Tag Archives: Submissions

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