planning report PDU/2073/01
16 April 2008
Imperial Fields, Tooting & Mitcham United
in the London Borough of Merton
planning application no. 07/P0258
Strategic planning application stage 1 and 2 referral (expedited procedure)
Town & Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended); Greater London Authority Act 1999;
Town & Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2000
The application proposes additional development on the site to increase facilities available for
sports, recreation and community uses.
The applicant is Tooting and Mitcham United Football Club and The Hub, and the
architect is Robin Walker.
The site is located on designated Metropolitan Open Land and the existing use and built
development was allowed by the Secretary of State in 1997 following a public inquiry. The
applicant has made a robust argument demonstrating that this application offers a very
special circumstance that warrants the proposed further development on the site. This
report examines how this scheme has attempted to achieve the London Plan policy objectives
for MOL in line with guidance set out in PPG2 for development within the Green Belt.
The design of the scheme is acceptable and provisions have been made through planning
conditions to address flooding and biodiversity impacts. The transport implications and the
energy approach are acceptable and requirements have been secured through appropriate
Given the damaging impact of the development previously permitted by the Secretary of State
in 1997, in this instance the considerably increased community benefit generated by these
proposals will outweigh any further harm to the openness of the MOL. Also taking into
account the unanimous decision of Merton’s planning committee to approve the scheme,
Merton Council should be advised that the Mayor is content for it to determine the case itself,
subject to any action that the Secretary of State may take, and does not therefore wish to
1 On 25 January 2008, Merton Council referred the above application to the Mayor. On
13 February 2008, Merton Council resolved to grant permission for the above development
(although no decision notice was issued), subject to comments from the Mayor and the
Government Office for London. The application is referable under Category 3D of the Schedule
of the Order 2000: “(a) development on land allocated as Green Belt or Metropolitan Open Land in the
development plan, in proposals for such a plan, or in proposals for the alteration or replacement of such a
plan; and (b) which would involve the construction of a building with a floorspace of more than 1,000
square metres or a material change in the use of such a building.”
2 Merton Council resolved to grant permission before the Mayor's views were obtained,
in contravention of Article 4 of the Mayor of London Order 2000. However, that referral was
withdrawn to allow further information needed to assess the scheme to be collected and
reviewed. The referral was then resubmitted on 8 April 2008 and under the provisions of the
Town & Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2000, the Mayor may now direct Merton
Council to refuse planning permission, and has until 22 April 2008 to notify the Council of such
a direction. This report sets out the information needed by the Mayor in deciding whether to
3 The Mayor of London’s comments on this case will be made available on the GLA
4 The application site is approximately 5.4 hectares. It is bounded to the west by
Bishopsford Road, which provides the current vehicular access; and to the north by the
Watermeads flood plain area of the River Wandle, which is owned by the National Trust and
also extends around the east of the site. Poulter Park and other playing fields are located to the
south of the site and along with the application site, are all designated as Metropolitan Open
Land. There is some residential development along the south-east boundary of the site and on
the other side of Bishopsford Road of predominantly 2-storey semi-detached and terraced
5 The site is currently in use by Tooting and Mitcham Football Club and also hosts an
organisation known as ‘The Hub’ which provides community and recreation facilities. There
are two existing football pitches on site (one turf and one smaller artificial) in addition to the
existing stadium on the main pitch and a changing room facility. There is currently capacity for
3500 on the site of which 620 is seated. The smaller artificial sports pitch is located between
the main stadium and the Bishopsford Road frontage and does not have associated spectator
facilities. It is bounded by a high chain link fence and is serviced by floodlighting during night-
time occupation. The land to the south-east and the strip of land to the south-west of the main
stadium is currently un-used open space.
6 Vehicular access is located adjacent to the northern boundary of the site from
Bishopsford Road and 94 car parking spaces are currently provided to the north and north-east
of the main stadium. The public transportation accessibility level score for the location is 3
(where 1 is poor and 6 is excellent). The Mitcham Tramlink station is located 400 metres to the
north along Bishopsford Road, and the 118 and 280 bus services run along London Road, to
the north, and Bishopsford Road respectively.
Details of the proposal
7 The proposals under consideration are for the further development of the existing site
for uses in connection with its current occupation as a football stadium and
recreational/sporting facility for the local community. The proposals have been submitted by
the applicants as three separate components:
I. The erection of a new 289-seat, multi-purpose sports hall (3,002 sq.m.) with a spectator
gallery in the north-west corner of the site. This building would be used for
gymnasium/sporting facilities, with space to provide two parallel basketball courts with
an ancillary bar/cafe/function area and changing rooms. To the south of the newly
relocated artificial pitch it is proposed to erect a 2-storey health centre/sports injury
clinic (1,067 sq.m). This building would also incorporate additional changing facilities on
its northern elevation to serve those using the artificial pitch. A new vehicular access onto
Bishopsford Road would be located to the south of the proposed health centre/sports
II. The erection of a second stand (2,585 sq.m.) to the south of the existing main football
pitch with additional seating for 620 spectators, increasing the seating capacity of the
ground from 620 to 1240 (the overall capacity of the ground will remain unchanged).
