Before May’s local elections, the Society asked questions of the main political groups, with a view to publishing their answers on the Society website before election day, the aim being to draw out the Candidates’ views and help the public.  The Society’s questions, and the Parties’ answers, are as follows.

We are deliberately refraining from commenting on these responses, which do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wimbledon Society.  But you can check on our own views on our website, such as on building heights in the town centre in our comments on the Town Centre SPD and other planning matters here, and the AELTC planning application here.

Question 1: To what extent do you regard as important the protection of all defined open  spaces in the Borough from development (e.g. the Wimbledon Golf course land)?

Labour: Across Merton, defined open spaces are protected under planning policy and we believe the protected open spaces are crucial in terms of development. We welcome the plans to create a public park on part of Wimbledon Golf Course. This would be the first new park in London since the Olympics, and will open up land and the walk around the lake that has never before been free to use for the public.

Greens:

  • In an urban environment green space is important for residents’ mental and physical health and well-being, this was an important lesson from the pandemic.
  • All green spaces mitigate against carbon emissions and air pollution, thus reducing the impact of climate change and increasing the population’s health.
  • Green Spaces also allow flora and fauna to flourish ensuring biodiversity.
  • Green spaces are necessary to mitigate against heat island effect in built up areas. This will become increasingly important with the impact of climate change and the increase in heat waves.
  • The Green Party objected to the development of the Wimbledon Golf Course land (link to MGR doc)

Liberal Democrats: The best opportunity to promote and protect the Borough’s open spaces (including private gardens) is through a strong planning framework.

The Council should act as the protector of open space on behalf of residents – we have sought to press it to do so in respect of the Wimbledon Golf course land. Longer term, we would be keen to look at placing public open space into trust (e.g. Community Land Trusts, the Land Trust etc) so that the community would have much more control of the land. Should the Council then wish to use the land in another way, it would normally have to negotiate with the Trust, unless it decided to go to the trouble and expense of compulsory purchase. We would also work with local groups, NGAs and charities to attract funding to develop and support our open spaces and parks. We would seek to enhance the relationship of the Council’s parks contractor with parks’ Friends groups which is currently patchy at best. Communal space should be provided in significant new developments and again make use of CLT structures – open spaces are ‘green lungs’ as well as places for neighbours to come together.

Conservatives: Merton’s Green spaces are one of its greatest assets. They provide so much to the borough, for leisure, sport and recreation, as well as wildlife and the environment. That is why we are committed not only to protect our existing open spaces but to enhance them through careful management and increased tree planting.

Whilst future development is important, too often under the current Council administration this has come at the detriment of our green spaces. A Conservative run Council would put a stop to this.

On the specifics of the Wimbledon Golf Course land, the Council must keep its promise to the local community. When the freehold of Wimbledon Park Golf Club was sold to the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) in 1993, both parties agreed the land would not be built on. A legally enforceable covenant was put in place to formalise this agreement.  Conservative Councillors and Stephen Hammond MP have taken a leading role in this campaign, presenting a petition of over a thousand signatures on the covenant, holding public meetings with the AELTC and making sure the voice of the local community is heard. Supported by the Liberal Democrats, the Labour administration watered down their position from “enforcing” the covenant to merely “respecting” it. They must not break their promise to protect this land from development by the AELTC and we will continue to stand with local residents in demanding this.

Question 2: Will you approve the setting up of a Neighbourhood Forum in Wimbledon, so that local people can produce their own Neighbourhood Plan?

Greens: Merton Green Party supports the development of Neighbourhood Plans, and such fora are vital to encourage engagement from the residents.

Liberal Democrats: Neighbourhood plans can be used to effectively engage people in how they would like to see their areas developed, and this turns their views into planning rules. Our members were closely involved in the establishment of the Wimbledon Neighbourhood Planning Group (as it then was) in 2016/17 and our councillors supported the application for the designation of PlanWimbledon as the neighbourhood planning forum. We are disappointed it failed, but feel the group now needs to reflect on the reasons and be re-energised to resolve those issues to take the issue forward.

Conservatives: Yes. Local residents must have a much stronger voice in local planning decisions. Far too often, residents respond to consultations, go to planning meetings and argue their case only to have their views ignored by the Council.  The Labour majority on the planning committee can force through developments in Wimbledon which local people oppose.

