Town centre scheme gets go-ahead despite committee vote confusion
Francis Grove plans
Controversial plans for a new 10 storey office block in Wimbledon town centre have been approved after one member of the planning applications committee appeared to vote twice.
Footage of the meeting (via @MertonTV), conducted by video-conference, shows Labour Councillor Joan Henry (Pollards Hill) momentarily raising her hand to vote to approve the application, before quickly lowering it. She then raised her hand again to indicate that she was abstaining.
Council officers however recorded her as voting to approve, with the final result of the vote declared as five votes in favour, four against, and one abstention.
After concerns were raised about the validity of the vote, a second vote was called at the end of the meeting. This time Councillor Henry voted in favour, and the application was approved.
The plan for 1-4 Francis Grove will nearly treble the height of the existing four-storey office block, which would be demolished to make way for the scheme – named “Number One Wimbledon”.
Two residents’ groups have objected to the scheme, submitted by Kingston FG Limited, while Merton Chamber of Commerce has backed the plan.
Richard Batson, on behalf of Friends of Wimbledon Town Centre, said: “At 44 metres high, the proposed building is nearly three times the height of the existing (perfectly serviceable) building on the site, which will be demolished. In our view the proposed new building is completely inappropriate for Wimbledon town centre.
“The existing building is some 15m high. The proposed height is some 44m, which is twice as high as the CIPD building on The Broadway, which is just 22m and which should be regarded as the maximum permissible in the whole town centre.
“The mainly residential area to the west would be overpowered by this development. The proposal involves the demolition of a modern building, which is a waste of resources. In terms of energy use, the proposed building does not appear to meet the zero carbon requirements on new buildings.”
John Money, Chair Queens Road Group Residents Association, added: “We object to this building at twice the height that is appropriate visually in a residential environment . There is no consideration for neighbours’ daylight. It doesn’t meet any zero carbon emissions. It doesn’t comply with any of Merton council’s own guidelines.”
But Diana Sterck, CEO of Merton Chamber of Commerce, said the current block (right) was tired and no longer fit for purpose. The new building will also provide more than 220 jobs.
“The new offices will be more environmentally friendly; by using modern technology the building will help reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality in Wimbledon.
“Considerable improvements to the pavement, including new greenery and widening of the pavement to create a better area for the public to enjoy. It will bring new customers to the town centre shops during the week, helping to sustain the high street, she said.
Councillor Paul Kohler, Lib Dem parliamentary spokesperson for Wimbledon, called on the approval to be withdrawn after the confusion over the planning committee vote.
“It’s clear Councillor Henry intended to abstain on the vote, and that the result was in fact a tie. Officers had no right to call a second vote on the application,” he said.
“The first vote might have been misrecorded, but it was valid. It is clear to everyone watching that the result was a tie, not a vote to approve. The planning committee needs to correct this error and withdraw the mistaken approval of the application.”
“This really matters - not just to those who opposed the Francis Grove application, but to anyone who values fairness in our local decision-making bodies. Asking councillors to vote again puts pressure on those who choose to vote against their party or colleagues’ expectations.
“The Francis Grove application should not have been approved. It is based on a masterplan that has not been agreed yet, even if council bosses act as if it has. Lib Dem councillors succeeded in getting the full council, not just a small group of Labour bosses, a chance to discuss the masterplan. This discussion needs to happen before the council starts approving new developments based on the plan, otherwise it makes a mockery of the idea of local accountability.”
July 1, 2020