This two-storey building is intended to incorporate multi-function sports and social
facilities including classrooms, office suites, dance studios, a hydrotherapy installation and
new toilet facilities.
III. A new artificial pitch with associated changing facilities and seating on the north-eastern
side is proposed to the south-east of the existing main football pitch and stadium. The
new changing facilities would provide 149 sq.m. floorspace within a single-storey
building with a maximum height of 3.2 metres. A new entrance is also proposed to the
site from Bishopsford Road adjacent to the new sports injury clinic and health centre. The
new entrance will be controlled and is proposed to operate only for specific servicing and
access requirements to the site in particular for disabled users of the sports injury clinic /
8 The proposals also include provision of an additional 33 car parking spaces (taking the
total on site to 166 car parking spaces), three managed coach spaces and 200 new bicycle spaces
which are proposed located throughout the site. There are also plans to move the nearest bus
stop to better serve the site. Figure 2 below sets out the proposals.
9 The site is located on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). In 1996, Merton Council
resolved to grant outline planning permission for the redevelopment of the site with a football
stadium, an all-weather pitch and surface car parking. This proposal was a departure from the
adopted UDP and was called in by the Secretary of State and following a public inquiry,
permission was granted in 1997, with reserved matters approved in 2000.
10 The Mayor was consulted in January 2003 (planning report PDU/0695B/01) on
proposals to increase the capacity of the existing stadium from 3,500 to 4,500 by extending the
seating capacity of the stadium from 650 to 1650 seats; to convert open land behind the
existing stadium into an enclosed floodlit practice pitch; to increase car parking from 145
spaces to 239 with an additional 251 spaces as an overspill facility; and to provide a new access
to the new parking area.
11 The GLA officer conclusions on this scheme were that “the extension of the seating and
roofing to the existing stadium would have minimal impact on the openness of the MOL. The proposed
floodlighting to the new grass pitch at the rear of the site raises some strategic concerns in terms of impact
and is considered to be inappropriate development for MOL. The amount of parking associated with the
development is excessive and should be addressed in accordance with the requirements of TfL.” Merton
Council refused planning permission in March 2003, citing that the proposals would result in
an unacceptable intensification of use, loss of residential amenity and an increase in on-street
parking which would exacerbate existing problems.
12 In June 2003 and June 2005, planning permissions were granted relating to the
variation of conditions attached to the original development proposal. These mostly related to
enabling other parties to use the indoor facilities, the removal of restrictions use, extension of
evening and early morning opening hours.
13 Given the sensitivity of this case due to its location on designated as MOL, it is
unfortunate that Merton Council did not refer this case with sufficient time for the Mayor to
provide comments on the scheme before its determination. It should also be made clear that
this application has been submitted without the full range of detailed supporting documentation
usually required when considering a strategic planning application. This has made it difficult to
fully assess all aspects of the scheme as many matters are subject to detailed design, submittal
and approval by the planning authority at a later date, despite this application being for full
14 Further information has been requested from the applicants on a number of strategic
planning matters, but information supplied has continued to be lacking in detail. Despite this,
negotiations with the applicants since its referral to the Mayor have resulted in some minor
changes to the original scheme to bring it more into line with London Plan policy
requirements. These changes include:
Revised energy strategy that includes the use of a Combined Heat and Power plant.
Reduced car parking by 33 spaces and replacement with coach parking.
Commitment to implementing a match-day travel plan.
Commitment to carry out an ecological impact survey.
15 It is also worth noting that despite the history and circumstances of this case, Merton
Council committee members voted unanimously to approve this application on 13 February
Background on ‘The Hub @ Tooting and Mitcham’
16 In addition to the Tooting and Mitcham Football Club, the site is also currently used by
‘The Hub @ Tooting and Mitcham’, a not-for-profit organisation that provides sports,
recreation and related community facilities. ‘The Hub’ facility began following the award of
£1.5 million grant from the Active England Programme in 2004. Active England is a £108.5
million programme jointly funded by Sport England and the Big Lottery Fund (formerly the
New Opportunities Fund) that aims to increase community participation in sports and physical
activity across nine regions in England.
17 Following the creation of ‘The Hub’, the associated facilities were located within the
main stand and terrace building. The additional facilities provided as part of the ‘Hub’ include a
boardroom, a cafe/bar, function room, gym and fitness zone, play zone, party rooms and
challenge zone as well as a village hall, which are all well-used by the local community. The all-
weather pitch and a competition grass pitch are also made available for community use as part
of these facilities. The Hub works closely with Sport England, the South London Partnership,
Pro-Active South London, the Primary Care Trust, the local education authority and Merton
Council to provide a variety of services and facilities for local people. The range of community
activities take place at the ‘Hub’ include:
Primary and secondary school use of the sports and education facilities as part of the
‘Playing for success’ programme.
