Chairman's Report 2011-2012


This has been another extremely busy year for the Association in its efforts to protect and enhance our local surroundings. As ever, most of our time has been taken up in protecting the open spaces of our area, which is the reason most people chose to live and remain here.

Major Planning Battle

The major planning battle this year has been in defending the proposal by the All England Club to build housing on part of the Raynes Park Playing Fields, which is surrounded by residential housing built in the 1930’s.  There was universal opposition to the scheme, and the level of that opposition was accepted by the planning committee, which turned down the proposal at its meeting last week.


I want to focus on the history of that scheme, as it illustrates clearly exactly what is wrong with the way in which the planning officers of Merton, and doubtless everywhere else in the country, approach their duty to act on behalf of local residents in protecting our interests.  Planning departments spend an enormous amount of time and energy in drawing up local planning guidance, which is then approved by the committee. In this case, the guidance adopted by Merton was quite clear. It is that there should be no, I repeat, no building on sports grounds which are still viable and are still used for sporting purposes.  Instead, the Council’s other planning objectives of providing for new housing should be met by looking for brownfield sites elsewhere, of which there are many, even in our area.  We accept that planning officers are bound to discuss potential applications with developers. However, in this case the officers entered into detailed discussions with them, getting them to reduce the number of housing units, to improve the drainage, and to agree to the provision of an all weather surface both there, and elsewhere in Merton. This was all on the assumption that the application might be suitable for approval if a balance could be reached.

Wrong Approach

That was, in our view, wholly the wrong approach. It results, almost inevitably after so much time has been spent by the officers, and money by the developers, in a recommendation for approval. They should have been told at the outset that no development was permissible on that site, so that there was no point in entering into any discussions, even for outline approval.

At no stage in this process of discussion with the developers was there any discussion with us, as local residents, as to what we wanted or were willing to accept.  We understood that this was a key proposal of the coalition government, but The Localism Act still seems to contain a strong bias in favour of development.

We, in this area, are heartedly sick of having our sports grounds built on. Cllr. Gilli Lewis-Lavender at the meeting on Thursday calculated that there are over 300 units of housing, either under construction or built in Raynes Park and West Barnes in the past five years. As each scheme has to be considered on its own merits, without reference to others, no account is taken of the increased strain on the road network, the local primary schools, and health services, all of which are already at saturation point.

The All England ground is currently maintained by King’s College School. This raises another cause for concern, since it is the same school which gave evidence to the Inspector hearing the appeal on the LESSA site that they wished to use the remaining sports provision there for its junior school. They only have until April to give notice of their intention to proceed to do so, but the School has, to date, given no public indication of its intentions.   The basis on which the Inspector was persuaded to grant permission for that development was that it would bring back into use a sports field that had been left unused for over 10 years.  There must be a very real possibility that the School will not take up its option to use the land, so that it would fall back on the Council to do so. But the Council has no funds with which to maintain, let alone run, a large sports field of this kind, and residents would be faced with the existence of a large housing development that they strongly opposed, with none of the benefits that were promised.

In future, we believe that not a brick should be laid until binding commitments have been entered into to retain the rest of sports land for sporting use. Development on a small part of sports fields should only be permitted where there are clear and obvious public benefits, either in terms of general public access to private land, or, as in the case of the RSA site, where the large majority of the land was dedicated to the use of three local schools, and a dowry of £300,000 paid over.

Apart from these major developments, which include the flats at St Catherine’s there have been many other individual applications that the Committee has had to consider, as well as the whole of the scheme to enhance the centre of Raynes Park. The Waitrose store opened in April to general acclaim. This was a proposal we did approve of!

I want to thank those members of the Committee who have brought their expertise and commitment to considering, and, if necessary, opposing planning applications.   These are Pamela Robinson, who has the planning lists, and alerts us to what is happening, Rachel Skinner, who is an expert on all things related to traffic management, Jerry Cuthbert who has wide professional experience in this field, and David Freeman who has mastered all the voluminous tomes of planning guidance, and is able to provide reasoned and sustainable objections that will stand up to professional scrutiny. His presentation at the planning meeting on Thursday 15th March was highly impressive. His representations and those of the four Ward Councillors and other speakers resulted in this latest planning application being turned down unanimously, much to the relief of the huge crowd of residents who also attended.

Planning Issues Dominate

We are conscious that the Association has, of necessity, been dominated by planning issues over the past ten years of relentless development, and we hope that we can now move on to consider more fully all the other issues that concern local people. These include the need for more primary school places, the continuing loss to other boroughs of pupils at secondary level, the re-organisation of the health services at the Nelson and St Helier Hospitals, the state of local roads, and transport in general.

