Tag Archives: Merton Council

Merton Local Plan review – a time for action

The much anticipated review of Merton’s Local Plan provides an opportunity to turn the tide on the quality of new development in and around Cricket Green.

The new Local Plan will identify development sites and include the planning policies that will shape new building for decades.

We’ve set out our preliminary views in a detailed 20 page response and map which identifies:

  • fourteen sites with particular development or conservation opportunities – including detailed guidelines for developing not only the major sites at the Wilson and Benedict Wharf but also the Burn Bullock, White Hart car park, old fire station and the car wash site on London Road among others
  • the need to protect the important shopping parades along London and Church Roads and at Bramcote Parade
  • six opportunities for public realm and traffic management improvements, including closure of King George VI Avenue to traffic and removal of the tarmac path cutting across Cricket Green from the Police Station combined with moving the road crossing to the end of the public footpath running along the side of the cricket ground
  • thirteen community assets which need to be recognised and protected, including Wandle Industrial Museum, the bowling green, Mitcham Community Orchard and the Windmill pub
  • additional protections for Bellamy’s Copse, the carriage sweep outside Date Valley School and the green spaces which make such an important contribution to Glebe Court
  • protection for employment uses for the land and buildings used for car servicing and repairs behind London Road and for London Box Sash Windows

We have also asked for a Design Code to be prepared for Cricket Green which supports new residential development based on streets and town houses rather than flats and blocks.

We are looking for new policies to protect local ponds, including on Cranmer Green, and to designate all existing open space as Local Green Space, which offers the same protection as Green Belt.

We’re looking forward to collaborating with Merton Council during 2018 to help develop the plan and engage local people in these and other proposals.

There’s more to read in our full submission – Merton Local Plan review – MCGC&H contribution – Jan 2018.

We would welcome any feedback.

Call for cleaner air

Merton Council has published its Air Quality Action Plan and we have come together with Friends of Mitcham Common and Mitcham Society to provide a response.

Air pollution is an issue which respects no boundaries and requires an area wide approach.

Our own monitoring of air pollution around Lower Green West shows it in breach of the required standards. You can see the results on Clean Air Merton’s community map.

There’s a lot to welcome in Merton Council’s Action Plan, especially support for extending the Ultra Low Emission Zone. Yet, it lacks the ambition and many of the measures necessary to address the scale of the problem facing the area are missing.

Here are our proposals for what needs to happen:

  • Targets for improving air quality year on year to 2022
  • A network of air quality monitoring stations – particulates and NOx – throughout the Mitcham area, including on Mitcham Common as well as along the roads that pass through it, with data made publicly available in a timely manner
  • Zero emission or hydrogen buses on all routes through Mitcham Town Centre and its designation as a Low Emission Bus Zone
  • A ban on heavy lorries running on Church Road between Lower Green West and Benedict Wharf as part of the measures to address “hot spots”
  • Changed traffic flow at Lower Green West to remove the existing “roundabout” configuration and reconnect it to Lower Green East
  • Improved pedestrian permeability in Mitcham Town Centre and Cricket Green – including enhanced pedestrian crossings and reduced crossing times
  • A requirement in all travel plans for schools and new development to demonstrate how they will contribute to improvements in air quality, and a commitment from Merton Council to monitor and enforce these travel plans
  • Investment in a behavioural change programme to raise awareness of individual actions to improve air quality
  • Enforcement against idling cars and lorries which extends beyond any plans to act on idling outside schools
  • Community consultation over the location of a network of well-designed electric vehicle charging points in Mitcham as an alternative to the current process whereby Merton Council submits planning applications to itself ahead of any community engagement
  • Active programme of succession planting of trees and hedges throughout Mitcham to conserve and enhance tree cover, especially along major routes
  • Stronger connections between Mitcham and the Wandle Trail and open spaces, including Willow Lane Industrial Estate
  • Active promotion of Mitcham Common as a source of health and well being with relatively better air quality including:
    • Promotion of healthy walks
    • Opening up the Ecology Centre as an affordable location for hosting community-led activity promoting health and well being
    • Management and planting along the fringes to filter particulates.

Our full response is here.

Proposed additions to the Local List – our comments

Merton Council has proposed a number of additions to the Local List and there is currently a public consultation on the proposals.

The Local List brings together buildings and other structures which make an important contribution to the local scene or which are valued for their local historical associations and which are not included in the national list maintained by English Heritage.

Proposed additions for Mitcham are:

  • The cart dip at Three Kings Pond, Mitcham
  • War Memorial, Lower Green West, Mitcham
  • War memorial, Mitcham Parish Church
  • Gravestones (wargraves) Mitcham Parish Church
  • Stone monument, Mitcham Parish Churchyard

We support all these proposed additions.

