Most council business has been shutdown because of election purdah. But not a planning meeting to push through another 100 homes to be built for the council’s own development company, even while the chair of the committee is under investigation. BARRATT HOLMES reports
The conduct of Councillor Paul Scott in chairing a planning committee meeting in March is now the subject to a formal investigation by the Borough Solicitor, following a complaint by one of the borough’s MPs.
Yet while many other aspects of council business have been shutdown as a consequence of pre-election purdah, Scott is still expected to chair a planning meeting that has been arranged for next Thursday.
On the agenda next week are four applications, to build a total of 103 flats and houses. All come from a single applicant, Brick by Brick. Brick by Brick just happens to be the council’s housing development company.
The council cabinet member responsible for housing is Labour’s deputy leader, Alison Butler. Butler is married to Scott, the planning committee chair.
Last month, the council committee (chair: P Scott) granted planning consent for 101 homes on eight sites across the borough for the council’s development company, Brick by Brick. The council issued a press release which featured this quote from the cabinet member for housing (A Butler): “It is fantastic Brick by Brick’s first batch of homes have been granted planning consent.
“Croydon is in desperate need of good quality, affordable housing and this innovative approach will enable many of our residents who are homeless or stuck in temporary accommodation, the chance to move into affordable homes of their own.”
For the avoidance of doubt, by “innovative approach”, Butler is thought to mean spinning off a private company to use the council’s public property and funding to build homes, at least half of which will be flogged off privately.
It is not thought that Butler meant that having her husband pushing the Brick by Brick planning applications through committee is an “innovative approach”.
Chris Philp, who is now seeking re-election as the Conservative MP for Croydon South, had complained of the apparent conflicts of interest between Butler, Scott, the council and Brick by Brick. But Croydon’s £185,000-plus chief exec, Jo Negrini, replied to Philp stating that there is no connection between Butler and Brick by Brick, because it is a private company.
Undeterred, Philp has also filed a formal complaint about Scott’s conduct at a planning meeting in March, when the planning chairman was accused of “whipping” committee members along party lines to vote through a private development near Purley Oaks Station. It is illegal for members of the planning committee to be told – “whipped” – how to vote.
The Borough Solicitor, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, has confirmed that Scott’s conduct is being investigated, saying that there will be a response no later than May 16 – a full six weeks after the complaint was made, and a week after the next block of Brick by Brick planning applications are expected to be pushed through by Scott.
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