Chairman's Blog - Nov 2022


On 22 September the Council’s planning committee granted permission to Bellway Homes to build 107 units of accommodation on the LESSA sports ground. Bellway made this third application within 2 weeks of the official refusal by the same committee of their second application to build the same number of houses and flats. They lodged it in early August during the school holidays knowing that this would give very limited time for objections. Even so well over 100 residents did object.

The decision was passed by a vote of 6 to 4. The earlier decision was refused by 6 votes to 4, with a slightly different membership.

The only differences between the two applications were a small extra area for hard play, which, of course, had the effect of cramming buildings even more, and a promise of paying the council over 1 million pounds to improve other sports grounds. Sport England objected strongly to both applications.

We residents argued that the application was an abuse of process and illegal, being in effect the same application and designed to wear down our resilience. Unfortunately, the council officers did not agree.  They also recommended approval of the scheme, despite the very recent committee decision to the contrary. We argued that case law required consistent decisions.

We have made an application to the Council under the Freedom of Information Act asking for sight of any and all correspondence and discussions that may have been held between the developers and council members and/or officials between the dates of the two meetings.

Sport England and the England and Wales Cricket Board supported the application by a Consortium of adult and junior cricket clubs, as well as a junior school, to build a pavilion and play sport there, with extensive use for the public at large.  The scheme was accepted by them to be financially viable.

Under the planning designation for the ground, it was for Bellway to prove that the scheme was notfinancially viable, not for the sporting bodies to prove that it was. The developers completely failed to prove this.

Despite the previous committee decision, the council did not arrange any meetings with the Consortium from June until just before the 22 September. We have formally asked the Chief Executive why not?  In addition, a representative of the Consortium had applied in time to speak at the meeting, but his application was not properly processed by the council, and he was refused permission to speak. We have strongly complained to the Chief Executive.

The councillors who voted in favour said expressly that they prioritised the need for extra housing, including affordable housing, over the need for sports on a designated sports field. They took no notice of the permission granted on appeal to Redrow to build 456 flats on the Tesco site, of which 143 are “affordable”.  In our view they ignored the established planning designation for the ground, and dismissed the many objections made on flooding, and the extra pressures on local surgeries, schools, and roads.

We believe that, as Sport England required, and with the help of Stephen Hammond MP, the decision has been called in by the Secretary of State.  We understand that he can make a final decision himself or refer it back to Merton.  He has embargoed any action on the decision until early December. We are urgently enquiring what process is followed by the Secretary of State, what information he will have, and whether residents need to make representations to him.

John Elvidge

Additional Information: Following our Open Meeting on 8 November 2022, our Chairman has now sent an email to the Secretary of State, which may be read here

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