BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, on a startling statement from the council planning committee chair which could be seen to prejudice all decisions on Brick by Brick housing
There are mounting concerns among senior figures on Katharine Street, from both political parties represented at the Town Hall, that the council’s planning committee’s decisions over its Brick by Brick developments could be vulnerable to a legal challenge through the High Court.
The Labour-run council’s planning committee meets tonight for the latest batch of applications from Brick by Brick, the council’s wholly owned housing developer. On the agenda are Brick by Brick schemes in Coulsdon, as well as a controversial scheme in South Norwood which has attracted objections from a Labour MP in support of existing residents in the area.
All the applications have been recommended for approval by council planning officials. All previous Brick by Brick schemes have been granted planning permission by the planning committee. And all the applications being presented tonight are expected to be rubber-stamped by the committee, which has a majority of Labour councillors.
And therein lies the grounds for a potentially lengthy and expensive High Court legal action against Croydon Council because its planning committee, under the chairmanship of Labour councillor Paul Scott, has acted in a prejudicial and predetermined manner for a number of planning applications, especially in the case of Brick by Brick schemes.
Speaking at a recent planning sub-committee meeting, Scott’s innate arrogance got the better of him when he announced from the chair that, “There isn’t anywhere in Croydon with detached houses where we wouldn’t allow semi-detached houses. I am in favour of mixed housing everywhere.”
This has been taken by those attending the meeting as a clear endorsement by Scott of Brick by Brick’s policy of using back garden and in-fill sites in what many see as clumsy and imposed overdevelopments around the borough.
Such an endorsement from a key member of the Blairite “Gang of Four” which controls the Labour group on Croydon Council is hardly surprising; Scott, after all, is married to Labour deputy leader Alison Butler, the council cabinet member overseeing Brick by Brick’s plans.
But Scott’s remark – and when challenged this week, Scott did not deny saying it – is the latest clear example of his failure to conduct planning committee matters in the impartial, quasi-judicial manner required by the law.
There have been other examples where Croydon’s chair of planning and his committee have failed to conduct themselves in the unbiased manner demanded of them.
In one case, when considering an application in Purley by a private developer, Scott was video’d by a member of the public in the gallery as he glared at another Labour member of the committee until she changed her vote so that the application went through. It was following the controversy over that meeting that the council began to webcast Scott’s planning meetings.
It is not only Scott who has demonstrated blatant bias for the council’s own building projects. At a pre-application presentation for Brick by Brick flats on Avenue Road in South Norwood, which has its application before the committee tonight, the committee’s vice-chair, Humayun Kabir, clearly stated that he “liked” the scheme and that he intended to support it. So much for going into a planning meeting with an open mind.
The planning committee is not supposed to be run on party lines. Planning committee members are supposed to consider the officers’ reports – which are themselves frequently prejudiced in favour of development schemes – and the presentations made for and against the proposals.
It is illegal for a political group to “whip” its councillors to vote in a particular way.
But sources close to the planning committee have told Inside Croydon that Scott himself has briefed Labour members that “if one Brick by Brick application fails, they all fail”.
If a decision is made by a planning committee and a member is thought to have predetermined their decision, the decision could then be open to a High Court challenge.
Predetermination is used to describe a situation where a member of a planning committee is accused of having “closed their mind” by deciding how to vote before the committee meeting and without considering all the material planning considerations. While they may have a preliminary view on an application, if a committee member makes up their mind on how to vote, without considering all the planning matters and representations on their merits, then they could be accused of predetermining the outcome.
If the court rules that predetermination took place, the decision could be overturned and the planning authority could be forced to take the decision again.
The planning system in England is already weighted heavily in favour of those submitting applications; for example, if an application is refused, the applicant has the right of appeal. There is no such right of appeal for those who objected to a scheme which is granted approval.
But Scott’s blanket approvals for Brick by Brick schemes have generated manifold objections. Croydon’s Trades Union Council and the left-leaning People’s Assembly have also been strongly critical of the way Brick by Brick buildings are being imposed on local communities.
