Tag Archives: Wandsworth

Mayor washes his hands of Plough Lane application

Two days before his self-imposed deadline, the Mayor of London announced on Monday that he would step back from taking over planning permission for the Galliard Homes/AFC Wimbledon application for Plough Lane and return it to Merton Council to decide the case itself.

Read Sadiq Khan’s full letter here.

His decision comes exactly as predicted by our London Assembly Member Leonie Cooper while the so-called consultation process was still ongoing, as well as by the Leader of Merton Councillor Stephen Alambritis. Which makes a cynic wonder whether the decision had been pre-determined all along.

Wilful spin by Merton Council

Meanwhile, we hear that Wandsworth Council is strongly considering an appeal to the Secretary of State over whether Merton Council should be allowed to make the final decision on an application which is right on the borough border and has so much potential impact on their borough.

 

 

 

Two floods in a fortnight: Merton Council in denial?

Plough Lane flooding June 23 2016 Plough Lane flooding June 23 2016Torrential rain, the ground is sodden, so the Plough Lane area with its high watertable floods again causing traffic chaos from South Wimbledon to Wandsworth and beyond.

Late last year, the Environment Agency downgraded the site’s  flood risk from tidal and fluvial (ie river) sources. But river flooding is not the major problem here: surface and groundwater are more of an issue. And guess whose job it is to lead on flooding of this kind? Merton Council.

Which might explain their lack of forensic examination on flooding issues when they blithely waved through the AFC Wimbledon/Galliards development plans for Plough Lane at a meeting in December. Bring the Dons home, whatever the cost, remember? They decide it’s OK so it is OK. Until it rains and rains and rains.

The nearby Wandle meadows floodplain is currently under a few feet of water: that’s what it’s there for. Good. Ditto the current Plough Lane stadium site: it’s a vast open expanse that can happily flood causing little impact other than to those who habitually park there.

Build over and under it, as Galliard Homes wants to – dense blocks of 602 apartments with little in the way of open space, plus underground car parks that push soak-away capacity into surrounding land – and you end up with fewer places for excess water to go.

Challenging times ahead therefore for local residents, who have experienced flood waters lapping at their steps over the past couple of weeks, and flooded basements (eg in Havelock Road. For non-locals, that’s just off Plough Lane).

Meanwhile, Merton Council issues a list of areas to avoid due to rain-induced flooding, and despite enormous traffic jams tailing back in every direction – Plough Lane doesn’t even get a mention. Scared to highlight the fact that the road is suffering flooding because that doesn’t fit ‘the story’, perhaps, and to hell with keeping road users (and residents) informed?

Could Merton funds help pay for AFCW’s new stadium?

We hear whispers of disturbing developments in the saga of planning approval for AFC Wimbledon’s stadium in Plough Lane.

The application was granted initial approval by Merton planners back in early December, but there is still no sign of the documents having been passed on to the Mayor of London (Stage 2 referral). This would normally take place a matter of weeks after a borough planning hearing, we understand. The size and location of the Plough Lane site close to the Wandsworth border means that the mayor has the power to ratify – or reject – the scheme.

So why the delay? The bundle of documents submitted to the Mayor has to include information about the S106 agreements, which may be causing problems as Merton, Wandsworth and Galliard Homes wrangle over who pays – and gets – what. Merton has so far appeared eager to accept whatever meagre morsels Galliards and AFCW are prepared to toss their way (9.6% affordable housing, anyone? Against the borough target of 40%…), while Wandsworth seem more prepared to play hardball on behalf of their residents.

But most disturbing are whispers of an altogether more serious issue being fought out between the council and developers: who will foot the bill for building the foundations of AFC Wimbledon’s dream stadium?

The football club and Galliard Homes, you’d think. Afterall, they are the ones who came forward with this plan. But there’s a complication. Not only is the stadium being built to a vastly superior specification than is necessary for a football club the size of AFCW – with ambitions to expand the stadium from 11,000 seats initially up to whopping 20,000 – but it is also being built on a flood plain.

In order to win planning approval, the scheme has to not only not increase flooding risk on the site, but it has to actively reduce flooding risk. Not cheap, from a construction point of view, you would imagine.

Throw in the ‘generous’ offer of Galliard Homes to hand over the freehold of the stadium gratis to the London Borough of Merton once construction is complete, and you can see a perfect storm brewing…

  • Why would Galliard Homes pull out all the stops to build a top-spec facility that is then handed over for free?
  • Would it not be tempting to build to the lowest possible spec, cutting corners where possible?
  • Would it be so unlikely that the developers are asking Merton to contribute financially to the build? Given the cosy relationship between the council and developers, as per this brag from cllr Alambritis, we’d have to say no!

Whispers in the environs of Plough Lane, amount to the effect that approval for the project has stalled while AFC Wimbledon’s developer pal Galliard Homes tries to bulldoze Merton Borough Council – which is on the verge of  cutting £5m from essential social care services because of budgetary restraints – into contributing to the construction costs.

