BARRATT HOLMES reports on the latest tacky little twist from Croydon’s Labour-run council in its drive to build more than 500 homes for profit, regardless of the consequences for existing residents
Further proof, if any further proof was necessary, that the council planning committee decisions on the council’s house-building company’s developments are a sham and a foregone conclusion came a fortnight before last week’s meeting.
Because that’s when residents in Heathfield Gardens, South Croydon, started to receive “notice to quit” letters from the council for the garages that they rent. Block by Block, the development machine owned by the council which avariciously aims to build hundreds of homes on pockets of green space or other council-owned land, wants to build a block of flats where the garages now stand.
The eviction notices were dated May 15. But Block by Block did not have planning permission for their scheme until May 24.
Brick by Brick is the development vehicle, devised by council CEO Jo Negrini, that originally said it is to build 1,000 homes in the borough by 2019, half of which are to be “affordable”. Last week a senior Labour council figure admitted that now, only 43 per cent of the homes would be delivered as “affordable” (either shared ownership or rented through housing associations). Not a single property so far proposed by Brick by Brick is what would be recognised as a “council home”.
At last week’s planning committee, chaired by Labour councillor Paul Scott – an additional meeting arranged by the council despite the election purdah period – the Heathfield Gardens scheme for Block by Block was passed by six votes to four, with all six votes in favour of the proposal coming from Labour councillors. It is supposed to be illegal to “whip” planning committee members along party lines.
Scott is married to another councillor, Alison Butler, who is the Labour council’s cabinet member responsible for housing. Scott is currently subject to a formal complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman for his conduct at planning meetings.
The proposal for Heathfield Road is for 20 homes, on the site of 16 existing garages. “The proposed development is cramped and ugly with a density greater than normal standards,” the residents’ campaign has said, also pointing out that 11 trees will be felled to make way for the new homes, “and the green spaces of Heathfield Gardens will be lost”.
Residents of Heathfield Gardens and other properties nearby in South End have complained that that the plans as originally submitted to the council were so misleading and inaccurate that they even omitted one entire storey of the proposed block from their architects’ drawings. The council planning department nevertheless recommended approval.
Stephen Pollard, one of the Heathfield Gardens residents affected by the council-backed scheme, told Inside Croydon: “After having spent the last eight months trying to oppose it, we got defeated along with Longheath Gardens and Auckland Rise and all the others.
“All the plans were passed by six vote to four.
“Every single Brick by Brick planning proposal has now been passed. Something is very wrong.
“It is totally illegal for councillors to discuss or even to talk about each scheme to one another before any meeting. Each Councillor must reach an independent decision. With so much opposition from residents, tenants, councillors and even MPs, it is difficult to believe that every scheme was passed on its own merits.
“In my three-minute slot at the planning committee, I was able to quote: ‘Government Guidance is contained in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), issued in March 2012: Permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions’.
“This fell on deaf ears, as did all opposition arguments.
“I have spoken to many of the ‘old guard’ housing managers who are also very angry, disappointed, even disgusted at the way that their tenants are being treated, but I suppose are too fearful of losing their jobs to come out in the open to say so.”
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