Church Takeover Of South Wimbledon Community Centre To Go Ahead

Proposed scheme involves demolishing part of historic Merton Hall

Controversial plans to transform the historic Merton Hall in South Wimbledon, involve demolishing part of the building, have been approved by councillors.

Merton Council wants to make the changes to enable the existing Elim Church in High Path to move into the community centre building in Kingston Road.

This would then enable the new Harris Wimbledon Academy - a mixed ability free school - to be built on the High Path estate.

Plans submitted to the council's own planning committee earlier this year were rejected after objections from organisations including The Wimbledon Society, the Victorian Society and the John Innes Society.

Councillors then felt felt the design was not in keeping with the current building, nor the neighbouring Merton Manor Club, which is now up for sale.

But updated plans for two-storey Merton Hall, which was built in 1899 and is on Merton Council's list of buildings of historical or architectural interest, have been given the thumbs up at a recent Merton Council planning committee.

The application states that the Elim Church needs a hall to cater for a congregation which it says can include 225 people on Sundays.

The scheme would include five car parking spaces, including one disabled bay. A report presented to councillors said there were enough parking space in the area to cope with the anticipated 70 extra vehicles arriving for services.

The design proposed (below) increases the size of the front elevation, with glazing features that will allow the original building to be seen through the glass.

It also includes a cafe, foyer and meeting halls, but the extension at the right-hand side has been amended since the first planning application was rejected in April.

Councillors have been told that 11 of the 12 community groups which use the centre have already moved to another venue, or have agreed to move elsewhere.

Wimbledon Foodbank, which uses the High Path building, would get its own storage area in the new premises. It would be used by another church group called 'Cathedral of Hope', the public would be welcome to use the cafe and there would also be a nursery.

The meeting was told that 351 letters objecting to the scheme had been received, with just eight in favour.

A petition opposing the scheme set up at Save Merton Hall petition attracted more than 3,000 signatures, while a petition in favour received 275 signatures.

Councillors have given the thumbs up to the scheme despite an application to Historic England to add the building to its statutory list for protection.

Peter Walker, Labour party secretary in Dundonald & Merton Park, said afterwards: "The decision by the Planning Committee of Merton Council to give Merton Hall away to the Elim Pentecostal Church is a betrayal of the community in South Wimbledon who have used this hall for over 100 years.

"The Hall was given over for community use by John Innes the local philanthropist who created Merton Park at the end of the 19th century.

"What makes this decision worse is that Merton own large tracts of land in Mitcham which is zoned for educational purposes and would meet the demand for school places in Mitcham where they are needed.  Most of the secondary aged children in Merton live in Mitcham and yet only three of Merton’s eight secondary schools are sited there with the other five in Wimbledon."

New design of the front of Merton Hall

New design of the back of Merton Hall

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September 28, 2017

Related links
Related Links

Merton Hall as it is now

Artist's impression of new design

The rejected first scheme