Imagine the local outrage should our cashstrapped council, that can apparently no longer afford to fund local adult education services, meals on wheels for the elderly and isolated, mental health support for the vulnerable, respite services for carers, social work etc etc, then miraculously deliver the big bucks required to dig a hole in the ground for the sake of a football club!

So are the rumours true? Who knows: our council is not renowned for its transparency. But in the meantime, AFC Wimbledon has introduced an element of realism to its stadium scheme, admitting it can’t actually afford to build the facility it would like.

Rather than kicking off with 11,000 seats, that scale is being reduced to less than 10,000 to save money. Given that the club’s average home match attendance this season sits at less than 3,850, a smaller stadium is probably much better suited to the needs of League 2 AFCW.

Of course at the same time a smaller stadium will inevitably generate less in the way of revenue including for stadium naming rights, sponsorship, ticket and catering sales. From the residents’ point of view, a smaller stadium also means less in the way of disruption on matchdays.

But if reducing the size leads to knock-on commercial effects, does there come a point when that planning approval becomes essentially meaningless because the business plan no longer stacks up?

 

Plough Lane: the consultation farce

As a near neighbour of Plough Lane, do you feel you have been thoroughly ‘consulted’ about plans to redevelop the Greyhound Stadium?

No, us neither.

Despite this being a major development in a critical traffic spot, Merton Borough Council has limited its engagement over the scheme with residents to:

  • sending out two circulars alerting residents that a planning application had been submitted. Distribution was patchy, with many businesses and homes close to the site saying they had not received documentation.
  • organising a public meeting at which AFCW’s CEO spoke. There was no representative there from Galliard Homes or the GRA (the club’s developer partners).
  • collating documents relating to the application in a lengthy, difficult to navigate list on the Merton online planning portal. Original documents are muddled up with revised documents. Wandsworth reports complaints from residents that the information listed is inaccessible and that a summary document would be useful. We agree.

AFC Wimbledon and Galliard Homes are seeking permission to build a 20,000-seat stadium attached to a 602-home housing development. A public exhibition of proposals was held to provide information before the application was submitted. Opinions were sought. The club’s Chief Executive spoke at the public meeting mentioned above.

Since then, there has been zero attempt by the club and developers to engage with the local community. We have received no update on how local concerns were being addressed, and no notice of when revised application documents were likely to be re-submitted.

But it’s not just residents who have been kept out of the loop. Businesses haven’t been involved either.

Christopher’s Gym was surprised when the original application went in, to find that no parking was provided for visitors. It continues to object to the revised designs saying, “we believe that the plans for the site will not only see the demise of the club, but we also do not believe the plans meet the planning brief as set out by the council in its Sites and Policies Development Plan in 2012”.

Wimbledon Art Studios, which sits right on the edge of the stadium site, objected to the plans on parking and traffic grounds too. As a major local business unit, why weren’t they consulted by the applicants?

Neighbouring Garrett Business Park is in the same boat: lack of consultation, lack of information, lack of involvement. Which has led inevitably to their registered objection to the plans. For example:

  • on traffic: “there are no obvious solutions or deliverable improvements that will be made to mitigate impact”;
  • on match-day road closures:  “will significantly hamper local business”;
  • on security: “no serious acknowledgement of potential security risks to the privately owned Garrett Business Park & no proposals made to mitigate these risks”;
  • on parking: “capacity is already over-subscribed and no extra provision has been proposed”.

NHS stakeholders have also complained that the applicants used inaccurate information AND failed to consult over the scheme.

Par 66 of the National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear: “Applicants will be expected to work closely with those directly affected by their proposals to evolve designs that take account of the views of the community.”

Has this really happened? We think not. A public exhibition almost two years ago followed by a public meeting nine months ago? Not really ‘working closely’ is it? The basic design has changed little since it was first revealed, demonstrating the developers’ contempt for our community.

We conclude: consultation over the Plough Lane development plans has been a box-ticking exercise by AFC Wimbledon, Galliard Homes AND Merton Borough Council rather than a genuine exercise in seeking and responding to concerns, suggestions and concerns by local stakeholders. Shameful.

Myth: it’s AFCW or nothing

Wandsworth’s verdict on the ‘revised’ Plough Lane plans

Wandsworth Borough Council is showing a close interest in the AFC Wimbledon/Galliard Homes development because the site lies right on the border with Merton. What gets built there will have a major impact on Wandsworth residents.

So what does Wandsworth think about the revised set of plans, re-submitted after they were roundly criticised first time round?  To summarise, WBC appears distinctly unimpressed.

Time to say no – again – to this shoddy, shabby application

They rightly point out that concerns about traffic implications of such a large-scale development have not been addressed, predicting that “existing traffic conditions will endure and worsen”.

