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Raynes Park and West Barnes Residents' Association
Serving the community since 1928

LESSA site public inquiry hearing

3rd–5th June 2003

The public inquiry dealing with Barratt Housing's appeal against Merton Council's rejection of its proposal to build 111 flats on the LESSA site was heard in the Council Chamber at the Civic Offices over the three days 3rd to 5th June. The proceedings were in many ways similar to a court hearing, with a Government Planning Inspector presiding and listening to the arguments put forward by those present, and with advocates cross-examining witnesses.

The main protagonists were Barratt Homes/London Electricity and Merton Council, with the Residents' Association as a third party objector. Not surprisingly, Barratt/London Electricity wheeled in some hefty guns, numbering ten in total, including a Q.C. Merton's team consisted of a barrister, a planning consultant, a council solicitor and a planning officer.

The Inspector was very thorough, and ensured that everyone who wished to speak was given an opportunity to do so. As expected, much of the case rested on interpretations of various parts of planning legislation. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see the process of such an appeal taking place.

The Residents' Association chairman, John Elvidge, handed in a written statement of some 50 pages (in addition to one previously submitted in January) and made an eloquent oral statement. During his speech, John also took the opportunity to hand in the photographic evidence of local flooding situations over the last forty years (see on this site : 1960s and 1980s ; autumn 2002), which was used to such great effect at the Planning Committee meeting last October. He was then rigorously cross-examined by Barratts' barrister, to whom he stood up valiantly.

Alan Thornton then gave an impassioned statement on behalf of those residents of Blenheim Close, Blenheim Road and Grand Drive whose homes are nearest to the proposed development and stand to be most affected. Alan was not cross-examined by the barristers. Both John's and Alan's oral statements were greeted by applause from the residents in the chamber.

After summing-up speeches by both barristers, the Inspector wound up the hearing. He then paid a visit to the LESSA site, on which we were invited to accompany him. The visit took about an hour and a half, during which we walked right round the perimeter of the ground and also went into the clubhouse. All this served to remind me of what an excellent sports facility LESSA had been and hopefully will be again in the future. The weather was sunny, and I remember those days gone by when the sound of leather on willow was regularly heard across our gardens.

The Inspector took great trouble to ensure he saw everything that he and we thought he should, referring many times to the many elevation plans brought along for the purpose. He then visited the back gardens of three properties in Blenheim Close and Grand Drive closest to the proposed buildings to see for himself how they would be overlooked and their outlook diminished. We finally returned to the LESSA site, where the Inspector thanked everyone for their co-operation and promised to announce his decision by no later than 14th July.

I would not like to try to predict the outcome, but I do feel we had a fair hearing and that the Inspector handled the appeal in a judicious and unbiased manner. We can ask for no more.

I cannot end this article without thanking everyone for the tremendous team effort in fighting our campaign over the last two and a half years. We can truly be proud of what this Association has achieved against some very professional opposition, not forgetting that Merton's Planning Officers recommended the scheme to the Planning Committee. This may not necessarily be the end of the story, but we have learnt a lot and shown that an active residents' association, with strong support from its members, is a force to be reckoned with.

Martin Mitchell

Additional notes by the Chairman of the Association :

(Our revised statement of objections) was another hugely impressive piece of work, and took Bob Simpson (and his wife) many weeks of work. The Association owes them a great debt of gratitude. Our thanks too are due to Martin Mitchell, David Freeman, Jerry Cuthbert and all who helped put our case forward.

At the last moment, Barratts supported the idea of a cricket square on the ground, but made no provision for any kind of pavilion or facilities !

We stressed the impact this decision will have on the other planning applications still to be decided, over the Royal and Sun Alliance ground, St Catherine's and Prince George's Playing Fields. We have major concerns over traffic, since Grand Drive is already totally clogged up, and over the security of the site, with possible through alleys from Westway and Greenway.

John Elvidge

The result

Barratts' appeal has been emphatically dismissed by the Planning Inspector. They have six weeke during which they could appeal to the High Court, but this is highly unlikely. Alternatively, they could come back with a smaller scheme (considerably smaller, judging by the Inspector's remarks), which would seriously reduce profitability.

Martin Mitchell