On a sunny but rather cold Saturday morning at the end of January, I decided to check on the abandoned cars left in Westway Close (see letters in the March "Guide"). As I approached the garages at the end of the Close, I could see a small group of what looked like "graffers" at work. To my relief, the group turned out to include Councillors Iain Dysart and Gilli Lewis-Lavender, and Tim Miles, our Webmaster. Well done all of you – a fine public-spirited effort on your days off. I was also pleased to see that the four abandoned cars had been removed by the Council very soon after our Secretary had reported them.
To calm or not to calm – that is the question. My comments in the January "Guide" seem to have sparked off a mini-debate on this subject. Clearly the views are divided about the benefit or otherwise of road humps and speed tables. There are those who want more of them, and those who want far less if any at all. You cannot please everybody. Most of you will know that the Council introduced calming measures in our area about two years ago after a lengthy consultation exercise. Some of the proposals were controversial, though this was nothing in comparison with the proposed Controlled Parking Zone, which came later. A number of people have contacted me, and I have pointed out to them that having completed the calming measures in Raynes Park and West Barnes, it is very unlikely that the Council will come back and make changes, and even less likely they would remove existing humps and speed tables. The Council has to rotate their efforts around the Borough, for obvious reasons, so it will probably be several years before they are ready to have another look at our location.
At the risk of extending the debate further, I will offer some personal thoughts on this. I have strong doubts whether road humps and speed tables achieve the intended objective. It seems to me that, in general, they tend to slow down drivers who do not drive fast, but they do not slow down drivers who do drive fast. Chicanes and width restrictors are a different proposition, but they are very unpopular. Could it be because they are effective in reducing speed ?!
Following up my notes last month, I can report that several members of the Association went to a public meeting on this subject on 16th January. The firm of consultants doing the study, W.S. Atkins, gave a presentation and then sought public reactions. Without wanting to be suspicious, we were looking for the hidden agenda. On the face of it, the explanation for the study was simple enough : Merton has not been able to make an in-depth appraisal of open spaces – in particular the condition of them and use made – for may years. So a study is certainly desirable, but why now, half-way through a review of the Development Plan ? One cannot help noting that Merton's Planning Department seems to have a strong interest in this consultancy, although it does not fall within their area of responsibility. There are some in the Civic Centre who feel Merton has more open space than it needs, and they would probably argue that some of these spaces could be used for purposes other than sport and general recreation. Add into the equation that seven schools will be closing under the 'Age of Transfer' proposals and will no longer be needed after 2004, and that several of these schools have large 'greenfield' playgrounds alongside. What an opportunity it all presents for the developers !
We await the findings of the Atkins study with interest. Their report might suggest – on a simple reading of the facts – that not all open spaces are being used or used to the full. It does not follow that they are not needed. We stressed to Atkins that long-term perspectives are needed here. Fortunately the Atkins team seemed mindful of the latent use and potential value of seemingly underused open spaces. We hope their report will be inspired and far-sighted.
The Council is carrying out surveys, ward by ward, across the Borough. I believe the original intention was to work from east to west, but the process has suddenly jumped from Phipps Bridge in Mitcham to West Barnes and Cannon Hill Wards. If you live in West Barnes, you should have had a questionnaire asking "what do you think about the area you live in ?" The purpose - so it goes on – "is to help Merton Council plan improvements in your area". The questionnaire aims to discover whether you are satisfied or otherwise with local services, and whether you would like to be involved in a variety of initiatives, e.g. graffiti removal, Neighbourhood Watch etc. The results of this survey could be of interest. We may know more next month.
This is the title of a Government Green Paper published on 12th December last year. The Government wishes to "reform" the land use planning system in order to, and I quote, "simplify the complex hierarchy of plans, deliver faster decisions and better engage the community". The handout from the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions says "the whole tone of the paper is deregulatory". It certainly is. I know this subject is a huge 'turn-off' for most people, but if these proposals were fully implemented they could impact on the lives of ordinary people far more than you might imagine. There are many who feel that the planning system is biased rather too strongly in favour of the applicant already. This Green Paper would tend to reinforce that bias. "Faster decisions" do not always mean better decisions. Under existing systems, an applicant has an automatic right of appeal against a decision to refuse a planning application. Where a Local Planning Authority approves an application, objectors have no similar right even if they number in their thousands. It is not a very democratic system. I hope there will be more debate about this Paper in the national press as time goes on. There was some coverage at the time but then two weeks before Christmas was hardly the moment to ensure widespread publicity or am I being cynical ! We will be submitting comments on the Paper to the Council, who have been invited to submit comments to the DTLR.
Barratt Homes' amended planning application submitted last October is still being considered by Merton's Planning Department. It seems unlikely that this application will go to the Planning Committee before the April meeting. In theory, this should mean that the results of the Atkins study on Open Spaces, which presumably will include the LESSA site, will be available before the application goes to the Committee. I would like to think that this could work to our advantage, but it is guesswork at the moment. Meanwhile, we continue to object to the application for a string of reasons. In fact, we believe that based on planning evidence, we have much the better of the argument. Unfortunately, that does not always win the day. The whole planning system seems to be built on a presumption in favour of the applicant, which would not be a problem if only there were some counterbalancing rights available to objectors. As I hinted earlier, the system comes across as highly undemocratic and certainly lacks transparency.
A few days before hearing the outcome of the Football Association arbitration panel (on the question of Wimbledon moving to Milton Keynes), we learned that the Club was willing to dispose of their long lease on Prince George's because they do not have the estimated £5m to develop a football academy. Although not confirmed, it was also reported at the time that the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) were interested in Prince George's, and the LTA may be the "third party" which had approached Merton Council to discuss planning implications. The press reports gave no hint of what the Lawn Tennis Association would want to do on this site, and just to add to the intrigue a few days after this story broke, the LTA announced plans for a costly and substantial revamp at their Church Road headquarters. The plans will of course be subject to planning approval.
Going back to Wimbledon Football Club, there was also a report that an international hotel chain had raised the possibility of buying the old Plough Lane ground from Safeways and building a hotel and a stadium, with the latter being leased back to the club. It is hard to believe that such a scheme could be economically viable. Regarding the Milton Keynes saga The Times Sports Daily, at the end of January, recorded that the FA arbitration panel had "ruled that the Football League must re-examine the case". I had assumed that the panel had the authority to make a decision. But perhaps there is some subtle reason why the panel felt that the Football League should be seen as taking the final decision. We will try to follow the story as well as anybody can.
Please do not forget the A.G.M. on Wednesday 27th March, starting at 8 p.m. at the Raynes Park Assembly Rooms. It is certainly not too late to offer your services on the Committee.David J. Freeman