Tag Archives: Submissions

Capturing Cricket Green’s character

There is something very special about the character of Cricket Green.

It is widely recognised by those who live here and visitors often comment on the village-feel, our greens, a sense of history and the mix of interesting buildings.

We always ask developers to respect this character when they come forward with new buildings and it is important to protect it.

Describing Cricket Green’s character isn’t easy. It’s a complex place shaped over centuries of development and change. The task has been taken on by Merton’s new Character Study which is being consulted on by Merton Council.

We’ve welcome the study. It is much needed and a vital complement to the new Local Plan that will guide development well into the 2030s.

Merton Council has already had one false start when it produced studies for 22 of Merton’s 36 character areas between 2011 and 2015 but failed to finalise them and give them legal weight when planning decisions are made.

The new Character Study misses out on the richness of the unfinished work. By providing an assessment of the complex character of Cricket Green in just 103 words it leaves our special neighbourhood short changed.

The earlier Character Study now being set aside devoted over 1,400 words to Cricket Green.

Merton Council’s approach to preparing the Character Study means it owes more to the view of external consultants than local communities. Despite years of asking to be involved there has been only limited consultation and the character descriptions of 20 out of the 36 neighbourhoods across the Borough are informed by comments from fewer than ten people.

We have stressed the importance of recognising Mitcham as a village and addressing the importance of our registered greens and the special qualities of Mitcham Common. We have welcomed Merton Council’s acknowledgment of the importance of the historic crossing of the Wandle at Mitcham Bridge which has been misnamed in the controversy over building a new “Bishopsford Road Bridge”.

For Cricket Green we have taken Merton Council’s text and redrafted it to reflect local priorities. See our proposed changes in the graphic at the bottom of this post.

Our proposals have been informed by the work behind the Cricket Green Charter published in 2019 after we contacted over 5,000 households. The changes we propose recognise the true history of Mitcham cricket ground, put more emphasis on the important role played by mature trees and look towards the sensitive re-use of important sites such as the Wilson, Birches Close and the Burn Bullock.

Merton Council is also consulting on a draft Toolkit to secure better quality design in new buildings on the many small sites across the Borough. Sites of less than a quarter of a hectare have been responsible for over 60% of new homes built in the the borough in last 15 years.

We’ve welcomed the approach while also stressing that it will require more than the publication of a Toolkit to deliver the necessary sea change in Merton’s culture which will secure quality design informed by early community engagement and local preferences in new development.

You can read our comments on Merton’s draft Character Study here.

You can read our comments on Merton’s draft Small Sites Toolkit here.

Reviewing Merton Council’s Design Review Panel

In common with many local authorities Merton Council uses a Design Review Panel to help it assess the design quality of new developments.

This is made up of external architects, urban designers, transport planners, landscape and other professional who review schemes, often well before a planning application is submitted.

We welcome design review. When operated transparently and well it can provide insight and support to raise the game in the quality of design. There are also risks, especially when it operates in a deep seated culture that views the role of the Design Review Panel as a closed group of behind-the-scenes advisors that stands separate from normal standards of public scrutiny or engagement.

Government policy is placing ever more emphasis on design quality and the role of design review and it also features in Merton’s new Local Plan. It is timely therefore to have Merton’s approach put under the spotlight by the Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel and we’ve drawn a number of issues and concerns to its attention in a detailed submission.

The bottom line is that Merton’s Design Review Panel is not fit for purpose.

It doesn’t meet the industry standard and Merton Council has chosen not to sign up to the Mayor of London’s Quality Review Charter.

Merton is an outlier in having the Chair of its Planning Applications Committee also as Chair of its Design Review Panel seemingly oblivious to the problems this causes.

There is evidence that Merton’s constitutional safeguards to prevent any conflict are being breached – including the then Chair of the Planning Applications Committee voting to grant planning permission for a development that was subject to design review at a meeting she also chaired.

The Design Review Panel has other failings including:

  • no agreed terms of reference
  • no details on the Panel members and why they are qualified to serve
  • no controls over the length of time Panel members serve, with some exceeding 10 years
  • no transparent mechanism for handling conflicts of interest where Panel members are
  • working on development projects in Merton
  • failures to publish reports or provide advance notice of meetings
  • holding reviews of Merton Council’s own developments behind closed doors
  • the same officer who provides professional advice on urban design also running the Design Review Panel and writing its reports
  • holding review by email despite commitments not to do so and failing to publish their contents even where meetings would otherwise be held in public
  • operating an outdated traffic light system that rates schemes as Red, Amber or Green and which is regularly abused
  • failing to design review some controversial developments, including a large block of flats on Metropolitan Open Land at Imperial Fields described by Merton Council’s design officer as an “office block in a car park”

We’ve made 22 recommendations for reforms which will guarantee the probity of design review and ensure the Design Review Panel operates transparently and effectively. These can all be delivered in six months.