Youth football coaching and tournaments (including the Tooting and Mitcham United
F.C junior sides.
Use by local theatre groups and by schools for dance classes.
Youth sport programmes and mentoring through the youth service and police.
Community events such as the Wandle Festival.
Adult education facilities, such as learning English as a second language.
Private bookings for local community members at the social club.
18 While some of these uses in themselves are not appropriate uses for MOL, they are
integral to the contribution this facility makes to the local community and play a key role in the
funding and ongoing viability of the locally valued ‘Hub’ concept. Both Sport England and the
Football Association support the proposals to link community facilities into sports facilities to
increase health, well-being and sports participation in this deprived part of the borough.
19 Merton Council cites ‘the Hub’ as contributing to the objectives of its 2006-2009 ‘Sport,
health and physical activity strategy’ which supports the Council’s Business Plan 2006–2009
and contributes to the Community Plan produced by Merton’s Local Strategic Partnership.
Strategic planning issues and relevant policies and guidance
20 The relevant issues and corresponding policies are as follows:
MOL /Green Belt London Plan; PPG2;
Tourism/leisure/sport London Plan; Good Practice Guide on Planning for Tourism
Biodiversity London Plan; the Mayor’s Biodiversity Strategy; PPS9
Access London Plan; PPS1; Accessible London: achieving an inclusive
environment SPG; Planning and Access for Disabled People: a
good practice guide (ODPM)
Equal opportunities London Plan; Planning for Equality and Diversity in Meeting the
spatial needs of London’s diverse communities SPG; Diversity and
Equality in Planning: A good practice guide (ODPM)
Sustainable development London Plan; PPS, PPS Planning and Climate Change
Supplement to PPS1; PPS3; PPG13; PPS22; the Mayor’s Energy
Strategy; Sustainable Design and Construction SPG
Transport London Plan; The Mayor’s Transport Strategy
River Thames/flooding London Plan; Mayor’s draft Water Strategy; PPS25, RPG3B
21 For the purposes of Section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004,
the development plan in force for the area is the 2003 Merton Unitary Development Plan
(saved policies) and the London Plan (Consolidated with Alterations since 2004).
Metropolitan Open Land and land use principle
22 The site is within designated Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), which is a unique
designation within London and has a similar status to the Green Belt. MOL is designated to
maintain its open character, to protect access to major open areas, to provide opportunities for
recreation, to provide high quality landscapes and to protect and promote biodiversity. The
London Plan notes that MOL performs three valuable functions:
Protecting open space to provide a clear break in the urban fabric and contributing to
the green character of London
Protecting open space to serve the needs of Londoners outside their local area
Protecting open space that contains a feature or landscape of national or regional
23 London Plan policy 3D.10 Metropolitan Open Land is aligned with ‘Planning Policy
Guidance 2: Green Belts’ (PPG2) and notes that there is a presumption against inappropriate
development on MOL and that it should be afforded the same level of protection as the Green
Belt. The London Plan also notes that “essential facilities for appropriate uses will only be acceptable
where they do not have an adverse impact on the openness of MOL” and that “appropriate development
should minimise any adverse impact on the open character of MOL through sensitive design and siting
and be limited to small scale structures to support outdoor open space uses.”
The previous decision by the Secretary of State
24 The Secretary of State approved the existing use and built development (subject to
conditions and a S106 agreement) in 1997, following a public inquiry. In making this decision,
the Secretary of State placed considerable weight on the fact that the site had long been in
sports use, that no alternative sites were available, and that the MOL was not of a high nature
conservation quality. He was also satisfied that the impact on the openness of the MOL was
mitigated by the vegetation around the boundary of the site which provided a screening effect.
25 While the planning inspector placed significant weight on the fact that that the football
club was likely to close should the development not go ahead and that this would be a
significant loss to the local community, the Secretary of State attached less weight to the issue
of financial viability. He did, however, recognise that there would be a significant loss of
community facilities should this occur. The inspector also noted that without robust controls,
the proposals could have the potential otherwise to create a development of the nature and
scale to confirm the worst fears of the local residents at the time and the Secretary of State
agreed with this and attached planning conditions to ensure that the operation of the permitted
uses did not have a negative impact on residential amenity.
26 As for the appropriateness of development on MOL, the Secretary of State agreed with
the inspector that while the provision of a stadium far exceeded the essential requirements for
outdoor sport or recreation uses and as such, could not reasonably be considered an appropriate
use for MOL, the community benefits that were gained by the development outweighed the
harm to the MOL. He concluded that other than the ‘appropriate development’ argument, there
was no other weighty policy or impact objection to the development on MOL and that on
balance, the gain in public access to sporting facilities helped towards providing the exceptional
circumstances that are necessary to overcome the policy objection to development on MOL.
The current proposals and appropriateness of further development
27 The further development proposed as part of this application represents an
intensification of the previously developed land and an expansion of facilities/uses within the
existing site. The acceptability of this further development is dependent on the assessment of
the proposals in line with PPG2, which sets out that only non-harmful development will be
appropriate. PPG2 sets out that there are exceptional circumstances to justify development and
that this development might include essential facilities that are genuinely required for uses of
land which preserve the openness and do not conflict with the purposes of including land in it.
