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Council approves school expansion onto Dundonald Rec [updated]

by Dundonald Lib Dems on 17 January, 2013

Merton Council’s planning application committee has tonight approved plans to expand Dundonald Primary onto part of Dundonald Rec.

Under the plans the public will lose full or partial access to around 5% of the Rec. The Council is also seeking removal of the legal protection against building on the Rec.

However, it is still open to London’s Mayor Boris Johnson stop the proposals in their tracks. The Council must now consult the Mayor again, and he has 14 days to decide whether to let the decision proceed, or whether to tell the Council to refuse the application. During tonight’s meeting planning officers were forced to admit that the “vast majority” of the public who responded to the consultation were against the plans.

Following outcome of the meeting, local campaigner Diana Coman said:

If the Council had not sold off so many school sites in the past there would be land to use for new schools now or – more likely – there would be no need for new schools at all.

The argument against the plans to build on Dundonald Rec is about the erosion of an asset. Yes, we have a problem of lack of school places, but using other assets – like public open space – to correct the problem created by both Conservative and Labour administrations does not seem to me to be an answer. London-wide planning rules are supposed to protect public open space and I hope that Boris will make the right decision.

Merton Council hired consultants to identify other sites across Wimbledon for potential new schools – and the report identified sites including a car park and a former factory – but the alternatives just don’t seem to be being looked at.

Cllr Iain Dysart, leader of Merton’s Lib Dem councillors added:

Although we know that finding enough primary school places is a London-wide issue, this episode serves as a stark reminder of how long-term planning is infinitely preferable to short-term scrambling.

Update: Diana has written to Boris Johnson, urging him to support local residents and reject the proposals from Merton Council.

Documents relating to the planning application can be viewed here.
Dundonald Liberal Democrats’ response to the planning application can be seen at p 10 of this document.


25 Responses

  1. Lisa Waters says:

    This is amazing. How can they vote to get rid of green space when there were so many other options?
    You need to stop them.
    Build a modern school, in the right location.
    If they do this now when does all the park go?

  2. Roy Heathfield says:

    The result is disappointing, but unsurprising. It seems that Merton Council frequently disregard the views of local residents.


  3. Jenny Nyiri says:

    The council has invested so much time and money in this project that it is not going to admit it is wrong. I just hope, for all the reasons so often repeated, including the breaking of the Covenant and the setting of a precedent for losing other parks, plus the fact that there are other suitable sites, that Boris Johnson will listen and not allow this botched plan to go ahead.

  4. Camilla de la Bedoyere says:

    What a bizarre decision for the council to make. It flies in the face of what local people want (the very people they are paid to represent), and simply doesn’t make sense given the evidence provided by campaigners opposed to the plan. I began with an open mind, but the evidence has led me to oppose the proposed development; it is not the best or only solution to the problem. It simply doesn’t make sense for the council to persevere, at great expense, when they should be putting alternative plans into action. I want to know why they won’t consider the alternatives – is it all about money?

  5. Agree with the above comments – 8 people responded positively to the planning application and I think over 400 against, largely on grounds that it breached planning rules.

  6. Dan Pescod says:

    The Council is disregarding public opinion on this matter, which is hardly in the spirit of democracy. Why consult if you are not willing to listen to the answer? What is the use of laws and covenants to protect the environment/ green spaces if they can just be pushed aside, in the face of public opposition? This Council decision to go ahead regardless of environmental concerns, the covenant in place and the long term good of this area, sets a terrible precedent. Mr Johnson – please do the sensible thing and oppose this short-sighted decision!

  7. Beth O'Brien says:

    Sadly the resulting action by the council is not surprising. Most requests for the public to give its views are simply a facade. No doubt the decision was made a considerable time ago but they have to go through the motions. At the centre of the decision will be some sort of financial gain/benefit.

  8. Stephen Wheeler says:

    I don’t understand;
    – What is the reason for planning regulations? They appear to be pointless.

    – Why are public consulted if their views are just going to be ignored?

    – In what way does the Council defend its use of a limited resource?

    It has seemed to me, for some time now, that the Council is simply doing what it wants to do.

    I thought democracy meant asking the people what we want and doing our bidding?

