On the night the astronomers saw red when witnessing a lunar eclipse, over eighty local residents also saw red and packed the tennis pavilion to discuss the response to the proposal by Barratts for outline planning permission to develop the LESSA sportsground in Grand Drive. Cunningly, two almost identical proposals have been submitted to the Council. This is a trick to try to overcome the objections, since an applicant is allowed only two objections for each proposal. They were dated the 15th and 18th December 2000, but not posted until after the Christmas break and received by the residents as late as the 30th December. Consequently, the formal 21-day response required by the 8th January 2001 was a nonsense, and, through the efforts of Councillor Gilli Lewis-Lavender, the date for objections has now been put back to the 21st January 2001.
The Association's rapid response to this proposal is another triumph for our efficient network of workers and our use of cyberspace. David Freeman, Margaret Pye and Pamela Robinson have been tracking the plans for this site for several months, as we have continued to report in the Guide. David contacted me as soon as he was aware of the plans on the 28th December, and then, through our cyberspace links to Councillor Gilli Lewis-Lavender, Jill Truman and others, the word was out and we sprang into operation, with information on the web site and leaflets through the neighbouring roads so everyone was informed immediately. Martin and Brenda Mitchell and their colleagues have played a major role delivering many hundreds of leaflets around the neighbourhood of LESSA so that everyone would have a clear picture of the proposal and the action they should take. Thank you to everyone who continues to help us.
The applications are for consent to build 100 dwelling units of houses and flats to a maximum of 450 habitable rooms, covering almost half the site. The plan shows 60 houses and seven blocks of flats of two and three storeys. In addition, the plan includes a new public park, pavilion and road access. Remember the requirement is for "affordable housing". What does this mean in an area where the average house prices are about £200 000? Andrew Barwick reminds us that an application to develop one acre of the site had been submitted by London Electricity some years ago, and had received consent. Now Barratts are trying for five acres. They will undoubtedly come back with "lesser" development proposals. Whatever they may be, any development could easily change the nature and political complexion of this area.
But don't be fooled by this plan. It is full of cunning tricks to gain your support, but it will not succeed. At a lively meeting, with the tennis pavilion filled to overflowing, angry residents discussed their views and together we have set out below the objections which have been sent formally to the Council, Councillors, MPs, MEPs, Environment Agency, Wimbledon Civic Forum and the GLA.
Furthermore, the issue of building on privately owned sports grounds will not go away. We have already had Prince George's, where detailed proposals are still awaited. In relation to that, there were additional concerns about the future of these grounds, now in the ownership of Wimbledon F.C., in view of the rumours that the club was thinking of moving to Milton Keynes. The Sun Alliance grounds are also under threat. Even if you do not live close to the LESSA ground, this concept of building on our sportsgrounds is a real threat to the neighbourhood and the Borough as a whole, so you must be active and help us in this Planning Application, otherwise the whole area will change, irreversibly.
Firstly, there are two proposals and objections must be made to both of them, otherwise the other plan becomes valid by default : another cunning trick.
A significant part of the site, including the proposed area to be built on, is designated a flood plain. The Environment Agency have written their objections to the proposed plans. They recognise that residents in the area are at risk of serious flooding if development on our flood plains is not resisted. It was necessary to emphasise the risk to EVERYONE in the surrounding area, Westway, Greenway, Blenheim Close, Blenheim Road, Brook Close, Westway Close and even Linkway, not merely those who might eventually live in the development, or those residents whose property currently backs onto it.
It is apparent that the Council are working with out-of-date information, and their measure of the size of the flood plain existing here is considerably smaller than that held by the Environment Agency, who are the professionals. You can find the details on the Agency's web site as mentioned last month.
There are many streams in this area, many of which are now underneath houses, as residents in Southway, Greenway and Blenheim Close are finding. Flooding has been a continued problem through the history of the Association, and for some residents it is so bad that they are unable to obtain any flood insurance on their properties.
Any building work which requires excavation of the land to build the foundations for new properties will alter these water courses, which with the changing climate and increased rainfall we are now experiencing will affect the flooding issues further. There is no indication in the available documents of the proposal that provision has been made and costed for flood alleviation measures.
There is no escaping the magnitude of the problem. Government figures show that 8% of all land in England is at risk from river flooding, and 1.5% at risk from the sea. This amounts to 1.3 million homes and businesses, and I am sure these are underestimates of the true size of the problem.