28 Paragraph C3 of PPG2 notes that limited infilling at major developed sites in
continuing use may help to secure jobs and prosperity without further prejudicing the Green
Belt [read MOL]. It sets out that local planning authorities should identify these areas and
that a policy for limited infilling for the continuing use within this boundary should be
provided and that such infilling should:
(a) have no greater impact on the purposes of including land in the Green Belt than the existing
(b) not exceed the height of the existing buildings; and
(c) not lead to a major increase in the developed proportion of the site.
29 While Merton Council has not set out in its development plan that intensification is
suitable on this site, the principles of infilling are still applicable when assessing the
appropriateness of the scheme. When assessing the impact of the proposals, their
appropriateness must be considered in line with PPG2 and while the general ongoing use of the
site for outdoor sports and recreation is acceptable and the additional changing blocks might be
considered ‘essential’, some of the other proposed uses are not appropriate for MOL (such as
the hydrotherapy suite, dance studio, class rooms, medical centre, gymnasium). However, the
proposals are unlikely to have a greater impact on the MOL designation than the existing
permitted development as they remain largely related or ancillary to those existing uses and
are proportionate to an increased demand for local facilities since the original permission.
30 When considering the overall impact of these proposals on the open character of MOL,
Merton Council argued in its committee report (14.2.2008) that “the development that has been
undertaken on the land has already significantly altered its open character, which despite its continued
status as MOL, has taken on a far more ‘urbanised’ character than was previously the case. It is therefore
considered that the provision of additional seating within a separate stand would further intensify this
more urban character of the site to the detriment of its already degraded open character.” The
committee report makes the following points regarding the appropriateness of the three
elements to the proposals:
New stand and sports injury clinic: given that the provision of a new stand is not to
increase attendance at the ground it could therefore be argued that a new stand is not
an essential facility for outdoor sport or recreation. But, as the MOL currently flows
from the south-east to the north-west linking those open areas of Poulter Park in
Sutton to Ravensbury Park in Merton, the new stand has the potential to cut the
Tooting and Mitcham site off from the remainder of the MOL to the east, creating a
both a physical and visual boundary.
New sports hall: the proposed building would fall outside those uses considered
appropriate for MOL. The use is neither essential to, nor connected with, outdoor sport
or outdoor recreation facilities and it would encroach onto the MOL. While the 2-storey
sports injury clinic building would incorporate changing facilities for the relocated all
weather pitch, it would nonetheless encroach to a lesser degree onto the MOL.
New artificial pitch and changing facilities: these provide enhanced opportunities for
outdoor recreational uses. The changing facilities are considered to be appropriate to
the scale of the development proposed and would be essential to the use of the pitch.
Provision, within a modest building, would not prejudice the open character of the
31 In height terms, the development ranges across the site from 3.2 metres for the
changing blocks, to 15.6 metres for the sports hall/gymnasium. Neither of these exceeds the
height of the existing stand and while the proposed additional development is not limited to
‘small scale structures’ as set out in PPG2 and the London Plan, given the facilities they will be
providing for community use, they are acceptable and not thought to cause further harm to the
openness of the MOL.
32 The existing developed proportion of the site, (measured as site building footprint) is
1747.6 square metres which equates to 3.2% site coverage and the proposed site building
footprint is 5965.7 square metres, which equates to 10.9% site coverage. While this is a
considerable increase in the developed portion of the site (equivalent to a two-thirds increase)
the total percentage of development on the site remains relatively low at just over 10%. The
amount of development on site is very unlikely to be further increased as the club has no plans
for future expansion and all ‘Hub’ facilities are easily accommodated within the proposed
The ‘very special circumstance’
33 PPG2 also clearly notes that “it is for the applicant to show why permission should be
granted” and that “very special circumstances to justify inappropriate development will not exist unless
the harm by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm, is clearly outweighed by other
considerations.” The applicants have made an argument that the continued functioning of ‘the
Hub’ is dependant on expanding the range of facilities to allow funding to be made available for
the community elements. The applicants have stressed that the proposals are not speculative as
they have demonstrated need for and potential users of these facilities from the local
community. Future funding of the facilities provided is reliant on the ability to let long leases
to these users.
34 Financial viability is not considered to warrant a ‘very special circumstance’ to justify
inappropriate development on MOL and while Merton Council noted in its committee report
the weight placed by the inspector on this issue in 1997; the Secretary of State placed less
weight on this matter. He did, however, support the significant community benefit as
contributing to a ‘very special circumstance’. With this current application, Merton Council
also concluded that the gain in public access to sporting and recreational facilities also presents
significant community benefits and that “on balance, it is considered that there are special
circumstances that warrant support of the proposals that outweigh the harm that would otherwise arise
from the erection of the buildings and associated facilities on MOL.”
