Residents might be entitled to ask, “What’s the point of the planning committee?”
On those occasions when the planning committee does rule against a developer, and in favour of a local community, as it did in the case of The Ship pub, then council staff appear to please themselves and simply opt out of enforcing the committee’s decisions.
At Wednesday’s planning meeting, it was back to the usual routine, with business interests taking precedence of wide community interests. Nearly 300 residents had signed a petition opposing the application, and they were backed by safety reports from the Metropolitan Police and with their case made by Bensham Manor councillor Jamie Audsley. They argued against permission being granted for yet another bookmaker’s shop in a concentrated area.
The planning officer’s report claimed that bookmakers represent less than 4 per cent of high street businesses in Thornton Heath, and so the committee voted unanimously in favour of Paddy Power opening up in a prime site.
Council planning committees are made up of elected councillors who are offered advice from paid council officials. Councillors have long complained about their impotency to intervene on many planning matters, but a change of policy from the communities department earlier this year seemed to indicate that councils would be better able to exercise some discretion on planning issues for the high streets.
“The government wants to give local communities a proper voice on the issue so that their views are taken into account. The new rules will put bookmakers in a new planning class so that local authorities are able to consider and scrutinise applications for new betting shops and refuse them if they want,” is the Government’s new stance.
The Thornton Heath Paddy Power was Croydon’s planning committee’s first opportunity to use this policy change.
Audsley cited the London Plan, which says that “… clustering of particular leisure uses in town centres can provide a visitor attraction, promote regeneration and boost economic growth and employment, provided it is managed effectively and does not reach saturation levels beyond which it has unacceptable negative impacts on a centre’s vitality, viability, amenity and associated community safety.
“In such circumstances, the planning process can help manage such negative impacts. Over-concentrations of betting shops and hot food takeaways can give rise to particular concerns.”
A resident, David Fell, submitted the petition and his own experiences of the impact of the existing bookmakers around Thornton Heath. “Walk from my house in Thornton Heath Pond to the leisure centre, about a half-mile stretch, I walk past a Betfred, two William Hills, a Paddy Power, two Corals… not exactly short of choice.
“I’ve experienced significant levels of street drinking, and anti-social behaviour takes place outside a number of the existing betting establishments. Urination and defecation. Why don’t we sort out existing problems before adding to them?”
The proposed additional Paddy Power will be opening on a corner site right by the leisure centre and opposite the clock tower. It will be the seventh bookmakers’ along Fell’s short walk. But for Croydon’s planning committee – comprised of Tory as well as Labour councillors – the associated drinking, urinating and shitting is not “saturation levels beyond which it has unacceptable negative impacts on a centre’s vitality, viability, amenity and associated community safety”.
Not even evidence from the Metropolitan Police swayed the committee. Audsley told the planning committee, “The Metropolitan Police crime prevention design advisor has raised concerns that such a proposal will cause additional crime and anti-social behaviour in the immediate vicinity as a result of increased gambling.”
He also read a report from a local beat constable, who said, “Another bookmaker would be too much, it would cause significant crime problems for the area.”
Fell summed up: “Residents are against it, local police against it… Everyone knows it will make our area more unsafe – I urge you to reject this application.”
He could be forgiven for thinking he might as well have not bothered.
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