A bus lane should run through a pedestrianised town centre and public green to boost the area’s ailing economy, a council report has proposed.
A Merton Council report, published on Tuesday, revealed plans to extend London Road through Mitcham Fair Green, the pedestrianised area in Mitcham town centre, within the next two years.
It is the third of five proposed phases to transform the town centre as part of the Rediscover Mitcham project, which could see a total of £6.2m invested in the area.
"This could bring up to 6,000 extra passengers a day to Fair Green"
The council said the bus lane proposal was “widely popular among the general public” who attended a recent series of workshops and community meetings.
The report added: “The main principle of the scheme is that, by increasing the accessibility and attractiveness of the Fair Green and London Road, overall activity will increase, which will, in turn, support businesses and engage the local community in their town centre.”
But the plans have sparked concern from heritage groups and residents, who fear the plan will ruin the town centre’s appeal.
Councillor Peter Walker, who represents Figge’s Marsh ward, suggested in December 2012 a cinema should be built in the adjacent Sibthorp Road car park.
Reacting to the bus lane plan, he said: “I agree with the overwhelming number of residents who recognise this proposal to bring just buses back on to Fair Green will increase the footfall in the town centre and therefore greatly assist regeneration of the shops and businesses there.
“It is estimated this could bring up to 6,000 extra passengers a day on to Fair Green, who currently dismount on nearby stops and find it difficult to cross several crossings to reach Fair Green.”
"If you divide something in two you have fundamentally lost it."
But Tony Burton, from Mitcham Cricket Green Community and Heritage, said the bus lane idea was unanimously rejected by residents who attended a workshop at St Mark’s Family Centre earlier this month.
He said: “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get things right for Mitcham.
“It needs to be done in a way that all will work in the long term, not simply to push through pet policies that were thought of beforehand.
“They are dancing on a head of a pin to try to justify this by moving the green around.
“If you divide something in two you have fundamentally lost it. It isn’t what it was. Just adding greenery around the edges is not going to keep its fundamental character.”
Chris Wood, who attended a community meeting about the plans at the Mill Ecology Centre in Windmill Road, said: “This was never presented as the council’s preferred plan out of the four original options, and there was certainly no support from people for a bus lane through Fair Green.”
The council’s plans are scheduled to be considered by TfL in March and go out to formal consultation in April.
If approved the bus lane would be completed in September 2015.
"Largest consultation ever" in Mitcham
Merton Council's cabinet member for environmental sustainability and regeneration, Councillor Andrew Judge, said: “We want the best for residents and businesses in Mitcham – a town that is both commercially successful and aesthetically pleasing throughout the year.
"We recognise the importance to the community of Fair Green and we want to extend and improve the green space.
“Around one and a half thousand people responded to the first phase of the largest consultation we have ever held about Mitcham so we have a good idea about the concerns and wishes of people living and working there.
"The option of a bus lane has been generally well supported, especially by businesses, those working in the town centre, older and disabled people and those who regularly visit the town centre.
"However there is still a great deal of detail to be worked through and we are committed to ensuring that any specific proposals go back to the public for further consultation.”