Firstly may I wish all our members, past and present, and all our readers a very happy new year.
Some of you may recall that a few years ago, a fishing club came forward with a proposal to manage fishing on the lake on behalf of the Council. As I remember it, this club dropped their interest when they saw the strength of local opposition.
Chris Mountford, Merton's Leisure Facilities and Technical Manager, contacted us recently about another similar type of proposal, but this time from two fishing enthusiasts, one of whom has lengthy bailiff experience. The Friends of Cannon Hill Common were also consulted.
In theory, fishing on the lake is not permitted, as the signs make clear, but of course, without park-keepers to control matters, fishing does take place. The Committee considered this proposal, and the consensus of opinion was that we should continue to oppose fishing, partly in the interests of safety for those walking along the lake path and also to preserve the wildlife and the banks of the lake. The Council seemed to be minded to at least give the applicant the chance to develop his ideas, and in the light of this we have suggested a number of precautionary conditions for the Council to consider. Chris Mountford has assured me that they will take our views into account and keep us informed.
Nothing seems to be happening on this front since Michael Shanly Homes withdrew their planning application last September. However, I learn that the company is still in discussion with Merton Council, so there is still the possibility that the proposed development will go ahead. If the application does come back to committee, we will be watching out for any significant revisions. If there are any, the applicant would need to submit an "amended" application, and the Council should send out re-consultation letters to those consulted about the original scheme. Watch this space.
As people keep asking questions about this, I thought it worth explaining where matters stand. We believe the Council are working on a Planning Framework (guidance to potential developers) for the whole of the Thames Water site, including the public car park. Do not jump to the conclusion that the car park is likely to disappear. It is Thames Water land, and covers four large water mains. It is bordering on the unthinkable that the car park could be built on.
There is what is called a Site Proposal for the site in the emerging Unitary Development Plan, which reads "Foodstore fronting Coombe Lane with public parking and residential development". The key point is that this is no more than a draft proposal at present, and has to remain as such until the outcome of the UDP Public Inquiry is known and the Inspectors Report comes to hand later in the year. It is not worth asking further questions at present, because no answers will be available from anywhere. We do not expect the present public car park to be reduced in size whatever happens, and in fact hope it will be larger if a redevelopment does take place. If a draft Planning Framework does emerge, we will have the chance to comment on it.
One of our members has suggested traffic calming measures in the central section of West Barnes Lane (from the railway crossing to the Crossway junction). Another member has approached us about speeding traffic in Westway, particularly in the early morning. I am trying to get some reaction to these concerns from the Council. It is not easy to encourage the Council to take any action on this subject unless there is evidence of "black-spots" or a history of accidents in the roads concerned. If you are aware of, or have been involved in, accidents in these roads, it would help to have brief details. On a related subject, I learn that the "Interchange" proposals for Raynes Park town centre (details were in the April 2001 "Guide"), which were put on hold last August, are due to re-commence this month. It is almost inevitable there will be traffic delays through the shopping parade.
The first meeting of the newly formed Area Forum for Raynes Park and Lower Morden was held on 29th November, with a larger turnout than most of us expected. Just to remind you, these Council-sponsored meetings are intended "so that local people can have a say in decisions which affect services in their area". My hope is that these meetings will be a two-way flow of information and ideas, so that (a) the public will be better informed about what the Council is doing, and (b) the Council has the opportunity to learn from the public what we would like them to be doing.
No fewer than ten Councillors turned up for all or part of the meeting, and Residents' Associations were well represented, including six of our own members. For this first meeting, the Council of course had to set the agenda, but for subsequent meetings the intention is to respond to suggestions from "the floor". Much of the evening was devoted to a presentation about recycling of rubbish (no unkind comments please), in particular about plastic and cardboard directly from households rather than via the small recycling facilities around the Borough. The volumes of rubbish and therefore costs of disposal into landfill sites grows every year, and there is a clear need to recycle more in cost-effective ways - an important qualification. We hope the Council will keep up the momentum on this topic, because they are being set demanding targets by Government to reduce the volume of rubbish taken to landfill sites, which are fast running out of capacity in the South East of England.
We expect future meetings to cover preservation of open spaces and youth facilities and youth crime. There was an element of feeling our way at this first meeting, but I am optimistic that they will be constructive and valuable. We will play our part with that aim in mind.
You will know from the November "Guide" that Barratt Homes "amended" their planning application for this sportsfield site last October, and I commented on this at some length last month. The Association submitted a detailed formal objection to the revised application, and I should like to thank all those who sent in individual objections to the Council. We wait to hear if and when this application will go to the Planning Committee, but meanwhile we are still trying to convince the Council that this application should be refused, for a variety of reasons. Not least among these reasons is the adverse impact which the whole proposal could have on adding to the risk of flooding to existing residents "downstream" of the site, i.e. Westway and adjoining roads. In case anybody has doubts about this, I derive no pleasure from talking about the West Barnes floodplain. Sadly we have no choice in this context. Only a fool would convince himself that it is all a myth.
However, there is need for a sense of proportion. By referring to flood risk, we are not talking about potential loss of life, but we are talking about a genuine threat of extensive damage to property, and disruption if people had to vacate their homes for weeks or months. In July 2000, the Environment Agency sent out a circular letter pointing out that 2,600 homes in the catchment of the Beverley Brook were at risk from flooding. The Agency explained that they were working up a Flood Alleviation Scheme. We are monitoring progress on this, and it is unlikely that anything will happen on the ground for another two or three years. We will continue to oppose the LESSA planning application, and have alerted a number of bodies seeking their support. The main problem here is that Merton Council do not seem to take flood risk seriously when considering planning applications. One would have thought that there was more than enough evidence now to ensure that if the precautionary principle was applied in this case, as it should be, the response to this application would be obvious.
Another year has arrived, and our thoughts start to turn to the AGM, which we are required to hold in March. In the November 2001 edition of the "Guide", I dropped rather more than a hint that the Association needs more active support. For personal reasons, I shall stand down from the Chair at the AGM, but hopefully will continue to help with planning issues. Sadly we have been without a Vice Chair for many months. Our Secretary, Debbie Coady, being a full-time working girl with a family, has limited time to devote to the Association, though she has done wonders in the circumstances. If we are to continue being an effective forum for the benefit of the local community, we shall need more volunteers by next March at the latest. The work of the Association need not - indeed should not - be a burden, provided all the necessary posts are filled. If they are not, then the few who are available become overburdened. Please give this serious thought, and contact either me or Garry Hunt if you can help.David J. Freeman