Paul Scott, the controversial chair of the council’s planning committee, has angered residents close to the Woodside ward he is supposed to represent by “gloating” over the outcome of a legal challenge to one of his committee’s decisions.
“Delighted but not surprised that the courts have resoundingly kicked out the Judicial Review claiming a perception of bias in planning decisions made in Croydon on Brick by Brick applications,” Scott, only an occasional presence on social media, chose to tweet early on Friday, almost before the ink was dry on the High Court documents. “Two judges now have thrown the case out condemning its lack of credibility!”
Scott’s tweet got just a single retweet on Friday, from his mate and ward colleague, Tony “Soprano” Newman, the council leader.
The Judicial Review had been brought by neighbours in South Norwood, concerned that their homes will be forever blighted by the building of an ugly three-storey block of flats at the end of their gardens by Brick by Brick, and which Scott’s committee waved through. The cost of bringing the case – possibly as much as £20,000 – was raised through crowd-funding.
Brick by Brick is the council’s wholly owned housing developer. The council’s planning committee, under Scott, has granted all 43 applications presented by Brick by Brick since 2015. The Labour-run council’s cabinet member responsible for housing, and Brick by Brick, is Alison Butler, whose husband is… Paul Scott.
In a week in which Inside Croydon revealed that Butler’s son was working for a company which has been hired – using public funds – by Brick by Brick, and that the housing company’s scheme for 2,000 flats on College Green had all but collapsed, it was notable that the usually tardy council press office zoomed into action on the court judgement with unseemly haste.
“It was alleged the decision to approve the development, by five members to four, was undermined by the relationship between BxB as the applicant, the council and the chairman of the planning committee creating the appearance of bias,” the council press release stated, failing to mention the husband and wife relationship between Butler and Scott.
The council related that Mr Justice Ouseley, the judge who reviewed the initial decision, “confirmed there was nothing, in principle, unlawful in BxB being owned and funded by Croydon Council to bring forward sites for residential development, particularly affordable homes.
“It was also confirmed that there was nothing unlawful in council members being in favour of the activities of BxB. Any claims in relation to bias in the decision-making process as a result of personal relationships between councillors were dismissed.”
The council press release included a couple of notable factual errors, inserted perhaps deliberately to deceive. First, they claimed the date when Brick by Brick was founded was 2016 (it was registered at Companies House three years ago, in 2015), and claimed that “around half” of the homes being provided are “affordable housing”. The council’s affordable target for Brick by Brick is 50 per cent, though the company’s own business report earlier this year admitted that only 38 per cent of the homes for which it had obtained planning permission would be affordable.
As at today’s date, Brick by Brick has built precisely zero homes. This, too, was unmentioned by the council’s well-paid spin-doctors.
But it was the graceless attitude of Scott, who receives around £38,000 per year in council allowances, which upset residents, many anxious about over-development of their own neighbourhoods, and some of whom had contributed to the crowdfunded legal challenge.
“It’s very sad when an elected local representative gloats on Twitter,” one resident wrote, expressing sentiments typical of several others on social media.
“Scott has the power to punish those who dare to question him. He controls the Labour councillors on the planning committee. Go against him, and that’s you off the committee.”
Alex Toogood, the South Norwood resident who brought the Judicial Review on behalf of her family and neighbours after Scott’s committee granted planning permission to the scheme on Avenue Road, maintained tonight that the decision had been reached despite the scheme failing “to meet numerous local and regional policies and guidelines”.
Toogood said, “It will have a huge detrimental impact on surrounding homes. Together with other local residents, I looked deper into Croydon’s planning process, which led to our genuine concerns over the relationship between the council and Brick by Brick. It is clear that many people from across the borough have similar concerns.
“Many in Croydon are worried that the need for more housing is being used to justify any means of getting it. I still firmly believe that council-led developments should be designed in partnership with local communities.”
Toogood was speaking less than a week since the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had laid out rules for estate redevelopment schemes to require a vote of existing residents before qualifying for any City Hall funding. One of Toogood’s supporters said, “Contrast that to the situation in Croydon, where residents feel that they are sneered at by the people they have elected to public office.”
Toogood, for her part, was not taking her fight any further. “We accept the judge’s ruling and will not be appealing,” she said. “I’d like to thank the huge number of people who have supported us.”
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