35 The Secretary of State’s decision in 1997 has set a precedent for accepting that the gain
in community facilities may outweigh the harm caused to MOL by development on this site.
Although the further development proposed by this application may cause increased harm, it
will also provide a proportionate increase in community benefits. These community benefits
will outweigh the harm and again, contribute towards a ‘very special circumstance’ for allowing
this development, especially when the already altered and ‘urbanized’ character of the MOL on
this site is taken into consideration.
Sport, recreation and community facilities
36 London Plan Policy 3D.6 ‘The Olympic and Paralympic Games and sports facilities’ sets
out the need to identify sites for a range of sports facilities to meet local, sub-regional and
wider needs. This policy states that in considering proposals for sports facilities, borough
councils should ensure that a sequential approach is applied; sites have good access by public
transport, cycling and walking, or improved access is planned; sites are accessible by all
sections of the community, including disabled people; new provision is focused on areas with
existing deficiencies in facilities and the multiple use of facilities is encouraged, including those
of schools and commercial organisations.
37 Paragraph 3.290 of the London Plan goes on to stress the need to develop a wide range
of high quality but affordable sports facilities, which are accessible to all sections of the
community, including disabled people. Tooting and Mitcham United Football Club have been
operating from the application site since 2002 following its relocation from Sandy Lane, and
the site has since developed to form a community focussed facility encompassing community
sports, leisure and education. The operation of the facility along with the specialist provision
currently seeks to address local community needs as well as contributing to Merton Council’s
Community Plan objectives and targets. There is a growing demand for an ever-increasing
variety of sport, recreation, leisure and entertainment facilities and the provision of the
proposed development would go towards meeting this identified need.
38 The proposals for ‘the Hub’ are in line with guidance set out in ‘Planning Policy
Guidance 17: Sports and Leisure Facilities’ (PPG17) which states that opportunities for
recreation should be available for everyone, including the elderly and those with disabilities.
The Hub seeks to be inclusive of the community it serves and its facilities have been designed
to be fully integrated for people with special needs and it has a programme to specifically reach
out to targeted groups. These include those with disabilities, the visually impaired, under
performing children/youths and ethnic minorities. The proposed development seeks to
improve and build on this current provision and aims to further enhance community sport,
health, physical activity, education and cultural provision in the more deprived eastern part of
the borough where it has been previously lacking.
39 Merton Council’s Leisure and Cultural Development Team has highlighted how the
proposals would promote numerous objectives within the Council’s Community Plan and fully
support the proposals, as do Sport England and the Football Association. The aims of ‘the Hub’
are also compliant with London Plan objectives for health and promotion of equal opportunities
and are supported in principle.
40 Good design is central to all objectives of the London Plan and is specifically promoted
by the policies contained within Chapter 4B which address both general design principles and
specific design issues. Policy 4B.1 sets out overarching design principles for London and states
that the Mayor will seek to ensure that new developments maximise site potential, enhance the
public realm, provide a mix of uses, are accessible, inclusive, legible, sustainable, safe, inspiring,
exciting and respect London’s natural and built heritage. Policy 4B.1 also notes that
development should contribute to adaptation to and mitigation of the effects of climate change,
promote a sustainable, durable and adaptable approach in terms of design, construction and use
as well as enhancing green networks and the blue ribbon network. Other policies include
general design principles relating to the promotion of world-class design, maximising the
potential of sites, ensuring appropriate development densities, improving the public realm and
creating accessible environments.
41 The design of the stand, the sports clinic and the changing facilities has attempted to
provide a simple utilitarian and function-based approach to minimise the impact on the
character of the MOL. To minimise the impact of the proposed new buildings, a similar palette
and design form as is already found on the site has been adopted, with the use of solid brick
format at lower levels and a translucent cladding system in conjunction with large glazed
panels at higher levels. These materials respond successfully to the wider context of the site.
42 The design of the sports hall itself is more bulky and obtrusive, as it has been designed
in accordance with Sport England’s guidelines for a full competition standard facility that is
able to accommodate multi sports. It is primarily intended to be the new home a local
gymnastic club (Sutton School of Gymnastics) but will be available for alternative sports when
not required by the gymnastics club. A partly retractable roof is proposed on the south
elevation of this building over the main gym area, while a full height glazed area is set back
from the building line to provide an outdoor terrace leading off the bar/cafe/function area.
43 The new stand canopy has been designed to mirror the existing stand with its central
seating area and projecting canopy, but has been designed in a wedge shape to follow the
boundary of the site. Glazed box formed apertures are proposed either side, punctuating
outwards towards the pitch.
44 The new sports injury clinic/health centre is designed in a similar format and includes a
shaped rising sky light feature and sloping glass louvers to the street facade. The new
changing facilities are smaller in scale and therefore proposed to consist in brick format with
large sliding doors along the pitch facing facade, with glazed elements at the higher level.
