After one or two false starts, the application for a new library and residential development was approved by Merton Council on 8th May. The problem which had held up consideration of the application was that the scheme for the flats above the library did not offer any on-site "affordable" housing. It is proposed to overcome this by the applicant making a financial contribution towards "affordable" housing elsewhere in the borough. When I say a contribution, this will in fact be a requirement on the applicant by means of what is called a Section 106 Obligation. This simply means that as part of the contract, the applicant is legally bound to make a contribution towards the cost of low-cost housing off-site.
There are still some very mixed feelings locally about the design and the provisions of this new development. Two in particular are the size and shape of the replacement for the meeting room, and the very limited on-site parking provision, which we believe will lead to problems for visitors to the flats, if not indeed for the occupants themselves.
The way in which this whole proposal was approached almost ensured that consideration became complex. If there had been rather more open-minded consultation, everything could have been different, with an outcome producing wider public satisfaction. Not least among the difficulties was that the Council - from the outset - insisted that the library should be rebuilt at no cost to the Council. However, whatever its faults, we can now look forward to a permanent building to replace the rather long-standing "temporary" structure.
About two years ago, approval was given to re-develop this site to provide a four-storey building for "food and drink" use at ground-floor level, with twelve one-bedroom flats on the first, second and third floors. The scheme includes provision for an underground car-park for eight vehicles.
The old building was recently demolished, and the site now awaits development. Our understanding is that J.D. Wetherspoon, the discount pub chain, were granted a licence for the new pub. With three pubs already in the Raynes Park shopping area, no doubt some people will feel that another is unnecessary. Others will welcome it. You cannot please everybody. I should mention that we objected to several features of the design of the proposed new building. Merton's Planning Department went a long way towards accepting our recommendations.
The Tennis Club informed us earlier this year that they wished to install floodlighting on at least two and possibly all three of their courts. Such a proposal requires planning permission. Phil Ryder and Jean Bennett, Secretary and Chair of the club, were considerate enough to set up two meetings in the pavilion to explain their plans to local residents. They pointed out that in order to retain and, if possible, increase their membership, which has declined in recent years, they see a need to improve the surface of the courts and introduce floodlighting. Phil and Jean emphasized that they wish to carry support for this proposal from residents backing onto the club. A modern type of lighting is envisaged which, so it is claimed, would keep light spillage "to an absolute minimum".
Readers will, I am sure, appreciate that this presents a slightly delicate position for the Residents' Association. The Tennis Club is an Afflilated Society. Many of their members will also be members of the Association. We naturally want to see the Tennis Club not just survive, but if possible prosper. But we also have to consider the concerns of those members of the Association whose gardens are close to the tennis courts and who might be adversely affected by the floodlights and light spillage - whatever it might be - during the evenings.
As I have to complete these notes before the next meeting of our committee, I intend to recommend that unless we see compelling reasons to do otherwise, the Association should take a neutral stance on this proposal - neither for nor against. Members are advised to watch out for a yellow Planning Application notice and a notification letter from the council. This will give you the name of the case officer in the council dealing with the application, who would be able to advise you on the relevant planning policy in the Unitary Development Plan. The letter will also explain that should you wish to comment on the application you should do so, in writing, preferably within three weeks of the date of the letter.
I should like to convey thanks to Councillor Angela Caldara for the letter she sent to local residents telling them about these proposals. I understand that the Tennis Club sent a similar letter to residents living close to the tennis courts earlier in the year.
A proposal was put to Merton Council last February by the Dons' Trust (AFC Wimbledon) to develop what they describe as a Community Sports Ground at this location.
The Trust would be looking for extensive use of the pavilion and changing rooms as their "club-house", and would want to develop the ground to provide three "little league" soccer pitches, three senior pitches, a grass floodlit training area and an all-weather training facility. Their programme, described as a "Football in the Community Scheme", would aim to run courses for young boys and girls from the whole of the borough all year round, including special courses during school holidays. The Trust say they would have to take over the living accommodation on site so they could provide their own security/management.
The Trust's proposals are not exactly comprehensive as they stand. Even so, it is clear enough that they are looking for a major stake in the use and management of Sir Joseph Hood, which extends to more than 30 acres of ground. The Association, local councillors and existing users of the site are being consulted at present. Full public consultation would be essential before any agreement was reached between the council and the Trust.
The status of Sir Joseph Hood, in planning terms, is Public Open Space. As defined in the Unitary Development Plan, this carries a presumption of unrestricted public access. It is in effect a local park, and the only one conveniently available (within the borough of Merton) for the residents of Motspur Park and West Barnes. Indeed, it is worth drawing attention to the fact that under the criteria used in the UDP, a very large proportion of Motspur Park and West Barnes is already deficient in local park provision. The continuous availability of Sir Joseph Hood as a public local park is essential to the local area.
The proposal from the Trust inevitably raises certain concerns. Remembering that AFC Wimbledon, because of its rather unusual genesis, has an exceptionally large number of supporters for an amateur club, it is not easy to see how their aspirations could be met, given the status of the ground and its level of public use. Several clubs and socieities have had long-standing use of the pavilion, and would presumably wish this to continue. Some of the issues which will concern local residents indeed stem from the sheer number of people who could be involved.
The requirements of the Trust appear to be such that even if formal use of the facilities were granted, there would need to be strict control on numbers to ensure normal public usage was maintained. Sir Joseph Hood only has one vehicular access point, which could lead to traffic and parking problems. We believe that the residents of Marina Avenue already experience inconvenience, even with the current level of use of the park. Floodlighting raises concenrs about light pollution to nearby properties. If this was agreed, it would require a very strict control régime. The Trust refer to developing the status of the grounds, but it is unclear what they have in mind.
In principle, the well-organized provision of football for boys and girls is an admirable aim. However, at present, these proposals throw up rather more questions than answers.David J. Freeman