People Power III: more from the Higher Drive front line

More on the battle between ordinary residents of a suburban street in Kenley, and the ruthless ambition of a millionaire developer, who is literally bulldozing his way through the planning regulations.

Disruption on Higher Drive typical of what residents have had to contend with during the building works at 92 and 94 Higher Drive

Further to last week’s update, residents have received a letter from the council, which promises an internal investigation of the way the council has handled the matter.

Thus far, the council has turned down the planning applications for the two properties, with building only going ahead on the No92 site following an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. Fairlie House, the business that wants to build a hospital on Higher Drive, has taken its application for 94 on appeal, too.

But the residents have been concerned that Croydon’s planning department has done nothing to enforce its refusal of planning, as the developers have continued to build a brick building at 94 Higher Drive for refuse and a generator.

Here’s the council’s latest letter to residents, received on Friday:

Dear residents,

I am responding to the many emails recently received from residents close to the development site 92-94 Higher Drive . There have been criticisms of the way planning officers have handled the applications at the site, suggestions of collusion with the developer and the receipt of back handers. These are serious complaints and as such warrant formal investigation through the Council’s complaints procedure. This is a two stage process commencing with an internal examination of the matters raised. A reply will be sent in due course to those making the complaints. If residents remain unhappy with the Council’s response at the end of the process, they can take their complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman. It is the practice of the Ombudsman not to examine any complaints against a council before the council has first had opportunity to respond to the allegations. As these matters are now being formally investigated, it would be inappropriate to comment on them in a piecemeal way in response to individual emails from residents.

I shall comment on the current enforcement investigation. There have been criticisms of the request to the developer to submit a retrospective planning application for the electrical metering housing at 94 Higher Drive . I shall explain the Council’s actions.

The electrical metering housing formed part of a larger structure including a diesel generator in the front garden to 94 Higher Drive shown on the recently refused plans for the redevelopment of this site. Only the electrical metering housing has been built to date. The breach of planning control relates just to this structure. Whilst it does not have planning permission, the council cannot automatically assume that the structure is unacceptable. As you will be aware, the planning application at 94 Higher Drive was refused for several reasons, but none of these expressly related to the electrical metering housing. To proceed directly to enforcement action at this stage to remove the structure would be contrary to national planning policy and could make the council open to a claim of costs for unreasonable behaviour should that enforcement action be successfully challenged at appeal.

It is for these reasons that Robert Snodin has informed you of the request to the developer to submit a retrospective application. This would enable the structure to be assessed on its individual planning merits through the normal planning processes, including the notification of local residents and having regard to the representations received. This is consistent with normal practices on enforcement cases. Only in exceptional cases where there is clearly demonstrable harm would the council proceed directly to enforcement action. Should an application be submitted I shall ensure that those that have expressed an interest in this matter are informed of the application.

If the developer chooses not to submit a planning application, then planning officers will have to make an independent assessment of the planning merits of the structure. Residents would then be informed of any actions that the Council is minded to follow before a decision is taken to adopt a course of action.

It is possible that the Planning Inspectorate will grant permission for the care home at 94 Higher Drive . The appeal hearing has now been set for August and a decision is likely in the early autumn. If the appeal is allowed, then the electrical metering housing will benefit from planning permission. If the appeal is dismissed, then the electrical metering housing would remain a breach of planning control. One possible course of action would be to delay consideration of this matter until the outcome of the appeal is known. However, as several residents have brought this matter to the Council’s attention, it is appropriate to conduct the enforcement investigation in the way I have outlined. The structure constitutes a current breach of planning control, it is not of a temporary nature and would appear to be required for the operation of the development at 92 Higher Drive regardless of the outcome of the appeal at 94 Higher Drive .

Robert Snodin, the officer leading this investigation, will keep local residents informed as the investigation progresses.

Regards,
Rory MacLeod
Head of Development Management

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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