45 The proposals would support and reinforce the plain, simple and modern designs of
existing buildings on the site and while they would undoubtedly have some impact on the open
character of the MOL, and may be considered visually intrusive, they are nonetheless
adequately designed and compatible with existing buildings on the site. The use of translucent
cladding and glazing throughout the new buildings presents a consistency and familiarity of
the development of the site and will give the impression of open and welcoming buildings,
which is particularly important given the proposed sports and community uses.
46 Policy 4B.5 of the London Plan expects all future development to meet the highest
standard of accessibility and inclusion. This, together with the Mayor’s Supplementary
Planning Guidance ‘Accessible London: achieving an inclusive environment’, underpins the
principles of inclusive design and the aim to achieve an accessible and inclusive environment
consistently across London.
47 A full detailed access statement for this scheme has not been supplied. However,
disabled people are one of ‘the Hubs’ main target user groups and the applicant has confirmed
that all entrances and pathways within the site are to be made fully accessible, with level access
proposed to the new stand building and ramped access to the new sports hall. Internally, all
proposed new facilities are designed to be compliant with the Building Regulations Part M and
Sport England requirements. Adequate provision has been made for disabled changing and
toilet facilities and disabled car parking.
48 However, the proposed additional entrance will be used as a dedicated disabled access
point. Wherever possible, disabled people should be able to use the same facilities and
entrances as non-disabled users. In addition, the use of gravel footpaths within the site and
around the boundary should be minimised to allow easy access for disabled people and those
with other mobility issues.
49 Overall the approach to encouraging disabled people as part of the wider community to
engage in sports and other recreational activities is welcomed.
50 The replacement of open spaces with nature conservation value is covered in London
Plan policy 3D.14 ‘Biodiversity and nature conservation’, which notes that a proactive approach
to the protection, promotion and management of biodiversity is required in support of the
Mayor’s Biodiversity Strategy. More specifically, it states that “the planning of new development
and regeneration should have regard to nature conservation and biodiversity, and opportunities should be
taken to achieve positive gains for conservation through the form and design of development. Where
appropriate, measures may include creating, enhancing and managing wildlife habitat and natural
landscape and improving access to nature”.
51 This application will affect a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC), the
Upper River Wandle Metropolitan SINC. This lies immediately to the north and adjacent to
the application site. The section of the SINC affected is known as the Watermeads, an
important biodiversity habitat enhancement/flood storage scheme undertaken by the
52 The proposals for new development on the site, including the new all weather pitches
and service roads, would significantly increase the amount of built form, and this further
development has the potential to either harm the nature quality of the site. No ecological
impact assessment has been submitted with this application, but the applicants are required to
conduct one through the planning conditions. The major issue to consider within this impact
assessment will be lighting pollution into the Metropolitan SINC, impacting on use of the site
by nocturnal wildlife (in particular bats - which are protected/UK & London BAP priority
species). Although there is already a potential source of lighting pollution presented by the
existing all-weather pitch and recent buildings, this form of impact is particularly incremental.
Furthermore, by siting a further lighting source at the eastern end of the site, there could well
be a severance issue affecting the River Wandle biodiversity corridor, which should essentially
be maintained in a relatively dark (therefore unlit) state.
53 The ecological impact assessment should be scoped to include roosting and feeding bats;
resident reptiles likely to be using the margins of the application site; and schedule 1 breeding
birds (namely kingfisher). As an outcome there should be a clear mitigation strategy proposed
for any impacts, which in respect of the lighting/bats issue could include state-of-the-art
cowling technology and structured lighting curfews for new floodlighting. The Environment
Agency has also provided a detailed framework of issues that it requires the applicant to
address in order to both safeguard and enhance the biodiversity of the site and the integrity of
the green corridor.
54 Given that the site itself is of limited biodiversity value and the scale and nature of the
proposals for the site within the close proximity of the Wandle corridor, Merton Council has
sought an appropriate S106 contribution to be used for enhancing the nature conservation
value of the surrounding land. In addition, conditions have been attached to the permission to
address other biodiversity issues relating to the presence of water voles and ditches.
55 The site is located within the River Wandle flood plain and is an area at risk of flooding.
The London Plan sets out policies in chapter 4A to ensure that flood risk is adequately assessed
and considered in the location and design of new development and that sustainable drainage
methods are employed where appropriate to address flood risk issues.
56 The Halcrow Group was commissioned to produce a flood risk assessment for the
proposals. This concludes that the majority of the site is within Flood Zone 3a with part
within Zone 3b and part within zone 1 or 2. The development comprises uses that appear to
meet PPS25 requirements in that the pitches are compatible uses for Zone 3, and that the stand
and gym have voids beneath them to allow for flood flow and storage. The sport injury
building is outside Zone 3 and no development is proposed within Zone 3b. The flood risk
assessment recommends that an adequate flood warning and evacuation plan is put in place and
this should be secured via condition or S106 agreement.
57 Surface water storage ponds have been proposed to limit discharge rates to green field
equivalent. While this is welcomed, the proposals should include provision for rainwater
harvesting in order to both reduce surface water drainage and to reduce demand for water for
use within the buildings and irrigation. Overall, the principle of the development is acceptable.