  9. Mr & Mrs Weeks says:

    If the vast majority are against it, how can Mr Johnson ignore this? For those of you who are FOR it, it may be worth noting that if they get planning permission for this project, it is not just giving them licence to build on the old pavilion footprint, but ANYWHERE IN THE PARK. When you are looking upon another ghastly mess of council buildings where our pretty little primary school, cheerful playground, well used tennis courts and much loved park used to be – hang your heads in shame if you didn’t fight to keep it as we have.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Mr & Mrs Weeks:

    You said: “if they get planning permission for this project, it is not just giving them licence to build on the old pavilion footprint, but ANYWHERE IN THE PARK” – this is completely untrue – you are scare-mongering, please stop it.

    I’m not the only one who’s tired of hearing these malicious lies from the self-righteous self-centred Linda Snells of “Save Our Rec”.

    You also said “If the vast majority are against it, how can Mr Johnson ignore this?” – that’ll be because children need (and have a right to) education, regardless of how many self-centred people like yourself think that their own house prices are all that matter in the world.

    Whether or not children get an education is not an issue to which majority voting applies – it’s a human rights issue.

    You cannot vote away someone else’s rights.

    Dundonald Lib Dems:

    You said “8 people responded positively to the planning application and I think over 400 against, largely on grounds that it breached planning rules.” – that’ll be because:

    1) The Council has a legal (and, I believe, moral) obligation to provide school places,

    2) It’s untrue that the plans are in breach of planning rules. Again, please stop scare-mongering. These kind of untruths make you look really dishonest.

    As a long-time Lib Dem voter I am totally appalled that local Lib Dems are favouring wealthy property owners – who we all know want to prop up the Dundonald area artificial price bubble – over education. The environmental argument is very very thin, as anyone who has read the environmental assessments of the project (the ACTUAL project, not the scare-mongering “Save Our Rec” version – can tell you).

    In the 2012/2013 academic year, for 8 children in the ‘SW19 3’ postcode area, their closest school place was Liberty school in Mitcham (2.5km away).

    Source – info released under FOIA by Merton Council:

    What would you propose that the parents of those children do?

    Do you have any answer to the question of where local families should send their children to school – except for more malicious lies and scaremongering?

    Did you get an education? If so then why do you think that the current generation does not deserve one?

    • Dear Mr Smith, we have a policy of not replying to anonymous comments as these tend to only come from political opponents. It is the case that the email address you’ve supplied doesn’t appear to exist. However, you raise a number of important points that we believe need challenging:

      1. Merton Council has chosen to trade off one asset (some public open space on the Rec) for another (30 extra school places at a particular school). We don’t believe this is a sensible way of resolving the issue of the school places shortage.
      2. Even if you ignore the loss of public open space, the new school would be much more cramped – the number of children would have doubled, but the floor space only increased by 35%. A more cramped school does not make for a good learning environment, and in due course, we might expect Merton to wish to take more of the Rec to make the school less cramped.
      3. We would seek to put public open space into trust, so that the community and users would have control of the land, and the Council would have to negotiate, it can’t just take.
      4. You ask what should be done about school places? Well Merton could build a new school; there was a recent report into several possible sites – but the Council lacks the political will to make that happen because the Labour party don’t want to.

      You are of course entitled to your views on why a great many residents object to building on some of the Rec, but categorising all opposition as about house prices looks mean-spirited, especially given you are so keen to accuse others of self-righteousness, “malicious lies and scaremongering”. People on both sides of the debate deserve respect and a fair hearing.

      This is an emotive issue, and a difficult one. But simply, there are other options and we don’t feel the Council are making the right decision.

  11. Anonymous says:

    PS – your claim that the expansion plan is illegal remains untrue.

    • We have made no claim that the expansion plan is illegal. We argued in comments to the planning application committee that we did not feel the application was in line with planning rules. PS you have left another comment (which we have not published) about why you remain anonymous. I would suggest that to continue this debate you email us on [email protected]

  12. John Smith says:


    You claim “At the centre of the decision will be some sort of financial gain/benefit.”

    Corruption is a big accusation. Who specifically at Merton Council are you accusing?

    If there is evidence for it, you should go to the police.

    If (as I suspect) you have no evidence and you’re just making things up, then you should be ashamed for inventing malicious slurs against innocent people.

    Dundonald Lib Dems:

    You said “We have made no claim that the expansion plan is illegal.”

    But you claimed: “it [the planning application] breached planning rules.” Short memory?