You can read our submission on the Design Review Panel here

You can also see our submission as a paper for the Merton Council Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel meeting on 23 February 2021 here

You can watch that meeting and meetings of the Design Review Panel on Merton TV

Merton’s Local Plan – friend or foe?

Question – What do the following have in common? The fate of Mitcham cricket pavilion. Proposals for over 1,000 new flats within 10 minutes walk of the cricket ground. The future of the Wilson Hospital. Having shopping parades on London Road and Bramcote Avenue. Protecting Mitcham’s greens and village character. Keeping business and jobs alive in workshops on Lower Green West. Enjoying the avenue of trees on Three Kings Piece. Whether new tower blocks will be built in Mitcham. How many local people can afford new homes in Cricket Green. Proposals for a new road built across Mitcham Common for heavy lorries?

Answer – Merton’s new Local Plan

The fate of all of this and more depends on developers getting planning permission to make changes to our neighbourhood. The main guide to whether planning permission is given is the planning policy in Merton’s Local Plan. The Local Plan is now up for review and a new set of draft policies has been published which will last till 2035. The new Plan also earmarks eighteen sites around Mitcham for development.

It is no surprise, therefore, that a new Local Plan has prompted our most comprehensive representations yet to Merton Council about how it should plan for new building, support the community and protect the heritage, open spaces and wildlife that makes Cricket Green so special. Too much of our neighbourhood has been changing for the worse, forever, as a result of poorly located and designed new buildings and conversions and the unnecessary loss of trees, green space and heritage.

The new Local Plan is a chance to turn this around. With a strong approach driven by local needs and priorities it can be the friend that will care for Cricket Green, raise standards and turn away those who will damage our neighbourhood. In the wrong hands it could turn out to be Cricket Green’s worst enemy. We’ve set out our stall for what needs to happen. One thing is clear – much more work is needed on the Local Plan to make it fit for purpose.

Our 12,000 word submission includes proposals which seek the following:

  • Policies which can actually deliver on the Plan’s strong ambitions, including to remove disparities between the east and west of the Borough, rather than leave them as an undeliverable wish list.
  • Putting protection of Merton’s green spaces, wildlife and heritage assets at the heart of a “Spatial Vision” that currently omits them.
  • Recognising Mitcham’s village character as the centrepiece of its planning policies with a broader focus on social, community, cultural, environmental and heritage and less emphasis on encouraging anywheresville high street brands.
  • Policies to protect an inventory of identified community assets, neighbourhood shopping parades and scattered employment sites in Mitcham.
  • The addition of the Merton Dementia Hub site following announcement of its closure as a new allocation with the potential for community-led housing.
  • Strengthening 13 other development site allocations, including securing community ownership of Mitcham cricket pavilion and development at The Wilson which respects its heritage and open space.
  • Deleting the site allocations for the former Canons nursery and Raleigh Gardens car park as undeliverable following the closure of Merantun Development Ltd.
  • Deleting the site allocation at Imperial Fields which continues to be designated as Metropolitan Open Land, Green Corridor and Open Space.
  • Major strengthening of the Plan’s approach to securing high quality design, including preparation of a Design Code for Mitcham Cricket Green.
  • Recognising Mitcham’s registered Town Greens as heritage assets and identifying The Canons as one of a new local list Merton historic parks and gardens.
  • Protecting the panoramic Wandle Vista on Mitcham Common identified in award winning research.
  • Proving more protection for scattered employment sites and supporting environmental improvements on Willow Lane Industrial estate.
  • An overhaul of Merton’s weak planning policies for protecting trees, supporting an accelerated increase in the tree canopy and measures to ensure any essential tree felling is accompanied by new planting of trees of greater value.
  • Deleting the dinosaur road scheme providing another access to Willow Lane Industrial Estate which was rejected in the 1990s and which would cause unnecessary loss of Mitcham Common and damage to the Conservation Area at Aspen Gardens.
  • Providing for improved cycling conditions along Commonside West without losing any part of Three Kings Piece to a cycle lane.
  • Six additional proposals for improvements to Cricket Green’s public realm and for people on foot.
  • Strengthening policy to secure an increase in truly affordable homes and require all new homes to have opening windows in at least two different elevations.
  • A major edit to address the draft Plan’s myriad errors, grammatical mistakes and omissions and provide a structure and approach that makes sense to all who will need to use it.
  • Further public consultation on a Plan that looks at least the required 15 years ahead and is supported by much stronger evidence to back up its approach.
  • An overhaul of the measures to ensure delivery of the Plan is effectively monitored and reviewed.

You can delve deeper into our full submission here.

