CROYDON COMMENTARY: According to Councillor PAUL SCOTT, pictured left, residents who complain about their neighbourhood being overdeveloped are just Nimbys, and there’s nothing he or the council planning department can do to avoid the over-development that is being inflicted on the borough by … the council
It would be interesting to hear from those people who say they understand the urgent need to build new homes, but don’t want them built near where they live. Where do they think the new homes should be built?
Boris Johnson as Mayor of London identified that Croydon needs to build almost 32,000 new homes over the next 20 years. About one-third of those could be accommodated in the town centre. A further one-third can be built on what is commonly known as “brown field land”. Where should the rest go when most of us want to see the green belt protected?
For those that complain the character of the borough is changing, maybe they would like to enlighten us all to a time when it wasn’t changing? The reality is of course that it has always been changing ever since our ancestors first settled here.
The old market town expanded hugely as the railways spread development across farmland, country estates, woodland and pasture in the 19th century. Rows of high density terraced houses and villas sprung up. The advent of the car spread it even further with lower density “suburbs”. Post war redevelopment transformed the town centre into a mini Manhattan. High-density housing replaced low-density mansions and cottages in areas like Park Hill and the Lawdon Estate in Shirley. Small blocks of flats and cul-de-sacs of small houses started to replace large detached houses along Pampisford Road over 40 years ago. Since then the number of homes just along that road has massively increased. So at what point should we say things should stop changing?
To what extent should those people who own a home already say that we should stop building them for those who don’t?
Some people chose to blame the planning committee because the constantly changing skyline of Croydon keeps changing. The reality though is that the planning committee have to make their decisions based upon planning policy. They are not at liberty simply to go with whatever view takes their fancy! In particular they are guided by the Government’s “National Planning Policy Framework”. Introduced in 2013, this makes it very, very clear that planning committees and the councils they represent are expected to make their decisions based upon a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. “Sustainable” is defined very broadly.
Some people claim that the planning system is undemocratic. They assume that if local people object to an application then it should not be approved. There is a misunderstanding around the nature of the consultation process. It is not a referendum. It is an opportunity to raise concerns and identify issues that should be considered. The decision-making is then a quasi-judicial process – it operates in a similar fashion as courts. Whatever everybody else thinks, it is for the “jury” to make the decision. In the case of planning committees the democracy relates to the selection of who is eligible to sit on the committee (councillors elected to the council).
And of course there is also the concern about the planning system being biased in favour of the developer/applicant. It is, and always has been. It was set up that way because it removed the right of land owners to do what they wanted with their own land. It remains along with the NHS arguably one of the most socialist things this country ever did! Despite that, new house-building is at a woefully low level – the lowest since the 1920s according to many sources!
If residents want to change the way things are done with regards to planning, then I suggest they lobby the next government and try to persuade it to change the system. They could suggest ways of trying to ensure that the homes that all major parties recognise are needed, do actually get built. A new system would have to ensure that everyone doesn’t veto new development in their own backyard though, which could be rather difficult!
- Paul Scott is a Labour councillor for Woodside ward. He is married to Councillor Alison Butler, the cabinet member responsible for housing. The council planning committee, of which Scott is chair, next meets tomorrow night when it will consider another batch of applications put forward by Brick by Brick, a housing development company owned by the council
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