At the request of both Lower Morden and West Barnes ward councillors, a meeting was held on 11th August at St. Martin's church in Queen Mary Avenue to discuss the proposed calming measures for the southern section of Grand Drive. It was a well-attended and lively meeting on a very warm evening. Ray Puddy, for the council, tried to reassure everyone that there was no hidden agenda behind the proposals. The objective is simply to reduce the number of road accidents and improve safety for pedestrians and motorists.
The outcome of the meeting is that the council intend to make some modifications to the proposals and consult again. At the meeting, people were divided between the merits of the two main options for the Grand Drive/Cannon Hill Lane junction, i.e. a raised junction with a pelican crossing, or traffic lights without a zebra crossing (which would become redundant) but with a gate closure at the top end of "little" Queen Mary Avenue. It was the idea of the gate closure which proved to be so contentious at the meeting. Quite a few people - but not the majority - opposed the closing off of the short section of Queen Mary Avenue with a gate, and partly, or perhaps largely, because of this, they tended to favour the raised junction concept.
We shall have to see what comes out of the modifications. It would not be a great surprise of the council put forward the traffic lights option as their preference, but kept the gate closure idea "on the back-burner", only to be considered if it was felt necessary in the light of experience.
Even before the owner of the above property learned the outcome of his planning application for a change of use from office to doctor's surgery, he had submitted yet another application. This time round, the objective is a two-storey extension, to provide two two-bedroom flats. This new application is certainly a different proposition to the application for a guest-house/hotel which was submitted last year. That was refused by Merton's Planning Department, and dismissed on appeal last February. Despite the more modest nature of this new application, we believe the proposals still conflict with current and emerging planning policies. We have therefore supported local residents in objecting to this application.
(The planning application reports cited above are in Adobe Acrobat format)
Although they are some way beyond Raynes Park and West Barnes, I should like to draw attention to two recent planning applications which, I suspect, many would regard with concern, particularly if they represent a growing trend.
The first of these - from a prospective purchaser, no less - is to demolish a substantial post-war property in one of the "smart" roads in Merton and erect ten flats in two blocks in the lengthy garden. The block closer to the road would be three-storey, with five two-bedroom flats, and the rear block would be two-storey with five one-bedroom flats. In purely numerical terms, the scheme, if it was approved, would amount to a net gain of nine dwellings, though clearly none of these could be called "family accommodation".
Perhaps I should point out that a very large proportion of the demand for housing these days - and demand does not always equate to need - is for one- and two-bedroom flats. Part of the explanation for this, of course, is that demand is driven by first-time buyers seeking more modestly-priced - and therefore smaller - properties. Inevitably, the market is responding in large measure to the demand.
The other planning application concerns a 1930's property at the end of a cul-de-sac close to Morden town centre. This would involve the demolition and subsequent re-building of a semi-detached house, with the erection of a two-storey terrace, consisting of five houses and two flats, in its very large garden. The house which would be demolished would be replaced by two flats, but with an "undercroft" in order to provide vehicle access to the new dwellings.
For those desperately seeking a house or a flat in Merton, these sort of developments may be welcome news. But there is another side to the picture, namely the interests of existing nearby residents who not only want to preserve the privacy they enjoy, but are also generally concerned about protecting the character of the are in which they live, and may have lived for decades.
Since both these applications are still under consideration, I do not know how they will be viewed by Merton Council. I can see some difficulties in both cases in terms of planning guidance. However, the numerical gain to which I referred may be seen as attractive in certain quarters.
Large-scale maps of Merton show many older houses with substantial gardens, particularly on the southern and western sides of the borough. No doubt the developers pore over these looking for opportunities, and perhaps these two applications are just such examples. To the credit of Merton Council, they have set themselves a target of meeting 95% of the annual requirement for new housing on "brownfield" sites, i.e. previously-developed land. Generally speaking, the gardens of existing houses are not brownfield land. My understanding is that the council is optimistic about meeting their target. If that is so, then surely it is unnecessary to permit the building of flats and houses in private gardens which have been sold off for speculative gain.
On a lighter note - but not unrelated - the Campaign to Protect Rural England recently reported the case of a farmer who wanted to sell off a small field to a developer. The farmer claimed that it was a brownfield site, which, on the face of it, seemed unlikely. A chap from the local planning authority visited the farm and restored sanity to the situation by pointing out to the farmer that just because the field in question no longer had any grass on it, but was covered in mud, that did not mean that the field qualified as having brownfield status! I suppose he thought it worth a try.David Freeman