Chairman's Blog - July 2023


On 22nd September last year the Planning Applications Committee decided by a vote of 6 to 4 to approve the application by Bellway Homes to build 107 flats and houses on the former "LESSA" Sports Ground at Meadowview Road, off Grand Drive. This was despite a fully worked up and costed plan, supported by Sport England, by a consortium of local clubs and a school to use the land intensively for sports, with generous access to the public. 

The Association, and many other local people, as well as our MP and Sport England, asked the Secretary of State to call it in for his decision, which would have set up a planning enquiry. On 9th June this year we received his letter that he has decided not to call it in. The grounds on which he can do so are, unfortunately, very limited. 

The Council is now able to put its decision into effect. This will be sad news for the nearby residents, and for all who want to encourage and improve sporting facilities in Merton. Two of the main priorities the Merton Leader Ross Garrod has set out are the development of sport throughout the borough and the protection of green spaces. It is a great shame that his view was apparently not shared by the 6 members who voted for the development, despite the crying need, particularly following Covid, for recreation in open spaces. 

The Association fully understands the need for housing, and it is our view that there are plenty of brownfield sites in Merton that can and should be built on, and that building should not take place on a sports field.  In addition, as was said at the committee meeting, the Tesco development nearby will provide 456 new homes, of which 143 will be affordable. 

We have made a formal complaint to the Council as to the process adopted by the Council. We believe that the decision was flawed by gross abuse of process and maladministration. This is a first step to our taking the matter up with the Local Government Commissioner (the Ombudsman). 

The complaint is detailed and complex and, for further information, click here .

The Association has fought to protect this land for sports for well over 20 years and was successful in restricting the buildings to those which now constitute Meadowview Road. The Planning Inspector who allowed those buildings did so expressly so that the rest of the land could be maintained for sport. 

Bellway Homes throughout refused to allow any possibility of this. In June last year their application to build was refused by the PAC. The Council did not discuss with the consortium their plans for sport. Instead within two weeks an officer of the Council held talks with the developers as to how they could get the decision amended. These talks were not minuted. Very shortly after that they made another application which has now been approved, even though it differed little from the one previously refused. 

The officers’ report to the Committee did not mention the non-minuted meeting which was only revealed following a Freedom of Information request. Further, the leading member of the consortium was refused permission to speak at the meeting, even though he had applied to do so in good time. The Committee was therefore deprived of the chance to hear evidence that the sporting proposals were viable and deliverable, which was the key question that it had to decide on planning grounds. 

John Elvidge                                                       


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