Tag Archives: Merantun

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

Merton Council plans to develop eyesore in central Mitcham

This is the first of two blogs about the housing developments planned by Merton Council’s new development company, Merantun.

We blogged back in September about the opportunity for Merantun to “be a force for good, providing both inspiration for what new development can achieve and respect for what already exists.”

Merton Council has a special responsibility when bringing forward its own development to set the standard and to be able to look other developers in the eye and demand well-considered new buildings when making planning decisions.

It is with a heavy heart therefore that we we have reviewed Merantun’s first planning applications and found them falling woefully short of the mark.

Even before looking at the impact of the buildings it is clear that Merantun has skimped on community engagement, left it all to the last minute, and provided no information online. To make a bad situation worse the current crop of four applications (three in Mitcham) were all submitted at the same time, with an opportunity for public comment that coincided with the Christmas break, a decision which was either wilful or incompetent.

We are also dismayed at the limited approach to providing affordable homes. These are planned for only one of Merantun’s sites, at Elm Nursery car park. This is despite it being Merton Council planning policy to integrate affordable homes into all new development. The schemes also fall well short of providing the amount of affordable homes expected by Merton Council and the Mayor of London’s planning policies.

By far the largest of the four Merantun schemes now being considered is for Raleigh Gardens car park. It is earmarked for 36 flats in a development reaching 6 storeys that would set a damaging precedent for both the height and the quality of the new development we can expect to see in Mitcham’s centre over the next few years.

The quality of information commissioned by Merantun to support its plans is well below standard.

Even the Government’s own heritage advisors Historic England has said the archaeological assessment “does not provide enough information” and has told Merton Council’s planners that “if you do not receive more archaeological information before you take a planning decision, I recommend that you include the applicant’s failure to submit that as a reason for refusal.”

Remember, this is an application by Merton Council to itself which is being spotlighted for failing to provide even basic information.

We would support a well designed development on the Raleigh Gardens car park as part of wider plans for the future of Mitcham which also tackle other empty and poorly used sites. This could extend the shopping parade from London Road to Lidl and provide affordable homes.

Instead Merton Council has put forward plans on the boundary of the Conservation Area which overwhelm neighbouring buildings, including Glebe Court and the modest two storey homes along the remainder of Raleigh Gardens.

It will set the future of Mitcham’s centre off in a direction that will irreversibly harm the opportunities to retain and enhance its distinctive village character. The scheme appears more driven by a desire to maximise financial return than respond to and enhance Mitcham.

Our concerns are shared by Merton Council’s own Design Review Panel which concluded, in giving the scheme an Amber rating, that the “site was overdeveloped”.

The impact on Glebe Court is profound.

The Design Review Panel describes it as creating a “canyon effect” and the extent to which Glebe Court will be overwhelmed is clear from the architects own drawings.

The impacts won’t just be felt in how the area will look but also in the quality of life for Glebe Court residents. Merantun’s own Daylight and Sunlight Assessment concludes that after the flats are built only 45% of the windows facing the new development would meet official guidelines for daylight and a shocking 29% would be “subject to noticeable losses”. This level of impact is wholly unacceptable.

We remind you again that this is a development being proposed by Merton Council.

The scheme falls down on many other counts. The architectural quality lack any distinction and the analysis of other local developments from which it might take some cues is substandard.

The design singularly fails to break up the monolithic appearance from Raleigh Gardens and it is to be fringed by a wall and not hedgerows despite the high levels of local air pollution. The sustainability ambitions for the development are either unclear or too weak. The plans add to light pollution with no fewer than 17 uplighters in a way that makes no sense.

It is Government planning policy that “permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions”.

Merantun’s plans for Raleigh Gardens car park are of poor design and do not respond to the local area or improve it. They harm both the setting of Mitcham Cricket Green Conservation Area and Glebe Court and fall foul of at least seven Merton Council planning policies.

Merton Council simply has to do better. Merantun should withdraw the planning application for a rethink or face up the the fact that Merton Council will have to refuse planning permission for its own development.

Read our full comments on Merantun’s plans for Raleigh Gardens car park Development of Raleigh Gardens car park – January 2020.

The lessons from Worsfold House

Merton Council is a significant landowner in Cricket Green as well as being the local planning authority.

Its Cabinet will make a key decision tonight (July 15th 2019) on one of the Council’s most important sites – Worsfold House.

This is located alongside Church Path and next to Cricket Green School. It was formerly used by Merton Council as a satellite office and is now rented out to a range of local organisations, including important voluntary groups such as Merton Centre for Independent Living.

Out of the blue we have learned Worsfold House is to be sold to Clarion Housing to develop 60 homes.

These will be used to house residents of Eastfields Estate who have to leave as a result of the major regeneration plans.

The Eastfields plans have been in preparation for several years and this is the first time Worsfold House has been identified as being critical to their success. The report being considered by the Cabinet gives every impression that Worsfold House’s role in delivering these plans has been developed post hoc. It also fails to give any consideration to Worsfold House’s strategic importance to Cricket Green.

We agree this is a site suitable for new homes and included it in our representations on Merton’s new Local Plan.

It has the potential to open up a new route between Church Road and London Road Playing Fields and contribute to the wider changes now underway with the redevelopment of nearby Benedict Wharf. These proposals all go with the grain of what Merton Council supports through its planning policies but none of them feature in the decision making over the future of its own land.

Merton Council policies also look for good design and it says it encourages community engagement.

So often we face proposals from private sector developers which are poorly designed and already finalised as planning applications. Unsurprisingly this often means that people object to the plans.

With its own land Merton Council has the opportunity to raise the standard and require the new owners – in this case Clarion Homes – to collaborate with local people from the very beginning and meet demanding design standards.

We welcome the fact that Merton Council officers have told us they will “encourage Clarion to engage with the local community in advance of any planning application coming forward for the site” and Cabinet Member, Martin Whelton has told us “we would want Clarion to undertake full consultation with local residents as plans are progressed and it’s something we would emphasise as part of the land transfer” but this feels too weak, too little and too late.

What Merton Council “encourage” and “would want” is not what will necessarily happen. As landowners the Council can insist on it.

We are also asking Merton Council to exercise a stronger duty of care to all of the important local organisations who will lose their offices at Worsfold House.

They need to be helped to find accommodation of at least the size and standard they are leaving and end up in a better position to carry on the important work they do for Merton’s communities.

The future of Worsfold House is important for Cricket Green.

We will continue to do what we can to secure the best use of the site and the highest standard of development. The lessons of Worsfold House go wider than Cricket Green. They speak to the potential of Merton Council to take a much bigger stake in the future of our neighbourhoods as landowner as well as local planning authority.

Eyes are now turning to how its new development company, Merantun, will design and involve local people in the future development for homes of more Merton Council land – the former Canons nursery and the car parks at Raleigh Park Gardens and Elm Nursery.