Croydon’s Nimby housing minister’s targets just got tougher

Tory MP Gavin Barwell has been caught out again, saying one thing to his constituents while doing the exact opposite when it comes to furthering his politcal career, as WALTER CRONXITE reports

Gavin Barwell, the Croydon Central MP who has been promoted to the role of housing minister in Theresa Maybe’s Tory government, is going to struggle to meet the ambitious house-building targets he has set for himself if local councils – like Croydon – keep putting the kybosh on house building.

A golf driving range in Gavin Barwell's constituency could have the housing minister feeling well below par

The golf range in Gavin Barwell’s constituency has put the housing minister in deep rough

The latest scheme to be blocked is a proposal for 129 homes on the site of a golf range. The council’s planning department has hit the proposal a long way into the out-of-bounds, its decision coming less than a year after Barwell was busy running a petition to oppose the scheme.

The application to build a mix of houses and flats on the site of the World of Golf on Long Lane in Ashburton, which was also opposed by local Labour ward councillors, has been dismissed without the matter even going before the planning committee.

Paul Scott, the Labour councillor who chairs the committee, had originally intervened to get the application reviewed by his panel, but he later withdrew his referral (perhaps someone in the planning department advised him that they wanted to block the new homes).

Sajid Javid: Barwell's boss, and coming for a slice of Green Belt near you

Sajid Javid: Barwell’s boss, is coming for a slice of Green Belt near you

But the council’s decision highlights once again the deep hypocrisy of career politician Barwell, and the corner he now finds himself in at the Department for Communities and Local Government, where his Secretary for State, Sajid Javid, is hot-to-trot for concreting over vast swathes of the Green Belt.

In making its decision over the World of Golf in Croydon, the official’s report states quite bluntly: “The proposal represents inappropriate development on Metropolitan Open Land.”

Among those consulted was the Greater London Authority, which stated in its objection: “As the site is on Metropolitan Open Land, there are no special circumstances to justify the development and it is inappropriate… Provision of affordable housing is strongly supported, but this does not constitute very special circumstances to justify MOL development.”

It is a decision which will be greeted warmly by many residents in Shirley Oaks, who have also opposed housing projects proposed by the council for MOL close to their homes – many of them stirred into action by the local Conservative Party, and by Barwell himself.

Barwell, as the constituency MP, was among those approached by Croydon Council for comment on the World of Golf scheme as part of the planning process. He received the approach in October, after he had been made housing minister. He does not appear to have responded.

A year ago, Barwell was busy opposing developments on MOL and Green Belt, using the hashtag #saveourgreenspaces . How will he reconcile that with his job as housing minister?

A year ago, Barwell opposed developments on MOL and Green Belt. How will he reconcile that with his job as housing minister?

Now that he is housing minister, it seems very likely that in his drive to build thousands of new homes across the country, Barwell will be facing an army of Nimbys, opposed to developments in their own neighbourhoods – many of whom he has himself stirred into action in his own backyard.

The complaints given in the Croydon Council official’s report also offer important precedents when similar proposals – including from the council’s own house-building company, Brick by Brick – come up for consideration in the coming months.

The council’s official report says that objections to the World of Golf scheme included: “The area is already overpopulated, and the development would add further strain to infrastructure already struggling with demand – eg. schools, hospitals, sewerage and water pressure.”

Which is an observation which might be applied to many areas of Croydon.

They also state among the objections to the proposal: “Increase in traffic, leading to parking issues, congestion and pollution.” It could be interesting to see how that plays out with planning applications elsewhere in Croydon.

And objectors said that the 129 homes proposed on a relatively small pocket of land (thereby maximising the developers’ potential for profit) is: “Too dense.” Again, as a cause for a scheme to be rejected, this could be applied to many projects in Croydon, including the Barwell-backed £1.4billion Westfield development and some of the plans put forward by the council-owned house-builders, Brick by Brick.

The World of Golf planning rejection in Barwell’s back-yard could be symptomatic of the sort of mire which the Croydon Central MP is creating for himself, while causing misery for hundreds of thousands of existing home-owners cast into planning blight, and failing to deliver the new homes required.

Awkward. We all make mistakes, Theresa

Theresa Maybe has just had her first look at Barwell’s housing White Paper. It’s not good news for Green Belt

Javid’s department, where Barwell is planning as well as housing minister, is due to publish a housing White Paper later this month aimed at accelerating the rate of house building.

Javid has warned that current levels of construction are “nowhere near good enough”; fewer homes were built in the last six years of Conservative-led Governments than at any time since 1945.

“I’m not talking about small tweaks, building 1,000 homes here or there,” Javid has said. “I’m talking about major, long-lasting reform.”

Among those reforms is a plan for the government to force councils, such as Croydon, to increase the number of homes they are required to produce under their local plans – the very same local plan which, in Croydon, and originally drafted under a Conservative Town Hall administration, has seen Barwell, enthusiastically supported by his Croydon Tory chums, in whipping up opposition to such developments at every half-opportunity.

Yet Barwell is now doing the bidding of his departmental boss.

According to the FT, “One person present at a meeting between Gavin Barwell, the housing minister, and local councils said the minister had appealed to Conservative local authorities to support increased local targets for new house-building.”

But Barwell has nothing to offer local authorities when it comes to providing the infrastructure so lacking from schemes such as that proposed at World of Golf. The FT quoted one of the attendees at the meeting with Barwell: “There haven’t been any incentives for local authorities to support this . . . When you try to make the small local planning system bear this enormous obligation on housing, it’s like putting 20,000 volts through a small hamster.”

The FT also quoted the chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Shaun Spiers: “If this happens there will be a huge backlash in Middle England. People will not have faith in the planning system. We will return to a situation where not enough homes are getting built but we still have lots of planning battles.”

Others are predicting that Barwell’s White Paper will create an “open season” for speculative house-builders. “Local people are up in arms. They are not getting any infrastructure or any kind of gain from these developments and they see themselves as besieged by builders.”

In fact, it’s exactly the sort of fuck-up we might expect with gaffe-prone Gav put in charge of housing and planning policy.

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2 Responses to Croydon’s Nimby housing minister’s targets just got tougher

  1. This decision & reasoning may cause the council an issue when Brick by Brick make their applications on the sites in South Norwood & Upper Norwood.

    It also makes the Councils Development plan, building homes in Shirley Oaks look politically motivated, I wish the Woodside Councillors had felt the need to defend the MOL & support residents when the Ryelands School proposals were bulldozed through planning.

  2. Rod Davies says:

    Hell, it’s a politicians perogative to hold two opposing views at any given moment, even more so when he or she is a minister. Hasn’t the leader of the opposition suddenly come around to the need for restrictions on migration while his party’s policy I believe remains to have an open labour market.
    Nevertheless, more housing is needed to address the current demand. Croydon’s plans preclude anything other than low density developments in most the borough. So if the government wants there to be more housing it has to force councils, like Croydon, to reverse its policies despite local opposition. All change has positive and negative consequences, and inevitably some people will lose some aspect of amenity if housing is built on what is currently green space. However, what is the cost of not building housing there? House prices that completely exclude the people we require to maintain the community (nurses, teachers, care workers of all kinds, retail workers, cooks & waiting staff etc etc) and just accept that we can’t have such services at the price we have been paying. Or create somekind of high density ghetto for these service people to reside, somewhere outside the borough and have them commute in and out every day? Where would these ghettos be located? Who would ultimately pay the commuting costs?
    What we need is a rational debate about how we house individuals and families who live and work in Croydon so that Croydon is a sustainable community. That debate needs to focus on the impact of the options available and the tough choices that have to be made.

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