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Future Merton

T&L hears from Paul McGarry, Head of FutureMerton, who reveals the latest on the council’s strategy for the development of Wimbledon town centre.

Following workshops with residents, as a way of creatively engaging local people, Merton Council is now preparing a masterplan to illustrate a vision for the future of Wimbledon town centre. The masterplan will guide planning, development and investment decisions in Wimbledon town centre for the next 15 years.

Interest in the future of the town centre is high; the council’s recent masterplan workshops attracted more than 300 participants, created 94 maps and provided more than 1,200 comments. It was important to work with the local community early on, to hear issues and ideas before starting the masterplan. This isn’t just a document; it’s a process and a journey with residents and businesses. Furthermore, we are designing the proposals in 3D using sketch-up. We already have a 3D computer model of Wimbledon, which has the potential to be uploaded into virtual reality (VR) software. The VR will be a useful tool as part of the later stages of consultation once the plans firm up.

The council aims to report back on the workshops soon and publish the draft masterplan this autumn. This is a clear signal for investors that Merton Council is determined to get things moving and ensure the right scale and quality of development. We want to unpick what ‘good growth’ looks like for Wimbledon, recognising our role as part of a global city.

The top ten ideas generated by the workshops have already been published. Priorities include green space, high-quality architecture, with a preference for mid-rise buildings, no towers and a desire for public and cultural space. The list also includes encouraging a better-quality shopping offer – with more independent retailers – as well as addressing traffic dominance in the town. World-class station design includes ideas for developing over the tracks to accommodate growth into the 2030s.

Uncertainty about the Crossrail 2 timescale and how it fits into Wimbledon hasn’t been helpful. But the Council has a key role as strategic planning authority and we’ll be setting out our proposals for how Crossrail 2 can provide long-term benefits to the town without destroying the vibrancy and character of Wimbledon.

The council’s FutureMerton team is creating the masterplan in-house in a collaboration between the urban design, highways and economic development teams, in order to make the process faster and more meaningful to residents and businesses. Our team understands Wimbledon’s DNA and its communities and businesses. A lot of businesses want to come into Wimbledon but can’t find the space, while many existing businesses need the space to grow. We have very low vacancy rates and few new units. Essentially, Wimbledon is full-up, so we need to create capacity and an opportunity for growth to maintain Wimbledon’s competitiveness. The masterplan really is about managing growth in a sensible, co-ordinated way.

A number of unloved 1970s buildings in the town centre are nearing the end of their useful life and offer the perfect opportunity for creating more space and better design. Good growth can be achieved by occupying more of the site and adding floors, although it’s clear that a mid-rise approach to urbanism is the council’s aim.

While we welcome investment, it needs to be the right quality and there have already been a few schemes, approved by appeal, that don’t reflect Wimbledon’s aspirations at all. Developers who look to build in Wimbledon must demonstrate a commitment to quality and design, therefore the masterplan must illustrate our ambitions going forward.

More importantly with urban design, it is about how the place works and functions, as well as how buildings interact with the street and provide animation. Activity interest and variety in the public realm is key to creating successful places and human-scale experiences. The future of Wimbledon will be as much about the streets and spaces for people to enjoy as well it will be about the architecture.

For more details visit www.merton.gov.uk/futurewimbledon

Future MertonPaul McGarry