58 The London Plan promotes a holistic approach to sustainable development and contains
a number of specific policy requirements aimed at ensuring the sustainability of new
development. Policy 4A.3 requires developments to meet the highest standards of sustainable
design and construction and energy policies 4A.4 to 4A.8 seek to reduce carbon emissions by
requiring the incorporation of energy efficient design and technologies, and renewable energy
technologies where feasible. The London Plan Sustainable Design and Construction
Supplementary Planning Guidance supports and expands on these policies.
59 A full energy statement has not been supplied in support of the application. However,
the design and accessibility statement notes a range of sustainability measures is to be included
within the development to ensure energy efficiency. These include the use of high performance
glass; air-tight design and under floor heating; daylight sensors; and the use of low energy
plant and services and low water sanitary appliances. A bore hole will be used to supply
ground water to irrigate the football pitch and to supply the sanitary fittings.
60 Merton Council have guided the development based on the 10% renewable energy
target and due to a lack of GLA involvement at an earlier stage, the energy provisions have
been based on this lower target. The main renewable energy use was proposed to be a wind
turbine and a biomass boiler. Further to negotiations with the applicants, they have committed
to installing site-wide combined heat and power plant, which is thought to be appropriate given
the proposed uses. However, as a thorough assessment of the efficiency savings had not been
carried out before the submission and approval of the application by Merton Council, GLA
officers have requested further information on the energy provision.
61 An initial review of this information shows that the applicant is heading in the right
direction, but further modelling and detailed design will be required to ensure full compliance
with the London Plan. To ensure that this occurs, conditions have been provided to Merton
Council to attach to the planning permission, including the need to conduct an air quality
62 A full detailed transport assessment was not submitted with this application. Transport for
London (TfL) initially raised several issues regarding the proposals for this site. These
included the unacceptable level of increased car parking, provision of cycle parking, relocation
of a bus stop along Bishopsford Road and the need for a match-day travel plan.
63 In response to these issues, the applicants have agreed not to increase the number of car
parking spaces on the site and to instead use the space for additional coach parking. This
additional coach parking.
64 It is TfL’s view that the 200 cycle parking spaces provided are the minimum required for
the uses on this site and should be increased. The applicant has committed to reviewing the
level of provision after the first twelve-month period and to increase the number of spaces - if
necessary. Ideally, efforts should also be made to provide some cycle parking that is covered
and conveniently located on site; if this is not possible, a portion of the overall parking should
be provided in an area convenient to the sports clinic for use by staff and visitors. These
measures should be included as part of the green travel plan.
65 The applicant is required by the conditions attached to the proposed permission to prepare
a travel plan for the site. TfL has requested that an additional ‘match day’ travel plan is also
prepared to ensure that the impact of the development on the local highway and public
transport networks is minimised. The match-day travel plan should actively encourage the use
of more sustainable modes of travel. Much of this is information-based and is relatively low-
cost, such as:
Publicising information regarding public transport to/from the match wherever tickets
are sold, on the team website, etc.
providing information about transport services and routes available using signs,
announcements, marshals etc.
66 The green travel plan should also cover the other users of the site including users of the
gym, all-weather pitch, play zone and the village hall. TfL also requests that a condition to be
applied to ensure that spectator events at the Sports Hall will not be held while the stadium is
67 In summary, TfL has no objection to these proposals, however a more detailed transport
assessment would have been useful.
London Development Agency
68 The Agency (LDA) supports in principle the proposed improvements to these sports
and leisure facilities as they will enhance quality of provision. This scheme will result in better
facilities for local people in this region of south-west London and also has the potential to
enable greater use of the facilities by the local community, local sports clubs, schools and other
organisations. To minimise conflicts of use an appropriate managing and charging structure
should be approved and applied. Any scheme will need, however, to be justified in the context
of planning policy and considered in the context of other Mayoral objectives.
69 The LDA encourages initiatives to provide employment opportunities for local people
during construction and subsequently, as supported by policy 3B.11 of the London Plan. This
should be formalised through a section 106 agreement between Merton Council and the
applicant, as well as the need to address other barriers to employment (e.g. child care).
Similarly the applicants should secure the use of local businesses during construction, as well
as, in the procurement of services and supplies from small and medium size enterprises or
micro businesses, especially those run by equality and diversity groups in the local area.
70 Subject to the resolution of these matters, the LDA does not object to this development.
Response to consultation
71 The proposal was advertised by press notices (major application and departure from the
Development Plan) published 17 May 2007, site notice and 423 consultation letters sent to the
neighbouring properties. Nine objections were received from the surrounding residential
properties and have been mainly related to increased parking pressure in surrounding streets
and unsuitability of surrounding road network; increased noise, disturbance and light pollution
from the site; flood plain issues; the site being littered, overgrown, and the boundary treatment
not completed; loss of light and outlook to neighbouring dwellings; loss of open space;
inappropriate and unattractive buildings proposed.
