Firstly to remind you that under the "Age of Transfer" arrangements, what was St. Catherine's Middle School is now occupied by the junior boys of Wimbledon College pending the completion of building works at Edge Hill, the site of the main school. The current expectation is that these school buildings will become surplus to educational requirements (by the Diocese of Southwark) from July 2005. Somewhat earlier than most of us expected, an outline planning application has been submitted (no. 02/P 2691) - available for inspection at Morden Library second floor) by the Archdiocese of Southwark for a development of 69 flats together with 94 car-parking spaces. As is quite usual with outline applications, precise details are not provided about design or elevations etc.
However the Site Plan envisages the flats - largely one- or two-bedroom units - being in four blocks, up to three storeys in height, with each block located towards the corner of the available building area. The playing fields, which extend to about four hectares, surrounding the present buildings, are designated as Metropolitan Open Land and are excluded from this proposal. The original draft Planning Framework for this site (which was released in February 2000 but quickly withdrawn by the Council when they realised that the school would not become surplus to requirements in 2001) indicated that the area available for redevelopment would be a little under one hectare - mainly the "footprint" of the present buildings and the surrounding hardstanding including the tennis courts to the front of the main building.
This application, even though only to outline approval, is rather premature and indeed it may be speculative with the main aim of enhancing the sale value of the site. The whole area, including the playing field, sits within the High Risk Zone of the Beverley Brook floodplain as determined by the Environment Agency. In the process of reviewing its Unitary Development Plan, Merton Council has approved a Site Proposal for the St Catherine's complex but with an important caveat attached ; namely that it can be developed only if reasonable options in low-risk categories (of the floodplain) are not available and it can be demonstrated that (flooding) mitigation measures can be introduced to remove flood risks on the site and elsewhere.
National planning policy on this subject makes it clear that new residential development in the High Risk Zone of the floodplain should be avoided where there are options to provide such development in safer (i.e. less flood-prone) areas of the Borough. Some flooding mitigation and compensation proposals are incorporated into the scheme, although some aspects are certainly unusual and quite possibly contentious.
On the face of it, the application appears to be in conflict with both national and local planning policies, and there are grounds on which objections could be made. We will be looking closely at this application with a view to a formal objection.
Although this is outside our Association area, readers might be interested to learn that an application has been submitted for a new office building in Wyke Road. If you are familiar with this narrow road alongside the railway line you may well wonder where on earth the building would be. The answer is on the railway embankment ! The application (no. O2/P2337) is for a three-storey flat roof office building, the shape of which would be not unlike a cigar at 64m in length and only 6m wide at the centre. The dimensions are of course dictated by the relatively limited space available - to put it mildly. Twelve off-road parking spaces would also be provided.
If you take a look at the site - if you can call it that - you have to marvel at the ingenuity behind this proposal. You might also begin to wonder whether any piece of undeveloped land is safe from the prying eyes of would-be developers - or am I being too cynical ?
Having said all that this may come to nothing. The railway embankment alongside this road - and indeed at many other similar type locations in the Borough - is designated as part of the Green Corridor network and is also a SINC (Site of Importance to Nature Conservation). Green Corridors are regarded as important links between larger areas of open space which can help the movement of plant and animal species through the Borough. In general, development proposals on such designated land are supposed to "enhance their nature conservation value". It is difficult to see how this scheme would pass that test.
I have now seen the detailed planning application (no. 02/P 2575) submitted by the Planning Bureau Ltd on behalf of McCarthy and Stone Ltd. The scheme is exactly as presented at the meeting in the Library on 9 December and as reported last month.
Some people will no doubt be unhappy about the scale and design of the proposed building which, at the front, will be close to twice the height of the surrounding "Apostles" houses. There are other features which are less than ideal from the user- public perspective. The library element itself will certainly be larger than in the present building. However, the new Meeting Room will be only slightly larger than at present and - as at the moment - not a very convenient shape.
The plain fact is that the Council decided from the start that any redevelopment on this site should be at no cost to the Council and, if at all possible, should show a profit. Faced with this demanding brief, there were never likely to be many applicants. The almost inevitable outcome is that the public have very little choice other than to accept whatever the developer is willing to offer, remembering that the greater part of the ground floor of the building will have to be provided out of the profit from the sale of the 29 flats.
The new building will include public toilets, which will be available when either the Library or the Meeting Room are in use, but not when the public part of the building is closed - which currently includes all day Wednesday. If I may offer a personal view (which I suspect many would share), it strikes me as a disgrace that some means cannot be found to provide a public toilet in or close to the Raynes Park shopping area open every day at least during daylight hours. What sort of society have we reached which deprives the wider public of a basic convenience because of the habits of a wayward minority ? I have visited many small towns across this country which manage to provide a free public convenience, but this seems to be beyond the ability of our Council. What a very sad situation. I could have used much more trenchant language and it would be fitting.David J. Freeman