Chairman's Blog - June 2024

AELTC Community Tennis Centre

Residents may not be aware that one can register to play at the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s large tennis centre off Grand Drive. It costs adults £4 to register and £2 for juniors under 18. They will then give you a membership card so that you can book to play.

There are 9 acrylic hard courts and 16 grass courts which can be played after Wimbledon fortnight is over. A café has now opened in the clubhouse.

Those with long memories will remember that the AELTC tried on two occasions to build housing on the site but withdrew the applications after huge protests from local residents, including this Association. 

Merton’s New Logo

At our AGM in April, the question was asked “Why has Merton changed its logo?”.

Our guest, Cllr Garrod, explained that it was 30 years since the iconic water wheel had been introduced and that the council wished to attract new businesses and workers with a brighter, sharper logo. They had retained (but deepened) the colours, green for the open spaces and purple for the historic lavender fields, and, as the only London Borough beginning with M, had simplified the brand to make it instantly recognizable. 

Merton, The Best Place in London To Retire to.

The consumer group “Which?” did a survey last year on the best place to retire to, looking at 9 regions, in England.

It found that access to healthcare was the most important factor, followed by green spaces and proximity to activities. House prices and low crime rates were also important.

It found that Merton scored best in the London Region as a place to retire to, with high ratings for healthcare and for access to attractive green spaces such as Wimbledon Park and Morden Hall Park.

But it was one of the most expensive on the list of regions, with average house prices of £560,000.

John Elvidge - Chairman

Chairman's Annual Report 24 April 2024

REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2023/2024 

Our Residents’ Association is a real community effort.   It depends on the hard work and good will of no fewer than 60 Coordinators and Road Stewards, who deliver the Guides and collect the subscriptions, as well as the 10 members of the Committee and the   7 members of the Pavilion Management Group.

Between us we keep alive and vibrant an organisation that protects our local amenities and is approaching its 100th year of existence. We continue to have some 1800 household members, each of whom receives 11 times a year the excellent Guide edited by Clare and John Townsend, and which is paid for jointly through your membership subscriptions and the advertising income secured by Dick Coleman. We cannot thank all these volunteers enough. We aim to continue the summer and winter thank you parties we hold in the Pavilion.

The Association has always had twin aims. It was founded in 1928 mainly to deal with the flooding that was occurring and still occurs in Grand Drive, Bushey Road and surrounding areas.However, it was also founded as a club that puts on social activities for its members and their children.  Both aims retain their importance.

When the tennis section moved away to its new premises further along Grand Drive in Meadowview Road in 2013, we were able to restore the old pavilion and obtain our own premises for all kinds of community and social events. The RPWBRA had built up money over many years, through fundraising events led by Jill Truman and many others, so the Association transferred a £29,000 loan from its funds into a new Pavilion account for improving and maintaining the premises. A further £10,000 was secured by Christine Rowe from the Lottery fund to enhance accessibility.

After a few months, Jerry Cuthbert became Chair of the newly formed Pavilion Management Group and coped skilfully with the closures during the Covid year. Fortunately, we received a small business grant from the Government to cover the loss of income. The bookings are gradually recovering.

The PMG members still open and close the premises and oversee its maintenance and its gardens.  They all deserve a name check and our thanks. They are Jerry Cuthbert, John Townsend, its Treasurer, soon to be replaced by Simon Hillson, Moira Deveson, Linda Fitch, Chris Lorimer, Tina Lorimer, and Howard Phillips. 

During the year, one of the keenest members, David Freeman, sadly passed away, so the Committee and the PMG have decided that the best tribute to him will be the purchase of a bench with a plaque inscribed in David’s memory. This will be placed in the “triangle” section where we plan to install a new set of chairs and tables. We look forward to inviting David’s widow Philomena and their family to a special remembrance event once the bench is in place.

David was, of course, a very active member of the Association for over 30 years and served as its Chair. He gave up this role because he wanted to concentrate (as a member of the Committee) entirely on the multiple planning issues which have beset us over the past 25 years. He kept abreast of all the applications to the Planning Committee, drafted objections and suggested amendments as needed, and attended meetings to speak on behalf of residents.                                           

David had a passion for ensuring that our green spaces were preserved,

Whilst he could not stop all the inappropriate developments up and down Grand Drive and elsewhere, he was instrumental in preventing some of them entirely, such as the proposal to build housing on what is now the All-England Lawn Tennis Club land and securing an all-weather playing field for Raynes Park High School on the former Royal and Sun Alliance Ground.

