FofPc question Electoral Reform Services as to whether election process has been prejudiced
Friends of Putney Common (FofPC) & local residents have written to the Electoral Reform Society and the Wimbledon and Putney Common Conservators to question the decision of Sir Ian Andrews the Returning Officer, a serving Conservator for the last six years, to approve the release of a highly contentious press statement during the current election.
The residents consider that the press release is both misleading and highly subjective, representing the views of current Conservators, and presenting these views as a matter of record. The content of the statement defends the role of the current Conservators over the fiasco at Putney Hospital.
FofPC believes the action of Officials of the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators to release the statement during the election may have prejudiced the outcome of what is the most contentious election for many years.
The role of the Returning Officer in an election is to manage effectively the electoral process. It is not to show obvious support for candidates by the approval of the release of a misleading statement, which only seeks to defend the current Conservators decisions and governance.
FofPC has issued a full statement clarifying the ambiguous claims made by the Conservators, which can be downloaded from www.friendsofputneycommon.org
The Statement from FofPC relates to the information issued by Wimbledon and Putney Conservators with the title “Former Putney Hospital Site and the Spencer Public House FAQ” on the 11 February 2015.
(the first para is the Conservators “fact”. The text in blue italics is FofPC’s view of the “fact”)
1) No land forming part of Putney Lower Common is being sold to allow this derelict site to be
The building was not derelict until 2012/13. No land has been sold, but equivalent rights have been granted against the spirit of the 1871 Act.
2) Approximately 0.4ha of land that formed roads and facilities to serve the old hospital will be
returned to open meadow and trees and will be available for the public to access.
This could have been done in 1999 when the hospital was closed; instead some 5,000 sq m of common has been enclosed by a hoarding.
3) An additional area of new Common land at the northern end of the former hospital site was
given over the Conservators as part of the negotiations with the Primary Care Trust. This
land will be laid out to open meadow and trees and will be available for the public to access.
This could also have been done in 1999. Common land has been enclosed continuously since then.
4) The existing tarmacked road to the east of the hospital and part of the current road from
Commondale will be substantially retained and refurbished within its existing footprint to
allow vehicles to access the new primary school and flats.
The road is on Common land. It is necessary for access to the site but not to the common itself. The Chair of the Conservators (David Devons) insisted that it was built alongside the site rather than at the front where a car park was vacated on the closure of the hospital. Why?
5) A turning circle for traffic will be provided at the northern end of the retained access road,
which will take up a very small area of the existing Commons.
The turning circle takes up over 50% of the area between the hospital boundary and Commondale, all on common land. It reduces the amount of common land between Commondale and the site substantially and includes land which has never before been used for roads. It was not necessary to grant these rights - access roads could have been kept within the site.
6) Although this land will remain part of the Common, the Conservators have made it a
requirement that an equal amount of compensatory land is added to the existing portfolio
of Common land to extend the amount of public open space available for public exercise
and recreation. This land is being made available at Stag Lane.
The Stag Lane land is scrub, far from Putney and quite unsuitable.
7) The woodland belt along the western boundary of the site is in need of management and
many of the trees require work to ensure their long-term viability. This work will be funded
as part of this project.
Why have the Conservators neglected this woodland to such an extent that dramatic intervention is now necessary? A substantial part of the woodland is protected by a woodland tree protection order, but will now be thinned. Is the real reason behind this action the need to provide light for the new development?
8) Over the past three years over £120,000 of Levy-payers money has had to be used to
defend the legal action brought on behalf of The Friends of Putney Common.
The FofPC action was taken as a direct result of the views of many residents that the Conservators decision to sign the easement agreement was entirely wrong.
Over 1,200 people objected to the over-development of the site and the Conservators decision to allow Putney Common to be commercially developed and urbanised. The Conservators did not undertake any risk analysis prior to the decision, they did not consult with residents, they signed the agreement in secret, they did not follow Charity Commission guidelines, and ignored charity law. The cost burden was brought on themselves by their poor governance and appalling management.