    You have no complaint when your blog is used for malicious smears such as the nasty insinuation of corruption I’ve quoted above, but you contrive to become offended when they are pointed out to you. Clearly your idea of “respect and a fair hearing” is one-sided. Where is your integrity?

    You are siding with wealth over social justice. Where is your social conscience? Doesn’t it apply to matters which could affect your own property/wealth?

    • The full extract you are quoting is “over 400 [comments] against, largely on grounds that it breached planning rules”. This is a factual statement. The vast majority of the people who commented on the planning application did argue that it breached planning rules. The planning applications committee felt it did not. There are now, however, legal proceedings which will settle the matter.

      I think it’s unfair to say I’ve “contrived to become offended”; wasn’t sure whether you’d want your comments to be published and didn’t want to have to deal with any potential defamation actions given the very specific issues raised. The extract from Beth you quote above is very general, but perhaps you are right and we should have taken a firmer line on that bit too. We are quite keen to debate the issues, as hopefully shown by our general willingness to publish your comments and respond to them, despite not normally doing so for anonymous ones.

      Lastly, you seem very keen to assume people’s motivations for their views, which saddens me. I would like to discuss this in person, or via email, and I would be interested in hearing more about your other comments (which are very serious, and do not deserve to happen to anyone). You can email us directly, and I would urge you to: [email protected]

  13. J Smith says:

    Well, thank you for your sympathy re the issue which has led to the need for anonymity here. I agree it’s probably best not to discuss it in too much detail.

    You intended to say, “many people *falsely claimed* that the school expansion plan breached planning rules”? That’s not what you actually said. Since this complaint was factually incorrect, I think it’s pretty clear that the Council was right to discount it – you seemed to be saying that the Council should have paid some attention to it.

    Re your complaint about how “assuming motivations saddens you” – this is a double standard. I don’t hear you speaking out about how saddened you are by the “Save Our Rec” propaganda (e.g. the false claims above).

    I’d be very very happy to debate the issues. Please, lets. I’m really very tired of ad hominem attacks and scare-mongering from the “Save Our Rec” crew, and would much prefer to debate the underlying issues.

    I’m tired of hearing that there is no shortage of school places (false), or that the shortage of school places is in a different part of the borough (false), or that the Council has a secret plan to build flats on the whole of the Rec (false), or that the expansion plan is illegal (false), or that the Council is corrupt (false), or a bunch of other false rumours spread by opponents to this scheme, including a particularly nasty and personal one about school staff which I’m not going to repeat here because I don’t want to give it publicity.

    How can you justify holding me to a spotless standard of discourse when the “Save Our Rec” people are muck-raking and smearing for all they’re worth? When they’re out occupying the tennis courts multiple times a week, preventing the school-children from taking PE lessons?

    So – issues:

    – No major impact on the Rec. Same amount of open space (except by the “Save Our Rec” definition of open space which counts the pavilion building as not being a building). No loss of historic trees.

    – Big improvements to pavilion and changing facilities.
    – An extra tennis court on the MUGA.
    – Public access hours to the MUGA during school time the same as they are now (the school has used the MUGA for sports for many, many, many years – children are part of the local community and are entitled to use leisure facilities for some of the time – it’s no different from the use of the Latimer Road swimming pool for school swimming lessons).

    – No need for the Council to spend millions on a central Wimbledon site, leading to cuts in other areas of spending (if you favour the purchase of a different site, where would you make the cuts?)

    – The plan is legal, unless/until the judicial review declares otherwise. (Anyone can apply for judicial review on any issue of public policy – that this issue has had one filed makes no difference to its legality unless/until the case is accepted and the judge decides against the council).

    – Goes towards finding some of the extra school places which are so *desperately* needed.
    – Expand a hugely popular very high-quality school instead of starting a new one which would need to establish itself (or possibly ‘as well as’ starting a new one – new schools may be needed in addition to the expansion plan).

    Main problems as I see them:

    – Completed school needs more playground space. But it’s proving blood-out-of-a-stone territory to get this much space for the school, so how much harder would it be to get more space? Still, I agree that aspect is not ideal.

    – Some residents keen to prevent school expansion “in their backyard” by using every dirty trick, false rumour and accusation, smear, and vexatious complaint and lawsuit in the book.

