharf sites will deliver more homes that better meet local housing needs than can be provided by treating the sites separately. It will also meet the aims of the London Plan better than imposing unsuitably dense and tall development on Benedict Wharf.

The decision by Transport for London to route a new tram line running between the sites is a further stimulus for a re-think which takes advantage of this strategic opportunity.

This decision was made after the Mayor’s intervention on the earlier Benedict Wharf scheme which led SUEZ to increase the size of the development planned. The London Plan has also been revised by the Government since this intervention was made. These two changes alone trigger a need for the Mayor to rethink the approach. We ask him now also to recognise the strategic opportunity of a more integrated approach which supports his ambitions for estate renewal.

This is not the time to rush to a hasty decision on Benedict Wharf. It is a time to pause and see the bigger picture.

The outline planning application for Benedict Wharf has come forward ahead of the Local Plan review and it is this which should determine the future of the site and its relationship with Phipps Bridge. The Local Plan can show the way to creating a new Mitcham neighbourhood which renews Phipps Bridge, repurposes Benedict Wharf, delivers more homes overall and ensures they better meet Mitcham’s needs.

We ask Merton Council and the Mayor of London to consider the plans as they stand today premature and address these alternatives. We ask Clarion Homes to join the endeavour and promote the opportunities for estate renewal through the Local Plan review. This can be supported by a masterplan and design brief for the wider area.

Working together we can turn the tide.  We stand ready to contribute.

Read our full submission on the plans for Benedict Wharf Benedict Wharf – revised draft outline application – Mar 20

Delegation of planning decisions

Merton Council’s Planning Applications Committee has made a far reaching decision to delegate all planning decisions to Merton Council officers for up to six months.

This responds to pressure from central Government for planning decisions to continue to be made while also avoiding the need for physical meetings in the face of the current pandemic. It is not yet legal for planning decisions to be made by Committee in virtual meetings.

This is a troubling move. There is a large number of highly controversial planning applications for development in Mitcham which will be coming forward for decisions in the near future. These include the massive redevelopment of Benedict Wharf and large blocks of flats on Imperial Fields and the Kwik Fit and car wash sites on London Road. Central Mitcham also faces plans for new flats. Most controversial of all would be for officers to make decisions on the Merantun schemes for Raleigh Gardens and the former Canons nursery given the scope for conflicts of interest when Merton Council is both applicant and decision maker.

The Committee plays a vital democratic role and it has exercised significant influence over previous planning applications which have secured more positive outcomes for Mitcham. This includes rejecting five schemes given the green light by officers for redeveloping the Cricketers pub and turning down the “cow shed” that was intended as a market canopy in Fair Green. The opportunity for the public to speak direct to the Planning Applications Committee at its meetings will also be lost.

Development in Mitcham is at a tipping point and the next round of planning decisions on the many blocks of flats will set a precedent that will last for generations. We believe it is essential that this course is decided by the Planning Applications Committee.

We have joined with Mitcham Society and written to the Cabinet member responsible for planning and the Chair of the Planning Applications Committee asking them to delay decisions until the Committee can meet and not to delegate planning decisions over the major developments.

Read our letter

New SUEZ plans for Benedict Wharf cross a line

A massive increase in the scale and height of the flats planned for Benedict Wharf has been unveiled by SUEZ.

The existing proposals for 600 homes were already the largest in Mitcham for a generation.

At 850, the new plans are a whopping 40% larger and now tower to 10 storeys.

There is nothing like them anywhere in the area and they wilfully ignore the feedback which the local community has provided for over two years. Even Merton Council’s own Design Review Panel considered giving them a RED rating before deciding on AMBER.

The extra development responds to an intervention from the Mayor of London and is a quid pro quo for him allowing SUEZ to change Benedict Wharf out of industrial use. The Mayor has told SUEZ to jump and the answer to “How high?” is 10 storeys.

Despite SUEZ’s promises to involve the community in design workshops over any major changes to the plans, they have been imposed upon us. SUEZ’s stated commitment at the start of this process to securing its legacy in the quality of future development has been progressively diluted and is now wholly discredited.

We believe the new development will feel placeless and not part of Mitcham.

It will also cause harm to significant heritage and other assets. As the images clearly show Mitcham Parish Church will be dwarfed by the tower blocks and London Road Playing Fields will face a wall of buildings.

We have presented alternative proposals for mixed-use gentle density and these have been ignored.

We believe the development at Benedict Wharf should respect the character of Mitcham and be led by an urban design vision that emphasises the importance of streets and affordable houses. It should be of a height that avoids visual intrusion, shadowing and encroachment on London Road Playing Fields and negative impacts on views from both Wandle Valley and Cricket Green Conservation Areas.

The quality of the scheme should be such that there is public pressure to include the whole site within a Conservation Area within 10 years. This would mark a fitting transformation of Benedict Wharf with its long history of “bad neighbour” uses and provide the positive legacy which SUEZ states it wants to leave for the site.

There is real concern now that the proposals have crossed a line.

We are questioning our support for residential use of this Strategic Industrial Land. We are dismayed to have reached this position, having done everything we can to work in collaboration with the landowner, SUEZ, and Merton Council, including jointly agreeing how the site should be earmarked for development in Merton’s emerging Local Plan.

