Anger at planning committee as Scott sways Purley vote

Another week, and another group of residents outraged at the way the council is overdeveloping their neighbourhood.

Paul Scott: chairman of the  planning committee

Another week, and yet more complaints about the bombastic conduct of the chair of the council’s planning committee, Paul Scott, as he drives through the latest planning applications despite all kinds of objections, from residents’ groups, MPs, councillors and even members of his own committee.

Paul Scott is the husband of another councillor, Alison Butler, the deputy leader of the council. As a cabinet member, Butler is the councillor responsible for pushing through the council programme of 1,000 new homes in the borough, many of which are to be built by Brick by Brick, the private house-building company set up by council CEO Jo Negrini and the senior Town Hall official, Colm Lacey.

Last Thursday’s planning committee meeting at the Town Hall saw on the agenda an application for 37 homes on a scrap of land between 13 Derrick Avenue and Station Approach at Purley Oaks, to be built in five three-storey and one single or two-storey building.

Residents have been outraged that Scott made sure that the application was granted permission. While the chair declared an interest, Scott was seen to intervene when Maggie Mansell, one of the Labour members of the committee, suggested that she might abstain from a motion objecting to the proposal.

Had she done so, the planning application would have failed. Although planning committee procedures are not supposed to be subject to any party whip and while the law states that committee members are not supposed to be subjected to undue influence, it appeared to many present that Scott persuaded Mansell into voting to block the motion objecting to the housing scheme.

Scott’s “persuasiveness” failed to work on another Labour member of the committee, Pat Clouder, who still voted against.

The committee thus ignored objections from residents, and from Croydon South MP Chris Philp, who described the proposals as “unacceptably destructive”.

So far, Scott has ensured that the planning committee has passed all applications from the council-owned housebuilders Brick by Brick, despite receiving objections on schemes in Upper Norwood from Steve Reed OBE, Croydon North’s Labour MP, who criticised the “overdevelopment” of the building company’s use of public land to build flats on “in-fill” areas between existing housing.

A sketch showing the three-stroey box-like blocks developers want to build between people’s back gardens and the busy Brighton railway line

According to the report put before the planning committee, last Thursday’s application was in the name of Purley Oaks LLP, a company which does not actually exist according to Companies House records.

“The concreting over of much of this strip of green open space and woodland, which creates an effective buffer zone between the gardens of Norman Avenue and the very busy railway line, is unacceptably destructive,” Tory MP Philp wrote in his objection.

Philp also criticised the proposals as being “completely out of character with the local area”. The MP expressed serious concerns about building what are ostensibly family homes so close to one of the busiest railway lines in the country.

Philp also highlighted that Purley Oaks is a “flooding hotspot”. As recently as 2014, flooding in the area saw widespread damage to homes, with roads between Purley and Kenley closed for weeks until flood levels receded.

Indeed, when a previous scheme was put forward for planning permission on the same site, in 2015, it was refused because, “The site is at risk from surface water flooding and acts as a soakaway for waters which pond against the railway embankment. Station Approach has flooded a number of times in recent years,” according to the council’s own report, and which can be read in full here.

It has been established that open ground and mature trees and undergrowth, as in the land between the railway lines and Norman Avenue, help to absorb heavy rainfall and reduce flood risk. There was a report coming before the planning committee from the local flood officer that emphasised this point.

Yet that report was withdrawn just hours before the planning committee met.

Instead, the council official’s report put forward the developers’ view: “The developer has submitted a Flood Risk Assessment and Drainage Strategy which demonstrates that the development would not increase flood water around the site as the buildings would be raised up to allow any flood waters to flow around them.” So that’s alright then.

The residents who live nearby are outraged. “There is overwhelming anger around the behaviour of members at the meeting and great distress about a really unsafe and unsuitable development in a narrow strip of ex-railway land,” one resident who attended the meeting told Inside Croydon.

The resident and her neighbours also highlight that only 38 per cent of the homes to be built in this Labour council-backed scheme will be “affordable”.

