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