Earlier this month, 17 residents’ groups joined forces to lobby against the schemes in their neighbourhoods, and nearly 100 people turned out last week for a Tory-organised meeting about the developments. Croydon’s Conservatives have since been busy emailing those attendees, and others, encouraging them to turn out at the Town Hall on Monday for a protest at the final full council meeting before the local elections.
The Tories are promising ahead of the May 3 elections to put an immediate halt to Brick by Brick developments should they be elected. As that seems unlikely to happen, a challenge through the law courts against Scott and his committee’s failure to fulfil their duties could become a real option.
READ MORE: Planning chair: This is why I want to concrete over Croydon
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Re above mentioned, Garden grabbing development and the draft NPPF (public consultation until 10th may, I suggest everyone ‘interested’ in planning take the opportunity to express their views), the document clearly states (clause 71)…
Plans should consider the case for setting out policies to resist inappropriate development of residential gardens, for example where development would cause harm to the local area.
This article sounds quite convincing, if you have no idea how the planning system works in this country. (No wonder your anti-housing correspondent uses a fake name!)
The National Planning Policy Forum places a clear obligation on Planning Committees to apply a presumption in favour of sustainable development (with ‘sustainable’ taken in its broadest sense) particularly when it comes to providing the desperately needed new homes local people need. Planning ‘Law’ is also very clear that planning decisions cannot be made based upon the strength of public feeling for or against an application. So the number of objections to an application cannot be allowed to sway decisions.
Am I predisposed the development of new homes in Croydon? Absolutely yes! It is appalling that we have thousands of people in the borough living in temporary accommodation, and hundreds of homeless people. We need to build 1000’s more homes for local people – 33,000 over the next 20 years. But, every time we make a decision on the Planning Committee, we look at and consider the real planning matters as set out for us by our professional planning officers. We consider their professional recommendations. We listen to and consider any relevant planning matters raised by members of the public addressing the meeting. If planning applications are unacceptable we will refuse them. All of the Brick by Brick schemes have been well designed, meet the properly considered planning policy and have been recommended for approval. Hence, following the National, London and Local ‘Planning Law’, they were approved! Most are now being built.
Was anyone on the Committee ‘whipped’? Certainly not on the Labour side!
As the Government’s Housing Minister Sajid Javid recently said, “We’ve got a housing crisis. We’ve got no time for anyone who is just anti-development for the sake of it. We need to change our attitude. If you are nimby, the government is not going to be your friend. We are on the side of people who want more homes.”
Everyone deserves a decent home that they can afford and enjoy. I agree with Mr Javid and the growing number of YIMBY’s!
Which one of your two back yards will you be inviting the developers to build on first, Cllr Scott?
Problem is the developers will not build on either of the back yards. They’ll pass it between themselves, go back to planning to add a bit more value and then land-bank it. Developers primarily speculate on the value of land going up before thinking about the trouble of building on it. In this game, Scott is whats known a ‘sucker’. Someone who sees the small picture and facilitates others with the big picture.
Let’s start by getting the terminology right, Cllr Scott. Its not The National Planning Policy Forum. Its The National Planning Policy Framework.
I do not know where to begin with your response, but you haven’t even got into you first paragraph before you are so off piste you’re heading for the snow machine! The National Planning Policy ‘Framework’ makes no link between sustainable development and a situation where for example there may be a need to “provide the desperately needed new homes local people need.” That’s just conjecture and how you choose to interpret it. The National Planning Policy Framework vastly simplifies the number of policy pages about planning for the benefit of the public, not to allow Chairs of Planning Committees free reign to spin their own interpretation.
We all know that Planning ‘Law’ does not envisage planning decisions being made based upon the strength of public opposition. You miss the point. Croydon residents (these are the people who ( misguidedly ) elected you), are only asking to be heard and a reasoned debate ensue.
