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.