“The supporting evidence provided by the developer was severely flawed,” the resident said.

The residents are particularly angry at the way Scott ran the meeting. “There were shocking scenes at the committee meeting,” they said. “We will be taking this further.”

A Katharine Street source said, “It’s increasingly clear that Scott’s relationship with Alison Butler makes him totally compromised when it comes to objectively chairing any planning issues involving proposals for new housing. It’s also increasingly clear that Scott is expected to push through all of these marginal schemes, regardless of whether they are of any real merit.

“We’re being told that these schemes are to provide those ‘much-needed’ new homes we’ve read so much about, and that the borough’s residents will benefit from any profits made by Brick by Brick. Yet what about the interests of existing Croydon residents and the development blight that is being inflicted on them by many of these marginal schemes?

“It is all looking like development at any cost. Scott and Butler are allowing Negrini to take huge risks with public property, and alienating residents across the borough in the process.”

  • This article has been updated to clarify that the Derrick Avenue planning application was made by Purley Oaks LLP, a company which does not actually exist according to Companies House records.

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19 Responses to Anger at planning committee as Scott sways Purley vote

  1. derekthrower says:

    See “Phil Mitchell” is using his old methods of persuasion to get his own way. Your got to break a few eggs to make an omelette. Love to hear the prices people are expected to cough up for this pièce de résistance right on top of one of the busiest stretches of railway in the country.

  2. This planning application had absolutely nothing to do with Brick by Brick. The applicant was a private developer.
    Only 1 planning application made by Brick by Brick has come to the planning committee. It was approved by 6 votes to 4. It includes the £30m investment in updating Fairfield Halls, a new college and many new homes

    • Accordng to Companies House records there is no such company as that named as the applicant, Purley Oaks LLP. So Cllr Scott you appear to have granted planning permission to a developer who does not actually exist.

      Good to have you on the record, though, failing to deny that you may have broken planning laws by persuading another member of the committee to change their vote.

      • An LLP is a limited liability partnership, which is not the same thing as a company. So there may not be a legal requirement for it to be registered at Companies House.

        • It’s an important point, Angus. But what seems to be the issue here is that the council paperwork has been completed incorrectly, denying the public the proper opportunity to check the background of the applicant: there are two companies listed at Companies House with similar names. It could be either of them. It is impossible to say with certainty.
          Perhaps the chair of the planning committee, if he was doing his job properly on behalf of the people of Croydon, might have checked this out and got it clarified.

    • On 22 Nov 2016 the Council stated that the first Brick by Brick application had been submitted with two further ones as part of a series due within the coming weeks. The final batch was due to be submitted by Feb 2017. Presumably these have all been received and awaiting a Committee decision.

      Apparently 1000 new homes are to be built by Brick by Brick by 2019. If they are to achieve this then the above mentioned applications had better be before the Planning Committee very soon.

  3. The shops at the nearby Purley Oaks Station are prone to flooding but neither that nor this site is shown on the Environment Agency map as a high flood risk. A check on Council Drainage Section records might prove interesting. Before purchasing one of these properties I would want to satisfy myself as to the flood risk as it might be difficult to get a mortgage or buildings/contents insurance. The withdrawl of the Flood Officers report is “interesting/worrying!”.

  4. There is a complaints procedure on the council website which would be well worth pursuing. If you are not happy with the outcome of this then it may be worth going to the local government ombudsman at;

    The outcome of this may not stop the application going ahead but you may be able to influence some changes to the design.

    What is perhaps more important is that the ombudsman may say that the council should change its procedures. For example, if as seems to be the case, there is a possible conflict of interest. In this case the council’s procedures may be changed to insist that in these circumstance the chair stand down.

    Of course a simple way round this and in the interest of local democracy the chair could simply volunteer to step down.

    Finally an e mail to the head of the council Tony Newman may help .

