You might detect a slight difference of opinion, or at least approach, between myself and our Secretary Debbie Coady on the subject of graffiti. Rest assured, whatever differences there may be, it will not disturb a good working relationship. Indeed it may - and there are some encouraging signs already - spark off a lively debate on this subject, and I hope others. Do join in if you want to. Debbie is able to read my notes before she writes hers.
Most of you will by now have had your holiday - if you were having one. I hope you enjoyed good weather and returned fully recharged. As I write, it is mid-August, when things tend to go a bit quiet - and about time too - so there may be less to report.
I mentioned last month that the selected developer, Michael Shanly Homes (MSH), were working on a modified design for the public part of the building following a recent 'fast-track' consultation exercise. It now looks as if MSH have almost finalised their plans for the building, including the internal layout for the library part itself and the meeting hall, etc., in conjunction with Merton's Leisure and Libraries Department and following some consultation with this Association.
The first point to note about this proposal is that the nature of the assignment is unusual - at least for the developer. MSH expect to exchange a contract to purchase the freehold interest and redevelop the site to provide a modern library (more than 4,000 sq. ft.), a meeting hall (about 1,100 sq. ft.), internal toilets and kitchen for hall users, along with a workroom, staff room and office for the library staff. The public area would be leased back to the Council at a peppercorn rent. The library area is expected to be open-plan but with dedicated Adult and Children's 'Zones'. The area allocated to this will be measurably larger than in the present building, but, sadly, the meeting hall will be only slightly larger.
It is clear, and perhaps inevitable given the circumstances, that this project has been 'library' driven. The library component is used five days a week throughout the year, but the meeting hall much less frequently. The whole proposal is subject to the developer gaining planning permission for the construction of the flats on the upper floors.
The Association has monitored this project from the start, and I should like to record here that we established a good relationship with the representatives of Michael Shanly Homes. They have been as co-operative with us as the circumstances allowed. The client is, of course, the London Borough of Merton, who, from the outset, were looking for a new facility at no cost to the Council. The developer will be paying for the freehold of the site and providing the public facilities at their own cost, taking a profit from the sale of the residential units. Faced with this sort of remit, it is hardly likely any fortune will be made. The end result is likely to be a compromise. Some people will be disappointed. It is possible that a revised planning application will be considered by the Council in September.
Here we go again - I did warn you.
The Council seems to be taking this more seriously, although most of the action - such as it is - will be directed towards removal rather than avoidance. I am not suggesting the latter is being totally ignored, but it is much the more difficult aspect of the whole issue. The Council, the police and schools are, it seems, trying to get to grips with the roots of the problem, but progress on this front looks like being limited and very slow.
Meanwhile, Merton's Cleaning Services arranged a couple of training days for potential 'Community Volunteers' at Garth Road in August/September. The outcome is that two training/demonstration days were set up for September, one of which is in Raynes Park. These are being arranged by Merton's new full-time Graffiti Co-ordinator Pat DeJesus. The Council has a budget of £90,000 for the current financial year to remove graffiti, and a scheme has started working mainly in the major roads across the Borough from East to West. It is therefore likely to be many months before we see action in Raynes Park. The Council is willing to deal with graffiti in private property, but at the owner's expense, and with a minimum charge of £50. I should point out, however, that average costs tend to be way above this figure. No doubt there will be more to say on this later, and there should be some relevant correspondence in the October "Guide".
Merton Council Graffiti removal phone numbers
Many of you will know about the 'Age of Transfer' proposals, whereby Merton schools are changing from a three- to a two-tier system. St Catherine's - as a Middle School - is due to become redundant in due course. Although the new system is due to start in 2002, this particular school building will still be required by Wimbledon College until 2005. As matters stand, the Diocese of Southwark propose to dispose of the School after July 2005.
Knowing this, Merton Council issued a draft Planning Brief in May last year. This document offers guidance to potential developers, and says that the site "is now proposed for residential development". The draft Brief envisages about 45 houses or flats, or a mixture of the two, which would be restricted to the central area of the site, being the 'footprint' of the building and the hard surface playground - just under one hectare all told. This would leave the larger part of the site - about four hectares - as 'greenfield', and retained as Metropolitan Open Land. You may wonder why the brief was produced some five years before any redevelopment could take place. The Brief, dated February 2000, actually says that the site would be available by 2001. This was a mistake, and was quickly corrected by Merton's Planning Department who, one presumes, failed to clear their lines with their own Education Department ! So we have a draft Planning Brief (now on the backburner) on which we are assured there will be full consultation after 2005.
In the meantime, this Association has objected to what is called a Site Proposal - in the Unitary Development Plan - for housing development. Please note this is not a planning application. There are some very sound reasons for making this objection, and I could set out the details right now, but it would make more sense to do so nearer the time. A lot could happen in the next four years and, who knows, perhaps the building could be retained as an educational establishment of some kind. It is of interest to reflect on the point that continued use of the building for "education" use would not require planning permission, assuming there was no new construction and the exterior of the building was largely unchanged. Surely I cannot be alone in questioning the wisdom of the intention to demolish this substantial building, which is not even fifty years old. How about a 'save the building' campaign ?
As reported last month, the draft Planning Brief (on the possible development of a football training facility) was approved by the Council's Executive Committee on 1st August. At the meeting, Council officials explained that - in the absence of a further full consultation on the amended Framework - they would explain the outcome of the meeting in their 'advertising feature' in the Guardian newspaper, and the public would be able to submit comments on the approved Framework to the Planning Applications Sub-Committee in the event of any planning application being made. However, the Council has had to suspend the action, because on 7th August the Council's Scrutiny Commission proposed that residents in areas surrounding Prince George's be re-consulted. This will be considered by the Executive Committee of 5th September. In the meantime, the Chairman of Wimbledon Football Club is reported to have said that the Club does not have the funds (estimated at £5-6m) to develop their training facility. His replies to questions, in an interview by the Wimbledon News of 10th and 17th August, make very depressing reading for supporters of the Club. Regarding the Club's application for a temporary indoor training facility at the rear of the David Lloyd Tennis Club, this Association has made an objection to this Planning Application following consultation with the Residents' Associations of West Wimbledon and the Apostles. Quite apart from the mystery of why this location has been chosen, there is ample justification for this objection. I will spare you the details. As to the broader picture - the future of Wimbledon Football Club - it would take a very brave man or woman to attempt the final chapter of this story.
"Vote For Insanity - You Know It Makes Sense." How can you beat the slogan of the Monster Raving Loony Party ? - their policies are a delight. I quote : "Road Transport - In order to stop motorway congestion - We'll Close Them !" "Public Transport - All bus shelters will have central heating. This will be turned on full in the summer and off in the winter, just like the buses." And for those concerned about 'greenfield' preservation, how about : "Education - Any MP whose constituency sells off a school playing field to developers will be required to relinquish his/her own back garden as a replacement sports facility for the school". Well, it makes a change from talking about the Euro.
Briefly back to our Association, the long-standing Area-Co-ordinator for the Claremont Avenue area, Clarence Williams, is standing down, and has been replaced by a good 'old' friend Peter Connellan. We send a huge 'thank you' to both of them.David J. Freeman