A blatant case of predetermination?

With less than a week to go before the deadline for comments on AFC Wimbledon’s re-submitted planning applications documents for Plough Lane, we are wondering why the council has even bothered to seek residents’ opinions, given that the decision on this application increasingly appears to have been predetermined.

Rumbles of suspicion over Plough Lane application

In fact, if it weren’t for the legal requirement to do so, we suspect that the ‘community’ club’s developer pals would be digging the holes for floodable basement car parks already, such is their haste to get going before residents find out what deals have been made behind closed doors.

Why so? Well, not only have a number of leading Labour councillors made no secret of their desire for AFCW to establish a base in the borough – as is their right – but it appears they have also been actively ‘saving’ the Plough Lane site for said football club.

It’s one thing being a fan, but quite another to manipulate process and evidence in favour of a predetermined conclusion.

Footie good, school bad?

What makes us think Merton has already made its mind up about the future of Plough Lane? There’s the fact that one of the reasons publicly given (by cllr Martin Whelton, Merton’s cabinet member for education) that it could apparently never be the site for a (much-needed) school at this end of the borough is because building a school there “would stop AFC Wimbledon returning to the borough”.

This same reason would presumably apply equally to any other ideas for the site: leisure centre, public park, velodrome, children’s hospital, reception centre for tormented refugees, rehab unit for wounded servicemen…

Indeed, one can only extrapolate that however ‘worthy’ a plan were put forward, it would never win the backing of Merton Labour councillors, “because it would stop AFC Wimbledon returning to the borough”.

Cllr Whelton’s extraordinary statement, made in a written answer to a question put to him by Wimbledon Park Cllr Linda Taylor is not only jawdroppingly naive, it is also disrespectfully dictatorial, and factually inaccurate. Firstly, there is no question of AFC Wimbledon “returning to the borough” because they have never actually had a playing base here and, secondly, Plough Lane is by no means the only possible site for a stadium in Merton. Refusing the current AFCW application on the grounds of unsuitability would not prevent the club from coming back with plans to build a stadium elsewhere.

Cllr Whelton’s cites other reasons why the Plough Lane site would not be suitable for a school, all equally spurious:

  •  “It is not affordable” Really? What makes a rundown brownfield site ‘unaffordable’? Surely it is only the granting of planning permission for eg a 600+ home development that pushes up the value of a site, which is only worth what a vendor can get for it. Without residential planning permission, that value plummets.
  • “It is not financially viable” Merton Borough Council says it can’t afford to purchase a site which was bought by GRA (part of the Galliards group) with the specific goal of allowing the greyhound stadium to fall into disrepair so it could later be sold off for housing (as has happened elsewhere). But a school site would be purchased not by Merton but by the Education Funding Authority. It is Merton’s role simply to identify possible sites for purchase. An FoI request by a local resident has established that the decision to leave Plough Lane off the list of possible school sites to be submitted to the EFA was made at a closed meeting of Merton Labour Party councillors.
  • “Most of the school places will go to Wandsworth” So Merton is prepared to allow the building of hundreds of homes close to the Wandsworth border, but will not create the school places for residents to be educated in their immediate neighbourhood? It in fact expects Wandsworth to find schoolplaces for these children. Breathtaking arrogance.

Merton Council hypocrisy

We also learn via Merton’s education department, that flood risk and ground contamination make Plough Lane an unsuitable site for a school Well, there’s good news on the contaminatioin issue. AFCW/Galliards experts state in their freshly-submitted documentation:

“The identified land uses on the site are considered unlikely to have generated significant site-wide contamination. .. Based on the known current and historic land uses, the overall potential for significant contamination to be present on the site is considered to be low (designated as 2 out of 5).

“Given the nature of the proposed scheme, the potential for contaminants or hazardous ground gases to be introduced into the soils and groundwater on the site as a result of the operation of the proposed scheme is considered unlikely.”

And as for flood risk, if the council is satisfied that safety measures are sufficient to allow a 600+home enabling development to be built on a highest-level flood risk site, then surely similar architecture can be used for a school. Or other development should an application be forthcoming.

Our point here is not that a school should necessarily be constructed in Plough Lane instead of a football stadium, but that Merton council seems to have decided in advance that AFC Wimbledon should automatically get the site no matter what.

Which leads to our final point. Perhaps the single most important reason that just one planning application has been submitted for this highly desirable site is because no applicant other than AFC Wimbledon would even be considered?

The closing date for objections to the revised planning application for Plough Lane is October 8, 2015.  Email your views to: planning.representations@merton.gov.uk

Include your name, address, the planning reference number 14/P4361 and clearly state your objections on planning grounds (traffic, transportation, flood risk, parking etc).