Tag Archives: Raleigh Gardens car park

Merantun developments put Merton Council planning probity to the test

Merton Council set up its own property development arm, Merantun, in 2017.

Its first four schemes include controversial developments on both Raleigh Gardens car park and the former Canons nursery. You can see what we thought of the schemes in earlier blogs for Raleigh Gardens car park here and the Canons nursery site here. They don’t make for pleasant reading.

Despite the controversy Merantun is pressing ahead.

Its first planning applications are to be decided by councillors on the Planning Applications Committee next Thursday 16th July.

Given Merton Council is both developer and local planning authority it is a major test of the probity of planning decisions in Merton.

The challenge is made even greater by the fact that two of Merton Council’s most senior officers – the head of Future Merton (responsible for planning policies) and the Assistant Director for Sustainable Communities (responsible for the Planning Division and for Future Merton) – are Merantun’s Director of Design and Managing Director respectively. Merton’s Chinese Walls must be particularly robust.

Merantun has made only small changes to its original plans for Raleigh Gardens car park. This is despite evidence that they are in flagrant breach of Merton’s own planning policies, will dominate the skyline, and will result in only 45% of Glebe Court’s windows facing the new development meeting official guidelines for daylight and a shocking 29% being “subject to noticeable losses”.

None of these issues are addressed by changing a pitched roof into a flat one. Any faith which we might have had in the architects is further undermined when the original planning documents hailing the importance of a distinctive pitched roof” for “referencing the common roof form seen on Mitcham’s high streets and adjacent residential buildings” and for creating variation” and a “suitable façade proportion are so easily set aside.

The changes to the scheme for The Canons are even more limited. This is despite the immense sensitivity of a development site located in historic ground and between listed mansion houses (The Canons and Park Place).

The development will create significant conflicts with the ambitions of the £5m Lottery-funded programme currently underway.

Even Merton Council’s own Design Review Panel described it as too harsh and clunky” and too busy, intense and slightly military in feel”. We still can’t quite believe the blank elevation shown in the image is still being put forward.

Adding insult to injury is recent confirmation that the original arboricultural report was flawed and that the magnificent Pagoda tree – Merton’s current Tree of the Year – will have to lose one third of its canopy and not be allowed to grow any larger to accommodate the development.

It is also of great concern that Merton Council is gerrymandering its own policies on providing affordable homes.

These require at least 40% of the homes being provided on each site to be affordable and state that affordable homes should only be provided on other sites in “exceptional circumstances”.

Instead Merantun is proposing just 22.5% of the 93 homes will be affordable and they will all be put on one site (Elm Nursery car park). This is the behaviour we sometimes see from profit-motivated private developers. It is unconscionable that Merton Council is even putting this forward let alone that it might give the green light to such a distortion of its own planning policies.

The papers before the Planning Applications Committee even admit that no legal mechanism has been found to bind one part of Merton Council (Merantun) to deliver affordable homes to another part of Merton Council (local planning authority) and that this “presents challenges”.

Councillors are encouraged simply to overlook this fundamental problem when deciding on the planning applications and told it “should not be an impediment”. We trust they will see through this approach.

We know it will be hard for Merton Council to refuse planning permission for a Merton Council development. Given the massive shortcomings in what has been put forward we cannot see that it has any other option. Merantun needs to be setting the standard and it simply must do better.

Read our latest views:

Development of Raleigh Gardens car park – June 2020

Development of former Canons nursery – June 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.