CROYDON COMMENTARY: A borough alderman and former chair of the council planning committee, ADRIAN DENNIS, pictured right, suggests that the council may have failed to follow the letter of the law in the planning notification for Well Cottages
Apart from the obvious injustice revealed in the story of the Cane Hill cottages, as reported by Inside Croydon, the case also highlights the fact that Croydon no longer carries out proper public consultations on planning applications, not even meeting the minimum requirement of a site notice attached to the property affected.Decent planning authorities still consult everyone affected, including all near-neighbours. But Croydon dropped this under the last Tory administration, saving a little money by not consulting. This Labour council has continued to fail to consult on planning applications and continues with this injustice, despite the problems having been pointed out to them many times.
I recall Well Cottages during my visits to Cane Hill when I was the chair (and later cabinet member) of planning and environment on the council. Although I have sympathy with the case I will not comment on the main issue that is being taken up by the local MP.
However, I would draw attention to the lack of public consultation involving all planning applications in Croydon, which is certainly a big part of the problem here.
During my time, the council would consult every neighbour and the property involved by letter, and as far as reasonably possible all others affected. In addition, where the site was affecting a wider area (such a Cane Hill), site notices were displayed.
I was particularly insistent on this rule being followed (and I seem to recall it may have been in standing orders) as I worked as a principle planner for the London Borough of Southwark, who despite carrying out even wider consultations (probably the most thorough in the country) was widely criticised on national television for failing to consult properly on a particularly difficult case. The case highlighted the need for proper consultation.
Croydon has never achieved the sophistication of consultation carried out by Southwark but it did a reasonable and acceptable job of informing most people in the immediate area of an application. That is no longer the case.
I should stress that I am not making a political criticism here, other than the fact that this council has done nothing to put the situation right.
It was the last Conservative administration that cut public consultation on planning applications to an absolute statutory minimum, as a cost-cutting exercise. The statutory minimum is either letters to a property and adjoining neighbours or a site notice attached to the property.
Over many years, the planning inspectorate has accepted that a site notice attached to a lamp-post or tree immediately outside a property was acceptable, but this has not been tested in case law.
In Croydon, the planners were lazier and attached site notices on nearby lamp posts and even on lamp posts or trees on the opposite side of the road (which cannot meet the statutory requirement in law). I and others have pointed out this lack of satisfactory public consultation and have been ignored.
This situation was known to the Labour administration before they regained control, but they have done nothing about it.
In the Well Cottages case, it is worth considering that the tenants only saw a site notice on the other side of the track from their home. I do not feel that this meets the statutory minimum for public consultation.
- Adrian Dennis is a Professional Chartered Town Planner. He was a Croydon Labour councillor from 1986 to 2006, with planning responsibilities within the Labour group from 1994 to 2006
- Inside Croydon is Croydon’s only independent news source, still based in the heart of the borough. From April to June 2017, we averaged 32,000 page views every week
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Showing a similar lack of consultation my County Council tried putting 24/7 double yellow lines outside our church without any consultation other than a notice in a barely read newspaper. I think we set a record for letters/emails of objection (ably lead by a retired Highways specialist) and they had the nerve to say that the newspaper notice was “consultation”!
Which county is that?
How is the chief executive settling in to his non-job?
I’m glad that Adrian Dennis has raised this issue, which to my mind could be easily regularised across the country, to ensure that there all planning applications are properly advised to the neighbouring residents, and wider public.. Quite simply, as follows:-
On site and neighbour notices
1- there should be 2 street notices placed in the street , one outside the property, one “over the road”. They should be fixed securely, and made of a robust non-fade material, in yellow. It should have a brief description of the works. It should be fixed by the planning officer , not by the applicant.
2- the adjoining neighbours, a minimum of 1 on both sides, 2 opposite, and any backing on to the property, should be informed by letter, again giving brief details of the application eg 1 storey rear extension. For a a one-plot domestic extension project , 6 letters should be enough. For a 2 or 3 storey single dwelling new build, 12. For blocks of flats, 20.
The cost to the council of printing and attending site to fix the notices, and sending out a standard letter needs to be covered in the Planning Application fee.
In my view, adequate publicity of the planning application to the neighbouring and affected residents is an essential part of the democratic process. Inadequate consultation is a violation of residents’ natural rights, Central government should have stipulated minimum standards years ago, and should do so now.
It is really sad, and reflects badly on Labour, that on assuming control of the council, that they did not immediately rescind the previous regime’s penny pinching or local resident-bashing dictat.
Come on, Cllr Scott, please reconsider this now!
Council website for planning applications
Nowadays, local councils post details of the applications on their website. For the person seeking to find out about an application, the initial search is carried out by typing in to a search box, the address, or application number if already known. Once the application has been found and is displayed on screen (not always an easy task, especially in the case of anything involving land without an existing dwelling with a street number) it is possible to access the planning application form , drawings and any Design statements via a tab called “documents” .
The problem for the viewer at this point is to find the current and main drawings, as often there are dozens of documents , many bearing ( on the displayed list) identical or similar titles, and sometimes unhelpful titles. It would be really helpful if there could be a way of labelling the documents in a simple and clear way so that they can be readily identified. eg Site Plan-existing. Site plan-proposed (CURRENT VERSION ) or (superceded version).
Resident comments should be labeled as such, and clearly differentiated from Statutory consultees, such as the Environment Agency, or Historic England.
It would be a positive step for local democracy if Croydon were to immediately reinstate the key notification letters. It would cost peanuts, and would do so much to overcome negative resident attitudes to planning.
Finally, on a wider front, in my opinion all letters and emails sent out by a local authority should clearly bear the name, post title, and their council phone extension number of the sender. There is far too much anonymity today in local government. Again, it would cost nothing to ensure this simple transparency. It’s good practice, good for democracy.
The council has already announced that they are going to return to the letter writing approach informing neighbours. This, I am told, is to start soon. Planning application fees are set nationally by government with the cost beyond the fees level subsidised by council tax payers and other tax payers through the main government grant to councils.
Thanks Andrew, that is very good news, both for transparency and local democracy, and — all-important– peace of mind for residents, who will be able to sleep easy knowing that they don’t have to keep a weekly eye on planning lists in the Croydon Planning website or the local paper’s planning applications section. So, a big “thank you” is owed to who ever in the Council has made this wise decision.