    I hope this is useful

  5. Thanks for advice, there are a number of options being considered by residents to take this matter further.
    One of the saddest things is that local residents are in fact a fairly liberal bunch, and don’t disagree with the need for housing. A friend of mine visited a family of 4 in the north of the borough privately renting what is effectively a shed, with a double bed and a heater, at the end of a garden strewn with dog excrement.
    But the Norman/Derrick site is appalling, as evidenced by the numerous ‘conditions’ included in the officer’s report – these do not make the proposal acceptable but rather evidence that it is not suitable. As well as the issues raised in the article, there’s a children’s play area at one end of the site next to the electricity substation and the pedestrian entrance to Purley Oaks Station which is unsafe. a single track access road with no pavement to be shared between pedestrians, cars and service & emergency vehicles, and 20 car parking spaces for 37 ‘dwellings’! They’ll be 200+ people living in a space approx 15m wide.
    Even leaving these aside, the family I mentionned earlier will not be able to ‘afford’ any of these properties. The council needs to rethink its whole strategy, infilling and overdeveloping on unsuitable sites is not the answer. And playing politics with planning isn’t either.

    • Who knows, Jack? Neither of those names were listed as the applicant on the formal planning application. It is the sort of thing you’d hope, and expect, your local authority to ensure that they, and the applicant, get right. And it’s the sort of thing that the chair of the planning committee should oversee in the public interest.
      Proper and full knowledge of any applicant for planning permission is an essential part of the public process and the checks that need to be made before an informed decision about the granting of planning permission can be made.
      In this case, and on that detail alone, the people of Croydon have been let down, yet again, by Councillor Scott and Croydon Council’s planning department.

  6. Lewis White says:

    I sympathise with the Council on the difficulty, in a borough where most of the North of Croydon, and areas like South Croydon are already largely developed at very high densities, of finding suitable places for adding additional houses, let alone blocks / closes / housing estates.

    In most areas, losing a green space, even a patch of waste ground, can make the area feel even more dense and urban. This sounds like one of those areas.

    There are a few areas–like Handcroft Road at Broad Green, and parts of Brighton Road South Croydon, –where the urban fabric is so run down, that someone needs to say– OK, let’s redevelop the whole area, and add in trees and green space where all can see it, along with housing. The private sector developers, understandably, go for the easy sites, where a big Victorian terrace or a group of big houses can be torn down and replaced with some modern blocks..

    No local authority likes to attempt compulsory purchase, which is probably, short term, a vote loser. Sad, as many areas need urban renewal. I think that Government should be enabling Urban Renewal zones to help with sensible redevelopment of such areas.

    What are the alternatives?.

    I see that Tandridge, a borough where most of the land is Green Belt, are considering a garden village or garden town. Could Croydon team up with Tandridge, or even Edenbridge in Kent, to design a new town or town expansion scheme ?

    Metropolitan Open Land– round Addington Village– in my view, some of this could be much better used, and look better, if redeveloped as a garden suburb.

    What about Bethlem Hospital ? – there are large areas which could be redeveloped, and it could look and feel very good, if done on Garden Village lines. It need not be an urban imposition, nor would it affect patient care at the Hospital. There are woodlands there and open fields, not farmed, areas of which could be built on. There could be ponds for fishing and wildlife. It would not be an urban jungle.

    I think we really need a joint Croydon Development Panel, where the Council invite the resident associations to be the “public” part of a group charged with working out the sensible development of new settlements around the borough. It would be composed of Councillors, Council Officers, the Public and some expert outsiders (a planner, an urban designer, a landscape architect, and an architect) who can take a slightly distanced overview.

    There’s a few suggestions. Nimbies would need to be weeded out, somehow.

    Of course, if we had a better spread of development and employment around the UK, without everything being crammed into London and the South East, Croydon would not need to find so much land for new housing.


