TONY MICHAEL has studied the Council’s revised Masterplan for Wimbledon, and summarises the main points.
The Council has now produced its revised Masterplan for the town centre. Described as planning guidance, it shows how the existing plan’s policies will be applied to new developments. Depending on the results of the consultation, it should be adopted in May. The Council has certainly listened to comments on the first draft by the public (and the Society), although there are still some very significant points of difference. What are the big issues?
CONCEPT: This is a plan that promotes economic growth, by attracting major investment to the town. Should these really be the objectives now? Should not the emphasis be on climate change, sustainability, adaptation of buildings more than redevelopment, local scale and character, pedestrian areas, meeting housing needs?
STATUS: The aspiration to grow to be a Metropolitan town centre in the earlier draft was strongly resisted, and has now been dropped.
BUILDING HEIGHT AND STREET SCALE: The maximum heights are now shown as 14 storeys rather than 18. This is still well beyond the maximum of seven storeys (22m metres to the eaves) that the Society proposed, and creates a street scale that is more appropriate to central London. Even Tottenham Court Road, for example, is mostly four and five storeys, and the road is much wider.
OFFICES: Substantial new office blocks are still being proposed, which are supposed to support local shops etc, (and which presumably will generate Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments to the Council). Yet independent reports have said that additional offices in Wimbledon are not needed to this extent. Developers may want to build these offices, but after selling the new building to a pension fund, they leave. New residents, on the other hand, support local businesses when offices are closed, so why not build more much-needed housing?
PEDESTRIANS AND TRAFFIC: There is welcome emphasis on creating new pedestrian links and spaces, and improving footway design. A proposed pedestrian arcade leading off the present Piazza could be a public asset if fully covered and glazed, as in the Hays Wharf galleria. The comment “Streets for people and not cars” is welcome. There is a suggestion that two-way traffic could be re-instated in Hartfield Road, leaving the Broadway to be used mainly for buses. But this would mean that pedestrians in the Broadway would still have to contend with traffic fumes/noise/danger which is hardly desirable. The Council should look again at a carefully phased partial, and then a more comprehensive, pedestrianisation of the important central part of the town.
CLIMATE EMERGENCY: The recent declaration of a climate emergency by both central government and local Councils has obviously overtaken much of the thinking behind the current plans. The new document tries to take on board some of the new thinking, but the fundamental re-orientation of plans towards sustainability, energy and carbon reduction has yet to emerge.
GREENING: There are welcome proposals for major tree planting, specifically in St George’s Road, Worple Road, Hartfield Road and Queen’s Road. How quickly these planting schemes can be implemented will be a test of the Council’s resolve in turning words into action.
CONCERT HALL: There are references to ‘working with the Concert Hall Trust’ on the future of the Council-owned car park site in Hartfield Road. However, there is still no positive Council commitment to achieving what could be a very significant Frank Gehry-designed cultural and social icon, not just for Merton, but for London. The Society’s response to the consultation can be seen on our website. In essence we believe the Masterplan fails to deal properly with building heights, office accommodation, pedestrianisation, climate change and the proposed concert hall.