A group of residents in Purley are back on a “war footing”, after what they claim has been heavy-handed treatment from Croydon Council over their on-going campaign against a planning application to build a large hospital on the site of a former semi-detached, suburban house.
Residents on Higher Drive have been campaigning against a scheme to build a high dependency private hospital on their road for almost three years, through various planning applications and even winning an appeal to the planning inspector.
The latest stage of their battle is on April 24, when the planning inspector is staging a public hearing at the Fairfield Halls.
But the campaigners claim that their own council officials have been undermining their protests, ordering the removal of posters in the area and even, campaign Brian Watson alleges, taking down the banners under cover of darkness.
Referring to the council’s Street Scene enforcement staff as the “SS”, Watson says that council officers “removed the bright yellow posters, which were the property of the Foxley Residents Association, and removed them from private property.
“The only evidence left littering the street were the cable ties, that until that moment were securely holding the FRA campaign posters in position,” Watson said.
“Someone had complained about the bright yellow posters which were occupying front gardens along the entire length of Higher Drive. The posters which had been re-erected in readiness for the planning inspector’s forthcoming hearing, and of course the planning inspector’s site visit prior to his decision on whether to allow the enormous extension to 92, Higher Drive, an extension which would create a huge 49-bed high-dependency unit.”
Watson describes the proposed hospital as “a massive commercial enterprise, almost the size of Tesco on the Brighton Road, right in the middle of what was once a quiet leafy residential area”.
The recent snowy weather helped to demonstrate the residents’ arguments that their road is an unsuitable location for such a hospital: the hilly residential streets even saw a council gritting lorry stuck on the ice, underlining how the unit could become inaccessible to staff and ambulances.
The private hospital operator has previous won an appeal and gone ahead with a development at 94 Higher Drive; further development plans for No92 have been halted by a previous inspection. Despite the size of the adjoining site, the car parking provided, protesters claim, is inadequate for the number of staff and visitors, causing congestion locally. Studies have shown that the location has the lowest possible Public Transport Accessibility Level (PTAL) rating within the M25, residents say.
When many of their protest posters disappeared overnight, the residents were suspicious of sabotage. But a letter from Croydon Council also ordered the removal of all posters with just 48 hours’ notice. The posters – planted on the residents’ own front gardens, just like estate agents’ banners – were, according to a council officer, “A breach of planning control and also constitute a criminal offence.”
“A further site visit will be undertaken following the deadline provided to ensure compliance,” threatened the Croydon Council official.
Watson and other residents are outraged that the council should take such heavy-handed action to apply strict planning rules, especially as they contend that the hospital owners have broken several planning requirements during their development – including building an out-building for a generator adjoining a public footpath – but have never been subject to enforcement action from Croydon Council.
Campaigners believe that they are within their legal rights to place posters on their own property, and have come up with a new slogan and design as they prepare for the next battle for Higher Drive.
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