WALTER CRONXITE reports on the disappearance of ward councillors’ contribution to a key consultation on Croydon’s strategic planning document
It might not be quite up there with the unexplained disappearance of Lord Lucan, but comments submitted by Waddon Labour councillors to Croydon Council on the Local Plan seem to have vanished in equally mysterious circumstances.
The Croydon Local Plan is supposed to set out how the council aims to achieve growth and development across the borough over the next 20 years. It includes providing new homes for a growing population, the controversial plans to provide an additional traveller and gypsy site (for now, at least, to be at Purley Oaks), as well as all the school places which our growing borough might require.
The Local Plan, therefore, is the masterpiece/shambles [delete to taste] which since 2014 has been overseen by Alison Butler, Labour’s deputy leader and the cabinet member for regeneration, and her husband Paul Scott, who conveniently just happens to be the chair of the council’s planning committee. Together, they make up one half of the Gang of Four that rules the Town Hall’s Labour group.
After years of work and rounds of public consultation, Croydon Council submitted its local plan and detailed proposals to the Planning Inspectorate on February 3. An independent planning inspector will now examine these alongside more than 8,000 representations received by the council and published online at the end of January.
Except it appears the inspector won’t be examining the representation submitted jointly by elected Waddon councillors Robert Canning and Joy Prince.
In a shining example of openness and accountability, the Waddon councillors posted their representation on their Twitter feed on October 16. Inside Croydon has even managed to obtain a copy from deep in the bunker underneath Fishers’ Folly, as you can see here.
In the letter, the councillors outlined their objections to the proposal for a new secondary school in their ward on open land next to Duppas Hill Park.
Their grounds for objecting cover difficulties in gaining access to the site, the loss of green space, increased overcrowding on public transport and more school-run congestion and parking problems in an area that is already suffering from the over-loading of school places.
They wrote: “There is no possibility that we can see of gaining access to the proposed site from Stafford Road without the compulsory purchase of houses on this residential road and we have been contacted by residents who are, understandably, alarmed about this potential development should it go ahead. Strong and sustained opposition to this proposal is therefore to be expected.
“… There is already considerable traffic congestion around Stafford Road and Fiveways junction. This will be exacerbated by the new Harris Academy Purley Way which is currently being built. Working with TfL to tackle traffic congestion around Fiveways only to then generate additional school-run car trips at this congestion hotspot is not a sensible way forward.”
Since the Waddon councillors sent their letter, Scott’s planning committee has waved through proposals for yet another school in the ward, the Krishna Avanti primary in Southbridge Place alongside the Croydon Flyover, where the air pollution is already recognised as being so bad that pupils at the new school will have to be kept indoors in the smoggiest conditions.
Planning permission was granted for Krishna Avanti, making it the 11th school in Waddon, despite concerns raised by the ward’s other councillor, Andrew Pelling, and others around the associated traffic congestion and air pollution.
The number of school places available in Waddon will be more than 6,000, well above the local demand for places.
Many of the youngsters allocated places at these schools will now have to face long journeys across the borough to get an education, with much less opportunity to walk or cycle to school.
So some might think that any plans for yet another school in the same ward, especially one to be built on a green field site close to one of the busiest, and most polluted, junctions in south London, might be worth taking a careful look at. And if the elected local representatives object to such a plan, it might be expected to see their reasoned arguments put forward to the planning inspector to consider within the review of the Local Plan.
But the Waddon councillors’ letter to Steve Dennington, the head of Croydon’s hard-pressed spatial planning service, which was helpfully copied in to his boss, the council CEO Jo Negrini, is nowhere to be seen among the reams of documents submitted to the planning inspectorate by Croydon.
So what has happened to the objections that they submitted to Croydon Council but which seems not to have made it into the inspector’s in-tray.
Has it simply been misplaced by overworked council officers in the spatial planning department? Was it withdrawn by the Waddon councillors?
Was it abducted by aliens keen to learn more about school place provision in Waddon? Or maybe supernatural forces in the Town Hall quietly removed representations that didn’t say what Labour’s ruling clique wanted to hear?
It’s the sort of mystery worthy of the X Files. Maybe only Mulder and Scully can solve it. Because somewhere, the truth is out there…
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