Merton Council-backed housing plan given thumbs down in Raynes Park
An “unacceptable” plan to provide up to 250 homes on a large industrial site were condemned by residents and councillors who accused the council of allowing a developer to dictate its planning policy.
In what was described as “an outrageous affront to democracy” Workspace Group, owners of the Rainbow industrial estate next to Raynes Park station, have had its plans presented as an official Merton Council planning brief.
The land is currently designated as an industrial site and is currently home to warehouses and storage units, but Workspace wants to build a mix of small businesses units, offices and residential development.
David Freeman, from the Raynes Park and West Barnes Residents’ Association, said the council allowed Workspace to pay for the writing and production of the planning brief as well as bearing the costs of the consultation.
He said: “Council planning officers merely reviewed and rewrote parts of the document, but we don’t know which parts.
“The document in its current format is obscure, misleading and fails all the tests required of clarity and transparency.
“This is not acceptable.
“Surely the public is entitled to higher standards of probity than we are seeing in this instance.”
Planning briefs, or supplementary planning documents, are supposed to set out guidance on the type of development desired by the council in an area and is a key influence on how a planning committee of councillors would have to judge any future planning application for the site.
At a public meeting at Raynes Park library on July 10, a motion was agreed unanimously by councillors and residents that the planning brief should be withdrawn.
Councillor Suzanne Grocott, shadow finance spokesman, said the move would mean Workspace Group would not even be required to pay a community infrastructure levy, which is normally demanded by council for large-scale housing developments.
Coun Grocott said: “The developers must be laughing all the way to the bank and Labour is letting them.
“Employment land costs much less to purchase than housing land – you can make millions buying cheaper employment land and then applying to change its use to build more lucrative housing.
"The whole thing is an outrageous affront to democracy.”
A Merton Council spokesman said: “This is a great opportunity for residents and businesses to get involved right from the outset, rather than be limited to the planning application stage, and we are keen to hear their views at every stage of the process.
“It is right that the landowner, rather than the taxpayer, should be the party to bear the expense of exploring a site’s suitability for certain types of development. Our approach is fully compliant with statutory requirements.
“We welcome and will consider all the opinions sent to us which will be assessed against our core strategy planning policies.
“Residents can be certain that their contributions will help shape the future overall development of the Rainbow industrial estate.”