The substantial legal and professional costs of FofPC were paid for by private individuals, as was a substantial payment to the Conservators costs once the Court of Appeal hearing was ended. The Conservators cited in the High Court a clause in the 1871 Act which reads that they “may make and maintain such roads as they think necessary or proper”. It was on this narrow legal ground, which many believe should not have been applied when roads were for the benefit of an adjacent development, that the challenge to building an access road on the common for an adjacent development was agreed. No record of such a decision that the access was “right and proper” by the Trustees has been provided, despite repeated requests under FoI regulations.
Planning permission for the new school and residential accommodation has been granted by Wandsworth Council.
Wandsworth’s own application to itself was granted in 2012 then withdrawn due to gross inaccuracies and failure to respect planning law and a subsequent planning permission granted was quashed by the High Court for similar reasons. The eventual permission was granted, against a background of unprecedented opposition from local residents. School project figures just published by the Council show that the shortfall in school places in the area will peak at just 3 in Y 2015/16 The new school is a 2-form entry primary, with 420 pupils.
9) The legal dispute has delayed the Conservators’ and the Council’s respective plans to
restore a part of the Commons that has been blighted for 15 years, and to provide a much
needed local amenity in additional classroom spaces for local children.
The Conservators could have reclaimed their land at the time the hospital was closed in 1999. They failed to do so. Not all the land is to be restored; much of it will remain tarmacked, as will land that is currently common. The demand for the new school in Thamesfield is now shown to be nonexistent. The Conservators have facilitated an over-intensive development, failed in their moral duties as Conservators to protect Putney Common and failed in their fiduciary duties as Trustees.
SPENCER ARMS BENCHES
FofPC accepts the description provided in the WPCC statement. However many residents believe that this is an example of increasing use of the Common for purposes other than those set out in the 1871 Act, and would wish to obtain the following information:
1) What is the term of the licence, what are the commercial terms agreed? Was professional advice taken on the licence before granting it? Was a risk assessment prepared by the Conservators before entering into the licence?
2) What are the arrangements for termination by both parties?
3) Under which clause in the 1871 Act was the agreement agreed?
1) The now demolished Nurses’ Home at Putney Hospital was partially built on common land adjacent to the Bowling Club. Land which the Conservators now claim is new to the Common. The then Hospital authorities, responding to a letter from the Conservators written in the 1960s, agreed that any such land would be returned.
2) The ‘Polyclinic’ development predated the later school and flats. The Clinic building was one-third the size of the later school development.
3) In 2008 the Conservators signed an agreement with Wandsworth Council and the Wandsworth Primary Care Trust after five years of delay related to the access agreements, after that same development had been cancelled by the Trust. This would seem to have been done to allow the later sale of the site “with attached access rights” already in place. The Wandsworth Primary Care Trust (NHS) sold the Hospital to the Council for around £4.5m. The Conservators Chair claimed that he was unaware of the cancellation.
4) When discussions about access to a new school and flats were held between the Conservators and the Council the Chair of Conservators insisted that the access road be constructed alongside the hospital site rather than at the front.
5) The land at Stag Lane was exchanged for rights over Putney Common, despite the 1871 Act stipulating that sale, swapping or exchange of land was not permitted. The justification made was that it is suitable for the location of necessary maintenance sheds at the Richardson Evans Playing Fields (part of the commons) just off the A3 in Kingston. That agreement was again signed in confidence in February 2012, when Andrew Simon, Robin Touquet and Sir Ian Andrews were Trustees. The Conservators paid £5,000 to the Council. They now admit that the land is unsuitable for their sheds.
6) The Chair of the Conservators stated at an annual meeting for residents that the Council had threatened a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) of land for access at Putney Common if the Conservators did not comply. They also adjusted the access fee to the amount the Council was willing to pay. Legal opinion obtained by FofPC confirms that the Council would have had considerable difficulty in obtaining a CPO as the 1871 Act which protects the Common is primary legislation.
7) The “Returning Officer” who is responsible for authorising the recent statement is Sir Ian Andrews, the Conservator appointed by the Ministry of Defence. He has been party to all the decisions related to Putney Lower Common since he became a Trustee in May 2009.
Friends of Putney Common
February 13, 2015