Last month I outlined some of the proposals made by the Dons' Trust (AFC Wimbledon) earlier in the year. The Council called a public meeting on 5th June, held in the pavilion, at which several senior figures from the Trust were invited to explain their proposals in detail. The pavilion was full to overflowing, which perhaps illustrates the interest and concern which many local residents feel about possible changes in the use of the facilities at Sir Joseph Hood.
I have to say that this was not the most productive of meetings, and certainly not conclusive, although it was never intended that final proposals would be agreed at this gathering. The earlier proposals, which I mentioned last month, appear to have been modified, and the aspirations of the Trust appear to be more modest, though that is far from clear.
That said, the representatives of AFC Wimbledon were unable to set out a clear and comprehensive picture of what they wanted to achieve. As a result, and perhaps partly due to the suspicions voiced by many of those attending, the proceedings largely went round in circles.
However, one or two suggestions were made about how to move forward, which might be followed up. The simple fact is that the proposals need much greater clarification before the Council, or anyone else, can consider them seriously.
What does seem clear is that the playing fields at least, and possibly also the pavilion, are not used as extensively as they could be. It looks as though there is scope for some additional organised youth football training at the site, which would help improve revenue for the Council and - in turn - help towards maintenance of the grounds, which we would all welcome. We shall just have to wait and see if the Dons Trust come up with some really constructive ideas.
The was also covered in the Guide last month. The Planning Committee for Merton granted permission for floodlighting at the Club on 29th May.
The application was submitted to the committee rather sooner than I had expected. As indicated earlier, the Association intended to remain neutral towards this application unless there were strong grounds to do otherwise. As far as I am aware, most of the residents living around the tennis courts did not register strong opposition to the proposals.
The Association had suggested to the Club that the switch-off time for the floodlights should be 9.30 p.m. However, it became clear that the Club wanted the lights to remain on up to 10 p.m., possibly each night of the week. In fairness to the residents, the Association submitted a qualified objection to the application. We urged that a curfew for the lighting be set at 9.30 p.m., and asked that use of the floodlights be restricted to six nights per week, with a change in the routine on Sunday. The 9.30 p.m. curfew was agreed, but not the restriction to six nights a week.
The planning policy on this subject is that floodlighting that would have a significant effect on nearby residents will not be permitted unless the effect can be overcome by what are called mitigating measures. The application set out in some detail how the spillage of light would be controlled by the special design features of the lamps. In the circumstances, it would have been difficult to object to this application in itself, though a few residents did so.
Some of the residents living close to the courts, especially in Grand Drive, will be quite close to the floodlighting. We hope they will not be inconvenienced by the light emission, and we also hope that the Club will show due consideration towards those residents.
In May, I wrote about the possible development of a new public hall in Wimbledon Broadway adjacent to Wimbledon Theatre, on a site which is currently a car-park. The site in question, in Council parlance, is known as the P4 Site. I can now provide an update.
On 14th April, the Cabinet of Merton Council agreed to take these ideas forward. It was agreed that the Council "will use its reasonable endeavours to provide a public hall with in the region of 600 seats", subject to planning consent, and that a further feasibility study be carried out.
The probable funding of the new hall (which I should mention is not intended as a replacement for the old Civic Hall) is likely to be rather complex, but in essence the aim is to raise the capital from other "enabling" development on the same site, from the possible disposal of other sites in Council ownership, and "a possible contribution" from the value of the other large site next to the bus station in Hartfield Road.
My reading of the situation is that the Council is serious about wanting to provide a substantial new hall, along with meeting rooms, on this site, provided the feasibility study shows it to be viable in building terms. However, given the uncertainties at this stage, I sense that the Council is unwilling to make a firm commitment.
Please remember that there are many hurdles to be cleared before we see any construction on this site, if indeed we do, but at least this is a step in a promising direction. A draft planning brief will be drawn up in due course, on which there will be full public consultation. If this proposal does go ahead, it is quite possible that the facilities in the new building will replace, to some extent, the premises used at present by some community associations. Many of you will know that these associations are having financial problems caused partly, and in some cases largely, by much reduced operating grants from the Council. The members of those associations will have a strong interest in all of this.
This is just a footnote to my comments last month. I should have added that approval of the planning application is conditional on no objections being made by the Government Office for London, to whom referral has been made by Merton Council. I doubt whether this will cause a problem.
More critical, however, is the second point I should have mentioned. We have to assume that the applicant has agreed in principle to make a cash contribution towards the off-site provision of "affordable" housing. We cannot assume that there was actual agreement, when the application was approved, between the applicant and the council on the size of that contribution. This re-development has been beset with financial problems since the start. Let us hope that this time, an amicable settlement can be reached.David J. Freeman