Community Plan - Priority 2:

Protecting and enhancing the local environment

Sustainable communities


  • To cut down on fly-tipping.
  • To increase recycling.
  • To improve air quality.
  • To improve parks and green spaces as well as increase the enjoyment on offer. 

Time for action

For a city borough, Merton is relatively green. It has 116 parks and open spaces, with 99.6% of the borough less than 400m from a public open space. Also, 18% of the borough is open space - compared with a London average of 10%.

But there has been a sustained increase in fly-tipping, with more than 1,000 fly tips being cleared each month. We know litter is the number one concern of residents and we want to prevent littering in the first place.

Whilst our recycling has improved, our current rate of 42% is well below our commitment of 50% by 2030.

Air pollution is recognised as a major contributor to poor health, with more than 9,000 premature deaths across London caused by poor air quality. In Merton we estimate 6.5% of deaths can sadly be attributed to air pollution. There is also a strong link with equalities issues, because areas with poor air quality are often less affluent.

Merton continues to breach the legal air quality limits for both nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter at a number of locations including Colliers Wood, Morden, Tooting and South Wimbledon. At some hotspots the nitrogen dioxide levels are so high that they are a risk not only for residents, but also for those working in or visiting the area.

What happens if we do nothing?

The level of street litter and fly-tipping incidents will continue to increase. Not only will residents be unhappy, but the council will have to spend more money on tackling the problem and litter-strewn streets will encourage anti-social behaviour.

If we fail to act on air pollution, people will continue to die prematurely. Roads will remain congested and emissions will carry on breaching legal limits. Buildings will still be heated by fossil fuels and remain environmentally inefficient.

If we don't invest the care into our green spaces, the health of our residents will suffer as exercise will be less enjoyable. It will also encourage vandalism, graffiti and anti-social behaviour. At worst their diminishing value could lead to closure and a site becoming derelict and abandoned.

Attractive urban green spaces contribute significantly and positively to the social, economic and environmental well-being of the borough.

What would success mean?

Cleaner streets would create a positive wellbeing in the community, with residents feeling more valued and encouraged to shape future services.

Reduced emissions from road transport and buildings would improve the health and life expectancy of residents, visitors and workers. It would also enable Merton to achieve its carbon reduction targets by 2050.

Attractive urban green spaces would boost the borough's social, economic and environmental wellbeing. Parks will continue to be enjoyed by residents of all ages in many rewarding ways - from quiet contemplation and nature study to active leisure and recreational pursuits.

Cutting landfill waste to zero and reducing the energy used in waste processing would also save money through a reduction in operational cost and improved recycling.

You told us

An independent survey of our recycling and rubbish collection service revealed 40% of households had experienced a problem such as missed collection or non-delivery of containers.

In addition, 45% of the respondents to our 2019 residents' survey said the cleanliness of streets and town centres is one of the three things that most need improving in the borough - second only to affordable housing.

We've also talked to children and young people, with 31% of young respondents rating litter and dirt in the street as their second major concern in Merton.

Residents surveyed have also told us air pollution is a serious problem, with both young and old respondents to the latest survey saying they think it's what needs most improving in Merton. More than half of children and young people who were consulted said they think it's a problem in the borough. Only 8% of all respondents rated the overall air quality in Merton as very good.

However, our parks and open spaces continue to receive positive feedback, with satisfaction rates rising from 71% of those asked in 2017 to 81% in 2019. But we're aware you're not happy with issues indirectly linked to parks, such as graffiti and fly tips.

We aim to

  • Continue our anti-litter campaigns.
  • Continue to provide litter bins with ash trays as well many gum and butt bins across our town centres.
  • Implement our Cleaner Merton Programme, including a new fly tipping strategy.

Whilst we are limited in any direct action we can take on polluting traffic, we will use all our available powers to tackle this problem. We will:

  • Establish and maintain an effective air quality group to ensure the council-wide implementation of the Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) is coordinated effectively;
  • Encourage the use of low emission vehicles and consider the introduction of an emissions-based parking levy - reviewing the effectiveness of such a measure during the next two years;
  • Advise developers on the impact of development on air quality and ensure approved plans address the issues and maximise the opportunity to improve infrastructure for sustainable transport options;
  • Reduce vehicle emissions around locations such as schools, taxi-ranks, Air Quality Focus Areas and pollution hotspots with formal anti-idling enforcement.
  • Continue to work with schools, parents and students to improve air quality awareness and encourage the use of sustainable travel options;
  • Review Merton's air quality monitoring network to ensure it properly identifies areas of poor air quality and provides accurate data to enable effective evaluation of air quality trends and the impact of AQAP measures.

Turning off your engine and restarting it after a minute or longer causes less pollution than keeping the engine idling and uses less fuel

To nurture our much-valued green spaces we will: 

  • Provide direct investment in the assets and opportunities offered by green spaces to improve their quality and broad appeal, including their green infrastructure
  • Promote parks and open spaces as destinations to enjoy a range of rewarding activities, including health-boosting activities
  • Encourage residents to join in community clean-ups and managing their local environment
  • Our parks friends groups carry out invaluable work and the council will help them build and develop their networks and skills
  • Protect and enhance the borough's biodiversity and the opportunities for people to enjoy and engage with nature
  • Seek and encourage community input on future developments and services offered within the borough's parks and open spaces
  • Use and encourage energy efficient and environmentally-friendly measures and materials in our green spaces, including composting of green waste and minimal use of pesticides.

What can I do?

