Merton Abbey Mills update November 2001

A visit to the site of the excavations at Merton Abbey on a rainy Sunday afternoon at the end of September illustrates the problems the planning authorities will have, should any residential development proceed at this site. With approximately 1/3rd of the car park sealed off for the beginning of the Museum Agency's excavations, the Savacentre car park, Tandem centre car park and the Christchurch Road car park all sufficiently full that cars were cruising looking for spaces, over 300 cars in the Merton Abbey Mills car park, and gridlock on the adjoining roads, what on earth will it be like if development proceeds?

The current proposals would increase weekend, rather than weekday, traffic here - just the period when it is most congested.

Let us hope that, on the planning side, the definition of the word ‘sustainable' can be redefined to include its ordinary meaning - that is that the development for which permission can be given will not include the seeds of its own, or others', destruction. As ratepayers none of us will want to be picking up the tabs for the downward spiral which will otherwise result, not just in the indirect costs which will arise from the traffic congestion, but the ongoing direct social services and policing costs as these properties slide into slum conditions, an island site impenetrable to the maintenance and cleaning services, let alone to the emergency ones.

On the historical side, the excavations are concentrating on those areas which were not covered by the 1992 excavation, with the notable exception of the areas around the electricity pylon (presumably, because little building work is proposed there) and the William Morris car park (where our own interests lie).

Let us hope that, this time, the blunder which allowed the west end of the Priory church to be destroyed by the Savacentre petrol station, without any prior excavation, will not be repeated, and the still unexcavated sections of this site excluded from any ‘signing off'.

Since September, there have been two open days at the site, which has calmed many concerns. Dave Saxby, the supervising historian, has clearly taken on board many, if not all, of the issues that concern us, and the discoveries are exciting. In particular, the abbots dining hall has been revealed, with the monastery kitchens, on the eastern end, a substantial 17th century mill, overlying a much earlier structure has appeared alongside Bunce's Ditch to the South, and just north of that another substantial building has emerged.

We now await the move into the William Morris pub car park, where the Liberty ancillary buildings and ‘lagoon' (see article below) should emerge, with a distinct possibility of a substantial medieval mill as well.

On the planning side, a meeting is to be held on 20 November in the Long Shop for Countryside Properties to present their revised scheme for the car park site. Word is that this is to be a mixed residential/work development of buildings designed and laid out to be in keeping with the existing Liberty site, a huge leap forward and a credit to both sides of the dispute.

The main 2CW site is still in limbo, although the outline permission stands there is much talking to be done between the interested authorities, with a significant chance that English Heritage may yet require a detailed excavation of the whole site. If they do, development gets put back significantly, but can proceed freely when completed. If not, then any development must avoid damage to the unexcavated portions of the site, severely constricting the building/foundations possible.

NB. We understand that a new Saturday Antique and collectors market is to be instituted from 24th November in the Showhouse car park. Good luck to this further enhancement of what is already a great site.

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