Paul Scott, the Labour councillor who describes himself as a “community leader”, has been challenged to step down from at least one of his many roles and to consider the various conflicts of interest that he has, after being accused of censoring one group’s social media pages and of abusing his position to have an arts group removed “from so-called community hub Stanley Halls”.
Scott’s writ runs wide across not only his Woodside ward and neighbouring South Norwood, but the whole borough. It has become almost impossible not to trip over a glaringly obvious potential conflict of interest involving Scott, his family and political allies. Though Scott and his acolytes see nothing wrong in this.
Scott is an architect by profession, and in 2014 was appointed as the chair of the Labour-run council’s planning committee. It is in that role that Scott’s conduct has provoked outrage among more than a dozen residents’ associations over his mishandling of key planning issues in their neighbourhoods. This has led to a petition being raised which is highly critical of the management of the planning committee, particularly in considering planning applications involving Brick by Brick, the council-owned housing development company.
On at least two recent occasions the planning committee, and therefore Scott as its chair, has granted planning permission to developments even though the council planning department has failed to conduct the consultations it is required to do by law. One of these planning applications involved Brick by Brick building on an existing social housing estate in South Norwood.
Scott is married to Alison Butler, who is the council deputy leader and the cabinet member responsible for housing. And, therefore, responsible for delivering the housing planned by Brick by Brick.
Scott and Butler are part of what Inside Croydon has characterised as Croydon’s “Gang of Four”, an all-powerful, Progress-backing clique who dominate all the political decision-making at the Town Hall, even excluding cabinet members and other elected councillors from any discussion. Also in the clique are council leader Tony Newman, like Scott a councillor for Woodside ward, and the hapless Mark Watson, the sometime fraudster (conviction spent) who this year has spent more than £1million on works in Surrey Street and managed to drive away half of the small businesses which used to trade there.
None of which you’d be allowed to read on the Facebook page of People for Portland Road, a South Norwood community group. Because, mysteriously, posts linking to Inside Croydon’s coverage of these multi-million-pound issues and other “regeneration” matters pertinent to the area have disappeared from the page after being posted by our loyal reader.
Scott just happens to be the chair of People for Portland Road.
Scott is also vice-chair of the management committee which runs the South Norwood arts venue, Stanley Halls. Stanley Halls has in the past received significant sums of public grants, including from Croydon Council.
Yesterday, Katie Brandwood, the community activist, questioned whether Scott may have used his position to have the film club which she had established in South Norwood removed from Stanley Halls.
“I appreciate having an active local councillor with a willingness to ‘muck in’ to lots of different areas,” Brandwood posted to the PPR page. “However I found it a bit unsettling how the same person who heads up PPR and other community development initiatives is also on the committee that decided to remove us from so-called community hub Stanley Halls. This feels like a bit conflict of interest to me.”
It is the first time since the split occurred, in May, that Brandwood has broken her silence on why the film club had to leave the obvious, and most-suited, venue for the weekly screenings. At the time, the Stanley People’s Initiative, the board which runs the halls, was accused of being “very unpleasant”, and of “bullying”. Scott is the vice-chair of SPI.
For her part, Brandwood says that since Stanley’s Film Club was forced out of the venue earlier this summer, and that since “it is a struggle to find somewhere that meets our requirements in the same way that Stanley Halls was able to”. Brandwood issued a challenge to Scott “as a community leader I hope that you can work with us to find an alternative venue where we can continue our work as a social enterprise and grow as a cultural asset for South Norwood”.
It is the second challenge put to Scott in recent days, since several members of People for Portland Road and users of the PPR Facebook page have raised questions about the manner in which moderators have been censoring content and deleting posts and comments.
One long-standing moderator has resigned their role, angry at being placed in an impossible position by Scott, in his role as chair of PPR.
One community activist, Mark Pickering, launched a withering attack on Scott’s blatant hypocrisy and delusional justification of his multitude of position and conflicts of interest. Pickering thinks Scott should reconsider his role as chair of PPR – effectively, to resign.
“Shutting down any form of debate whether political in nature or not gives the impression that there is a lack of desire to engage with others and be held democratically accountable,” Pickering wrote.
In what many might regard as a statement of the bleeding obvious – to anyone other than Scott, that is – Pickering highlights Scott’s often domineering role in local matters when he writes, “Unfortunately being both a controversial local politician and chair of the planning committee as well as chair of PPR means one role will intrude into another. No doubt you will want to reflect on whether the two are compatible. Perhaps sometimes it would be better to step back and let others take the lead in community initiatives.”
Scott has tried to claim that PPR is “apolitical”, despite it having a Labour councillor as it very hands-on chair. Pickering says that this view is “highly subjective”.
Scott, in a moment of peak Trump-ism, has taken to trying to diminish Inside Croydon by describing its coverage as “fake news” – a similar ploy attempted by the United States’ president to discredit the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.
Without mentioning Inside Croydon, former Croydon Radio presenter Pickering writes: “What is ‘fake news’ to some is legitimate and accurate news to others.
“What some would call ‘running down South Norwood’ is to others, an expression of utter frustration with regard to the current state of the area. What some see as ‘negative comment’ others see as a legitimate viewpoint.
“It’s extremely difficult see how such judgements can be made without accusations being made that they are made on a subjective basis and arrived at because the views expressed are different to those held by the chair.
“I’m sure you will also want to consider whether it is wise to use the expression ‘community leader’, given that rightly or wrongly this gives the impression that the person using it has an over-inflated view of their own self-importance.”
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