As they say, it never rains but it pours. After some five years of the public being locked out of this sportsfield, Bryant Homes have now submitted an outline planning application for residential use of part of the site. In brief, the proposal is for 67 houses, located at the northern end of the field, on about one-third of the whole site - with the remainder, so it is claimed, to be given over to a charitable trust for the use of Raynes Park High School (RPHS) and/or local clubs and the wider community. The intention is that the sports facility would be secure and separate from the housing and would provide four football pitches. The existing vehicular entrance via Fairway would be retained for both the housing and the sportsfield.
There will no doubt be very mixed views about this proposal. I understand that, under an informal arrangement, RPHS has had use of the field for some time, and a more formal arrangement for their continued use would, in principle at least, be welcomed by many.
However, there are several problems with this application. In the first place, it is, quite obviously, a greenfield site with a long history of sporting use. Under national planning policies, housing should not be built on such land whilst so-called "brownfield" sites are available in the borough. There cannot be any doubt that a vast amount of previously-developed land, suitable for re-development, is still available. The second problem is that nobody (apart from Sport England, whose position in this matter is highly questionable) has made a reasoned assessment on the issue of whether the playing field is surplus to requirements for sporting use.
The third problem is that even if any development (apart from essential facilities in support of sporting use) is acceptable in principle, there is the question of scale, not relating to the size of the buildings but to the proportion of land which would be taken out of sporting use. The applicant claims that the northern section of the playing field - where the housing would be located - is incapable of forming either the whole or any part of a playing pitch. The parcel of land in question is, to be fair, an odd shape roughly forming a triangle. Even so, it amounts to over four acres of ground. We dispute the claim made by the applicant. It is worth mentioning that despite an offer to provide a changing room and car parking for the sports facility, none of this appears on the site plan. Even if none of the problems listed here existed, this does not look like a credible scheme.
As if all this were not enough to question the acceptability of the application, we learned at the end of January that the Environment Agency has revised its maps of the floodplain of the Beverley Brook. I have to tell you - and do so with very mixed emotions - that the identified floodplain now extends to a large area of the sportsfield and covers at least a third, and possibly up to a half, of the north-west of the site. Since the proposals would involve housing at the northern end of the field, it is almost impossible to believe that the current scheme will be acceptable. With the floodplain boundary having been withdrawn, we can expect the Environment Agency to enter a strong objection to this application.
Those of you living close to the sportsfield will have seen a very comprehensive News Update drawn up by Jerry Cuthbert and Bob Simpson. Notwithstanding the potential benefit to Raynes Park High School and local clubs, we believe that for the reasons outlined above this particular application should be refused. It is worth noting the similarity here with the first application submitted by Barratt on the LESSA site. That application was withdrawn shortly after the Environment Agency had produced its revised floodplain maps. Two years later, and the maps have changed again. It is still relatively early days with this application. We wait to see how the Environment Agency will respond.
Last month, I provided brief details of the outline application on the site of the former St. Catherine's Middle School. Just to remind you - and not least to reassure the parents of boys at the Campion Centre - nothing could happen on site until the College vacates the building, which is expected to be August 2005. We learn that the Environment Agency and the applicant are locked in debate about the proposed flooding compensation works. We are convinced that the proposal to re-develop the site for residential uses is in serious conflict with both national and local planning guidance. We have therefore submitted a formal objection to the application.David J. Freeman
The Association submitted a 21-page pre-inquiry statement to the Planning Inspectorate at the end of January, comprehensively outlining the case for the rejection of Barratt's appeal. Then, on Friday 31st January, the site was broken into by about ten gypsy/travellers' caravans, who set up camp on the car park. Thankfully, London Electricity quickly had its legal department on the case, and on the following Tuesday the "visitors" were served with an eviction notice by the police. Once vacated, the site was made secure again, but some damage, loss of property and general mess had been incurred by the site owners. Let's hope that this does not recur.
We have now been notified that the public inquiry dealing with Barratt's appeal has been set for Tuesday 3rd June at Merton Civic Centre, and the Planning Inspectorate anticipates it will take four days. There is still much work to be done in preparation for this important event in the coming months.Martin Mitchell
Merton Council have also submitted a pre-inquiry statement (Adobe Acrobat format).