CROYDON COMMENTARY: At Paul Scott’s planning meetings, the public, even MPs, are sometimes denied an opportunity to put their case, while the committee chairman is observed acting as an advocate for his architect colleagues.
Inside Croydon recently published Councillor Scott’s explanation of his actions at one meeting in particular – which are subject to a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.
Here, ANDREW SADDINGTON takes issue with several aspects of the councillor’s version of events
In his comments on the Norman and Derrick Avenue development, Councillor Paul Scott concedes that, “…there is no doubt that it is a challenging site. It sits adjacent to the railway in an area that is prone to flooding. These issues were carefully considered by the officers, and I have no doubt that all the members of the planning committee considered them carefully too when deciding how to vote”.
Residents disagree with the assertion that officers and all members of the planning committee considered the issues carefully when deciding how to vote.
They base this on a number of reasons:
- The council’s planning department lacks the capacity and expertise to examine evidence effectively. In this one case, there are significant flaws in evidence relating to noise, flooding, parking, to name just a few. These were highlighted in the 175-plus objections to the scheme, and in subsequent expert advice sought by residents relating to noise, but all were ignored.
- The officer’s report to committee was therefore incomplete and misleading.
- It was evident at the meeting that at least two councillors preferred to look at their mobile phones rather than attend to the meeting itself. One of these members has been captured in footage of the meeting.
Residents understand that difficult sites, with appropriate mitigating measures, can still be suitable for development. Councillor Scott rightly indicates that the planned buildings will be raised up above the maximum flood level with flood basement areas below them to contain the water in the case of a future flood.
However, the evidence that this mitigation will be sufficient is flawed, as it takes no account of the increased run-off into the site via Derrick Avenue. It also wrongly suggests that the development will not increase the flood risk to the surrounding area. The flood basement areas will discharge the water into the local system in Station Approach, which is already unable to cope with flood events. The sandbags still remain there from the last surface water flood event.
It is interesting that Councillor Scott notes that if the LLFA, the Lead Local Flood Authority, had maintained its objections, the application would not have been approved. It is unclear to residents why, in an email at 5.35pm on the evening of the planning committee meeting, the LLFA withdrew their objection and on what grounds.
Residents were not afforded either the courtesy nor the opportunity to view the amended LLFA comments prior to the meeting and it is unlikely any of the members of the committee would have been able to, either. It would be very interesting to find out what prompted this sudden change of heart – I’m sure Councillor Scott understands that, to residents, the sudden removal of what he considers was the only stumbling block to approval at the 11th hour appears highly suspect.
Residents also understand that in many cases, the effects of noise can be mitigated against in new developments. If the acoustic and vibration report which Councillor Scott refers to had been undertaken correctly, then the proposed development would meet the requirements he states. But it hasn’t, with measuring equipment placed incorrectly and a complete absence of the correct noise measure being used for night time noise levels, as raised in the planning meeting by the residents’ representative, the chair of the Sanderstead Residents’ Association and subsequently by independent experts.
Unfortunately the proposed development will not reach the standards quoted.
Councillor Scott states that Network Rail did not oppose the application. I am surprised that he is able to say this given the complete absence of any reference to Network Rail’s comments in the officer’s report. No member of the committee was given any written summary of Network Rail’s response.
The council’s planning department head, Pete Smith, in response to a Stage 1 complaint, concedes that, “The report does not include the comments received from Network Rail, who are a statutory consultee and commented on the scheme. I am unsure why this was not included and appears to have been in error, for which I apologise”
Residents do not agree with Smith’s assertions: “I do not consider that the absence of the Network Rail comments from the report resulted in an unsound decision or that the Planning Committee or local residents would have respectively come to a different decision or made significantly different representations if these issues were addressed more fully.”
As well as detailing all the covenants on the land, and a series of significant comments about boundaries, Network Rail made comment on the siting of the children’s play area, highlighted as a concern by the committee itself at pre-application stage, and again at the planning committee meeting by a number of councillors. Residents remain convinced that the weight of comments by a statutory consultee such as Network Rail would have made a different outcome far more likely.
Councillor Scott goes on to describe the proposed amenity space in the new development: “Each of the new homes will have balconies and/or roof terraces that in many cases significantly exceed the required standards.”
While these areas may be relatively spacious, as they say, size isn’t everything. He fails to mention that these spaces will be unusable due to the high level of noise from the adjacent London-Brighton Mainline (so high that each flat will have to be mechanically ventilated, so that the residents can avoid opening windows) and that the outlook from each of these “terraces” will be limited to the tightly packed neighbouring block of flats due to the necessity of facing the blocks north-south and the shielding required to prevent overlooking.
Given that existing residents of Derrick and Norman avenues had previously had more than 18 months of no one taking their legitimate concerns seriously, the planning meeting was always likely to be highly charged. Thankfully, residents do not have to rely on their memories of the evening or what are laughably called “minutes” of the meeting itself, as we have transcribed the video of what went on, and the vote, for future reference.
You can view it for yourself here:
We may never know what the intentions of committee members were and whether any felt duty to toe a particular line. But this application should never have been approved by the council in the first place. Or, at the very least, should have been scrutinised effectively at committee.
But here is an accurate account of what was said at that planning meeting:
Cllr Scott: Thank You. Anyone else wishing to speak…?
No. In that case we’ve have got two motions before us that have been completed. The first of those was the refusal. Moved by Councillor Wright and seconded by Councillor Perry based on plans of overdevelopment, flooding, impact on amenities of neighbours, and amenities of future occupiers and parking and access. summarised that if I can. So we will take that motion first, The second one was for Approval moved by myself and seconded by Councillor Audsley.
So can I see all those in favour of refusal?
[Five hands are raised]
Counter: Four. Five.
Cllr Scott: Five, and those against?
[Four hands are raised]
Counter: Five. Four.
Cllr Scott: Cllr Mansell can you?
Cllr Mansell: I was abstaining, but I will, I will support the…
Cllr Scott: Ok, Thank you. So that is five-five, and I will use my Chairman’s casting vote to … (Noise from public gallery muffles Scott)
Cllr Perry: Can I get legal opinion on that you have just asked someone who was abstaining to vote
(Noise from public gallery muffles Scott’s response. Scott is believed to say, “I was clarifying on what their vote was”)
Cllr Perry: She quite clearly said I wish to abstain but ok I shall support it
Cllr Clancy: You have whipped their vote
Cllr Perry: You have pressurised that member to vote
Cllr Scott: Councillor Mansell?
Cllr Mansell: Yes, that is not what I said, what I said was that I was thinking of abstaining. This is a very difficult decision, it is not an ideal site but a lot of mitigations has been committed to the design, so on balance I am prepared to support it.
Cllr Scott: Thank you very much Cllr Perry, thank you very much.
- Read Inside Croydon’s original report of the planning meeting here
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