Other Issues

Pamela and our joint Secretaries, Jill Truman and Jan Bailey, regularly attend the meetings of the umbrella group, the Raynes Park Association and the quarterly meetings of the Raynes Park Forum, as well as the meetings called to discuss the stations at Raynes Park and Motspur Park.

On other issues, we still await the promised fishing club on the Lake on Cannon  Hill Common, which was the subject of a heated public meeting last May, and the proposal for which  is now 3 years old.

We and others managed to persuade the Council to relent somewhat on the stopping of the service to collect garden waste, although the charging regime imposed is still extortionate, and the fortnightly collection inadequate.

Congratulations and Thanks

We congratulate the Friends of West Barnes Library who have managed to keep the Library open, despite the cutbacks which the Council says are imposed on it.

One major help to a widening dialogue has been the full implementation over the year of our own web site, which has had a growing numbers of “hits” and is now becoming properly interactive. For setting this up and developing it, we have to thank our webmaster, Charles Briscoe-Smith, and again Rachel Skinner, who is also fortunately an expert in computing, as those of us in an older generation are not.

As you will hear shortly from our Treasurer, John Townsend, our finances are in an increasingly healthy state.  Since John took over, he has placed our investments in funds which return a real rate of interest, even in these difficult times, as well as producing reports that all of us can understand. We are very grateful to him. I would also like to thank Brian Lewis-Lavender for continuing to act as our Auditor, despite the huge demands on his time of having been the Mayor’s Consort for this past year.

You will see from the Treasurer’s report that income from advertisements continues to rise. Kate Price has been our Advertising Manager for some years now. We are extremely grateful to her that she has continued to act in this role, despite having expressed her wish to stand down over a year ago.

Our income from subscriptions also continues to rise. For this we have to thank our Distribution Manager Andrew Barwick who has the onerous task of managing the large number of Area Co-ordinators and Road Stewards who also give freely of their time in collecting and distributing The Guide. We are very grateful to him, and to all those who help to enable us to communicate on a unique and monthly basis with our members.

Andrew also is our eyes and ears on what is happening on St George’s Playing Fields. By keeping an exact record of the events on this Metropolitan Open Land, he has managed at last to get the Council officers to enforce strictly the number of times a year this land can be used for other purposes, including car boot sales and the storage of unsuitable materials.

We are sometimes accused of being too focused on the Grand Drive area. This is emphatically not so. Peter Connellan keeps us well informed on what is happening in the Burlington Road and Shannon Corner areas, and Jill Truman and Jan Bailey keep us up to date on issues on the Coombe Lane side of the railway, and in the centre of Raynes Park.

We will be holding our open meeting this June in Motspur Park.

The Association would not run without the help of Jill and Jan as our joint Secretaries. Both of them put in an enormous amount of energy and time to our work. Jill’s experience goes back very many years, but her commitment is undimmed. The Guide continues to go from strength to strength under her Editorship, and is always full of articles of local interest. Jan continues to produce impeccable minutes, and is my first point of call to find out what is happening anywhere in our area.  The detail and depth of her knowledge on local issues, and not only flood prevention, continues to astonish.

I am personally very grateful to both of them.

We are also grateful to our Councillors. We cover three wards, Cannon Hill, Raynes Park, and West Barnes. All our nine Councillors have helped us on various issues during the year, but I would particularly like to mention the West Barnes Councillors. All three of them, Cllr. Mary-Jane Jeanes, Cllr. Iain Dysart, and Cllr. Gilli Lewis-Lavender have been assiduous in attending our meetings as frequently as they could. They work immensely hard. If I single out Gilli Lewis-Lavender, it is because this year she has also been Mayor, and this is an enormous job these days, but still found time to help us.

Last but not least, I must record our enormous thanks to our Area Co-ordinators and Road Representatives who are the backbone of the Association, delivering the Guides every month, collecting in the subscriptions and recruiting new members, and without whom the Association could not exist.

We are always keen to have new members; we have three major developments in Grand Drive, as well as the new flats in the Waitrose development. The movement of people in this area is high. We are planning to try and contact as many as possible of these new residents in a recruitment campaign in the spring.

We are in good heart, but many of us on the Committee are getting on in years.  We do need to have fresh ideas and new people. If you feel you want to help, do please come forward and contact any of us.

John Elvidge,


21 March 2012


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