Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on the gathering storm over the Labour-run council’s private house-building schemes
Croydon Council’s controversial chair of its planning committee, Councillor Paul Scott, has been subject of yet another formal complaint regarding bombastic and bullying conduct at a Town Hall meeting on Thursday. This follows previous complaints about Scott’s conduct, including being referred to the Local Government Ombudsman.
At the latest meeting, Scott had presided over a sometimes rowdy planning committee in which he pushed through four more applications for housing projects from Brick by Brick, the council’s wholly owned house-builder.
The latest complaint has been filed by a member of the public and comes ahead of tomorrow night’s meeting of the full council, the last before May’s local elections, which is expected to attract hundreds of protestors over Brick by Brick’s various house-building schemes. The BBC is preparing to send along a television crew to cover the protest.
Many of the protestors expected tomorrow evening, on a march from Fairfield Halls to the steps of the Town Hall, will have already signed a petition which states: “We, the under-signed, have lost faith in the current administration’s planning committee and planning department”.The petition is particularly critical of the way the planning committee has been run by Scott.
“Planning should be a collective enterprise, yet the valid concerns of residents of the London Borough of Croydon have been ignored and, additionally, residents have been restricted from taking part in debates that should be shaping our communities,” the petition states.
“Since 2014…”, which was when Scott became chair of the committee, “decisions made by the planning committee have appeared to be partial, partisan and predetermined, angering existing residents and the voting public across the entire borough. We believe the process has not been conducted in an ‘independent, reasoned and transparent manner’.”
At Thursday’s planning meeting, predictably, all four Brick by Brick schemes were approved. Scott’s Labour group has an in-built majority on the committee, though Scott maintains that he does not “whip” his party colleagues. He would say that: to do so would be illegal.
But sources close to the committee have told Inside Croydon that in private, the planning chair has briefed them about the importance of granting planning permission to all Brick by Brick schemes.
Thursday’s four schemes were widely opposed by existing residents, although the three sites to be developed in Coulsdon did have support from three residents’ associations.
Scott is a leading member of the Blairite Gang of Four which dominates the Labour group at Croydon Council. A director of a central London firm of architects, Scott is married to Alison Butler, the council cabinet member in charge of housing, and Brick by Brick. Between them, Scott and Butler themselves own two properties in the borough.
Scott has attempted to portray those who oppose Brick by Brick’s plans for in-fill and back-garden developments as “Nimbys” and therefore opposed to providing housing in the borough. He has even taking to quoting Tory Government minister Sajid Javid to support his own position.
But on Thursday night, among those opposing a “prison-like” Brick by Brick back-garden scheme in South Norwood was a Labour MP, Croydon North’s Steve Reed OBE.
Other Brick by Brick projects have drawn opposition from Croydon’s Trades Union Council.
“Scott has a huge vested interest in all of this,” one Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon. “He works in the industry. And if he is now resorting to quoting a right-wing Tory minister on housing policy to defend his position, he really does need to take a step back and look at himself.”
The local Conservatives have leapt upon the issue, and have made a manifesto commitment ahead of May’s local elections to review all Brick by Brick schemes. Following a packed public meeting earlier this month, they have written to all attendees encouraging them to attend tomorrow night’s Town Hall meeting.
The organisers of the march say that as a result of Brick by Brick’s inconsiderate developments “local communities are being torn apart and devastated”.
They have taken a position which is remarkably different from that of the Labour-run council: the protestors are calling on the council to build council housing, rather than Brick by Brick’s schemes, which are more than 60 per cent going for private sale, with the remainder going for “affordable” sale or rent through housing associations.
One of the people behind the protest march, Elezebeth Brooks, has said on social media, “We are protesting against the planning department pushing through all Brick by Brick’s plans regardless, against the taking of green areas, parking places and children’s play areas.
“We are asking that they use brownfield land and empty offices to turn into housing instead. Also to make all new housing council properties only. Not for sale or unaffordable ‘affordable’ housing, but council-owned properties that the homeless and overcrowded families can live in.”
Since 2014, Croydon’s Labour Council has built no council homes.
Since it was founded, developer Brick by Brick has so far completed no new homes.
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