Read our comments on proposed additions to the Local List.

Please make your own comments by taking part in the consultation, which ends on 9th March 2015.

See the Local List at Merton Council’s web site.

 

Merton Council proposals to contract out maintenance and care of parks and green spaces

We have been both surprised and disappointed by the emergence of proposals from Merton Council to contract out maintenance and care of parks and green spaces in joint arrangements with Sutton Council to be procured through the South London Waste Partnership.

Whilst recognising the financial and budgetary constraints within which the Council has to operate we share the outrage expressed in many quarters at the handling of these proposals and their likely impact.

We have produced a statement of our views which you can read bellow.

PARKS AND GREEN SPACES – Contracting out
Response to Merton Council proposals
December 2014

1. Mitcham Cricket Green Community and Heritage takes an active interest in the future of the Cricket Green Conservation Area and its environs. We are the civic society for this part of Merton and part of the wider civic movement through membership of the national charity Civic Voice. We act as a Friends Group for the network of open spaces and registered Town Greens in the area and work closely with other local organisations including Friends of the Canons, Friends of Mitcham Common and Merton Tree Wardens Group. The Cricket Green Charter establishes our approach to development and change in the area and was developed in partnership with the London Borough of Merton, the local community and our local councillors.

2. We have been both surprised and disappointed by the emergence of proposals from Merton Council to contract out maintenance and care of its parks and green spaces in joint arrangements with Sutton Council to be procured through the South London Waste Partnership. Whilst recognising the financial and budgetary constraints within which Merton Council has to operate we share the outrage expressed in many quarters at the handling of these proposals. We also share the concerns eloquently expressed by Sustainable Merton in response to Merton Council’s announcement.

3. We offer the following views to inform Merton Council’s final decision and the future handling of similar issues.

4. Merton’s parks and green spaces are a jewel in its crown and make a massive contribution to the quality of life of all those who live in the Borough. They instil civic pride, inspire people to volunteer and get involved in their local area, provide outdoor classrooms, support healthy lifestyles, offer sanctuary and are havens for wildlife. They are one of the most important public services in Merton and significantly reduce the cost of many other public services, including health, education and crime. The public’s passion for and love of Merton’s green environment regularly tops opinion polls and surveys.

5. Effective care for and maintenance of Merton’s parks and green spaces depends on positive collaboration between Merton Council ground staff and management, contractors and local volunteers. The contribution of volunteers to practical maintenance and care is vital and significantly reduces costs. Collaborating with volunteers and Friends Groups also provides access to immense local knowledge and creativity which ensures approaches which are sensitive to local context

6. Public confidence in decisions over difficult issues such as the local authority budget depends on effective engagement and presentation of genuine choices and options on which to respond. This is even more important when the public service in question depends so heavily on volunteer engagement and the trust of Friends Groups for its delivery.

7. Merton Council has recently sought to collaborate constructively with local Friends Groups with a view to helping establish borough-wide co-ordination of their role and improving their effectiveness. This was welcome.

8. Yet, despite their public importance and the dependence on local volunteers and Friends Groups, the announcement of the plans to contract out maintenance and care of open spaces and parks has been made without reference to any of these existing relationships and with no plan for public consultation. When called-in for scrutiny by local councillors the lead Cabinet member chose limited participation before leaving the chamber, elected members of the scrutiny panel were given poor advance information, and interested groups had little opportunity to contribute.

9. There are significant unanswered questions and unclear assurances associated with the proposals which:

  • Suggest limited savings of around £290k pa against a total net cost of around £1.6m without any evidence of options considered or costed alternatives on which people can offer informed views
  • Assume the continued commitment of local volunteers and Friends Groups in the management and care of the Borough’s parks and green spaces and do not address the added cost if the real risk of Friends groups withdrawing volunteer labour is realised. This commitment is worth more than the suggested savings and cannot be assumed given:
    ‒ Volunteer motivations will be very different if expected to be working alongside commercial contractors
    ‒ The impact of the breakdown in relationships and level of trust between Merton Council and Friends Groups as a result of the handling of these proposals
  • Propose an extraordinary 25 year contract with limited scope for amendment despite experience in neighbouring boroughs of the problems with such long term contracts – Croydon is revisiting a much shorter 5 year contract ahead of time
  • Fail to address the mismatch between the current wage costs of around £1m for 37 staff and the planned provision of £240k for just 10 staff
  • Make no provision for input from local Friends Groups to the design or award of any contract
  • Make no provision for the development of the Management Advisory Committee model in Merton as a compensating step were contracting out to be pursued – these Committees play an important part in some neighbouring boroughs by bringing local groups, local authority officers and members and contractors together around a shared interest in management and care for parks and green spaces which is more collaborative than that operated in Merton
  • Ignore the long terms costs in additional service provision (e.g. health, criminal justice and education) which will be the inevitable result of any decline in the quality of parks and open spaces

10. In the light of these issues we ask that the current process be halted and replaced by much fuller proposals with costed options assessed for their pros and cons and put our for wide public engagement. The Council should also convene a deliberative dialogue with local Friends Groups as part of this process.

