What’s the point of planning committee with Scott in charge?

CROYDON COMMENTARY: A senior councillor’s arrogant dismissal of residents who have sought to protect and defend their neighbourhoods from crass over-development is among the most-read articles on the site this week. Here, Purley resident TOM MOORHOUSE responds and provides some answers for planning chair Paul Scott

Proposals for this Soviet bloc-style towers overshadowing the Town Hall and Queen’s Gardens were passed unanimously last night

Councillor Scott this week posed this question in a Commentary on Inside Croydon:

“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?”

Is it not the Local Plan and the process involved in getting to an agreed local plan that should help determine this?

I think it is a misunderstanding: people expect to see development that improves what was there before, in the case of brownfield sites or, if it was greenfield, is highly sympathetic to the loss of the greenscape that added so much to the enjoyment of those already residing and visiting the local area. To go from greenfield to some bland high-rise square block, like something picked out of a stereotypical ex-communist Russian city, is what is getting a lot of backs up.

It is quite a drop in the perceived quality of life to take for many, so it should be no surprise that people are willing to try to defend what they and their family have, against such drops in their quality of living environment by trying to stop that type of development. You should not mistake residents not wanting ugly, imposing developments for not wanting any development at all.

Councillor Scott further asks: “Where should the rest go when most of us want to see the green belt protected?”

I think we should try harder to develop brownfield sites and run-down areas, although it is the Local Plan process that should provide this answer. We just need better leadership in achieving it.

He also states: “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?”

I think this is another example of Councillor Scott misunderstanding. It demonstrates a lack of listening. I believe people are complaining that the character is changing for the worse rather than better. There’s a big difference.

Scott asks: “So at what point should we say things should stop changing?”

Don’t stop changing. Surely everyone knows that Croydon needs improving, but please change for the better, have higher aspirations, make Croydon a place people want to live in and come to visit. Realise some of the spirit of the London and Local Plan, less of the Councillor Paul Scott “vision”.

And again: “To what extent should those people who own a home already say that we should stop building them for those who don’t?”

If Councillor Scott were to listen to residents, I don’t think people are saying stop. People are saying, “What the hell is that?!”

Paul Scott: the chair of Croydon planning committee and husband of cabinet member for housing Alison Butler

Perhaps a policy of building desirable smaller houses with adequate gardens and greenery for those wanting or able to downsize might encourage the freeing up of the family sized homes that are so needed. Could be a good complimentary policy to just building ugly blocks of three-bed apartments with no actual amenity for families. But I know this may not be so appealing to developers and their profit margins.

“The planning committee ..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.”

At the planning meeting I attended, it felt to me that the planning committee are not at liberty to simply to go with whatever view takes their fancy. It felt like it is only Councillor  Paul Scott’s view that is allowed.

While the definition of sustainable is very broad, it is also quite simple. A development should work for now and in the future.

So, I need to ask a question of Councillor Scott.

How can a development be seen as “sustainable”, by any definition, when the site which Scott’s planning committee granted planning permission for has been shown to be:

  • Prone to flooding
  • Unable to provide a place of rest and recuperation for its residents (as it is sited next to a 24/7 90mph railway line), and therefore unable to provide a healthy environment (mental and physical) for its residents
  • Lacking in amenity space
  • And has a 300-metre-plus long, narrow single lane dead end road with no pedestrian safe walking route that was described at the planning meeting as “an accident waiting to happen”?

Possibly, it can’t.

But possibly it can when the quality assurance and scrutiny supposed to be provided by a 10-member planning committee is eroded away by an individual with too much influence and sway.

And possibly it can when one individual fails to oversee the expected level of scrutiny,  and when he happily compares other developments next to a 45mph railway track in central London as being the same as developing next to an all-night 90mph railway.

Councillor Paul Scott has previously implied that the planning committee should simply support the professional recommendation put in a planning officer’s report.

If that’s the case, what is the point of a planning committee?

“Whatever everybody else thinks, it is for the ‘jury’ to make the decision.”

