The latest round of Brick by Brick planning applications will be considered at a meeting to be chaired by a councillor who is under investigation by the Ombudsman. BARRATT HOLMES reports
Paul Scott, the controversial chair of the council’s planning committee, will tonight oversee another set of applications from Brick by Brick, the council’s development company, even though there is now a formal complaint about his conduct lodged with the Local Government Ombudsman.
The council’s chief executive, Jo Negrini, last week bowed to public pressure and mounting complaints about Scott by agreeing to have council planning meetings webcast.
Full council meetings, cabinet meetings and scrutiny committee meetings held in the Town Hall chamber have all been webcast since 2014, but for some reason Scott’s planning committee has never been subject to such wider scrutiny and public record. Until, that is, last week, when the council webcast a planning committee meeting for the first time. This was just weeks after Chris Philp, as MP for Croydon South, complained about the chairman’s “whipping” of his committee along party lines to achieve a particular outcome at a previous meeting.
Scott has since provided a detailed account of his behaviour over that particular planning application – submitted by a private developer, for homes close to the railway lines at Purley Cross, on a site which previously had been refused permission as unsuitable for habitation. Elements of Scott’s version of events are contradicted by accounts from numerous witnesses in the public gallery, and by a recording taken by a resident on their phone.
Crucially, Scott had declared that he had an interest in that application, because as a director of achitects’ firm TP Bennett, he had worked with the architect for the applicants. Despite that declared interest, Scott nonetheless voted to grant planning permission for his chum’s development.
Scott is part of the “Gang of Four” who control the ruling Labour group on the council, together with Mark Watson, Tony Newman, his fellow Woodside councillor and the council leader, and Alison Butler, the deputy leader and cabinet member for housing. Scott and Butler are married.
Following mounting complaints over Scott’s conduct and suggestions of conflicts of interest over the council’s Brick by Brick developments, Newman might have used this week’s Town Hall meeting to replace Scott as chair of the planning committee, at least while he is under formal investigation. Newman chose not to.
One year out from the next Town Hall elections, and the council’s remorseless pursuit of overdevelopment, all carried out in the pursuit of arbitrary housing targets, has seen several new residents’ groups formed, usually hostile to Newman’s cliquish Labour group.
At last week’s planning meeting, Scott was jeered by residents on several occasions.
“I am surprised that Tony Newman is not becoming nervous about Scott’s antics,” one senior Town Hall observer told Inside Croydon this week.
“Scott is whipping up hatred for the Labour Party in Croydon in every corner of the borough.”
Philp had previously written to Negrini, who dismissed the suggestion that there was any conflict of interest involving Scott, his partner Butler as cabinet member for housing, and Brick by Brick, the council’s house-building company.
Philp also complained to the Borough Solicitor over Scott’s conduct on the Purley Oaks application – in which council own legal advisers had given Scott clearance over his handling of the vote. That complaint has been dismissed by the council’s in-house lawyers.
Philp is now free to take the complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman. It is possible that some of Scott’s recent rambling justifications of his actions, published by Inside Croydon, will be used as evidence in that submission.
“I saw Scott’s piece and thought it was absurd,” Philp said.
“He is essentially claiming that he has no control over planning applications. This is patently rubbish. He has given himself super-referral powers to get applications placed before the committee to determine himself instead of being determined by officers, and the committee regularly divides along party lines.
“His claim to have no discretion is laughable.”
Tonight’s meeting will consider Brick by Brick applications to build blocks of flats on the green spaces between existing, council-built social housing at Auckland Rise, Upper Norwood, and to build on the site of garages beside the Heathfield Road estate in Fairfield ward.
Both applications have been criticised for being badly presented, with misleading and inaccurate information included in the applications and the council planning officials’ reports.
“Just because Brick by Brick is the council’s own development company, it should not mean they can be exempt from any official plans and guidance,” was the response of one resident.
“If Brick by Brick had really listened and acted upon people’s views, this proposed development should never have reached the application stage,” was another.
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