I hope you will have seen the stop press item in last month's "Guide". Barratt Homes' application was indeed refused. Needless to say, we are delighted with this outcome, but of course it is not the end of the road.
Once again, the Council chamber was full on 17th October, with LESSA the first item on the agenda. Just to remind you, the Planning Committee had decided to defer consideration at their meeting on 22nd August. The recommendation from the Planning Department was, as before, to grant permission.
A lot of technical ground was covered in more than an hour of discussion. The Planning Department bravely tried to defend the recommendation, but the flaws in their case gradually became clear to the committee. There can be no doubt about the extent to which the application conflicts with local and national planning policies on the preservation of sportsfields (even where they are not in current usage), and about the issue of building housing on "greenfield" sites whilst "brownfield" land is still available.
It also became clear that the committee members were unhappy about granting permission without any adequate test having been made as to whether the site was surplus to requirements for sporting use. Rather oddly, the W.S. Atkins Study of Open Spaces, in making its assessment, used a methodology which allowed it to exclude this site from its calculations even though the ground contains two football pitches and an overlapping cricket pitch. It will therefore fall to Merton Council, in drawing up their Open Space Strategy paper, to reach a conclusion on this issue.
Against this background, it became clear that there was not going to be a consensus in favour of the official recommendation. The chairman of the committee took the initiative and moved refusal, which was carried. So, in the end, common sense - or to be more exact the planning evidence - prevailed. On behalf of the Association, I would like to thank to express sincere thanks to Bob Simpson, Martin Mitchell, and Councillors Gilli Lewis-Lavender and Angela Caldara for the superb way they spoke up on the night, and also to the "supporting cast" sitting behind us. Well done all of you. I should also offer congratulations to the Planning Committee for reaching such a sensible conclusion.
The bad news is that within a week of the decision, the applicant put in an appeal. Barratt has used a device known in the business as a "twin-track" procedure. Last May, it submitted a "new" planning application, with a new number but which in effect is the same as the application which was "determined" on 17th October. There is an automatic right of appeal to any applicant if a planning application is not decided upon within eight weeks of being submitted. The appeal lodged is against non-determination of the "new" application. Those of you who submitted objections to the original application should have been sent a formal notification letter about the appeal. Since this is to be a Public Inquiry, before an Inspector, it will probably take some months to set up. We will try to keep you informed of developments.
It seems a long time since we heard anything about this, and you could be forgiven for thinking it had fallen off the agenda. However, we learned recently that revised bids for a re-development on the site have been evaluated by the Council, and one company (revealed at the meeting to be "Britain's leading retirement builder" McCarthy and Stone) has been selected to proceed with a scheme in accordance with the Planning Brief drawn up in April last year. The proposal, as with the earlier scheme, is to provide a new library and meeting hall with housing of some sort on the upper floors.
It is anticipated that there will be a consultation-type exhibition with the proposed design on show at the Raynes Park Assembly Hall on Monday 9th December, during the afternoon and again in the evening. From what we know of the plans, it looks as if the library element of the building would be measurably larger than at present, but the meeting hall only marginally so. Whatever is agreed between the Council's Leisure Services Department and the proposed developer, please remember that an application would still have to be approved by the Planning Committee. In other words, what goes on show at the exhibition will not necessarily be the final outcome.
We will keep in touch with the Council and with our friends in the Apostles Residents' Association, who take the "lead" on this issue.
As a follow-up to comments in the October "Guide", the application for a development of 15 houses and 39 flats on this site was approved at the October meeting of the Planning Committee. I was not actually present when this item was discussed, but I understand that several conditions were imposed in order to try to minimise noise and nuisance, etc. The proposed site is very close to, and previously formed part of, the Civic Amenity Site.
Among the conditions, one in particular stands out, and this is directly related to the previous use of the site. Before any development can commence, there will have to be a detailed site investigation to determine whether, and if so to what extent, there is any ground contamination. The reason for this is to establish whether there is any potential for pollution of ground and surface water - a very wise precaution. Our friends in the Garth Road Residents' Association were broadly in support of the application.
This body emerged from an initiative taken by Roger Casale M.P. about a year ago. The broad aim was to bring together residents' associations, businesses and other organisations in the Raynes Park area in order to promote the interests of the community. It was originally thought that the title should be either the Raynes Park Civic Forum or Community Trust, but neither found favour with the steering committee.
Several meetings have been held, and a constitution has been approved. One of the aims is "To provide a focal point for addressing collectively major issues that go beyond individual residents' associations and other local organisations and affect the wider community". Up until now, the representation has been almost entirely from residents' associations, and it is certainly not the intention that the new body will take over any of their functions.
The creation of the new body has met with some mixed feelings. Some people are clearly concerned about having yet another body with yet more meetings. I have every sympathy with their concern ! If this new body is going to be worthwhile and speak with one voice, it is highly desirable, if not essential, that the representation is broadened out - and that is certainly the aim. These are relatively early days, and the new Association is still feeling its way. We are represented on the APRC, and hope that, with time, it will become more effective.David J. Freeman