    Main benefit as I see it:

    – Millions of pounds cheaper than purchasing an alternative site = good use of taxpayers’ money.

    That said, new schools are good too, and a new school build would be fine with me, if the money could be found.

    When you say “Merton could build a new school”, that’s not an alternative plan, it’s just an abrogation of responsibility. Which site (feel free to refer to the list of possible alternative sites on Merton’s website) and how would you fund the purchase of the property?

    What is NOT fine with me is sticking to the same number of school places when there are more children!

    You haven’t answered my key question: in the absence of expansion, what would you advise parents whose nearest school place is in Mitcham to DO?

  14. J Smith says:

    is the list of possible alternative sites.

    The only site in Dundonald ward (right here is where we have the shortage of school places, so other places don’t help as much) is the railway signalling centre on Dundunald Road – this is in private ownership, which leads to 2 problems:

    1) it would need to be compulsorily purchased: slow legal process, might be stymied by the public benefit of not interrupting the use of the signalling centre (which controls trains from Waterloo to Weymouth, I believe, so lord-knows-how-many-people-but-it’s-a-lot depend on it every day).

    2) Council would have to pay market value for it. Where do you get the money?

  15. Hi there, thanks for your comments as always. I thought it might actually make sense to answer most of your points in a new blog post on the website, rather than in the comments section of a post from Jan 2013. So, if it’s okay we’ll draft something in response to your questions and post it in the main section over the next couple of days.

    I do want to come back here on the planning rules issue. Like much law, it is often arguable whether given the facts, the planning rules are breached. And it is open, indeed encouraged, for the public to have their say on this, and these views are supposed to be taken into account. Therefore I will not criticise people for arguing that a particular application breaches planning rules. This is what happened. Hundreds of people made comments about the expansion, most of them arguing that the expansion would be in breach of planning rules. Council planning officers make recommendations on whether an application meets the rules, and the planning applications committee makes an initial decision on the application.

    We know that judicial review of the decisions is in progress. In general, the weakest claims don’t tend to proceed, as they’re (a) based on a lawyer’s assessment of how sensible it is to make the claim and (b) very expensive, especially if you lose. The Court also tends to sift out the least arguable cases at the ‘standing’ stage. So we’ll see; obviously this will make a big difference. If a Court finds the application unlawful, Merton needs to have another plan.

    In terms of the 8 families with SW19 3 postcodes who did not get one of their top 6 school choices in 2012. This postcode covers most of Merton Park ward too, from the railway line all the way down towards the mosque/London Road. We don’t know where these 8 families were, nor how many of them wanted Dundonald as a top six choice, so expansion may not have helped those people at all. I would be interested to know what they *did* do, if their children went to a Mitcham school.

    I too have heard it alleged that someone is going round saying that the Council has a secret plan to build flats on the whole of the Rec – and you are right, this is completely untrue. If this person is doing this (and I have not heard them say it, but you are not the first person to tell me it is happening) then it is completely unacceptable and a lie.

  16. John Smith says:

    Hi again,

    I can’t agree with you about the planning rules issue. Laws are set by parliament (legislation) and the courts (case law), not by collecting signatures.

    If 400 people claim that shoplifting is legal, that doesn’t make it legal; if 400 people claim that suet pudding is illegal, that doesn’t make it illegal. The planning laws are no different.

    It’s accurate to say that many people raised this issue, but it’s not accurate to say that they were correct in thinking that the school expansion was illegal. They were repeating misinformation which was fed to them by the “Save Our Rec” campaign.

    The numbers are a little misleading here, because many of the people signing the petition and writing to the council were really expressing their opposition to the ‘straw man’ version of the school expansion, as described in the “Save Our Rec” newsletter and at other times such as collecting signatures for their petition: i.e. the fictional version of the redevelopment that gave the Council the power to build on the whole Rec, was illegal, shut out the public from the MUGA 24/7, paved over the rose garden, provided school places that weren’t really needed, etc etc. Pure fiction. If that were the actual plan then *I’d* be opposed to it too!

    Re SW19 3: you have a point. If you can find a way to get better data about Dundonald Ward specifically then I’m all ears (figuratively speaking).

    Re everything else: OK, I’ll wait for the blog post. 🙂 I agree entirely with your para about Judicial Review.