They also consider “undesirable” traffic arrangements for Summerstown, a narrow, congested road with micro-pavements where the applicants wish to put three car park access points AND coach access onto the site. (It is hard to imagine a less suitable road for increased traffic flow.)

Read the Wandsworth response to the amended plans in full 

Wandsworth is as sceptical as anyone who lives around here about TfL’s apparently relaxed views on plans to add a 602-home development and an 11,000/20,000-seat stadium to an already over-capacity rail system: “Many local people will be bemused by the apparent views of the rail industry and TfL, as these views do not represent the day-to-day experience of local people using local rail services.”

Leaving it until after planning approval has been given to talk about emergency access arrangements for the hospital is “undesirable” – also highlighted is the fact that “there appears to be no interest” about where hospital staff (who currently park on the stadium site) will put their cars henceforth. More evidence that this application – even in its revised form – is half-baked.

Work by the applicants on pedestrian flows from the development “is not altogether convincing”, and “concern remains as to the impact of the development on public transport”… “with additional traffic and delays expected in the area of the mini-roundabouts, Blackshaw Road and Summerstown”.

Damningly, Wandsworth adds: “The amendments to the application and more detailed work that the application has carried out, in terms of access arrangements in Summerstown and Riverside Road, if anything, add to officers’ concerns about traffic impacts.”

Wandsworth’s response continues: “concerns regarding protecting the adjacent industrial businesses in relation to the new residential units remain” and “existing GP practices are unable to accommodate the additional demand generated by the proposed development”.

There’s more, but we think you get the message. As we have said before: the amendments to this major development application are minimal, shoddy and insufficient.

Had it been submitted by any other organisation than AFC Wimbledon, it would be getting a clear and immediate thumbs down from all sides. Merton Borough Council’s historic guilt about the fate of Wimbledon FC is no reason to approve this development that is in its current state clearly not fit for purpose.

Plough Lane: a blatant case of predetermination?

 

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).

Merton council hypocrisy

Merton councillors are so desperate to support AFC Wimbledon in its bid to secure a stadium in Plough Lane that they are happy to condemn local children to a lengthy commute rather than consider the site for a much-needed school.

Since Wimbledon FC left the borough, its former ground has been converted into flats, and now AFCW’s developer partner wants to build a whopping 602 EXTRA apartments just down the road, to fund a new stadium for the club. Plus there are proposals to build a further 100 flats on the neighbouring Volante site in Summerstown.

You can’t argue that there will be a lot of extra children looking for school places once all these new homes have been built in a concentrated area. So where will they be educated? Merton primary schools have all massively expanded over the past six years and are now bursting at the seams. As the ‘bulge’ moves up through the education system, secondary schools are now also starting to feel the squeeze.

So what state secondary schools are available for kids in the Wimbledon Park, Abbey and Trinity areas? There’s Ricards Lodge High School for girls, The Ursuline (if girls meet the Catholic entry criteria), Wimbledon College (ditto for boys), or Rutlish School for boys two miles away in Merton Park.  All good schools, but (with the exception of Ricards) they are either not openly available to local children, or a bit of a hike.

Merton Borough Council recognises the need for a new secondary school, but is keeping quiet about where it could be sited. Why the secrecy? Aren’t residents entitled to join the debate about where their children could be going to school in a few years time?

One thing is certain, however. It won’t be within walking distance, as the only site big enough for a school round here has already been ‘promised’ to a football club for a 20,000-seat stadium. That’s AFC Wimbledon, whose last four home games have attracted an average attendance of less than 3,500 (one game attracted a meagre 1,251 spectators!).

As Cllr Martin Whelton, Cabinet member for Education, said in a written reply to Wimbledon Park cllr Linda Taylor at last night’s full council meeting:

‘The [Plough Lane] site was rejected as unsuitable for a school for the following reasons:

  • not affordable
  • not financially viable
  • would stop AFC Wimbledon returning to the borough
  • most of the school places will go to Wandsworth’

Remember too, that this decision was made in private, by members of the local Labour Party rather than by councillors representing residents across the borough.

And if Merton is not prepared to create local school places within the borough for residents of the borough, who will have to educate them? Wandsworth, as their schools will be closer than Merton schools. No wonder Wandsworth has registered its objection to this ill-thought-through scheme.

And as for affordability, the only thing pushing up the value of the Plough Lane site is the fact that billionaire property developer Galliard Homes wants to build a dense, profitable housing development on it!

We’re not saying the Plough Lane site should definitely house a school, but we do think having all these decisions made by a small number of Labour councillors, behind closed doors, with minimal or no public consultation is pretty sick-making. And effectively being told that no other plans have or will be considered for Plough Lane because of AFC Wimbledon’s ambitions for the site is undemocratic and, in the eyes of many residents (yes, there is a lot of talk about the issue around here), totally unacceptable.

Shame on you. Merton.