Merton abbey mills plans published

The plans and a model for the new Merton Abbey Mills development have now been made available. Looking at them it is clear that this will be the end of the Merton Abbey Mills market as we have known it and loved it for the last 10 years, and the 500,000 visitors it attracts to this part of the borough annually. There will be no room even for the popular weekly car boot sale..
A Glimpse of the Past

From an article by David Lovibond in the property section of The Times, 10 January 2001

The Domesday Book records mills in hamlets on even the meanest streams: "The miller was second only to the lord of the manor in local importance," says Mildred Cookson of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. "The heyday for water mills was 1750 to 1850. They then declined rapidly with the advent of steam power and dockside milling of imported grain."

In 1900 there were 10,000 water and windmills in Britain, but, by 1920, only 200 working mills were left. "In the 1950s, attracted by their size and beautiful position, people began to convert old mills into houses. Today their are28 working water mills, with another 420 still having some form of machinery and the potential for restoration." she says.

About 95 per cent of mills are listed' mostly Grade II, by English Heritage: "Watermills are important for the stories they tell of local life and the local economy,"says John Yates, English Heritage's expert on mills. "If a building still has its mill gear it is vital that it remains intact."

Substantially the whole site, including the special car-park beyond the William Morris pub, will be developed, and the only access will be the existing entry road from the roundabout.

The tunnel from the Savacentre car-park will have be closed off for the period of the development, so there will be too little access for the market to operate at all. Once completed, there will be too little parking to bring back the crowds.

This is a great shame, but we may have to accept that commercial reality has only been delayed, and is now producing an inevitable result. We must hope that the planning committee at Merton will do its best to preserve the historic Liberty buildings and provide some protection that would ensure they can have a commercial life of their own into the future. The new residential and commercial activities that will occupy the site into the 21st century may well bring their own economic needs that Merton Abbey Mills may serve.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the existing occupiers of these buildings will be able to survive there during the redevelopment period and it may only be possible with the help of planning conditions in the later stages of the application.

So far as the Wandle Industrial Museum is concerned we must worry about the future of these historic industrial buildings themselves and the protection of the Wandle itself. The size of the residential buildings proposed for the William Morris car park and the new footbridge/cycle track bridge are, therefore, a cause for concern. There are some exciting possibilities too. As a sop to the community the developers have made provision for a Heritage Centre adjoining the Chapter House. If not enough attention is paid to this, it will die like the Dome - a building with no function. However, if community based projects are targeted, and properly funded, this could have a real future, and provide a real plus for all of us. Creative design could bring a much needed focus providing community centre, heritage centre, library and post office, bringing in the community, and preventing this development from becoming dangerously isolated.

More worryingly, taking the site as a whole, it does not seem that enough attention has been given to transport issues. Merantun Way is already a busy road and with new day-long and week-long commercial activity on the site (the permanent Merton Abbey Mills businesses attract approximately only five per cent of their weekly business for the five working days of each week and so the overwhelming bulk of their business, and all the market traffic comes at weekends when the commercial activity elsewhere is slack) and with the effective closing off of pedestrian access from Savacentre also creating additional traffic movements, there would appear to be a recipe for traffic chaos and certainly the visitors to the site from outside the borough will no longer bother to come.

It is all a long cry from 1983, when the GLC was going to buy the whole site for us, and a thriving visitor market and heritage site would have been assured into the future. All problems bring opportunity, however, and we must be alert for it here.

The Wandle Industrial Museum would like to point out that the views of contributors to this newsletter are not necessarily the views of the Museum. We would be happy to give the right to reply to anyone who finds the content contentious.

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