Council planning to keep residents in the dark on planning

Times must be hard at Croydon Council.

For while they can afford to help finance the lovely new HQ building as part of an ambitious £450 million redevelopment scheme, or find £20million a year to hire “consultants” and temporary directors on six-figure salaries, or even fork out £250,000 on the process of handing over the borough’s library service to a profit-making private firm (without having any clear idea of how much any such privatisation might actually save the Council Tax-payers), Croydon Council tells us that they can’t afford the price of a second-class stamp.

The council, as part of its statutory duties, was always supposed to send written notifications to properties when their neighbours had submitted a planning application.

Now, the council is telling us that they will no longer fulfil that responsibility, and that they expect all residents to check their impenetrable mess of a website (recently “upgraded”, to no discernible improvement, and all for another six-figure outlay), or hope on the off-chance of seeing a notice pasted to the front of the property in question to see whether anyone along their street or in their neighbourhood wants to build an eye-sore extension.

The following letter was sent to Croydon’s 70 councillors today. Our notes are in italics and within [square brackets]:

Dear Councillor,

A new approach to the notification of planning applications

Croydon Council has reviewed how it will inform local residents and businesses about planning applications in the borough. This is to ensure that people have an appropriate opportunity to view planning applications that are near to them in an efficient way as possible in these difficult economic times.

[Or: “We’re trying to find a way to not inform local residents and businesses about planning applications. And we’re using the global economic recession as an excuse to reduce the number of troublesome planning objections we receive”]

The Planning office sends a substantial number of letters each year notifying residents of planning applications and yet a common complaint to members is that either the notification letters have not been sent to enough properties or that a resident supposedly notified has not received a letter.

[The council’s failure to fulfil its responsibilities properly or efficiently is hardly a good reason for it to opt out of that responsibility, is it?]

Therefore with effect from April 2012 we will cease to post notification letters to consultees.

[Another bulldozed decision. This edict is just the latest example from Croydon’s £248,000 per year CEO Jon Rouse of our council’s aversion to truly transparent and open government]

Instead, all applications where we invite local people to view the submitted documents so that they can comment on them will be publicised by the display of one or more site notices close to the application site. The site notices will be displayed on road frontages to properties affected by a development. A rear extension to a house will therefore have a site notice in front of the application site and in the road to the rear.

[Or: “And if you’re affected by the development but miss spotting these signs, tough”]

Officers have examined the text used in site notices to make them more user-friendly and legible, using bold text to make the key messages stand out, and using different coloured paper where appropriate (for example in relation to replacing a site notice on receipt of amended plans making material alterations to an application). The site notices will be weather proofed through the use of laminates to ensure legibility for the life of the notice. The notices will include a date after which the site notice should be removed. The applicant will be asked to ensure that the site notices are removed on determination of the application. Planning officers and enforcement officers will also look out for site notices when conducting their site inspections to remove any remaining notices that are out of time.

The display of site notices will be in addition to the statutory adverts that are placed in the local press for major applications and those affecting listed buildings or conservation areas. Weekly lists of planning applications will continue to be available for inspection in local libraries.

[Or: “That is, available in those local libraries that we do not close”]

A further change is that the Council’s website will be enhanced to provide real time information and to include a facility whereby anyone can register and then be able to create and save searches on properties and areas. Residents [sic] Associations and individuals will be able to set them up to provide an alert when a new application within the search criteria is received. Additionally they will be able to set the “tracking” feature, to automatically send an email when the application is going to committee or the decision has been issued. These arrangements will also be in place by 1 April 2012.

[April Fool’s Day – how fitting]

I have written separately to resident associations in the borough informing them of this new facility and inviting them to register and set appropriate search criteria for their areas. An officer will be available to assist with any questions.

[Presumably the cost of an officer to guide RAs through such processes is cheaper than the cost of posting planning notices]

Ward councillors will continue to receive email alerts for every planning application submitted in their ward. These will continue to provide links to the online planning register whereby the plans and other details can be viewed. Ward councillors will still have 5 weeks from the date of the email to submit a member referral on the application.

[This next bit is an outstanding piece of Croydon Council work…]

The email alert will no longer refer to the addresses of properties notified as publicity will be by site notices.

[That’s helpful, then]

As these alerts are generated early in the application registration procedure, site notices will not be in place at the time of the email alert.

[So our councillors will be told that there’s a scheme submitted for permission, but have no way of identifying where the property is located? Truly brilliant!]

Site notices will be displayed during the first 2 weeks of the planning application and afford interested parties a 3 week period from the date of the site notice to submit comments. Members may wish to supplement the officer publicity arrangements by contacting local residents on any applications about which they have concerns.

It is intended to allow properly constituted residents [sic] associations to refer applications for planning permission to Planning Committee. This will be in circumstances where a residents [sic] association object [sic] but the recommendation is for approval and they consider that the application should be determined by the committee. This change is part of a much wider review of the constitution following the Localism Act and is not expected to be in place until May/June 2012.

It is hoped that the combination of these changes will improve the service that we offer to local residents and their resident [sic] associations.

Yours faithfully,

Rory MacLeod
Head of Development Management

For future reference, in case you have problems with lack of notice of planning applications in your neighbourhood, Rory’s contact details are 020 8726 6000 ext 65578 or rory.macleod@croydon.gov.uk.

Asked for a reaction to this letter, one Croydon Councillor said: “Quite outrageous.”

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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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