One of the battles that he fought was to prevent building on the former LESSA sports field off Grand Drive.  As an Association, we secured the refusal by Merton’s planning committee of three applications over 20 years to build mass housing on that ground by three different developers, and a planning designation that the site should be preserved for junior sports, with the exception of new houses and flats in Meadowview Road and the re-sited tennis club. (2012)

It was a bitter disappointment to us that in September 2022 the planning committee by a small majority reversed its previous decision of June that year and permitted the building of flats and houses on the Meadowview field. We have done our best to persuade the Secretary of State to call in the decision, and to ask the Council to address our complaints of maladministration but have sadly failed to reverse the decision.   Recently, as members will know, the Local Government Ombudsman also declined to intervene.

I find it deeply disturbing that the Ombudsman has said that developers can have free access to the planning officers of a council, who are our paid servants, to discuss a proposed development and get the green light for it from them, and that there is no requirement for such conversations to be minuted or disclosed to a planning committee.   There is no similar opportunity for us, as a residents’ association, to discuss a potential development. There is simply no level playing field. 

The development there will now go ahead, and we will keep a close eye on what can be done to ameliorate the disturbance that will be caused to the surrounding houses.  We are grateful to our former President, Garry Hunt, for taking the lead on this in liaising with the builders and the utility companies.

As an Association we are aware of the need to support the development of both affordable and social housing. We are also concerned about the problems nowadays for young people or those with young families who wish to buy or rent their own homes. For instance, we appreciated the council’s support when a plan to change a 4-bed family house into 5 cramped flats without garden access was modified.                             

However, we are concerned that if rules are broken and regulations altered - such as in the LESSA situation - local access to green spaces for sport will gradually be eroded.

We continue to deal with all kinds of planning issues. I am glad to be able to report that Jerry Cuthbert and Mary-Jane Jeanes, have taken over the lead roles in considering these and in drafting very detailed objections when it is necessary. We are very grateful to them for their expertise and care.

Jerry also serves on the wider bodies we attend, such as the Raynes Park Association, and is also the person who keeps the Association website update.   We could not do without him.

During the year one of our Committee members, Michael Marks, decided to move away with his wife to the south coast, and we announced this at our Christmas party and made him a presentation. The sale has not gone through, and, until it does, we are pleased that he remains as a co-opted member.                                                           6                                                                     

The RPWBRA website is maintained by our Webmaster Charles Briscoe-Smith.  This is a vital role, and, at times, one that is very time consuming. We are grateful to him for his voluntary and expert services.

We are also very grateful to Otto Hoenig, who joined us in November 2021 as Distribution Manager and has gradually taken on much more responsibility for us, keeping tabs on membership and payments by BACs. As a resident in the Coombe Lane area, he keeps us abreast of any issues that arise there. We are also grateful to Susan Hoenig who has stepped in to take on road steward duties in the Coombe area!

Susan is one of three new stewards because we have also been pleased to welcome Sarah Moxon, Owain Morgan and Adrew Pearson. Welcome!

Our finances continue to be very healthy..  Our sources of income are from subscriptions, from bookings at the Pavilion, and from the advertising we can secure in the Guide.  The advertising revenue has increased greatly over the years, for which we have to thank our Advertising Manager, Dick Coleman, who carries out the task of keeping present advertisers and finding new ones with great enthusiasm.  He is also a helpful source of information about the  Motspur Park Station Accessibility project .

Our Secretary and joint Guide Editor continues to be Clare Townsend.  Her energy is simply astonishing, and although no one is irreplaceable, she simply is!    huge thank you to her for all that she does.                                    

Our accounts have been audited for many years by Brian Lewis-Lavender. He is retiring from this role this year and we thank him for his long service to us.

Our Treasurer for the past 13 years has been John Townsend who is now stepping back from this role.  Fortunately, John will remain a committee member and will continue to help organise meetings and events. He will also continue to co-edit The Guide with Clare.  This takes up a large part of their time each month, and the professionalism with which they do it and the readability of the Guide is plain for all to see. It was they who during Covid, devised a method to keep in touch with members, and pioneered the new and very successful glossy new full-colour format.

The role of Treasurer is an arduous and time consuming one in itself. Our accounts have been expertly prepared under John’s care. We are very grateful to him for all the trouble he has taken with them.

Not the least of his success has been in finding his successor, Simon Hillson. He has also been instrumental in finding another enthusiastic member of the committee in Sudev Joshi and we look forward to working with him too.

John Elvidge

24th April 2024

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