Reviewing Design Review during lockdown

Merton Council’s Design Review Panel provides important, independent and expert insight on key development proposals put forward in Merton.

It is made up of architects, urban designers and others who review developments, usually before they become planning applications, and offer an overall judgement of their merit as being Red, Amber or Green.

The Panel’s views have a major influence on the Planning Applications Committee when decisions are made.

The essence of design review is that the Panel discusses the proposals together and collaborates in arriving at an overall view. This is clearly challenging during lockdown but we have been surprised and disappointed to find “meetings” on two key developments in Cricket Green – the design code for the 850 home mega scheme on Benedict Wharf and the latest flats plans for the KwikFit site (pictured) – have been undertaken by email.

We have teamed up with the architects behind the latest KwikFit plans to write to Cabinet Member Martin Whelton and Planning Committee Chair Linda Kirby to share our concerns and ask for changes to be made. Conducting design review by email works against the:

  • opportunity for the applicant to explain their design thinking and answer any questions
  • chance for a shared panel view to emerge through discussion
  • ability to correct any misconceptions such as if the panel suggests something that has been explored and discounted
  • transparency of applicants and officers hearing the panel’s view emerge during the meeting
  • scope for the chair to moderate the discussion, especially if different views are expressed, or points are unclear
  • process for arriving at a shared outcome (Red/Amber/Green) among independent members, leaving it to officers and members who are also responsible for advising on and determining the application
  • ability of the public to observe and record proceedings in those instances where a planning application has been submitted

We believe these issues could be addressed during lockdown by adopting the same approach to online meetings as Merton Council has taken for Cabinet and Planning Applications Committee.

It also points to the opportunity for further strengthening the process post Covid-19, including the benefit of having an independent secretariat for managing the Design Review Panel so the views of officers and councillors who are also responsible for making decisions on planning applications are kept separate.

Read our letter

Our call for Merton Council to up its game on community engagement

Merton Council is reviewing its official “Statement of Community Involvement”.

This is an important document which sets out the approach Merton Council takes to involving local people and organisations in development and planning issues.

We’ve welcomed the long overdue review which will replace a 13 year old document that does not meet today’s expectations for deeper and earlier community engagement in planning decisions. 

We are calling for a step change in Merton Council’s approach which, in our experience, rarely exceeds legal compliance and sometimes even falls short of this. This discourages community engagement, frustrates those who do engage, and ultimately results in less well informed and poorer planning outcomes.

We have identified an array of current problems and inconsistencies in Merton Council practice.

These range from squeezing the time available for the public to speak at Planning Committee to a quality of online public access to planning documents that falls well short of other local authorities. 

Merton Council allows significant changes to planning applications to be made without publicity, blocks resident representations on planning applications appearing online and often provides inadequate summaries of public views in reports presented to councillors.

It also fails to make good use of design tools which can involve people in setting local expectations, such as masterplanning and design codes. We are clear in our reponse that we expect prospective developers to be put in touch with local community groups before they submit planning applications.

Merton Council’s draft Statement of Community Involvement states that “Merton’s local communities are those that are most likely affected by development in their local area and more importantly, know the most about their neighbourhood and how they would like it to grow and be shaped for the future.

These are fine words. We are asking for changes to make the effective engagement of Merton’s local communities a reality.

Read our submission to Merton Council’s draft Statement of Community Involvement –Statement of Community Involvement – Dec 19

Open spaces matter – our response to Merton Council Open Space Study

Merton’s green spaces matter.

In every poll of why people love where they live they come out top and Cricket Green has more green spaces than anywhere else in Merton.

So we have welcomed a new “open spaces study” by Merton Council which provides an opportunity to recognise their importance and protect and manage them better in the future.

Our green spaces certainly need better recognition.

The evidence is growing of a decline in management standards as a result of Merton Council’s contracting out to idverde. Development pressures are everywhere and Merton’s Local Plan is up for review.

We have highlighted some glaring gaps in the open space database, including important areas of registered Town Green.

Important areas of nature conservation interest are also missing and we have objected to open spaces like Three Kings Piece being classified as “outdoor sports facilities”. They are used for football matches for a tiny percentage of the time and are so much more important than that.

We’re also surprised at the omission of the new green space created around Fair Green as a result of the recent “Rediscover Mitcham” investment. Merton Council has promised that this will be registered as additional Town Green but has left it off the map.

Our submission also calls on Merton Council and Mitcham Common Conservators to prepare management plans for each of the open spaces.

Most green spaces don’t have a management plan and those for Cranmer Green ran out in 2006 and Mitcham Common in 2012.

Among other initiatives we’re also pressing for better protection for the local ponds, stronger commitments to keeping trees and shrubs well watered in the summer and a plan to replace trees which will eventually die off.

Read our submission –  open spaces study – jan 19

See – Merton Council’s open space map