KEN LEE, our Town Hall reporter, on the detail-lite presentation at the Crystal Palace stadium public consultation
If you’re going along to the Crystal Palace stadium public consultation at Speroni’s tomorrow, don’t get too excited.
The football club wants to spend £100million on building one new stand, all for an extra 8,000 added to Selhurst Park’s capacity. Perhaps as a sign of the growing American influence on the club from its new owners, many of these 8,000 additional places will be taken up with top-end boxes for money-spinning corporate hospitality.
So there’s probably not much in this for the average fan to get excited about anyhow…
The club’s hope is that with planning consent, building work can start some time in the next 12 months on something which the club is saying will take three years to finish.
Inside Croydon wandered along to the first of the two sessions yesterday to discover a deeply underwhelming presentation. If anything, it is the details that the consultation doesn’t mention – the result of a transport survey, and the five homes under threat of demolition – which are more interesting.
That, and the incestuous business of consultants, spin-doctors and local politicians involved with these processes, all of them slicing another chunk of money from the budget for the project.
At yesterday’s session, the project team appeared more interested in talking among themselves than even trying to engage with the public who had shown up for the barely publicised public consultation.
It had all been announced just after Christmas, and the casual passer-by outside Selhurst Park would have had no idea anything was going on – there were no notices or signs to encourage people to take a look and get involved.
It was all so very low-key. It is almost as if the consultants already know it is a done-deal.
The consultation is organised by PLMR, the Crystal Palace-registered public affairs firm owned by Kevin Craig, who just so happens to be a Labour councillor in neighbouring Lambeth.
PLMR won the business for the consultation and what in the trade is termed “political engagement”, lobbying in plain English, by beating Newington Comms. Newington was formerly named Bellenden, and that company is owned by Mark Glover… who’s a former Labour councillor, but this time in not-so-far-away Southwark. It was Newington which ran the public consultation to get new homes built at Addiscombe’s World of Golf, so given their dismal failure to make friends and influence people then, maybe that worked against them in getting hired by Crystal Palace.
There may have been other consultancies with strong links with local politicians who might have been interested in the work, such as Cratus and BECG, the Built Environment Communication Group. At the former is Simon Hoar, while a director at the latter is the deeply dense Claire Hilley.
Both were Conservative councillors in Croydon until 2014, where Hilley managed to combine her job representing clients including house-builders Barratts while sitting on the council’s planning committee. It was only after Inside Croydon reported on this clear abuse of position that the local Tory leadership removed Hilley from the planning committee. No other sanctions were applied.
Hilley continues to show a bit of leg to developers, suggestively offering BECG’s clients some political influence through her: “A former councillor in south London, Clare has a large network of contacts across local and national government, as well as considerable experience of both politics and public affairs.”
Who’s to say what “networks” and “contacts” are being utilised by Craig’s PLMR to get Palace’s stadium scheme planning permission?
Given the number of councillors who have received various, properly declared perks from Palace – free hospitality tickets to matches, trips to Wembley, even free tailor-made suits, mentioning no names, eh, Steve O’Connell? – it might be difficult to put together a committee that can be free of even a suggestion that it has in some way been “influenced”.
According to our sources in Katharine Street, for a scheme that has impact right the way across the borough, PLMR has so far done very little to reach out to Croydon’s back bench councillors about the Palace stadium proposals, beyond a lobbying email and letter sent just before Christmas that gave no information on the pre-application consultation process, and a similarly info-lite presentation this week, exclusively for elected members.
This latest part of the consultation “process” consisted of two meetings that, judging by the feedback form, were a tickbox exercise rather than serious engagement.
Given there are elections coming up, you might have thought they’d have engaged as widely as possible with politicians.
And after yesterday’s somewhat desultory presentation, tomorrow is the very last chance the public will get to have any say in the proposals. After that, the next step is a pre-application meeting with planning committee next Thursday, and then the plans will be submitted by the end of the month for approval. As we said, it all smacks of a done-deal.
It’s to be hoped that on Thursday, the consultants will get round to mentioning the five houses on Wooderson Close which, as Inside Croydon reported last month, may need to be demolished to make way for the hospitality boxes – because no mention of the houses was made at the presentation yesterday.
This, though, is consistent with the club’s somewhat high-handed approach to the whole process so far. When it staged its grand launch of the project, it was the first that their site neighbours, Sainsbury’s, had heard about it. Under the scheme, the supermarket will lose a chunk of its car park space.
And perhaps when the football club and their paid consultants tell the planning committee of how their plans resolve existing transport issues, as was being claimed at yesterday’s event, they might be so good as to explain how they intent to achieve that much sought-after goal. Because that was a detail missing from what was presented to the public yesterday.
The houses could be a real problem for Palace.
Four of the five are council houses. With the council under so much pressure to deliver more homes, the idea of just allowing a Premier League football club to bulldoze four or five – even if the club is offering to buy replacements – might cause some discomfort, even for Croydon’s exceedingly developer-friendly planning committee.
Under the London Plan, which sets out strict planning criteria for each local authority, and demanding targets for the number of additional homes that need to be delivered, it states that any loss of homes “should be resisted unless the housing is replaced at existing or higher densities with at least equivalent floorspace”.
How Paul Scott, the chair of the planning committee with a knack of not declaring his own interests, and the council planning department manage to resolve all this remains to be seen. But Palace and PLMR are probably confident that they will – after all, there’s an election coming up.
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