In July the Conservatives were the only group to propose an amendment to overturn the Labour administration’s decision to refuse permission for PlanWimbledon to be designated as a neighbourhood forum, which would have allowed local residents to produce their own neighbourhood plan.

A Conservative Council would back Neighbourhood Plans across the borough to allow local people to set the expectations for future development in their neighbourhoods.

Labour: We do support the setting up of a Neighbourhood Forum for Wimbledon provided it can secure the support of both residents and businesses within the area including the Wimbledon Business Improvement District in the town centre.

Question 3: Will you ensure that the public is brought into the creative design process at the start of significant new development (as the NPPF says) rather than as now, excluded, and then given only 3 weeks to ‘object’?

Liberal Democrats: The best developers do this already. We believe it’s also about having strong and clear planning policies. Our group pushed for a stronger policy on public engagement over large developments to be inserted into the Sites & Policies DPD in 2012 – but this suggestion was ignored by the administration. We have made similar proposals in relation to the new Local Plan. Neighbourhood plans can be used to engage people in how they would like to see their areas developed, and this will turn their views into planning rules.

We would like pre-application discussions to be structured in a way to positively encourage open debate. It sometimes seems that only limited groups get access to the early proposals. Our ward councillors have worked to assist residents to feed their comments and complaints back to the Council (explaining how to influence planning and licensing decisions for example) and have supported residents in both the informal and formal stages of these processes.

A small but important thing is we would seek to improve the clarity of the language used in standard form letters about planning applications, to encourage people to have their say. We fought against Merton’s decision that residents’ planning representations should not be published, and proposed their restoration (which was voted down by Labour councillors).

We want to see an end to the culture of holding statutory consultations for appearance’s sake, while ignoring residents’ actual views.

Conservatives: Absolutely. Local people must have their say in the design process and we will work with local groups such as resident associations and neighbourhood forums in order to ensure that future development or regeneration projects can have as much local support as possible.

Labour: Where the council is a developer, we always seek to engage with residents, businesses and elected representatives at an early stage, and we encourage other developers to do the same.

Greens: Merton Green Party supports this approach. Local development is an opportunity to address and solve problems in a holistic way. The input of the community at the earliest stage is vital in order to understand the interplay between the different needs and aspirations of different groups. The design process should then identify synergies and efficient ways to meet these needs and requirements simultaneously. Done properly, this is the most impactful and cost effective way to benefit from valuable investment.

Question 4. What are your proposals for driving forward the retrofitting of the Borough’s housing stock to meet national energy standards, responding to the Climate Emergency?

Conservatives: Following the stock transfer agreement with Circle Housing Merton Priory (now Clarion) in 2010, Merton does not own any housing stock of its own. We are keen to promote low carbon design and would promote this in all new developments. At the last two budget’s we have called for the council to move toward low carbon development, however, the Labour administration refused to support us and voted down our proposals. We welcome the recent announcement from the government that the Future Homes and Building Standards will see new development produce around 30% less carbon than existing designs.

Labour: As a council, unfortunately Merton doesn’t own any housing stock of our own after a decision taken by a previous Conservative administration. However, we will work in partnership with housing providers to help them bid for funding for retrofitting, and we will work on a strategy to achieve the goal of increasing retrofitting and ensure housing meets the highest energy standards.

Greens: This is a key area that has to be tackled by the council. In view of the fact that the London Borough of Merton has declared a climate emergency we would expect the council to take responsibility for reducing emissions from council properties; support other housing providers and freeholders to take action in their own properties; and ensure developers are building sustainable energy solutions into new developments.

This could be an opportunity to create jobs in Merton. The council could support the training and upskilling of workers required to carry the work out.

The party is looking at what is being done elsewhere. There is for example “Warmer Sussex”, an ambitious home retrofit programme. Green councillors would insist that the council addressed the issue of retrofitting all homes in the borough. Council housing stock is under the management of housing associations, but the council must work with them to ensure that properties are retrofitted.

Green councillors would push for the development of a local Environmental Loan Fund. This could be made available at very low rates of interest to all residents wishing to retrofit their homes to reduce their use of energy and save on future energy bills. As residents repaid their loans the money would be returned to the fund so that other residents could benefit.

