In the 1950’s Richmond Green which borders the North bank of the River Wandle saw its first piece of development. Historically the site of a large mill pond to the eastern end and watercress beds to the west, it was “made up” ground and the then local authority introduced brick-built council houses and 28 old peoples’ bungalows in brick-built blocks. In the 1970’s there was an infill behind the bungalows of houses and flats for owner occupation and designed in a tiered effect with three storey flats at the rear two storey houses leading down to the bungalows fronting the river.
In 2007, Richmond Green was flooded and a block of the old peoples’ bungalows at the eastern end of the development was rendered uninhabitable. A professional survey was conducted identifying the nature of the subsoil and the highwater level of the flood plain. A second survey was commissioned and published in February 2012 which identified 10 of the bungalows needing high levels of remedial work with the balance of medium levels of refurbishment and some that could be taken care of in the normal run of maintenance. The estimated cost of this which included upgrading to modern standards was quoted at £2.5 million.
The Housing Economic and Business Committee chose to ignore these reports and rather relied on the HRA Business Report that stated that the bungalows were dangerous, in imminent danger of collapse and that residents should be rehoused. After rejecting three separate petitions, Ruth Dombey, in correspondence with myself admitted that the information that prompted the HRA Business Report came from an unpublished regular audit inspection report by the Sutton Housing Partnership. A third survey was conducted by a professional was commissioned by Independent local Councillor Nick Mattey which reaffirmed the soundness of the buildings but no notice was taken.
The London Borough of Sutton then applied to the London Borough of Sutton for planning permission to build 21 “wholly affordable homes” on the site after demolishing what were sound bungalows. In spite of applying with the wrong application form and with flawed flood plans, traffic plans and other reports, unsurprisingly, permission was granted with some 35 conditions attached. When pointed out that four of these will be built within 20 metres of existing properties – this became a “guideline” and those existing properties now lie in the shadow of three storey housing.
I continued to correspond with Ruth Dombey and her Chief Executive Niall Bolger which elicited a threatening letter from their legal representatives – the London Borough of Merton’s legal department. With typical efficiency, the letter was not printed on properly addressed headed paper but this was not the only legal intervention in this case.
I took the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman laying out everything that was in the public domain and the undeniable fact that the application had been submitted on the wrong documentation, a fact presented to the Planning Committee in the presence of legal representatives.
After interminable delay, the Ombudsman responded with the London Borough of Sutton’s defence which included a legal opinion that the London Borough of Sutton forbade the Ombudsman to share with me.
Ultimately, the Ombudsman put great weight behind this legal opinion and found for the London Borough of Sutton and in spite of Freedom of Information requests to the Ombudsman and the London Borough of Sutton, I have no idea what that “opinion” consisted of.
So a project mired in hidden reports and supported by hidden legal opinions progresses – those 35 conditions we see a number of those continually and habitually ignored by the contractors and Suttons Planning Officers.
Consider – the report of March 2012 spoke of the imminent collapse of the bungalows – they were demolished with great effort in the middle of 2017. The bungalows themselves – many judged habitable were empty for nearly 5 years as the homeless numbers in Sutton escalated. What was a peaceful community has been ripped apart, the fabric from roadways to verges destroyed and not a building has yet been constructed.
Oh, and the cost – another Freedom of Information request elicited a build cost of just over £7 million and during the build process a further £500,000 costs have been incurred as a major electricity cable was cut through as well as two water pipes.
Affordable homes, I think not – 28 bungalows rented out for 60 years destroyed for political gain!