72 The majority of these are local level issues, best dealt with by the local planning
authority. Local concerns have also been raised about the increased capacity of the ground not
being required by Tooting and Mitcham United FC and would only be for the purposes of a
different or larger club. While the proposals are not actually increasing the capacity of the
ground, these concerns have also been addressed through the inclusion of appropriate planning
conditions. Concerns were also raised that the development goes beyond what was previously
permitted by the Secretary of State.
73 Comments of statutory consultees were as follows:
The National Trust expressed concerns over the loss of open space on the site and the
impact of litter but did not object.
The Environment Agency supported the scheme subject to the inclusion of planning
conditions requiring flood risk details and environmental to be submitted to it for
Sport England supports the scheme.
The Football Association supports the scheme, given its alignment with their proposed
‘Sports Villages’ and ‘community villages’ approach.
74 Over twenty letters of support were also submitted to Merton Council, stressing the
local community use of the facilities and the value of the facilities provided to a range of local
organisations including schools, the police, youth work, sports clubs and local football fans.
Local authority position
75 Merton Council is understood to support the proposals given the links to delivering the
Council’s wider corporate objectives and community plan and members were urged to consider
whether there were ‘very special circumstances’ that might outweigh the harm to MOL in this
instance. On the basis of this, Merton’s planning committee Members are thought to have
voted unanimously to approve the proposals.
76 Under the arrangements set out in article 5 of the Town and Country Planning (Mayor
of London) Order 2000 the Mayor has the power to direct the local planning authority to
refuse permission for a planning application referred to him under article 3 of the Order. In
doing so the Mayor must have regard to the matters set out in article 5(2) of the Order,
including the principle purposes of the Greater London Authority, the effect on health and
sustainable development, national policies and international obligations, regional planning
guidance, and the use of the River Thames. The Mayor may direct refusal if he considers that
to grant permission would be contrary to good strategic planning in Greater London. If he
decides to direct refusal, the Mayor must set out his reasons, and the local planning authority
must issue these with the refusal notice.
77 Should the Mayor direct refusal, he would be the principal party at any subsequent
appeal hearing or public inquiry. Government guidance in Circular 8/93 (‘Award of Costs in
Planning and Other (including Compulsory Purchase Order) Proceedings’) emphasises that parties
usually pay their own expenses arising from an appeal. In the present case it is anticipated that
a public inquiry would last for two to three weeks. The Mayor’s own costs may exceed
£30,000 for counsel and specialist research, advice and expert witnesses. Other costs can be
absorbed within already agreed budgets provided that additional cover is not required for the
Planning Decisions Unit.
78 Following an inquiry caused by a direction to refuse, costs may be awarded against the
Mayor if he has either directed refusal unreasonably; handled a referral from a planning
authority unreasonably; or behaved unreasonably during the appeal. A major factor in deciding
whether the Mayor has acted unreasonably will be the extent to which he has taken account of
established planning policy.
79 Because this scheme was approved by Merton Council (although no decision notice has
been issued), before consultation comments from the Mayor were submitted, it has been
difficult to negotiate major improvements to the plans. In addition, the particular circumstance
of one of the applicants as a not-for-profit organisation (with the planning agent working on a
‘pro-bono’ basis) has meant that the full set of detailed supporting documents usually required
for a strategic planning application has not been submitted, hindering a full assessment.
80 Despite these limitations, the overall aims of the proposals are broadly in line with
London Plan objectives and particularly in terms of provision of sports and community
facilities, supply of public open space, promotion of equal opportunities and health. The
applicants have also been very cooperative in moving towards the London Plan policy line in
those areas which were not compliant with the London Plan and the majority of transport and
energy concerns have been satisfactorily resolved.
81 The main consideration in deciding whether or not to direct refusal relates to whether
or not the proposals are appropriate development on MOL, and if not, whether they may be
permitted because there are very special circumstances that outweigh harm to the MOL. The
‘very special circumstances’ that have been argued in this report are as follows:
Although not all of the buildings proposed are for uses ‘appropriate’ to MOL, they are
generally related or ancillary to existing uses and improve the use and enjoyment of open
The harm that these proposals may cause to the openness of the MOL is mitigated by the
fact that the site has a historic sporting use and that the open character has already been
radically altered and ‘urbanised’ since the permission from the Secretary of State in 1997.
The gain in public access to the facilities and the community benefit provided has been
afforded substantial weight in the past by the Secretary of State and has created a precedent
on this site. The increased level of community benefit provided by the proposals will
outweigh any further harm to the already altered open character of the MOL.
82 On balance, the proposal is consistent with London Plan policy and is in the interest of
good strategic planning in London.
for further information, contact Planning Decisions Unit:
Giles Dolphin, Head of Planning Decisions
020 7983 4271 email email@example.com
Colin Wilson, Strategic Planning Manager (Development Decisions)
020 7983 4783 email firstname.lastname@example.org
Shelley Gould, Case Officer
020 7983 4803 email email@example.com