  7. derekthrower says:

    “Of course, if we had a better spread of development and employment around the UK, without everything being crammed into London and the South East, Croydon would not need to find so much land for new housing.”
    Around 40 years ago the UK Government abandoned any such aspiration by handing over complete development control to market forces.
    I probably agree a lot with most of the things you say, but we have gone beyond rationality in development policy and unfortunately fine words will not butter any parsnips in this case. Only crude intervention which will alienate lots of people will make an impact on the housing crisis. Till that day comes we are left with the more subtle intervention of the State in keeping property prices high to satisfy vested interests and it’s core electorate. Something is going to have to give in our very uncertain economic future.

  8. “when Maggie Mansell, one of the Labour members of the committee, suggested that she might abstain from a motion objecting to the proposal.”

    The refusal motion against the development received 5 votes in support, 5 votes were counted by the person in charge of counting. Mrs Mansell did not vote to support the refusal motion. The vote was carried out for those against refusal. 4 were counted. Mrs Mansell did not vote against the refusal motion. She abstained as was her option. The person counting declared 4.

    However what she clearly was not expecting, nor would anyone voting in a group process be expecting, because I understand it not to be the process, was to then be singled out by her name by the chairman, in front of a full committee. She certainly was not expecting the sudden pressure put on her shoulders. The chairman, who was so passionately and robustly for the development, eyes on her, her labour colleagues eyes on her, the full committee eyes on her, public gallery eyes on her, the working out of the voting maths and the value of her vote….

    Cllr Mansell was heard to say in response to her name being called out “i was abstaining”.

    Perhaps having weighed up the need for housing verses the quality of life that this development could offer, perhaps in response to the open issues with the development, Cllr Mansell felt she could not vote either way, no argument won the day. Perhaps she felt she couldn’t vote to support the refusal becasue that was one step to far to go against the normal voting pattern of labour councillors vs conservative councillors, unlike the brave Cllr Clouder, who clearly voted on the development at hand with an open mind. Perhaps Cllr Mansell mind was made up to abstain having had days and hrs to read all the material in advance, listened to the debate over the hour, had asked her questions and concluded that the development issues troubled her enough to decide to not vote against the refusal motion.

    Yet in the split seconds after being singled out despite all the information to absorb, with no further information given, with the pressure mounting, the chair not accepting the “I was abstaining” and clearly lacking the courage of conviction like Cllr Clouder she waivered….she muttered “…but i will support the”

    She didn’t even complete the sentence.

    Bang, in steps the chair, “ok thank you, so that is 5, 5 so I will use my chairs casting vote and vote against the refusal motion, therefore the refusal motion fails”

    Still at no point had Cllr Mansell raised a voting hand.

    During the uproar that obviously followed between councillors upset at how the process had fallen down, and the public gallery that were stunned at what they were observing, Cllr Mansell clearly rattled, and demonstrating a further lack of integrity and conviction responded to a Councillors mimick of what she had just said, saying “that is not what I said, I said I was thinking of abstaining…” So telling the committee what I believed could be described as a porky pie.

    This farce of a conclusion to what has been a long drawn out saga to get this far, amplified the failings that so aggrieved me ahead of the planning committee meeting. I have continuously reflected during this saga in the mirror to challenge myself that I was not just being a so called nimbie. Each time I have concluded that my main issues are actually the development itself, and the clear issues it has that came up again and again in the committee meeting and that were so easy glossed over in the planning officers recommendation report. A report which showed so little balance to the issues, yet issues that never seemed to really be addressed with the rigour you would expect. The keys issues included

    – Railway noise creating an unhealthy and low quality living environment
    – Known surface water Flooding zone
    – Lack of amenity for those living there, and poor, potentially unsafe outside playing space
    – Unsafe servicing road/alley with limited passing spaces for pedestrians, kids on bikes, and cars sharing a single track with no pavement alley, blind spots.
    – Most of these issues compounded by the sheer scale and density of a development in a narrow strip of land, which I felt stretched many of the Local Plans policies to the limit, certainly the spirit of the policies

    However my main issue in advance of the committee was with the failings of the planning department to challenge these issues hard enough including the failings in the developers information that was submitted that were clearly aimed at playing down the issues.

