Having survived World War I Zeppelin raids and the Blitz of WWII, the battle to save Merton Hall from partial demolition has regained momentum this week after a councillor spoke out again in an attempt to stall the plans.
In a letter addressed to the head of planning at Merton Council on November 9, Village ward councillor and Conservative spokesman for planning and regeneration Najeeb Latif, called for a temporary building preservation notice to be served.
Plans to partly demolish the locally listed building which include a freehold swap with Elim Pentecostal Church were approved by the planning applications committee on September 21 but cogent objections continue to emerge.
Cllr Latif said: “The public outcry at Merton Council’s controversial plan to knock down the majority of the hall so as to relocate the Elim Church shows just how much it is valued by the local community in South Wimbledon.
“I very much hope the application submitted by residents, working together with Stephen Hammond MP and myself, will be successful and that Historic England will confer listed building status on the whole of Merton Hall.
“In the meantime, I want to ensure that no development commences there until the application for listing has been determined.”
Reasons behind councillor Latif’s request include a pending Historic England application to make Merton Hall a statutory listed building, a second application for the hall to become an Asset of Community Value and its historical interest both locally and nationally.
Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon, supported the appeal.
He said: “I think Cllr Latif was right to try and seek a postponement of any building and there is a huge amount of local opposition to the plans.
“It would be a very disappointing step to start knocking the building down whilst the listing application process is there because it is clear that is not yet finalised.
“The council are taking away an asset of community value and how they are going to replace that out of community value is again uncertain and I think people are worried about that understandably.”
If plans proceed, the façade of Merton Hall will remain while the majority of the building will be altered, refurbished and extended to create a worship hall with foyer, café, nursery and meeting rooms which will be used by the church.
Staff and parents at neighbouring Pelham Primary School have expressed their concerns of the plans regarding child road safety over fears the design will bring the building closer to the roadside, narrowing the pavement of what is already a congested crossing during the school run.
Another objection attracting attention is 38 Degrees campaign group Save Wimbledon’s Merton Hall, an online petition which has grown from 10 signatures to 3,715 of a required 4,000 in the last three months.
Although Merton Hall is not currently nationally listed nor within a conservation area, the group argue its historical and architectural significance as one of two remaining buildings designed by philanthropist John Innes.
A group spokesperson said: “The hall is a well-proportioned, balanced and carefully designed public building which does not deserve to be decimated and crushed.
“Getting rid of Merton Hall is a diminution of John Innes’ legacy.
“He gave enormously to the area and his legacy should be respected and protected.”
Mr Latif has not yet received a response regarding the suggested Building Preservation Notice.
If made a statutory listed building, the approved plans will need to be re-evaluated and, although demolition would remain a possibility, greater restrictions may apply.