Croydon’s £1,000-a-day planning chief set to leave council

Paul Spooner, Croydon Council’s £1,000 a day executive director of planning and environment, is to leave the council before the end of the year.

Paul Spooner: here today, gone tomorrow. Croydon's latest exec director of planning will have lasted just nine months. But he was very well paid

Paul Spooner: here today, gone tomorrow. Croydon’s latest exec director of planning will have lasted just nine months. But he was very well paid

“Sponger”, as he is known among more modestly paid staff who are now working in the council’s £140 million new headquarters offices, created the latest controversy over payments to consultants at Croydon earlier this year when Inside Croydon discovered that he was paid £28,000 for his first six weeks’ work  at the council – or a rate of £4,666 per week.

By the time he leaves, having taken up his position on February 18, Sponger will have banked nearly £200,000 of public dosh for barely nine months’ work.

Inside Croydon understands that interviews to recruit a permanent planning chief have been going on – with interim CEO Nathan Elvery doubtless keen to remind any prospective new employees of their responsibilities to follow all the terms of contract and staff code of conduct, and florid-faced Mike Fisher, the leader of the Conservative group which controls the council, and his political “enforcer” Phil Thomas, just as eager to make sure that whoever they appoint is fully capable at nodding to every word that they say, willing to utter the mantra of “Yes Boss!” to all their instructions, and even showing the ability to laugh at all their jokes.

Among the first responsibilities of any appointee will be to “take care” of Taberner House, the council HQ building for nearly 50 years which was vacated a month ago.

There have been suggestions that Fisher’s Tories want the 1960s landmark tower block “trashed” sufficiently to render it unusable – so that should Labour win at the local elections next May, they will not be able to reverse council policy and move staff back into Taberner House, allowing them to lease out the expensive new glass palace in an emergency money-saving measure.

Spooner has spent his few months in post touring conferences of multi-million pound property developers proselytising about the wonders of Croydon for buy-to-let investors from overseas, like some glorified estate agent flogging off parts of the borough.

Increasingly, it is looking as if the impermanence of someone in such a key position at such a crucial time –  Sponger was Croydon’s fourth full-time or temporary planning chief in just two years – has left the council lacking important leadership and direction over some vital decisions, including the costly and misconceived £450 million CURV project.

Any newcomer will find the planning chief’s desk in their new and very well-furnished office in “Bruce Willis House” scattered with the debris of flawed masterplans and foregone conclusions conducted at the wishes of developers. They are unlikely to be able to exercise any significant influence over really shaping of the borough for the next three decades – that opportunity came and went some time ago.

Spooner’s replacement will take over with the plans for the £1 billion Hammersfield development in North End already approved – the strategic planning meeting on Monday is expected to push the proposals through on the nod, despite the absence of any detailed traffic plan.

Instead, Croydon and Transport for London will put up £45 million of public money for road widening schemes to make it easier for the people of Surrey’s stockbroker belt to get to the new shops, while the developers will contribute just £33 million.

Another expensively commissioned artist's impression, for the Coulsdon Masterplan, which the council has this week been forced to bin

Another expensively commissioned artist’s impression, for the Coulsdon Masterplan, which the council has this week been forced to bin

Resolving the borough’s chronic housing and school places problems will still be in the planning chief’s in-tray. There, they will discover that schemes including any significant amount of “affordable housing” are almost exclusively to be found in the north of the borough, while the central part of the borough appears reserved for thousands of Yuppie “apartments” aimed at foreign speculators. Who cares about hideous high rises and soaring house price inflation, provided the names on the electoral roll all vote the “right” way?

The latest massive steaming turd to be deposited on the planning chief’s desk is the Coulsdon Masterplan, now as dead as a Monty Python parrot.

The notion of Croydon “masterplans” has always seemed oxymoronic – with the emphasis firmly on the final three syllables – and the shambles that now surrounds Coulsdon only underlines this.

The embarrassed council was forced to withdraw its Coulsdon Masterplan this week out of fear of a legal challenge from residents in neighbouring Chipstead, part of the true-blue Reigate and Banstead local authority in Surrey. Croydon Council had approved the Coulsdon Masterplan as recently as September, but the scheme was so unpopular with one local residents’ association that they declared that they wanted to break away from the London borough.

When threatened with a well-resourced Judicial Review that objected to the traffic volumes which Croydon wanted to inflict on Coulsdon and the surrounding areas, the council caved in, effectively admitting that they had got their masterplan, which had been more than two years in the making, all wrong.

London Mayor Boris Johnson’s decision to allow Barratt Homes to build 700 homes at Cane Hill has drawn widespread opposition, from Coulsdon and Chipstead residents alike who are dissatisfied with the provisions for public services and traffic.

Meanwhile, Jason Perry, Croydon’s cabinet member for planning, regeneration and transport, was wheeled out by Fisher to claim, apparently in all seriousness, that “objectives have clearly been achieved and the masterplan has already done its job”.

Meanwhile, back in the real world…

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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
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1 Response to Croydon’s £1,000-a-day planning chief set to leave council

  1. davidcallam says:

    Ken Livingstone used to talk about Coulsdon as a ‘gateway to London’. If Croydon Council treated it as such it might have more success. It should involve the Mayor of London from the outset in planning a new suburb on the Cane Hill site and adjoining land. It should make the plan robust, with densities similar to those in, say, Addiscombe or South Norwood, with schools and other amenities as appropriate. And it should challenge the backwoodsmen of the Surrey Downs to put up or shut up.

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