You refer to “people in the borough living in temporary accommodation, and hundreds of homeless people.” There are not ‘hundreds’ of homeless people in Croydon, fact.
I’m concerned that somebody in your position is taking the comments from Minister Sajid Javid so literally!
Javid means a whole host of measures that will take the ‘fuel’ of private capital out of the housing market which will result in house prices falling and availability increasing. Other things such as tightening mortgage credit short-term and shrinking the pool of buy-to-let investors are things Javid has spoken about.
But let’s be clear, Javid has not given you as Chair of Planning in this borough, a green light to grant consent after consent to speculative planning developments that are simply fuel the spiral of house prices and more importantly, the value of land.
And addressing your earlier point, wholesale consents, will not, in the majority of cases, result in buildings being built and they will certainly not address the issue of temporary accommodation nor the very different issue of homelessness that you belittle by rounding it all up in this quite ridiculous fervor of ‘build at any cost’.
And importantly, you miss the important thing that both Planning Legislation and Sajid Javid is silent on; the importance of social cohesion and democracy in our communities.
Being the ‘friend’ of the developer and forcing communities to accept consents delivered wholesale by your committee is doing little to sustain social cohesion and democracy in and I expect its for this your time in local Government will be most remembered.
Perhaps he’d do better telling this government that the Housing crisis will not be resolved until local authorities are funded properly, rather than acting as a voice land speculators.
Purely going on the information in this article, Scott’s statement: “There isn’t anywhere in Croydon with detached houses where we wouldn’t allow semi-detached houses. I am in favour of mixed housing everywhere.” doesn’t look like predetermination. It looks like predisposition: being generally in favour of a certain type of thing.
One can be generally in favour of more housing, or even a specific type of housing in certain types of locations, without giving up one’s discretion to judge each application on its merits.
Whereas Kabir’s statement that he “liked” a specific proposal and intended to support it at planning committee is pretty much the definition of predetermination. By the evidence presented here, he has already made up his mind about this specific case. On this basis, it would not be proper for Kabir to sit with the committee or vote on this item.
The reason why objectors to an application do not have a right to appeal against a decision to grant planning permission is because they are not formally a party to the application. While there is a formal duty to consult the public, the council itself represents the public interest in the context of a planning application. A planning case does not test the merits of the application between the applicant and the objectors as if they are adversaries. Rather, the objectors (and supporters) among the public contribute to the council’s own deliberations on whether the application complies with planning policy, which is the sole basis on which applications are usually decided.
A very fair summary of the situation, Adrian.
Though you overlooked Scott’s briefing of committee members in respect of ensuring that all Brick by Brick applications needed to succeed.
And think you missed out a couple of words here: “While there is a formal duty to consult the public, the council itself [is supposed to] represent the public interest in the context of a planning application.”
The situation here, of course, is that it is the council’s own developer is the applicant.
And we didn’t mention that Scott is an architect, so pushing through overdevelopment is good for business.
It’s not unusual for a council’s own developer or the council itself to apply to itself for planning permission. And at first sight that would appear to risk a conflict of interest.
But the whole thing comes back to planning policy. Planning decisions are (or at least, should be) objective rather than subjective. The decision makers are not being asked whether they personally like the applications before them. They are being asked whether those applications conform to planning policy. And of course different people, including different committee members, may have different judgements about that. But they are all aiming towards the same objective: measuring an application against a standard that has already been set out.
And so while we might suspect that members of a council might be more generous in their judgements on such matters towards their own body’s applications, any serious discrepancy should be easy to spot. In other words, if you don’t think a decision conforms to planning policy, you should be able to show that. If not, the assumption should be that an application was approved because it merited it with respect to policy not because the committee was biased.