It will be some months before the Government are able to issue their new guidelines. Furthermore, once more the Environment Agency have objected to the proposal of more building on our flood plain. It is time that Merton accepted this advice from the professionals. They would be irresponsible not to do so.
Irrespective of any flooding dangers, the proposed development is too large. The proposed density of 225 habitable rooms per hectare (2.47 acres) for the development exceeds the guidelines set out in the Merton Unitary Development Plan (UDP) policy HP6. Given the scale and general character of the housing around the land and in this area as a whole, and the relatively limited accessibility of good transport facilities, we believe the density should be no more than 30 dwellings per hectare. We have no information at this time of the intended ratio of houses to flats. However, we are opposed to any three-storey development which is out of character with properties in this area.
The Council will try to use as their defence the housing targets that have been set by central government, but these values were all set before the great floods of the last few years and the increasing evidence of the changing climate. Consequently, the Government are now accepting that their original figures were far too large, and they are now revising them downwards. Merton must now revise their development plans too.
Any development will have an impact on the local infrastructure, namely the sewers, drains, schools and of course the local traffic which is frequently gridlocked now in Grand Drive. Can our sewers and drains cope with any further development? We have had reports that sewers in Greenway, Bushey Road and Grand Drive were backing up during the recent heavy rains. More residents mean more children, and how can our schools cope? More residents also mean many more cars and the subsequent chaos on our already overcrowded local roads. Access of such a large amount of traffic is not acceptable to and from Grand Drive, or indeed anywhere else. Attempts to gain access to the site through other neighbouring roads, such as Westway and Greenway, would still feed back into the already congested Grand Drive.
The proposal cleverly includes the provision for a small public park and associated facilities, but there is no mention of who is to take responsibility for this either physically or financially. Will it be the Council? How is this possible when they cannot afford to maintain the existing facilities in the Borough, let alone contemplate supporting some new ones? This is just a trick to make you think this is a "public-spirited" proposal which should be supported. Please do not be fooled. We have plenty of open space and children's playgrounds nearby. What we require are public sportsgrounds for our local teams and schools. The Prime Minister has just announced the provision of £1 billion for new sports facilities as a means of improving the UK's performance at the Olympic Games and other events.
At the meeting, one of our members reminded us that sometimes a 'dowry' is given by developers to the local authority with the intention that this should be invested to provide funding for the upkeep of the play area/remaining open space. In reality, this money generally finds its way into the Council Treasury, and is not used for the purpose for which it was intended.
The suggested layout of the proposed development, and the intended change from a private lockable open space to a residential area that would have to be accessible day and night, has serious security implications, particularly for nearby residents in Greenway and Westway. There is also a potential increased risk in vandalism on this site which will be screened from Grand Drive.
The LESSA site is also an important area for local wild life. There is concern at this time from conservationists about the decline of the house sparrow and starling, which for most of us have been common garden birds. Now they are in need of protection as open spaces such as LESSA, which are an essential part of their feeding cycle, are turned into a concrete jungle.
We must all adopt a stance of constant vigilance, and also awareness of the "Tricks of the Trade". There will be application after application in attempt to wear objectors down. This has certainly been the case with Prince George's, which was under threat of development when I first became involved in the Association nearly 30 years ago.
The Association is proposing a two-stage approach :
We are also compiling a history of flooding in this area, which is crucial for our continued defence against these planning applications. We need information and photographs which should be sent to Martin Mitchell (108 Westway), who is acting as the coordinator. This information will also be placed on the web site, so please contact Martin with any information.
Thank you to everyone who has helped with the fast-moving activity and also attended the Association meeting. Your comments are very valuable. If you can help in any way with our LESSA campaign, either by contributing professional knowledge or simply delivering leaflets, then contact Martin Mitchell on 8540 8508.
I am delighted to announce that Nikki Waide has agreed to be the new Minutes Secretary for the Association for the next few months, before she moves to Australia in September. We are delighted to have Nikki in the team.
Several other people have come forward who are interested in making up the Secretariat. I will be able to give further details next month. However, we still urgently need a new Chairman. Please give me a call if you can help in any way.
The next meeting of the Association is on Tuesday 13th February 2001 at the Tennis Pavilion, 129 Grand Drive, starting at 7.45 p.m. We will be able to discuss the further developments on the LESSA proposal and other local issues. We look forward to seeing you at the meeting.Garry Hunt (President and acting Chairman, RP&WBRA)