WALTER CRONXITE reports on another instance where the council’s planning department is riding roughshod over local residents and elected councillors – this time potentially jeopardising a £85million road scheme
The unrestrained rush to develop any scrap of land into housing in Croydon, seemingly without any broader consideration of the consequences, could see tonight’s meeting of the planning committee put in jeopardy a multi-million-pound Transport for London road scheme which has been years in the planning, or risk the future of one of the borough’s most historic pubs.
So concerned is the council’s planning department about the objection to a scheme for one block of six flats on Epsom Road, near Waddon Station, from ward councillor Andrew Pelling, that they have taken the decision out of the hands of the planning committee altogether.
“This item has been withdrawn to be dealt with under delegated powers,” the agenda now states, meaning that having failed to get the elected councillor to back down, they will now deny anyone the opportunity to question the scheme which they are determined to grant permission.
That’s democracy in 2016, Croydon Council style, where council officials run the councillors.
Yesterday, Inside Croydon reported on how tonight’s planning committee meeting, the last of 2016 and with many people’s attention already distracted by the festive season, will seek to push through plans for Purley town centre’s first tower block, and give the seal of approval to the destruction of a Victorian church because of a juicy £1million property deal between the council and developer , despite hundreds of objections from locals, a senior councillor and a respected public body.
This, remember, is the same council planning department that failed – or refused – to take any enforcement action against the unpermitted conversion of The Ship pub in South Norwood into under-sized, illegal flats. And the same council planning department which also failed to act this year when the developers of Morello blocks of flats on Cherry Orchard Road decided to plonk a Portakabin next to East Croydon Station without first getting planning permission.
In the case of the Waddon project which was supposed to be considered at tonight’s planning committee, we have discovered that a council official has joined with a developer to try to bully an elected councillor into dropping objections to the scheme.
According to Pelling, he was emailed by a senior council official as well as being bombarded with persistent phone calls from the developer eager for the objection to go away.
Pelling, a Labour councillor in Waddon ward, says that he was phoned 11 times in a period of five working hours by the applicant to lobby him to withdraw his objection to the scheme, which would demolish an old electricity sub-station on Epsom Road to clear the way for a small block of flats estimated to be worth £1million on the property market.
Pelling, the former MP for Croydon Central, says that he has no intrinsic objection to the flat-building scheme itself.
But he is very concerned that its construction on that site could cause problems with Transport for London’s proposals for a new road scheme around the Fiveways junction to ease traffic congestion on the A232 and Purley Way when the new Westfield and Hammerson supermall finally opens in the town centre.
It’s 10 months now since TfL announced that it was abandoning plans for a second Croydon flyover, to take road traffic over Waddon railway station and the rail tracks, but at the cost of a large chunk of public parkland in Duppas Hill Park. Instead, they are now looking at turning Fiveways into Fourways, and making Epsom Road into a two-way highway. The next stage of the TfL’s public consultation is due to begin in the new year.
The sub-station site was not bought by the developer until after the consultation process got underway.
Even the report from Samantha Dixon, the planning officer identified in the council’s documents, admits that this is a key site for any future Fiveways road scheme. Indeed, TfL also objected to the developer’s scheme.
The report states, “As originally submitted the proposed development would impact on the road improvement scheme as there would be no footway available on the northern side of Epsom Road. In a wider context, TfL also raised concern about the degradation of footway width in the vicinity considering other potential development sites coming forward to the north of the junction. It is estimated that footfall in the area will increase, particularly to and from Waddon Station which would put more pressure on these sections of footway. This would ultimately conflict with the objectives of the Fiveways Scheme to improve the public realm and pedestrian environment in the area.”
As a result of TfL’s objections, the developer has opted to set back his new building by about 5ft. The report says, “TfL have fully reviewed the amended plans and have withdrawn their objection to the proposal. They require conditions to be imposed on any permission to ensure that no part of the development obstructs the highway.”
Pelling’s remains the only objection.
He is adamant that the local council is being premature, with a consultation on such a major road scheme just weeks away. Pelling, together with his ward colleagues Joy Prince and Robert Canning, did a lot of work last year in putting a case for a Fiveways road scheme which was supported by the council, and which would not put the historically important Waddon Hotel or Duppas Hill Park – Croydon’s first public park – at risk. Prince happens to sit on the 10-strong planning committee, which has a built-in majority of Labour councillors.
Granting permission for the six flats could undermine that work.
“The new Fiveways junction still has to go to public consultation,” Pelling said today.
“The site of the sub-station by Waddon Station may still be needed for road-widening. TfL say they have negotiated with very determined developer that his proposal is now acceptable, but they don’t yet know what response they will get to their public consultation.
“Granting planning permission to this could compromise any road widening there on what is a very narrow carriageway, and that could put the Waddon Hotel at risk instead.
“Croydon needs the road scheme to go through for Westfield, but this application shuts down options, with other current householders having the road scheme pushed in their direction.”
And the council planners will doubtless also suggest that, if planning permission for these half-dozen flats is not rushed through now, rather than deferred for a few months, Croydon might face a costly appeal which could even end up on the desk of the local government department’s Planning Minister, who just happens to be Pelling’s successor as Croydon Central MP, Gavin Barwell.
And no one would want that, now would they?
Doubtless, the developer is also mindful that, whether his flats ever get to be built or not, the value of the scrap of land he has acquired will be much increased if he obtains planning permission, in the event of TfL, the council or even Network Rail having to compulsory purchase the site for any road scheme.
The council’s planning department appears to be less concerned about the potential impact to the public purse of that that scenario being played out.
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