WALTER CRONXITE reports on a long-running planning saga which has seen Tory and Labour councillors indulging in political points-scoring rather than delivering solutions for local people and businesses
The angry and frustrated residents of Coulsdon have called on borough councillors to end their petty politicking over planning issues around the massive Cane Hill development and instead to deliver some urgent solutions to the traffic, parking and housing problems in their neighbourhood.
Proper access to the A23 from the housing development and proposals for the use of the nearby Lion Green Road car park have seen Conservative and Labour councillors bickering over who is to blame, while businesses in Coulsdon have been closing down because of the growing traffic congestion and lack of parking.
In 2012, house-builders Barratt’s were gifted the site of the former Cane Hill hospital by the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in an effort to end a previous stalemate over the development of the property. The publicly owned Green Belt land was valued as being worth at least £250million.
In return for this generosity with public assets, Barratt’s have since done the bare minimum, or less when they’ve been allowed to get away with it, such as over the provision of adequate access roads into what the developers are now calling “Cane Hill Park”.
With the first Cane Hill homes – priced at between £380,000 and £600,000 each – coming on to the market this year, the need to deliver a solution to the issues arising from the development has become increasingly urgent for members of the local residents’ associations.
When under Tory control, the local planning authority, Croydon Council, waved through Barratt’s (now) 650-ish home scheme with the promise of providing just a single road leading into and out of the estate. The flaw with this ought to have been obvious, even to our council’s planners, but the matter was brushed away by the Tory-majority planning committee.
The horrified reaction of Coulsdon residents to this piece of feeble council toadying to the developers was so strong that Mike “WadGate” Fisher, the then leader of the local Conservatives, stepped in and generously promised even more public money, to be spent on building the commonsense solution of an alternative access road. Fisher never got round to identifying where he would get the millions of pounds needed to build this vital access road to a private developer’s housing project, and before he had to deliver on his promise, his party lost control of the Town Hall at the 2014 local elections.
But by then the Tories had also approved a scheme to build a Waitrose supermarket and a health centre – largely to serve the new residents of Cane Hill – on the site of the Lion Green Road car park. The chair of the planning committee that night was David Osland, a Conservative ward councillor for Coulsdon West.
The health centre and supermarket was to be developed by CCURV, the development joint venture with John Laing which Croydon Council’s then CEO, Jon Rouse, and his deputy, Nathan Elvery, dreamed up, and which has proved to be an unmitigated disaster ever since.
“Coulsdon was sentenced to be crucified last night,” one resident said immediately after the planning meeting had approved Barratt’s plans and the car park development.
The Lion Green Road scheme unravelled last year when Waitrose pulled the plug on their involvement, though not before the car park had been closed for six months, slowly strangling businesses in the centre of Coulsdon and causing traffic chaos around the town. Recent changes to parking in Coulsdon, with Labour’s removal of its one-hour free parking provision, has made an already bad situation worse.
Last month, Coulsdon councillors Jeet Bains and Mario Creatura – both Tories – sent an email to the council’s planning development officer regarding the latest applications for Cane Hill. In the email, seen by Inside Croydon, the Tory councillors performed a hand-brake U-turn, demanding better traffic management and an access road, matters which they had failed to insist upon two years ago when the council was under Conservative control.
In the email, Bains and Creatura demanded an additional access road to the A23 “to avoid making an already severe traffic problem in Coulsdon town centre and surrounding roads even worse”, and a revised traffic assessment report which would also take account of parking issues in Coulsdon arising from the planning applications and the increased traffic generated by Cane Hill and other recent developments in the area.
The email, sent from Bains’ official council account, concluded, “Time and time again Croydon Council considers applications that simply aren’t in the best interests of Coulsdon residents. Very often the Planning Committee – despite hundreds of objections from Councillors, MPs, Residents’ Associations and those who live in Coulsdon – brushes our concerns aside as if we don’t matter.”
Bains’ convenient amnesia over his own record over Cane Hill outraged Maureen Levy, the secretary of the East Coulsdon Residents’ Association, who replied to Bains: “I very nearly choked when I read your penultimate and last paragraphs.”
Levy took the councillor to task: “Have you forgotten this is exactly what you and your Conservative colleagues personally did when approving the Cane Hill and Lion Green Road (and other) planning applications and parking issues when you were in power?”
Warming to her theme, Levy told Bains and the five other Tory councillors who had voted through the original planning applications, “‘Not me Guv’ Conservatives are as much culpable… as Labour.”
Last week, Charlie King, the chair of ECRA, sent an open email to Bains and to Paul Scott, the Labour councillor who now chairs the planning committee, offering to broker a meeting with the other Coulsdon residents’ associations to try to end the deadlock over the delivery of an additional access road and adequate parking provision in the town.
“We don’t care what you put on Lion Green car park as long as it has 100 car parking spaces for use by the public and controlled by Croydon Council,” King told Inside Croydon. “Why would you want to give £120,000-a-year in parking charges to somebody else?”
With Barratt’s maximising their profits from Cane Hill by building predominantly three-, four- and five-bedroom houses, King called on local councillors from both parties to carefully reconsider what kind of homes are being delivered. “Can we stop throwing rocks and look at what is a genuine problem? Coulsdon needs affordable smaller dwellings,” King said.
In his written appeal to Scott and Bains, King points out that the council received £11million in Community Investment Levy – CIL – from Barratt’s in return for being given the land and planning permission. None of that money was allocated by the council towards local transport infrastructure.
“Despite every residents’ association and business group in and around Coulsdon objecting to the planning application without any access to the A23 Coulsdon Bypass, you spoke very strongly in favour of the application,” King wrote to Bains.
He also reminded Scott that, previously, he had said publicly that Barratt Homes should pay for the access road to the A23. Reminding Labour’s planning chair of the previous application two years ago, King wrote: “On the night an informative was added to the planning application noting the residents’ concerns and that this could be looked at again if circumstances changed.
“Well, circumstances have changed,” King said.
“In the last year both the Department for Transport and Transport for London have produced traffic reports to show that contrary to trend of falling traffic in outer London over the past 10 years (which both the CCURV and Barratt’s traffic assessment used), traffic has now started to rise again by 2.3 per cent per year and has already returned to 2008 levels and is continuing to rise.
“Our own experience of traffic locally has shown that traffic in the peak hour now exceeds the levels predicted in the traffic surveys and this is with only the first few houses on Cane Hill being occupied. We know from the transport study that 60 per cent of traffic from Cane Hill wishes to access the A23, so why make it come through the town first?
“We are of the view that the mitigation measures proposed at the junction of Chipstead Valley Road and Lion Green Road will not work and be money ill-spent. Croydon as the local traffic authority has a duty along with TfL to resolve these issues.”
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