Being a councillor is becoming an increasingly shitty proposition. Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports ahead of tonight’s Town Hall meeting on how ‘a council motion’ has taken on whole new meaning
Tension is running high at the Town Hall, as trouble is feared at tonight’s council meeting following a campaign orchestrated by MP Chris Philp and backed by Tory councillor Mario Creatura that seeks a ban on building homes in south of the borough.
One senior Labour councillor says that they have reported to police what they described as the “hand delivery” of excrement through the letter box of their home. The incident is linked with growing dissatisfaction with Croydon Council’s development policies.
Philp, the Conservative MP for Croydon South, has urged residents to stage a demo outside the Town Hall at 6pm, ahead of tonight’s meeting and debates of the full council.
Philp adds, “Please bring any signs or placards you feel suitable.”
The council’s Conservative opposition councillors are proposing the following at tonight’s meeting:
“This council recognises that the people of Croydon have lost faith in the planning system and planning committee of Croydon Council.
“This lack of trust has been brought about by many contentious decisions over a number of years, and the attitude displayed by members of the administration towards residents.
“This Council believes that Area Planning Committees will bring the planning process closer to the people and as such will go some way towards restoring faith in the planning system in Croydon.”
Having radicalised the blue rinse brigade of Coulsdon, Kenley and Purley, Philp looks likely to miss his own demo, as further Brexit votes, starting at 5pm today, could keep him at the House of Commons.
In a busy bit of emailing and social media campaigning over the past fortnight, which has had the enthusiastic backing of Creatura – the Coulsdon Town councillor who works for the Prime Minister as her Twitter monitor – Philp has also asked voters to contact council leader Tony Newman and planning committee chair Toni Letts to, as the MP puts it, “Tell the people responsible for planning in Croydon how angry we are about what they are doing.”
Amid the current frenzied political atmosphere around Brexit, Philp appears to have made a serious misjudgement of the tone on his campaign, and managed to set loose an anger among residents.
Senior Labour council figures claim that there have been “hundreds of quite abusive letters and emails”, which they maintain have been prompted by the MP’s campaign.
Some of the abuse has been racist.
Toni Letts, the veteran Selhurst councillor who chairs the planning committee, has said that she has reported to the police an instance in which excrement was “hand-delivered” with correspondence to her home address. The identity of the phantom shitter of Selhurst remains unknown. The Met seems unlikely to conduct any DNA testing to track down the culprit of the “special delivery”.
Letts’ deputy chair of planning, and the chief string-puller on the committee, Paul Scott, seems to be the likely target of the Tories when they refer to “… the attitude displayed by members of the administration towards residents”.
Many Labour councillors believe that Scott’s confrontational approach at planning committee has alienated thousands of residents, and potential Labour voters, throughout the borough.
On the agenda for tonight’s meeting is a 27-page report from Scott and his co-cabinet member for development, Stuart King, which can be read largely as an attempted justification for allowing overdevelopment of suburban streets in the south of the borough, and underlines Newman’s New Labour council’s shift towards the Thatcherite policy of a “home-owning democracy”.
Since Labour took control of the council in 2014, Newman and Scott have failed to build a single new council home, though last month the council-owned housing company, Brick by Brick, put its first properties up for sale, with three-bed terraced houses on the private market at £600,000 each.
Concerns have already been raised, even by Labour councillors, including Upper Norwood councillor Pat Ryan, about Scott’s efforts to “whip” committee members on planning matters, which would be a serious breach of planning law.
Philp has filed a complaint about whipped planning committees, calling for an independent investigation into the allegations that Scott, when planning chair, whipped Labour committee members over Brick by Brick planning applications.
Jo Negrini, the £200,000 per year council chief executive, has refused to conduct any investigation into the matter.
Nevertheless, Labour councillors also say that Philp – who made his own multi-million fortunate working in the financing of developments – has been deliberately misleading with his campaign.