So where is the public in all this? While I think it’s a good idea for people to get involved in individual planning applications, the real democratic locus in the planning system is (or at least, should be) in policy making not deciding applications. If we elect governments, mayors and councils who are strongly in favour of housebuilding, expect to see planning policy reflect that and the planning system generally granting those kinds of applications. This doesn’t speak to what will happen in any specific case but it will show the general direction of travel. That’s an effect of the system of representative democracy we have rather than a direct democracy system that some people would like to have.
Get the politics right (however you think that should be) and you don’t need to worry too much about the law.
“The decision makers are not being asked whether they personally like the applications before them. They are being asked whether those applications conform to planning policy.”
And the committee members, who rarely are expert or professionals in this area, are dependent on the reports submitted by full-time council officers.
Ever since we saw one such report suggest that there were no air quality issues for a development beside the Purley Way, we have regarded many of those reports with a heavy dose of scepticism. The reports are often poorly drafted and regularly highly selective.
I’m purely going by what I’ve seen on the planning committee videos, but I have a serious concern about Kabir’s ability to understand the planning process and this seems to be demonstrated in his possession of the ability to utter observations about detailed planning matters that are so general, they could be applied to almost anything in modern day life.
The current National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) introduction, the very first sentence states…
The purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development.
Sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don’t mean worse lives for future generations.
The draft NPPF, in clause 7, so quite early on, states…
The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. At a very high level, the objective of sustainable development can be summarised as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The London ‘Sustainable’ Development Commission (LSDC) provides advice to the Mayor that helps make our city become more ‘sustainable’ as it continues to develop and grow.
I read stuff and that ‘S’ word just keeps cropping up, so probably quite important (?) not something to be dismissed.
I am certainly not a NIMBY, I’m aware of the desperate need for homes, preferably of the affordable variety (personally I’d prefer ring fenced social housing built on OUR publicly owned land), BUT there has to be a better way to plan for the future generations without destroying our trees, grass and communities whilst making the rest of us suffer.
The current NPPF also states planning should be a collective enterprise, so we, the public can improve the places in which we live our lives, well that’s certainly NOT happening in the London Borough of Croydon.
Hello people, just thought you ought to be aware that three weeks after the “Better” group took over Thornton Heath Leisure Centre with all kind of promises, the lift is still not working. This means that there is no disabled access above the ground floor. Pretty poor, in my opinion.
Looking around many areas in London and Surrey / Kent suburbs, I see hundreds of very attractive “backland” developments built over the last 30 years, where properties with extra -long back gardens have sold the far ends of these to developers, who have developed decent new houses and flats.
There are still many places where some creative redevelopment on these lines will bring much needed new homes, and aid local suburban shopping centres by bringing more residents to spend money in the shops and restaurants, and make facilities like post offices and libraries more viable.
But Brick by Brick building mostly one-bedroom flats is NOT meeting housing needs !
Perhaps Mr Scott could explain exactly how many of the homeless or temporarily housed Croydon residents he refers to will ever benefit from residing in the expensive flats with under-provisioned parking he is approving to replace existing detached housing stock. Applications that I say ‘he’ is a approving on the basis that he is just about sufficiently professionally experienced to whip the other unqualified committee members into ignoring any valid material considerations and oblige his one dimensional interpretation of sustainable development.
Adrian and Lewis make some very correct points as to the non-partisan manner in which committee decisions SHOULD be reached in line with all existing policies, without the influence of NIMBYism, regardless of the number of objectors and without abject disregard for viable ‘backyard’ developments. However, I would challenge anyone to watch the egotistical manner in which Mr Scott presides over these meetings and then conclude that decisions are reached impartially in the manner Adrian has described that they should be.
Ironically, the type of development Mr Scott favours simply attracts more affluent new residents in from outside the area, further increasing the demand on schooling and other infrastructure and further disadvantaging exactly the homeless and temporarily housed individuals he so shamelessly tries to imply he is serving. The ‘housing crisis’ will only be solved by the right type of homes, not just the right number of homes Mr Scott. Please take your blinkers off and come up with a more credible defence for your blatant conflicts of interest!