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

Thames Water and car park site

In the April Guide, I set out some details of the draft Planning Brief for the above site. This was approved by Merton Council on 18th July, and the document will become a part of the emerging Local Development Framework, the final version of which should appear in 2 or 3 years time. The latter will replace the existing Unitary Development Plan. In simple terms, this means that the document must be taken into consideration by both the Planners at Merton and the Councillors if and when a Planning Application is submitted.

The document was approved with only one minor amendment on the night (a sound-proofing requirement) but there are a few changes between the draft we saw early in the year and the version put to the Cabinet. The Brief proposes that the site - which includes the Thames Water facility, including the yard at the rear, the former petrol filling station on West Barnes lane and the public car park but not the small adjacent London Electricity site - be redeveloped for a new foodstore, flatted residential accommodation and retention of the public car park essentially for short-term parking.

Site proposal details

The Councilís vision for the redevelopment would include:

The site owners recommended that potential foodstore occupiers would want "at least 1500 sq.m. of floor space." So this figure has become the possible net provision rather than the gross which could make quite a difference for actual shoppers.

The earlier draft Brief suggested that foodstore service vehicles could share access to the store via the public car park. However, with concerns about health and safety, this has been changed and wisely so. Service vehicles would come into the site from West Barnes Lane.

The results of Council consultation of the Brief are of some interest. Firstly there was the size of the foodstore. The original idea - back in 2001 - was a store of about 1000 sq.m. It looks as if the site owners pressed hard for a larger store for obvious financial reasons. Secondly there was concern about converting the car park to encourage short-term usage. Quite a few people objected to this including two local Councillors. In the hope of setting some minds at rest the Council responses over questions about the car park were, and I quote "Council will continue to lease the site (the car park) from Thames Water and operate the public car park" and "It is Council policy to give priority to short-term shoppers car parking in local centres." The Brief provides some background detail about the car park area namely that there are four trunk water mains beneath the car park "which cannot be built over." As well as this, so called, "pipe track" a London Ring Main Compound is located at the entrance to the car park. As the Brief honestly admits this might impose some constraints on the design and layout of redevelopment options. We shall see.

It is not for me to defend Council policy on car park usage but there is a general policy - which I think many would support - to encourage the viability of out-of-town shopping areas e.g. a Local Centre like Raynes Park or a Neighbourhood Parade like Durham Road. The Council stance on the future use of the car park does at least co-exist with the broader general policy.

Another factor is that it is well known that a lot of long-stay parking in the car park and surrounding roads is by people who have no connection with Raynes Park except to use the Railway Station. So the car park should be safe for the local community though there is likely to be some loss of space to fit in the re-cycling facility and create a safe pedestrian route through the site. This route should also give car using shoppers a direct access to the store via a side entrance.

The other main area of concern - from the consultation exercise - was objection to the proposed bulk and height of the building. The indicative proposal is that the overall development would be up to four storeys although that is not as clear as it could be from reading the Brief. There is no doubt that such a building would be highly visible. Whether the scale and height would appear to be excessive or cause serious overlooking to residents in Milburn House etc could depend on design features. At least in part the intrusive aspect of the building would be relieved by the proposed building line on the Coombe Lane frontage and even more so by the requirement for a generous pedestrian concourse in front of the store.

I make two comments on this. It seems the site owners would have liked the structure to extend to more than four storeys all told. In fact by an additional two storeys! I am relieved to see that the Council resisted this. Secondly - and this touches on perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this whole concept - the adjacent London Electricity site currently has planning permission for a fairly modest development of flats. At the moment (late July) this site is on the market with, no doubt, an enhanced valuation by way of the planning approval. It would be so much more sensible if the two sites could be brought together as we had suggested. If this could be achieved significant changes and improvements would be possible. It is quite likely that service vehicle access to the store could be made easier and a design made possible which would reduce the apparent scale of the building if not the height. However having said that there are some reasons, which make good sense, why the planners at Merton wanted to get on with approval of their Brief. There may be negotiations going on in the background and perhaps a revised Brief might emerge.

Not everybody will be content with the Planning Brief - far from it. We felt that the store should be of a more modest size and that the density - the number of flats -was too high. We would like to have seen some new dedicated car parking for the foodstore which was the original idea. We are also very concerned about the potential for overlooking of nearby residents. We pointed out that roughly half the site - the West Barnes Lane side - is in the indicative floodplain of the Beverley Brook. The Council has consulted the Environment Agency and we are told "a response is still awaited." This will need watching.

However the Brief is not all bad news and given the pressure for housing from Government and the GLA it is no great surprise the way it has turned out. In April I suggested that it might be a year or more before we saw a planning application. It appears however that architects have already produced an Urban Design study for the site. So an outline application might come sooner than I expected.

Lastly - just a reminder - the Planning Brief is an indication of what might happen or what the Council would like to see happen. The final outcome for the site may not match the Brief in every detail but it should certainly be broadly compliant with it.

David Freeman