Waste Services – You can help by:

  • Using the services on offer and recycling at home.
  • Lobbying the Government for new legislation holding manufacturers accountable for the disposal of the material they use.

Air Quality - You can help by:

  • Walking or cycling more. If you have long-standing respiratory or heart conditions, your GP can advise on how poor air quality can affect you. For more information on walking visit Walk4Life. For cycling visit Cycling.
  • Signing up for an air quality forecasting system such as airTEXT. Find out more about free air pollution alerts: AirText.
  • Using car clubs which offer a cleaner and greener way of using a car, without the cost or hassle of owning one. For more information visit Car Clubs.
  • If you need your own vehicle, switch to a greener model. For information on electric vehicle charging in Merton visit Electric Vehicle Charging Points.  
  • Turning off your engine and restarting it after a minute or longer causes less pollution and uses less fuel than keeping the engine running. Idling is also an offence, and if you see vehicles idling on a regular basis please tell us so we can tackle idling hot spots. Email with the location, type of vehicle and time of day. You can also pledge your support for anti-idling and volunteer at idling events. For more information visit Tackling Idling.
  • Setting up a 'play street' to temporarily close your street to traffic so children can play safely. For more information visit Play Streets.
  • Supporting your local School Safety Zone, so roads outside schools are closed at opening and closing times to improve air quality, and encourage walking and cycling. For more information visit School Safety Zones.
  • Improving energy efficiency in your home. Find out more Climate Change: What You Can Do.

Green Spaces - You can help by:

  • Applying for an allotment on one of our 18 sites.
  • Joining a parks friends group to discover what activities and projects they are involved in.
  • Using one of the borough's 10 outdoor gyms.
  • Becoming a Tree Warden to help support tree planting and tree care.
  • Enjoying the many outdoor sporting facilities that are available within the borough's parks, including tennis, bowls, beach volleyball and croquet.

Spotlight on...

Community Champions

Merton has an ever-growing team of local people who are passionate about improving the borough's environment and want to make a positive, united, difference in their communities.

They are the Community Champions, set up by environmental charity, Sustainable Merton. Each has their own reasons for wanting to see Merton a greener, cleaner and healthier place, and they are all people prepared to take action to do something about it.

Raynes Park mother Ellie Smallshaw became a Community Champion because she wanted to make a difference to the area in which her young children – Zachary and Marcus – are growing up.

She said: "I wanted to make sure they are growing up in an area that is cared for, and I saw being a Community Champion as an opportunity to make my own difference to our local environment."

As a Community Champion, Ellie has helped man a stall at the annual Abundance Fruit Day in Wimbledon, where the community gathers to celebrate the abundance of fruit growing around the town and to see how to make fantastic food from edible resources that would otherwise be wasted.

She has also taken part in community litter picks and attended Morden Hall's BioBlitz event - in which volunteers help experts identify different species of animal, plant and fungus – to promote Sustainable Merton as well as encourage people to make environmental pledges, promote the Plastic Free Merton campaign, educate on food recycling and to give out waste caddies.

Ellie said she is now far more aware of how to improve the environmental impact of her own life, and has made her own pledges to reduce plastic waste at home as part of the global Plastic Free Challenge campaign.

She said: "There is a lot that people can do to help the environment in their daily lives and, as a Community Champion, I am involved in spreading the word and inspiring others.

"Taking part in events like the local litter picking can give you a feeling of real fulfilment. It's amazing how a team of around ten people can make a visible difference in just a short space of time. There's a sense of community spirit and it's great to be doing something positive with like-minded people."

To find out more about Sustainable Merton's Community Champions, click here.

School Superzones

Healthy spaces and neighbourhoods are vital to give children the best start in life as well as boosting their wellbeing.

Unhealthy environments can cause a lasting impact on children's mental health, obesity, educational achievement and long-term conditions.

But health and education partners in Merton have come together to pilot a 'School Superzone' project, aiming to create healthier and safer spaces for local children and young people to live, learn and play.

Merton Abbey Primary School on High Path in South Wimbledon was chosen for the pilot scheme, with borough council and school staff working together to improve the urban environment – including air quality – within 400 metres (5-10 minutes' walk) of the school.

Before developing a plan to improve the local environment around the school, three workshops were held to understand people's positive and negative experiences of the area, followed by a communal 'walk home', asking participants to take photos of the environment and talk about how it impacts on their wellbeing.

Issues raised included traffic congestion around school gates at drop off and pick up times, air quality, safety concerns on walking routes due to poor lighting, under-use of green assets, litter, as well as lack of public art and community ownership of public spaces.

Their views helped shape the action plan - which focussed on travel and transport, the local public space and community safety, and has since been built into the school curriculum.

The drive to improve local air quality and encourage active travel included promotion of a campaign to reduce car engine idling outside the school, with council officers holding an assembly and lesson with Year 4 pupils to reinforce the message.

A 'kiss and drop scheme', where parents drop their children off for school in an area less congested than outside the gates, is being considered. It is hoped this would reduce car fumes as well as improve traffic safety outside the school.

The action plan also included the school helping improve local green spaces by allowing it to take 'ownership' of nearby Nelson Gardens as well as a council review of the placement of street lighting.

Michael Bradley, Headteacher at Merton Abbey Primary School, said: "We want our children to become active members of their own community, who make positive changes to their local area. The Superzones project has great potential to help us in that work."

Merton was one of 13 London boroughs to take part in the School Superzones pilot project, which is set to be rolled out across the capital. It has been such a success at Merton Abbey that at least two more schools in the borough will be taking part in 2020.