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