    Thank you for getting back to me on this; I’m sorry I was so snappy earlier in our discussion. It feels as though those of us in favour of expansion are really being targeted here – from our point of view, it feels like being the target of a hate campaign. I’m sure that’s not the motivation of everyone involved – but that’s the way it feels, and it does tend to breed defensiveness.

    Also thanks for condemning the “council plans to build on the whole rec” untruth.

    (Key question still stands: in the absence of expansion, what would you advise parents whose nearest school place is in Mitcham to DO?)

  17. John Smith says:

    I’ve found some useful data, this map:

    It shows on the catchment areas for local primary schools.

    The areas outside one of the shapes shown have no primary school places closer than a couple of always-undersubscribed schools in Mitcham (e.g. Liberty school).

    (The map is showing incorrect data for Poplar school, I believe – I’ve been ignoring that circle – correct me if I’m wrong).

    So the areas within Dundonald ward with no primary school places closer than Mitcham are:

    – the eastern area where I’ve placed the ‘house’ marker (Kingswood Road, Mayfield Rd, Sherwood Rd, bottom of Fairlawn Rd) and the area to the east of the tram line but west of the Pelham catchment area (e.g. Graham Rd, Beulah Crescent, Hartfield Crescent, Herbert Rd, top half of Hartfield Rd)

    – the western “12 apostles” area of Raynes Park, Bronson Rd through Gore Rd.

    I’ve taken a quick screenshot as there’s a lot of different data filtering options, to make sure that you can see what I’m seeing – here’s the image:

    The Dundonald catchment area is the very small blue circle that covers the top-right-hand corner of the Rec, the 4 roads immediately opposite the school, the top half of Fairlawn Rd and the right-hand half of Dundonald Rd.

    (The Wimbledon Chase APA (admissions priority area) doesn’t help the roads in the east of the ward, because the Chase is already full from other homes also within the APA but closer to the school).

  18. J Smith says:

    … or possibly the data for Poplar is correct, and Poplar took a bulge year. That would explain where the Council put the otherwise-unplaced children in September 2013. I’ll check…

    Ah, here it is, they’ve made Poplar 3-form-of-entry (90 children/year) but with an admisions priority zone that cuts off at Kingston Rd, so Dundonald ward is outside it.

    It would be rather a walk for a 4-year-old from central Wimbledon to Poplar in Morden, anyway!





  19. Thanks for the comments above – really useful. We hope to get the blog post up in the next couple of days 🙂

    Just on the covenant, technically Merton did modify it so that there is now an exception for education [edit: over an area of the land, see para 13 http://www.merton.gov.uk/council/getinvolved/schoolsconsultations/statement_of_case.pdf%5D. Obviously any future proposal to build on the Rec would also be subject to a planning application (and possibly a reference to the Mayor too) and an appropriation to use the land for educational purposes.

  20. J Smith says:

    No probs. Re the covenant: yes, that’s my understanding too. I’ll just check…

    OK, I’ve just checked and actually that’s not completely correct.

    The modification to the covenant *only* applies to a very small area – it’s the area coloured green on the plan on the final page of this document, named “Proposed Modification of Covenant”:

    (It’s confined to the area of the new school/pavilion building).

    So if the Council, in the future, wanted to do something not permitted by the covenant, outside the footprint of the current project, then they’d have to start at the beginning and modify the covenant again (and also do everything else again as per the planning process, as you correctly say).

    Of course, no-one has located any party who has standing under the covenant anyway.

    Other sources:





    Incidentally, on the topic of misinformation, you might be interested to know that the BBC news report on the Dundonald school expansion (from back in 2012) was found by the BBC Trust to have been misleading (“not achieved due accuracy” is the term they use in their decision).

    More info here:
    and here:
    (pp 54-58)

  21. Indeed, it looks like you’re right – a misreading of para 13 of http://www.merton.gov.uk/council/getinvolved/schoolsconsultations/statement_of_case.pdf – apologies. I’ve edited my original reference to this.

    Yes, the BBC news report was misleading because the headline and intro did not relate to the story itself. I’m not sure that was really about misinformation, more likely (dare I say it) poor journalism? A differently introduced/headlined piece would have been fine (or that’s my understanding of the complaint anyhow).

  22. Sorry for the slight delay in our post on this, a draft is almost finalised and will be posted shortly, hopefully over the weekend.

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