The council’s under-fire planning department may have broken the law in its rush to push through a controversial Brick by Brick development on a social housing estate in South Norwood.
Residents around Church Road, Auckland Rise and Sylvan Hill maintain that the council failed to fulfill a legal duty to conduct an equalities consultation before granting planning permission for Brick by Brick – the council-owned housing developer – to build blocks of flats on grassed areas and garages around their estate.
One of the existing blocks on the estate consists of more than a dozen flats which are occupied by refugees, some elderly and disabled residents, and others with mental health issues.
According to the residents’ group, none were consulted by the council for the purposes of the application, as the planning authority is legally required to do.
“This is a terrible example of the council’s planning department failing in its duty of care to existing residents in its race to build as many flats as it can as quickly as possible,” one angry resident said.
“This is not just one breach of the law for one block: the council has broken the law in the case of every single resident living in that block.
“Some of the people living there, who could be badly affected by the loss of green space and amenity as well as the noise, disruption and dirt caused by the construction process, are among the most vulnerable in society, the people to whom the council owes a duty of care.
“But by ignoring them and failing to carry out their legal duty, the council has shown it just does not care at all.”
Local residents have formed a group to oppose the development. They were among the first to back a petition which is highly critical of the council’s planning process, and in particular of Paul Scott, the Labour councillor who chairs the planning committee. There are now 12 residents’ associations from across the borough who are backing the petition.
The South Norwood residents have also expressed disquiet that at the planning meeting in May, it was a senior council official, Colm Lacey, who spoke on behalf of the development for Brick by Brick.
Lacey, who receives a handsome six-figure salary as the council’s “director of development”, was handed a multi-million pound conflict of interest when his boss, council chief exec Jo Negrini, appointed him to head up the running of the private company owned by the council, Brick by Brick.
One senior Katharine Street figure said, “That appointment assumed that the interests of the council and the residents it is supposed to serve will always be the same as the interests of Brick by Brick. Clearly, that’s not the case.”
That planning committee meeting “considered” plans for six blocks in and around Auckland Rise and Sylvan Hill, of between three and five storeys in height comprising 29 two-bedroom and 28 one-bedroom flats. And then it voted along party lines, by six Labour votes in favour to four Tories against. As has been the case in almost every Brick by Brick application this year.
“The lack of an equalities consultation was raised, and it was ignored,” said a member of the residents’ group who attended the meeting.
This is not the only recent instance where the planning committee has failed to scrutinise the work of the council planning department properly, and where the council has failed to carry out its legal duties. As Inside Croydon reported earlier this month, the head of the planning department, Pete Smith, has admitted that his staff failed to consult a statutory consultee – Network Rail – over another housing development at Purley Oaks.
Both failures by the council’s planning department ought to be enough to force the planning permission to be revoked until the full and proper consultations have been carried out. But that’s not how the planning system works, as it is loaded in favour of developers. Once permission is granted, the only thing which might stop it is a High Court challenge through an expensive Judicial Review.
“And that would take money that we just don’t have,” said the Auckland Rose resident.
The residents describe the area around Church Road, Auckland Rise and Sylvan Hill as “a rare thing in city planning: a council estate that works”.
They say that, “The estate is well spaced, clean, safe and peaceful. Residents like the area, and it contributes to the success of the Crystal Palace locality.
“Residents feel very strongly that the plans represent a threat to our community.”
For more on Brick by Brick and the council’s planning committee decisions, check out the Inside Croydon archive (the petitioners certainly have):
- Anger at Planning Committee as Scott sways Purley vote
- Call for residents to band together over planning issues
- What’s the point of the planning committee with Scott in charge?
- Negrini absurd response over planning conflicts of interest
- Complaint filed to ombudsman over Scott’s conduct
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