The outline planning application for Benedict Wharf has come forward ahead of the Local Plan and we now consider it to be premature. We believe the best way forward is to review alternative uses for the site as part of the Local Plan review, including for strategic industrial use. It may be that with appropriate controls over hours of working and lorry routes, such that they avoid Church Road through Mitcham Cricket Green Conservation Area, an industrial use will be more appropriate than a massive overdevelopment of the site for housing.

What do you think? It’s a hard choice between difficult options.

Benedict Wharf is key to unlocking a much more significant development opportunity that embraces the car pound, Merton Council’s land along Hallowfield Way, Worsfold House (recently sold off to Clarion) and La Sporta. It is also adjacent to a potential tram extension or bus rapid transit route.

Given what has happened it is now clear that these issues need to be resolved together and through the Local Plan. We stand ready to contribute.

You can read our robust feedback on the new Benedict Wharf plans – Benedict Wharf – revised draft outline application – Feb 20.

Shock and dismay at Merton Council’s plans to build over former Canons nursery

This is the second of two blog posts about plans put forward by Merton Council’s own development company, Merantun, for new development in the area.

It addresses proposals for blocks of 11 flats and seven houses on the former Canons nursery between The Canons house and Park Place.

We have already blogged about the development planned for Raleigh Gardens car park and also about the scope for Merantun to be a force for good across the borough.

Merton Council could hardly have chosen a more sensitive site for its first foray into housebuilding. It lies at the centre of the historic Canons landscape that is currently the focus of a major multi-million pound National Lottery funded project. It is in the middle of Mitcham Cricket Green Conservation Area, in a highly sensitive location between two nationally listed mansion houses, in the setting of a nationally listed 16th century dovecote and is bordered by a Grade II* listed boundary wall.

The site includes a magnificent Pagoda tree, which is Merton’s current Tree of the Year.

When we reviewed the options in a major public meeting back in 2013 the local community was clear that the former nursery should be used for purposes that respect its history and link it to the wider Canons landscape.

We have reviewed all 30 reports, drawings, assessments and other information which make up the planning application and concluded that the development proposed falls woefully short of what is appropriate.

It is sad to report that the longest and most detailed response we have ever made is to a planning application is for a development proposed by Merton Council on one of its own flagship historic sites. We conclude:

  • the designs lack inspiration and, in the words of the Design Review Panel are “too busy, intense and slightly military in feel” – have a look at the drawing above of the view from Park Place’s car park and let us know if you see barracks or homes
  • in all 30 documents we can find no reference to the Canons Conservation Management Plan despite this being adopted by Merton Council as a Supplementary Planning Document in September 2017
  • the “Heritage Assessment” accompanying the plans should shame any heritage professional – a 26 page document devotes just six weak paragraphs to assessing the impact of the new development and concludes by singing its praises. Even Merton Council’s own Design Review Panel concluded “There was some scepticism from the Panel regarding the rather emphatic conclusion reported in the review material”
  • there is no assessment of the impact of the development from The Canons, Park Place or the east lawn and dovecote – this may be because it could only conclude that the developments will create a major new built intrusion that will cause substantial harm to these heritage assets and open spaces
  • the designs include a three storey blank wall which should have no place in any new building let alone one in such a sensitive location – see the image below
  • on the one hand the reports state that “the site is currently an underused, poor quality open space” as justification for its development while on the other the ecological survey concludes that the “site has significant ecological value, as it has been left unmanaged for some time, and has developed a seminatural character” – both cannot be true and the site could have been a major beneficiary of Lottery investment with a different approach
  • Merton Council proposes to gate the site off to the public instead of opening it up in direct conflict with the wider ambitions of the National Lottery funded project to increase public access and enjoyment of The Canons grounds
  • there are other unresolved and seemingly unaddressed conflicts with the National Lottery project, including conflict over use of the car park, bin lorries and other servicing and how the two major construction projects can be progressed at the same time
  • the scheme’s architects have displayed a woeful understanding of the local area and could not even name the wonderful Pagoda tree that lies at the heart of their plans when questioned at our Open Meeting in August
  • the future of the Pagoda tree is imperilled by being so boxed in by development on three sides that there is at one point barely one metre between the building and the tree’s canopy, remembering that this already large tree is only middle aged and can be expected to grow much larger
  • a mature yew tree deemed “essential” in earlier tree surveys and identified as a potential bat roost is proposed to be felled rather than used a starting point for the design
  • despite careful controls over lighting elsewhere in The Canons grounds because of feeding bats there are plans for five uplighters and significant light pollution
  • there is no affordable housing provided and this is planned to be included in another scheme on Elm Nursery car park despite it being contrary to Merton’s own planning policy for affordable homes to be integrated into all new development

The Canons deserves so much better.

We are asking Merton Council to withdraw Merantun’s scheme or otherwise see it rejected for its impact on this historic area and its conflict with Merton’s own planning policies.

 

 

Read our full submission on Merantun’s plans for the former Canons nursery – Development of former Canons nursery – January 2020