These proposals would help the Borough to meet its carbon reduction targets and save on residents’ bills.

During the current energy crisis, when bills are poised to soar, investment in renewable energy and retrofitting housing seems an obvious solution. It would reduce carbon emissions, reduce energy costs, and move the country away from dependence on oil and gas and the unpredictable costs associated with it.

Liberal Democrats: The Liberal Democrat group were joint sponsors of the Merton climate emergency declaration. Our specific contribution to that process was to ensure there were actual emissions reductions targets in the declaration (the alternative was that such targets were to be shunted to a committee decision down the line) and representative public involvement in the Climate action working group.

With regards to the housing stock, our thinking is outlined in our responses to the consultations for the new Wimbledon SPD and the new Local Plan (stage 1 and stage 2 and stage 2a). During this process, we called for a greater emphasis on the climate emergency. In the group’s response to the “Merton Local Plan 2020 Stage 2a” consultation, we argued that the Local Plan “should firmly focus on the Climate Emergency and Sustainability” by including a number of measures, particularly: “Promoting the retrofitting of existing buildings, including incorporating measures to reduce energy consumption”.

Question 5: The Borough is losing trees faster than they are being replaced:  what are your proposals for halting this decline? Will you endorse the Society’s ‘Trees 2050’ approach?

Labour: This is patently untrue and repeating it causes considerable distress to those of us who love trees and have fought to provide them. There are more trees in Merton than in 2010. Meanwhile, Labour has launched Merton’s first ever tree strategy, and over the next four years, a Labour-led Merton council will plant 5,000 more trees in the borough. While some trees do sadly need to be removed for safety reasons or to enable much-needed homes or cycle paths, an increased number are planted to replace them. All major housing and building developments are required to have a tree strategy.

Greens: The ‘Trees 2050’ strategy is an excellent document – we cannot improve on it

Liberal Democrats: As previously mentioned, the Liberal Democrat group were joint sponsors of the Merton climate emergency declaration. We called for the formulation and adoption of tree and biodiversity strategies as part of this work, back in November 2020. Again this was voted down by Labour councillors.

We also identified a possible funding stream to spend on new trees & their maintenance.

More recently we have been pushing the Council administration to make it easier for tree contractors to find out if trees are protected before they start work (and specifically if particular work has received approval). We’ve also asked the Director of Environment to look at ways to make it easier for residents to quickly check with the Council if tree work has been approved, when they see work being undertaken on mature trees. Much of the same approach is reflected in the Wimbledon Society’s Trees 2050 document. A “Tree Years” measure seems like an interesting idea that we would explore; as you mention, whips and saplings are not like-for-like replacements for mature trees. The Council is belatedly beginning to develop a tree strategy, and we hope the ideas in the Wimbledon Society’s Trees 2050 document find a home in that policy.

We would also seek to provide Council-backed information (leaflets to homeowners) about tree preservation and management.

Conservatives: Over the past few budgets we have called for a huge increase in tree planting, sadly the Labour administration has rejected our calls and continued to fell trees across the borough. A Conservative administration will substantially increase the budget for tree planting, we would allow local groups such as schools, resident groups, and others to adopt and look after trees. Additionally, we would look to plant mature trees and not saplings and ensure that the tree canopy across the borough is increased and not just in areas in the west of Merton.

We would also invest in green technology solutions such as living walls and city tress which can have the same pollution reduction impact as 75 trees and could be used in the town centres to reduce pollution. In other boroughs these measures have had an immediate impact on the pollution levels, we have proposed this at previous budgets but sadly Labour   did not grasp the urgent need to reduce pollution and combat the pollution crisis and our town centres remain polluted and dirty.

We support the society’s Trees 2050 approach. we welcome the society’s proposals and will continue to work with other groups to ensure local people can have confidence in our policies to protect our environment and ensure Wimbledon remains a green and pleasant place for generations to come.

Question 6: The current Council Plan for Wimbledon town centre is dominated by “developer thinking”, seen by many as being against the clear wishes of local people. What do you propose to do about this? Will pedestrianisation, lower buildings, more housing and less offices be a part of your thinking? (see for example the Society’s Vision 2040 plan).