Andrew Pelling, a Labour councillor in Waddon ward, in Philp’s Croydon South constituency, has been tweeting over the weekend with the less-than-catchy hashtag of #CroydonSouthMPmisleads, saying that Philp is wrong to suggest that the proposed devolved local committees can circumvent planning law.
Pelling has also stated that Philp’s statistics mislead and that banning suburban development is not permitted by the National Planning Policy Framework.
That policy framework was published by the Conservative government when Philp held a junior appointment at that local government department.
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In Tony Newman’s Labour manifesto he stated:
So the planning committee receive a proposal for a development – for example, knocking down a perfectly good house and putting up a block of flat in its place. Over 100 objections are received and only one supporting (from the developer, perhaps?), and it gets approved.
What part of ‘listening’ is this?
I’ve asked Newman to justify this on numerous occasions, by email, and never had a response.
The Mayor of London, in line with planning policy nationwide, has set targets for housebuilding with which Croydon must comply of 29,490 by 2029 and 2949 annually. How can such targets be met without the kind of good quality development described by Lewis White below, which requires intensification on a scale which offends those for whom the 2 up 2 down terrace or a nice semi with the 60ft garden is a normal aspiration? The basic problem is that Thatcher turned housing from a necessity for living into the primary sink, or bank, for investment, which makes its financial price completely disproportionate to its functional value. People need homes, and they need them in tens of thousands in Croydon and everywhere else. Where would you have them live? If it means 24 storey blocks of flats in central Purley, where such would have least impact and be most appropriately sited compared to elsewhere, and really is not at all unusual as a kind of housing provision, then so be it. The really important considerations are the build quality in terms of the absolute necessity for energy neutrality of the building, and that they are available to those that need them most, the poorest amongst us.
Your arguments are sound and well articulated. Our obsession with property as an investable commodity in this country is what leads to ever escalating residential property prices. We are all brainwashed into believing that such high values must therefore equate to a shortage in supply, when there are at least 1500 empty homes in Croydon.
I’m no signed up member of the Conservative party – LBC’s planning dept. was equally unfit for purpose when Tories held the town hall keys. Well designed and genuinely affordable flats have a place in most communities. Yet time and again when challenged on adherence to the relevant policies and guidance that ensure good design quality, officers including our own Director of Planning, Heather Cheesbrough, resort to proclaiming that ‘on the balance of things’ the ‘need’ for more homes takes precedence over compliance.
Hence, we end up destroying perfectly adequate housing stock to make way for over-priced, poorly considered units designed to maximise private developers’ and investors’ returns at the expense of anything remotely suitable for the populace the Council claim to be serving. If these developers really think they are, or desire to be, serving the needs of local communities why do they shy away from any engagement whatsoever with those communities before, during or after development?
All the while planning officers can hide behind the Trumpesque Paul Scott presiding over Planning Committee affairs (as he has been before, after and during his reign as Chair), our inadequate planning department can continue to hide their failings behind Committee Members. Members that, through no fault of their own, do not hold any relevant qualifications for their role or the same professional duty of care as those officers who feast on the system they have created.
Mrs Cheesbrough, who refers to applicants as her ‘customers’ and those above her as her ‘political masters’ would do well to take a quick check of her own RTPI Code of Professional Conduct whilst chasing the numbers and using Croydon as the next step up the career ladder. Please don’t be fooled into thinking that the real problems behind this have anything to do with north vs south, blue vs red or any other tribal divisions, or to justify what is really going on here!
I’d have been quick to pooh pooh the idea
With an ageing population, there are many streets in leafier areas of Croydon where big Victorian houses exist on large plots, where owners are not gardening.
A trip round Purley’s Foxley Lane and Kenley will show how developers are replacing these houses with well-designed blocks of flats, either in an overtly modern style or what I term the “Surrey Modern style” of big gables, good-quality brickwork and roofs made of proper clay tiles.
