This year we celebrate 75 years of the work of the Association in protecting and improving the environment of Raynes Park and West Barnes. It is one of the oldest and most successful of Residents' Associations, and is probably unique in having a "Guide" which has been published regularly throughout that long period. Later in the evening, Jill Truman will be outlining the events that we are planning in order to celebrate this anniversary, and I hope to see as many of you as possible at them.
Over the years, there have been many people who have given enormously of their time and effort, but I would like to single out tonight three of them who have maintained the work of the Association in recent times.
Garry Hunt has been at the heart of the Association for over twenty years, as Chairman and then as President, and Wendy Hunt has been editor of the "Guide" for much of that time. Their joint contribution cannot be overstated. I am pleased that, with their agreement, a seat has been bought by the Association and placed on Cannon Hill Common this spring, with a plate that commemorates their work for the people of Raynes Park and West Barnes.
David Freeman retired during the year as Chairman, to our general regret. He brought to the Chairmanship his vast experience in planning matters, which have been such a large part of our work over recent years. He has been absolutely tireless in running the Association, and even though he has stepped down to be able to devote more time to his own affairs, he has continued to give a lot of assistance behind the scenes. There has not been an issue of the "Guide" this year which has not had a detailed note from David letting us know what is happening in planning, and he has continued to attend all of our committee meetings to give us his advice. I know that he wants to take more of a back seat this year, but we all owe him a debt of gratitude.
One of David's concerns this time last year was that the Association needed a new constitution to enable it to work more effectively. We finally agreed this in June, and I am pleased to be able to report that it is working well. We now have a committee meeting every month except August, and a meeting open to all members every three months. This has enabled the committee to get down to the detail of what we need to discuss while giving a regular opportunity for members as a whole to raise issues in a public forum. There are a number of very important issues to decide in the near future, and we now have in place a structure which will enable us to keep ahead of events.
David's other concern was that while we had a marvellous team of area co-ordinators and road stewards (to whom our thanks), we needed some fresh faces on the committee. I am delighted to report that we have found some highly energetic new people. Martin Eales has taken over as editor of the "Guide", and he has from the outset produced interesting and informative copy on time, so that not an issue has been lost. Kate Price is our Advertising Manager, and her expertise and efforts on our behalf mean that our advertising revenue is stronger than ever.
Jill Truman stepped in as Acting Secretary, and is as tireless as ever in every way and a huge help to me. I am grateful too to Jan Bailey for continuing to produce excellent minutes, to John Cock for keeping our accounts in order, to Tim Miles for our website and to Malcolm Day who is our Distribution Manager. I would also like to than those who have agreed to be co-opted onto the committee and who have been so positive at our meetings.
We are now facing serious threats to our area from at least four major developments.
The one that has taken most time this year has been the application by Barratt Homes Ltd. to build on the LESSA site. The Association secured a major triumph at the planning committee in October, when Barratts' scheme was turned down despite being recommended for approval by Merton's chief planning officer. It was a large task to keep local residents informed of the issues over the summer, as they kept changing, and to secure such a large turnout both in August when the application was deferred and in October when it was rejected. The councillors were impressed by this, and by the detailed and moderate way in which our case was presented on the night by our representatives.
We were not able to celebrate for long, though, since Barratts immediately appealed. Bob Simpson, Martin Mitchell and David Freeman produced a highly impressive reasoned reply to the appeal which argued the case in planning terms. It took literally days of their time, and we are very grateful to them all. It was so good that Barratts immediately withdrew their appeal, and we all celebrated again. However, they have now appealed on their second application, which again we have opposed in writing, and there will be a public enquiry for four days starting on 4th June. The Association has appointed its own planning consultant, who will be working closely with the Council's consultant and barrister. The Council now of course have to support our objections, but we will need to give evidence at the enquiry.
The report of the Inspector will be of great importance in determining the future of sports grounds in this area, and whether every square inch of grass will be covered by new houses, many on the floodplain, and all with cars. It is therefore vital that the issues should be put before the Inspector, and we should be grateful for the hard work and expertise of our team.
There are well-developed plans to build on the Sun Alliance ground, and again we should be grateful to those who helped to gather reasoned opposition to this scheme, and in particular to Jerry Cuthbert and Bob Simpson. Very shortly, there will be plans to build on the site of St. Catherine's school, and the future of Prince George's Playing Fields is again open to doubt following the proposed departure of Wimbledon F.C.
We have also over the year considered the new plans for Raynes Park library, the townscape scheme in the centre of Raynes Park, and the question of fishing in Cannon Hill lake.
Apart from these major issues, we continue to try to maintain the general appearance of the area and to make a case to the local authority when we can. We are very grateful for the continued presence at our meetings of our local councillors. We are also grateful to the local police fore coming to our meetings on a regular basis to hear our concerns.
During the year, members of the committee have updated our membership list, and we intend to try next year to bring more households into the Association. This is time-consuming work, but is vital if we are to be truly representative of the local community.
The Association continues to have a lot of work to do. But I can report that we are in good heart.
Finally, on a personal note, I was pleased to be asked in June to act as your Chairman. My parents moved to Elm Walk when the houses were built in 1933, and immediately joined the Association, so my family have been members for 70 of the last 75 years. I am looking forward to our centenary in 25 years' time !John Elvidge