The St Margarets Community Website has recieved a copy of an Objection Letter to the Council from the St Margarets Association of Residents for the proposed children’s soft play area in the St Margarets Business Centre that we reported about earlier. In an effort to provide a balanced discussion of this issue we have decided to publish it here, followed by a reply from the principle of the proposed site’s agent.
6 March 2006
Re: Proposed Indoor Play Facility, Unit 2, St Margarets Business Centre, Drummond Place [Ref no: 06 / 0303 / COU]
Dear Mr Bhoola
I write on behalf of the Association with regard to your application to change the terms of Unit 2’s use from B1 to D2. We note that you wish to create an indoor play area suitable for children up to the age of 10; a cafeteria where parents can enjoy refreshments while their children play; private rooms for children’s parties; and parking for six vehicles.
While the principle of having a children’s facility in the heart of the ‘village’ is appealing to all of us,
we contend that the location is not fit for the purpose, and that you may not be aware of just how unsuitable it is, despite the survey carried out by Andrew Rogers:
St Margarets Business Centre is designated for light industrial usage only (B1).
Adjacent tenants unsuitable
The current mix of tenants includes Mears Building Contractors next door in Unit 3, and Powerhouse Engineering in Unit 6:
- Powerhouse Engineering’s claim to B1 status is dubious, given that their business involves cutting and welding steel beams: in summer, this is carried out on the forecourt outside their unit, where beams are sprayed with anti-corrosive substances and paint. The Association has had occasion to protest against this in the past (cf correspondence of 21 March 2005 to Cllr Tony Arbour). Not an environment in which to locate children.
- Mears is a construction company with a fleet of 40-odd vans that drive in and out of both entrances to the centre to and from its maintenance and renovation sites (some 8,500 of them) around the borough. This unit has a large skip parked alongside its refuse enclosure, situated on the forecourt between Unit 2 and 3, which frequently overflows with building detritus. Again, an unsuitable adjacency for a child-focused business.
Most importantly, the business centre is governed by Condition 56, which holds that no work can be done outside the hours of 8am-6pm from Mon-Fri, and 8am-1pm on Saturdays. Please note that no work is permitted on Saturdays after 1pm, or at all on Sundays. Condition 56 was previously subject to a High Court action at which it was ruled that no relaxation of its terms would be allowed. This Condition was further reinforced by Inspector Hoare at the Mears vs Richmond upon Thames Appeal, which took place on 2 and 29 September, and 2 October 2003. For this reason, use of the premises would not be possible for the purpose of private children’s parties outside the permitted working hours.
Although you are hopeful that the facility would attract local St Margarets families who would arrive on foot, and others who would come by bus or by train, the reality is that there would inevitably be an influx of cars. In bad weather or in winter, people simply take the easiest means of transport. And yet there is already a parking crisis in St Margarets of such monumental proportions that it has become a point of vexation for local residents, and is currently the subject of a fact-gathering exercise with a view to imposing a solution.
At certain times of the day, the Mears fleet not only fills the business centre, it overflows it, and vans spill out on to the street, taking whatever spaces they can find. The other units, often irritated by the congestion caused by Mears, also need to park their vehicles. To add to these woes, the indoor play facility is set to employ 4 full-time and 8-10 part-time staff, and yet there will be parking space for only six cars. With a potential 200 children at peak times, turning over every two hours, the situation would swiftly become untenable for everyone concerned.
Andrew Rogers’ report states: ‘It has already been shown that this will have minimal impact on nearby residents. There will be no appreciable effect on local traffic due to the location of the proposal within a small business park that has existing quite extensive parking and off-loading areas’. He goes on to say that ‘extra visitor parking is available in Winchester Road and alongside the railway line’. We are dumbfounded by this statement and conclude that he cannot possibly have observed the day-to-day reality that confronts residents and tenants alike. Very sadly for everyone, in particular the beleaguered residents, St Margarets Business Centre is not the rare find you think it to be.
Regrettably, in this context of its obvious unsuitability for a children’s facility, the residents have no option but to urge the Council to reject the application, or risk deepening the logistical problems that we already have to endure.