A much-loved publicly owned venue, which has hosted concerts by the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Status Quo, while serving generations of south Londoners, is under threat of demolition.
Sutton’s LibDem council – yes, that lot again – want to send in the bulldozers on Wallington Hall.
This from the same council which has managed in the past couple of years to see both the borough’s theatres – the Secombe and the Charles Cryer – “go dark”, with little prospect of them re-opening any time soon.
The planning committee meeting tonight is expected to rubber-stamp plans for the demolition of Wallington Hall, to make way for flats to be built by Sutton Council’s wholly-owned company, Sutton Living Ltd.
The hall was built in 1934, and is owned and managed by Sutton Council, who closed its doors for a final time three years ago. The Art Deco-decorated hall’s rich history as a cinema, dance hall and concert venue, as well as a community hub until its closure, led to calls in the past for it to be listed as a building of national importance.
But neglect and poor maintenance since the 1990s by its council owners Council means it is now in a state of total disrepair – a very convenient factor when redevelopment of the site became a Sutton LibDem objective.
The urgency with which the planning application is being treated by the supposedly non-political and quasi-judicial Sutton planning department has raised suspicions. The planning application was validated on 16 January, meaning it should be due a planning decision within 13 weeks, or by April 17.
The planning committee has a mechanism where urgent business can be brought forward at the discretion of the chair, who happens to be LibDem councillor Samantha Bourne.
Since the current administration retained power in the local elections in May 2014, this urgency procedure has been used precisely… zero times.
So why the sudden need to use the chair’s prerogative to rush through a planning application?
Tonight’s committee papers give the following “Reason for Urgency”.
It states: “The report was delayed to allow for clarification on points of existing lawful planning use and its implications for CIL. The reason for the urgency is that the statutory expiry date for the application is the 17 April 2018, which is before the date of the next planning committee.”
But as a well-placed source at Sutton Council said today, “The reason given for the urgency doesn’t seem terribly urgent at all.
“The next Planning Committee meeting is scheduled for April 25, just eight days after the statutory decision deadline passes. That’s hardly going to hold things up in the scheme of things, in regard to a development that has been under discussion for years.”
This presents the question of whether the fact that the applicant is Sutton Council itself has led to the application receiving favourable treatment – which would, of course, be totally against planning rules. Sutton Living Ltd is 100 per cent owned by the council, and it was Sutton Council that delivered the “community consultation” for the development last September, with house-to-house leafleting and an exhibition at Wallington Library.
However, the fact that the progress of other applications that are likely to come to the planning committee – such as the proposed development of the formerly listed Prince Regent pub in Sutton town centre – are already beyond their statutory decision date does jar somewhat. It appears they deserve no urgency. Normally, to delay the date of a decision, a formal written agreement is reached between the applicant and the council.
Local opposition political parties smell a rat. “The Wallington Hall development will provide 31 homes, 11 of which will be effectively under the control of Sutton Council, as affordable,” one local election candidate told Inside Croydon.
“The development is, for the most part, welcome, but my suspicion is that by achieving planning approval before purdah kicks in next week, the LibDems will be able to make capital by claiming they have ‘delivered’ more social housing. If stories are released by the press office before purdah, or appear in LibDem Focus leaflets, then many of us will be demanding to know how this was rushed through planning on the chair’s whim to benefit the LibDems at the elections on May 3.”
Indeed, Sutton Council’s social media streams have been particularly active recently, with much being said about the council’s house-building programme. The tax-funded reporting fails to mention, however, that each of the new council dwellings – 60 per cent of which are flats – is costing on average of £301,000.
This cost seems especially excessive as the council already owned the land.
And that’s significantly more expensive than the average price Sutton Council is paying in its £30million house-buying programme across the borough, at just £276,000.
Once again, it appears that for Sutton’s LibDems, their political skins are more important than the maths, the budget, or even the law.
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