Greens: Merton Green Party agrees that the current Council Plan for Wimbledon Town centre is too narrow in its breadth and thinking. The vision for the town centre, as described by the Wimbledon Society, is bold and imaginative. 3

The Merton Green Party response on the plans for Wimbledon Town Centre in the Local Plan consultation was brief, calling for more public spaces and the planting of species that improve air quality and biodiversity. We supported the suggestion to plant more street trees in the ground along the Broadway, creating an urban corridor.

We noted the Urban Greening described in the London Plan (London Plan 8.2.5), supported the London Plan’s suggestion that “adding planters, street trees or climbers to existing spaces is a key priority’, and noted that greening with trees has multiple benefits, from visual and calming appeal, shelter from radiation and rain, to carbon absorption and release of oxygen and water vapour, improving both air quality and humidity.

We commented on the height of buildings in general: “We would ask that 10 storeys be the maximum height for any further developments. Increased building height is associated with increased efficiency (and hence lowering of emissions) during the use phase of the building’s lifecycle. However, buildings exceeding circa 10 storeys are complex engineering feats, typically requiring dramatically inflated quantities of energy-intensive materials like performance steel and concrete due to the disproportionate strain caused as height increases. As such, these buildings often have unacceptably high embedded energy and carbon, that will take decades to be offset by efficiency gains.”

While we are in favour of high density buildings as we do not want green spaces covered up by concrete, we do not favour high rise buildings in the centre of Wimbledon. They would dwarf the existing buildings and cast shadow over an area which is currently a public space where people can meet up and enjoy being out of doors.

Liberal Democrats: Our thinking is outlined in our responses to the consultations for the new Wimbledon SPD and the new Local Plan (stage 1 and stage 2 and stage 2a). Specifically, we called for a greater emphasis on the environment, community-led planning, and real action on affordable housing. We sought a genuine debate on building heights and design, especially in Wimbledon town centre. We sought a planning framework to help develop Wimbledon as a cultural centre and as a place for the creative industries.

Subsequently we also lodged a last-ditch amendment to planning rules to limit building heights in Wimbledon and have a real say on the skyline, to reflect residents’ clear views, but Labour and Conservative councillors failed to support this.

These and our views generally on better town centres in the borough are set out here: https://www.mertonlibdems.org.uk/better_town_centres

In addition, we think Merton needs a clearer set of comprehensive strategic cycling routes. These should be identified by the community as well as experts in cycling design, and the feasibility of implementing safe (pedestrian/cycle) facilities should be assessed. The main ‘travel desire’ routes across the Borough should be covered; these routes should offer as much protection as practical to cyclists as well as pedestrians. We have long supported a default 20mph limit on residential roads. We want to encourage more active streets – our councillors support “play streets” and residents who want to hold community events in their roads.

We feel that the establishment of the new Active Travel England organisation could be an opportunity – given their potential role as statutory consultee on major planning applications.

Conservatives: The Conservatives have been the only party with the clear position that the Future Wimbledon SPD is fundamentally flawed and needs to be replaced. We agree with residents that it would lead to development that is too high and too dense. We are deeply disappointed that Labour (Lib Dems?) has chosen to push this through against the wishes of local residents. We will scrap the SDP and work with residents to produce a new plan that they can have confidence in.

The previous SDP was produced before Covid19 and the shift to home working. It is based on a huge increase in office space and is therefore fundamentally flawed. Our vision is for a greener, cleaner development plan which allows for a measured increase in housing, office space and flexible working to capitalise on Wimbledon’s fantastic transport links.

Labour: The current Wimbledon Masterplan was developed with full resident participation after a long period of consultation and sets out a clear vision for the town centre up to 2050 including design and height. Most residents recognise Wimbledon needs updating if it is to remain an attractive place for visitors, shoppers, businesses and those who want to socialise here. It is crucial to have high quality office and retail space to make it a great place to come to, but also to support the local economy.  We will promote active travel to encourage people to walk and cycle alongside protecting and enhancing our public spaces in Wimbledon.

Question 7: How important to you is it to have an Arts Centre/Concert Hall in Wimbledon Town Centre, and will you engage positively with the promoters of the scheme on the Council’s Hartfield Road site?