Or in the case of the Derrick Avenue development, it seems that it was for the “judge” to make that decision, when he dislikes the jury’s first outcome.

“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.”

I would suggest that it is the people overseeing the system locally who need changing, to ensure the current system is working better with greater level of scrutiny and governance over applications, and a better vision.

If people do want to change the way things are done, then they should lobby the local council, to oversee the Local Plan much better and to apply planning policies and processes much better.

People should lobby the local council to ensure better quality development that changes Croydon for the better, not the worse.

And people should lobby for a change of planning committee chairman, who with his comments this week has added to his growing reputation for being aloof and who seemed to have lost the ability to listen properly to anyone with a different view to his own.

People should lobby for a chairman who could install greater confidence that Brick by Brick applications would receive even greater scrutiny, given the greater risk of a conflict of interest that must arise by the rather bizarre independent but council-owned structure of this applicant.

People should lobby for a new chairman who will respect a committee capable of encouraging a balanced debate, putting good governance ahead of his own desired outcome.

People should lobby for a chairman that hasn’t just turned the planning committee into a tick box exercise

And people should lobby for a planning chairman that would listen to and respect his own committee members, and could see and hear that a member was abstaining when that did not suit his desired outcome of a crucial vote.

  • Residents affected by property development cases who would like to get in touch with other groups confronting similar issues can contact andrew.saddington@gmail.com

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Alison Butler, Brick by Brick, Community associations, Croydon Council, Housing, Jo Negrini, Paul Scott, Planning, Property, Purley and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What’s the point of planning committee with Scott in charge?

  1. I remain to be convinced that high rise blocks are the solution to the shortage of homes for families or those wanting to start one. Many of the 1960s towers throughout the country have been demolished (makes good TV) and it was said a few years ago that they were unsuitable and architectural monstrosities. Roundshaw is a good example of replacing such 1960s medium rise blocks with some rather attractive low rise, conventional homes.

    Croydon is building ever higher towers for residential use but the isolation and lack of assocated open space provision make them suitable for a very narow category of resident. In fact it is hard to think who they are for anything other than “investors”.

    Given time these will become the new slums as maintenance costs and the advantages of buying something newer will make them very hard to sell. Most of these towers will have an economic life of around 50 years but I don’t suppose that bothers the developers, planners or those approving such schemes.

  2. Rod Davies says:

    We all had the opportunity to comment upon and contribute to the Local Plan initially devised by the previous Conservative administration and finalised by the current Labour administration. We all are aware of, or at least should be, the acute shortage of housing caused by the influx of people into the London area, and more broadly the Southeast, due to uneven economic development policies since WW2. The nation could have voted for politicians that had alternative and more balanced ideas, but the nation didn’t.
    Croydon, as much as any other London borough, is expected to contribute the a solution to the housing crisis and therefore is expected to facilitate the construction of sufficient numbers of housing units.
    The Local Plan set out the long term objective of having high density development in & around the town centre. Outside of this area, with a few minor exceptions, the neighbourhoods opted for low density development and retaining the existing characteristics. The approach the Conservative council took was to structure consultation around a number of “Places” in which areas scheduled to have high density development were a minority and thus marginalised. The residents of the areas scheduled for high density development, don’t want vast blocks towering over them and no doubt would have preferred it if the burden of creating new housing was spread far more evenly across the borough in the form of medium density development.
    But the majority decision was to have a high density centre, with other areas protected from any greater than low density development.
    In many respects it’s like the Brexit referendum, the majority voted Leave and so everyone has to live with the consequences, even if they are painful.
    Due to the constraints of the Local Plan we can readily see that the council is struggling to respond to the demand for housing, schools etc given the severe limitations of space. On Moreland Rd Rees House, initially scheduled to be social housing, is to become a school to meet demand to the north. It is hardly a perfect site but the available options are very limited.
    The Local Plan dictates that to provide affordable housing on extraordinarily expensive sites the developers must build high, dense and basic. These will inherently detract from the town centre public realm as they border on over-development.
    But this is the choice Croydon made.

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