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.
READ MORE: Planning chair: This is why I want to concrete over Croydon
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In Tony Newman’s Dear Resident letter sent with the Council Tax Demand he says they are investing in genuinely affordable homes. I have mailed him a number of times asking him how many they have built (am aware it is 0), but they have had ample time during this term and what is the cost. It’s all very well saying genuinely affordable – affordable to who? As usual he fails to reply.
Additionally if you ask who Paul Scott is and were they aware he was married to Alison Butler I am sure many would not know. I cannot prove this, but people I have spoken to are unaware. I am not saying that the wife should take the married name, but surely the relationship should be made very clear. Without clarity there must be the potential for a conflict of interest?
It seems clear the people of Croydon are making it known that the Council and it’s committess are also there to serve them. Not to serve the fag-packet political ideology of some of the committee members, nor the interests of the professions they may be part of. Having committee members, and Chairs in particular regurgitating tabloid headlines to justify their actions is not acceptable. We expect more of our elected representatives.
Councillor and Chaiman Paul Scott made a most dreadful outburst against Councillor Bains at the Planning meeting on Thursday. Councillor Bains was making a very well reasoned comment about among other subjects a so called “traffic flow” survey that Scott was trying to argue would make hardly any difference in actual congestion, but Cllr. Bains was saying that in reality more traffic would indeed make a huge difference. Well Scott was outraged about this and showed in a most disgraceful way what happens when he is opposed, he would not let Cllr.Bains back into speak and basically shut him up. This is the measure of Chairman Scott and the sooner he is removed not just from his Chairmanship but from the Planning Committee the better.
Why has this Council administration built no council homes? The answer is that councils are effectively banned from building new council homes by the Tory Government. This is done by making it unlawful for councils to borrow for this purpose.
The Government policy makes no sense if there was a genuine desire to tackle the housing crisis. Money can be borrowed at low rates of interest currently, and the debt can be set against the housing revenue account, as rents will be coming in from the properties built.
There can be arguments for and against particular Brick by Brick schemes, but the Council is at least trying to increase the housing stock in difficult circumstances. We all know people who are in desperate need of housing. Any look at particular Brick by Brick schemes needs to be seen in this context.
David: If Brick by Brick really is this council’s best efforts to deal with Croydon’s housing issues, then after nearly three years, a loss (so far) of £1million, massive antagonism generated within affected communities throughout the borough, opposition from a Labour MP and trades union groups to obviously flawed schemes, and with precisely ZERO homes built, it must be fair to say that they’ve done a pretty crap job of it.
The planning committee is where planning applications are decided according to the current planning policy. It’s not the place to debate whether that planning policy is a good or bad one.
Residents who disagree with the current planning policy will understandably be frustrated that the planning committee doesn’t want to engage in that debate.
It also does no-one any favours for this site to keep implying that the popularity or unpopularity of a specific application has any bearing on a planning decision.
I agree that “planning should be a collective enterprise [with residents]” but the right place for shaping planning policy is in the policymaking process and ultimately in elections for central government, the London mayor and Croydon council — not at the planning committee.
Hello Adrian. I know you’re very good at this kind of thing, so we wonder whether you can find where, anywhere, in the 2014 Croydon Labour manifesto that they would hand over £10million-worth of public property to a private housing developer to build 550 – or maybe more – homes for private sale. You know, as it was part of the policy-making process…
Approval of the Derrick Avenue scheme was opposed by residents on the grounds of, amongst other things, discrepancies in the noise, traffic and wildlife impact studies, insufficient mitigation for building on flood prone land, overlooking of a children’s play area, unaddressed concerns from Network Rail, access for emergency and refuse collecting vehicles etc. Objectors were not trying to ‘shape’ planning policy merely to ensure the policy was applied correctly and with respect for existing and future residents. Sadly the bullying actions of Councillor Scott whipping committee members to change their vote when he wasn’t getting his way made a mockery of the entire process.