Liberal Democrats: Wimbledon has the potential to contribute to making Merton a major cultural centre, building on the town’s world-wide brand. Along the Broadway we already have leisure facilities that attract people to the town including bars & pubs, two cinemas (comprising 15 screens) and three exceptional theatres, namely, New Wimbledon Theatre, its adjoining Studio and the famous Polka Theatre. However, despite Wimbledon’s strong musical heritage and the promises of previous administrations no dedicated music venue exists to replace the old town hall and we would like to see more in local planning rules detailing the Council’s attitude to the proposal to build an iconic concert hall on the Hartfield Road car park site. This is a proposal that we welcome provided it includes suitable facilities for local amateur groups and can be fully financed by the private sector. Such a development would be a major boost to making Wimbledon a leading cultural centre – although the Council must ensure it makes no commitments that might saddle it and future administrations with significant financial costs. In addition, there needs to be links to commercial cultural activities in the rest of Merton including ensuring a range of premises for start-ups and artists’ studios that, with imagination, could play a vital role in the regeneration of Morden.

Conservatives: A new arts and conference centre for Wimbledon is very important. Indeed, if the Conservative administration had been re-elected in 2010 the conference centre would have opened years ago. Like most things in Merton, this has stalled for the past 12 years.  We will engage with all partners to bring this project to fruition, it is much needed and will contribute much to Wimbledon.

Labour: As a council we have engaged with the promoters of the scheme but any scheme does need to be financially viable with a business case that stacks up. We are pleased that the Wimbledon Society supports massive, architecturally radical developments such as this in the town centre. Although some people oppose very big and tall developments, we note the Society’s view that they can have a revitalising effect on our community.

Greens: Wimbledon’s transport infrastructure is very well placed to support such an addition. Merton Green Party would support a building which was a well designed, multi purpose building which would benefit a wide range of people. We would support such a building if it could showcase the frontiers of ecological, economic, inspirational design principles, thereby not just being an enjoyable space for all, but communicating to and educating the community in how buildings can serve nature too.

Question 8: Are there any other points that you wish to make?

Conservatives: This election is crucial for local residents to see their vision of Wimbledon come to life. After 12 years of Labour mismanagement the borough is crying out for an administration that listens to local people and puts their needs first. A Conservative Council will have a clear plan to reduce pollution, regenerate the borough, promote sustainable and low carbon design and transport and take Merton forwards. The Conservatives are the only party that can make the changes that local people want to see.     

Labour: Over the past year Labour has made considerable efforts to listen to what local residents want from their community. It is clear that people in Wimbledon and across Merton are proud of their community, and enjoy council services like our libraries, leisure centres, parks and open spaces. However, it is also clear they want a new type of town centre – not just a place to shop, but a place to work, meet friends or socialise. We are keen to turn that into reality and have produced a new plan – Merton 2030 – to help deliver this.

Greens: Air Quality: Merton Green Party is very concerned about air quality in Merton. We are considering what could be done by the council to reduce the air pollution in Wimbledon Town Centre. We support the “smart road pricing” being advocated by the Green Party London Assembly members as the most effective solution. This would be a fair way of addressing car use and would raise money for Transport for 4 London. We are considering what other measures the council could introduce that would help.

Waste Management: Merton Council has downgraded targets in the Veolia contract and the South London Waste Partnership have increased the amount of waste that the incinerator in Beddington is allowed to burn.

Merton Green Party is deeply concerned about the Council’s handling of waste management in the borough. There is widespread dissatisfaction about the litter and fly-tipping on our streets and in our green spaces. The current contracts with Veolia and Viridor are not fit for purpose. We believe the Council should work with the rest of the South London Waste Partnership to renegotiate the terms. Public awareness of the need to reduce, reuse and recycle is higher than ever and Merton residents deserve a system that is fit for purpose.

Liberal Democrats: Parts of the rented housing sector are poorly managed and maintained, contributing to housing register demand, and impacting negatively on people’s health and wellbeing.

We advocate a proactive policy to ensure all landlords manage their properties to a high standard and it is interesting to consider that this would help achieve a number of policy goals including reducing housing register demand. The Liberal Democrat group has advocated a selective licensing scheme, but equally an ‘information hub’ on the Council’s website (a Liberal Democrat proposal adopted and recommendation made by the Sustainable Communities Panel) and the Tenants’ Champion (a Liberal Democrat proposal adopted by full Council) could assist here if taken forward and developed fully by the Council administration.

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