    The planning department acted in my view
    – like they were tired of challenging the developer having come back with the 5th iteration of the similar thing despite feedback like don’t put the playground at the public train station end
    – treated information that queried the developers reports like an inconveniance that added hassle to their job, like failings in the noise report, parking survey that did not reflect the reality.
    – Even on appearance towards the end suppressing awkward information and going to the extent of not publishing nor issuing on request missing items referenced within the planning departments report.

    Like the network rail response which picked up on the unsafe position of the playground next to the public train station and the query of boundary issues posed by the development.
    Like the treatment of the flood report that objected to the development as information was missing to draw a conclusion, further surveys required. but suddenly the objection was removed at the 11th hour with no further surveys completed or information published.
    Like passing over information in the noise report that concludes the noise in the external spaces will be above the British standard recommendation.

    Most importantly, in my mind, was why the developers noise report that details that they took the noise measurements from a position further away from the railway than the proposed new buildings and in a position obscured by station buildings from the railway noise and was able to just about conclude that sleeping spaces could achieve a British standard based on the wrong measure was never challenged. Despite being pointed out 12mths ago, despite being raised earlier this year, despite being raised in the committee meeting. The developers report conducted in 2014 has never openly been challenged nor has the specific concerns raised against it ever been responded too, neither in advance or in the committee meeting.

    Why do I find the lack of challenge to the developers noise survey so bizarre, and why has there never been a response to the concerns pointed out on numerous occasions? Possibly because it would be inconvenient, possibly because a fair report could conclude that the proposed development positioned so close to a 90mph railway with trains running throughout the night including gatwick express and noisy goods trains could actually provide an unhealthy environment where children would find it hard to get undisturbed sleep and therefore scupper the whole proposal. Perhaps it would not of, perhaps it would have confirmed the existing mitigations were sufficient or just that further mitigations would be required.

    The point is we don’t know? but why take that risk? Why take the risk of basing a decision on a noise report produced by the developer with open queries against and just accept the verbal argument put by the chair that the development closeness to the railway is similar to many places in central London. When its not. Its not similar in that the trains are much faster here to central London as they are allowed to open up to near fall speed for the first time (90mph) as they leave South Croydon and London and therefore have a much noisier sound envelope.

    The risk of getting this wrong is significant if you believe what is contained in the Noise Policy for England, and the World Health Organisations (WHO) – Night Noise Guidelines for Europe reports.

    Every residential development starts with the argument for the need for housing, clearly this need is high right now. However having a fair and robust process to conclude if the development is actually sustainable and is of sufficient quality to meet that need is vital. Otherwise how can we all be certain that our council are not just building at any cost now and creating social problems for the future.

  9. At the end of the day, EVERYONE involved in this application KNOWS that this land is unsuitable for development – the residents know it, local MPs – including the minister for housing – know it, the council Development Management department know it, the Chief Executive knows it, the councillors know it, Network Rail, Natural England, the Flood Authority know it and the applicants know it. So the question is, how in hell’s name has this got approval? This smells really bad….

  10. Ryan Bennett says:

    I’ve seen so much changes in terms of businesses/building’s going up over many years which was a very slow progress. But now theres to much of it happening, In the next 20 years as today we will be left without any sunlight, our environment is being destroyed if there’s anything I can do to help improve more thnews happy to protest

  11. In every way Croydon is entering a long, dark winter.

    By this time next year the Westfield development will still not have started, the thousands of expensive flats that have been completed in the borough will be empty and losing value, the tram service will be inconvenient and nowhere as smooth as today, many bits of pleasant open land will have been appropriated by developers, there will be more Chicken Shops, despite Mme Butler’s efforts, our Council will still be faffing about with vanity projects like the by then almost totally defunct Surrey Street Market, Tony Soprano will still be saying that its everyone else’s fault, Children’s Services will still be run by a Commissioner, the Fairfield Halls will have reopened with almost no acts or attractions and will be overhyped and I will continue to venerate the name of St. Adrian Winchester who managed to save one, the only one, of Croydon’s cultural artefacts.

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