Most of these look good, and provide accommodation for many new residents.
There is a lot of opposition to redevelopment of this kind, and of “backland” development.
Yet the results I see are overwhelmingly good in appearance. Caterham and Warlingham have many such developments, which have boosted the shops in such areas.
It is certainly important to preserve trees in these redevelopment sites, insist on good landscaping , particularly of street frontages, and ensure that the council pays attention to the design of bin stores, which –if badly designed– can ruin a street.
Likewise, parking needs to be sufficient–a problem in this politically correct age where officialdom is denying the fact that most people still need a car or several, in the case of family homes. We do need off street parking to match the needs of the residents
So, on balance, and subject to these caveats, I support most urban renewal I am seeing in suburban Croydon.
I do worry however, about the 20 , 30 or more storey flats in Central Croydon. Happy with 16 floors or so–the Cherry Orchard Road area “Morello” blocks by E Croydon station , with their soft-coloured brickwork look liveable and good looking. But 20 or more ?. Service charges must be daunting.
I think you will find they are 1930s houses usually, not Victorian.
Why are they picking on the nicer parts of the Borough rather than the squalid tatty bits?
I suspect gerrymandering by Labour.
Perhaps people like to live in nice parts? Just a guess.
What I meant to point out is that is the “well designed and well landscaped” flats as outlined by Lewis White were erected in the more down at heel parts of Croydon more people would want to live there out of choice rather than necessity.
What really needs looking at is the movement of jobs out of London to ease the pressure on housing. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of Civil Service jobs that could go.
A certain government minister, Pickles by name, brought in legislation that meant that planning permission was no longer necessary for house extensions the size of a double decker bus. Good way of trashing the neighbours’ rights to finding out, and objecting to a bad development right next door.
They gave him a knighthood in the end.
I believe that expedient of “boosting the building industry” has fortunately been reversed.
Young Master Philp should be careful for what he wishes. Basically he is inciting people to harass and intimidate elected members of a public body and I am not sure that that is lawful. Most likely he is encouraged by and admiring of the ludicrous and dangerous and futile foule of fools outside Parliament that make themselves and our country look ridiculous and infantile. Even more likely he may (sorry!) be influenced by the recent ridiculous exhortations of his sad leader, She asked the populace to support her somewhat unpopular policies by, basically, bullying, terrorising and unnerving those MPs who had had the insolence not to be obsequious . As for Mario Creatura: well, what of Mario Creatura? Like the monster in Frankenstein, not physically of course but in essence, he does not exist. He is an artificial creation resulting from an alliance between Barwell and Philp, no real mind of his own but with an uncanny ability to follow and mimic his masters.
Blocks of flats make very poor family homes. We were supposed to learn this from the post war era of high rise but this time the flats are being delivered for developer profit/greed rather than the need for affordable/family homes.
David Wickens – that depends very much on the attitude of those that own and maintain them, and the attitude towards those that inhabit them. Tell the millions in European capitals who own, lease or have a genuine participation in the governance of their social homes that they are poor family homes. Tell the inhabitants of the council blocks converted and refurbished for private ownership in up-and coming fashionable areas that they make poor family homes. Tell those millionaires in high-rise condos with elective membership in New York that they make poor family homes. They do not in themselves. They are perfectly good family homes if properly built, maintained invested in and managed. And I speak as the son of a brutalist architect whose motto was ”always think of the people who will use this building”! To quote another famous architect, buildings are machines for living in, and they can be good or bad, well or poorly used, but the single characteristic of being a block of flats does not define their potential for being a good quality family home.
The family I had in mind has children who would benefit from a garden. Yes there are many other forms of family and they might be more OK with flats.
It is funny the number of large scale developments that Chris Philp’s finance company backs. Just the type of brownfield schemes he vociferously opposes when planned in his constituency. You don’t have to post the hypocrisy he peddles in the letterbox. He just has to open his orifice.