Our proposed additions to the local list

Cricket Green has a large number of important buildings and other structures which add to its story.

Some of these – such as the spectacularly roofed Methodist Church and the 500 year old dovecote are nationally listed. Others are included on the “Local List” held by Merton Council. The recognises their importance and offers some protection from demolition or damaging development. The Vestry Hall, fire station and cricket pavilion are included.

When one of our volunteers – Joyce Bellamy – looked at the Local List she found a number of omissions and we have been very pleased by the way Merton Council has moved to address these gaps.

No fewer than five additions are proposed, including monuments in the parish churchyard, the war memorial on Lower Green West and the cart dip at Three Kings Pond.

Each of these has an important story and we have welcome their proposed inclusion in our response to Merton Council which can be read here.

The cart dip is also important as the first example of a structure other than a building or memorial to be included. We are also hoping its inclusion might encourage Merton Council to rethink plans for a damaging board walk around the edge of Three Kings Pond which would detract from this important historic asset.

Looking to the future we will be exploring whether the walled garden and Canons Pond might also be suitable for inclusion.

Our proposals for Merton Council scrutiny

Merton Council has a scrutiny process which looks at how the council does its job.

According to Merton Council’s web site “Overview and scrutiny is part of the democratic process that enables a constructive dialogue between the public, partners and elected members (councillors) to improve the quality of public services. Scrutiny ensures that the councillors who make the majority of decisions (the cabinet) are held to account for the decisions that they make and their impact upon the borough and its residents.”

There’s more detail at the Scrutiny are of Merton Council’s web site.

We responded to a recent call for areas to be looked at, suggesting ten areas for scrutiny. We are waiting to hear if any of these have been accepted, but in the mean time, we are listing our ten proposals below and sharing our submission: proposals for scrutiny by Merton Council.

Consultation procedures on planning applications – there is concern to improve consultation, including as a result of experience of limited neighbour notification; significant amendments being made to planning applications during the consultation period; and officers making recommendations to the Planning Applications Committee prior to the end of the consultation period.

Distribution of My Merton – there is conclusive evidence of large parts of Mitcham failing to receive copies of the Rediscover Mitcham consultation when it was circulated with My Merton, especially in blocks of flats. These circulation difficulties persist and need to be addressed, especially where the process is used as the basis for public engagement.

Effectiveness of street cleaning – there is a growing demand for action to improve street cleaning, including recent community-led campaigns. Concerns focus on known black spots and the failure to clean streets after regular rubbish collections.

Design Review Panel transparency – welcome improvements are being made to the working of the Design Review Panel but it still fails to publish material relating to pre-application consultation, even of Merton Council’s own developments (where commercial confidentiality will rarely if ever be an issue).

Quality of consultants used by Merton Council in preparing its own planning applications – the poor quality of consultancy reports used in support of Merton’s own planning applications is increasingly evident, including in relation to the recent proposals for Fair Green canopy (warranting a red rating from the Design Review Panel) and the development of Cranmer School (which was riddled with basic errors and poor evidence, including referring erroneously to a “proposed pipeline” rather than a proposed building (suggesting cut-and-paste re-use of consultancy reports prepared for other purposes)).

Effectiveness of Mitcham Common Conservators – an independent review of the Conservators’ role is long overdue, especially in light of recent representations on planning applications which do not appear to have the best interests of the Common at heart; unclear procedures; limited transparency; and the lack of effective community representation on the Conservator body.

Open space management – with increasing neglect and poor practice evident, such as annual weed control along verges in the local Conservation Area which leaves yellow scar for weeks and evidence of the use of contractors who are not best qualified for their roles – for example apparent flailing of a holly hedge around Mitcham Bowls Club.

Tree watering – failures to meet requirements for the regular watering of street trees resulting in the loss and decline of these essential elements of the street scene

School run and travel plans – the adequacy of measures to address problems caused by the school run – which are regularly raised by councillors during discussions over school expansion but which lack any follow up monitoring or action. School travel plans are poorly prepared and rarely implemented. Given the anticipated growth in rolls in the coming years, the measures the Council needs to take to ensure traffic plans are robust and implemented requires scrutiny.

Planning enforcement – there have been welcome signs of improvement in the
responsiveness of Council officers to enforcement issues being raised –
nevertheless, the process remains opaque and local residents and community
groups are frequently left in the dark as to whether and what enforcement action is taken on issues which they have raised.