Our Crystal Palace correspondent, JOE PAXTON, on a predictable, if disappointing, outcome to a three-year planning battle
Having twice won the arguments at the council’s planning committees, residents, councillors and even the local MP were today trumped by the developer-friendly planning system when the government inspector ruled that Euro Hotels can go ahead with their over-development of the Queen’s Hotel on Church Road.
The decision followed a four-day hearing held by the Planning Inspectorate at Croydon Town Hall in February.
Despite being out-resourced and out-gunned by big business, the long-suffering residents who live in the conservation area around the Victorian-built hotel could take some satisfaction from getting what, in boxing terms, might be described as a “split decision”.
The inspector, Mike Robins, dismissed the hotel owners’ first appeal, relating to a larger scheme which was rejected by the council in November 2017. That application was thrown out at the time despite the hotel owners enjoying the enthusiastic support of the then committee planning chair, Paul Scott, and the council’s head of planning, Pete Smith.
Back then, Scott had described the expansion plans as “good”. Today, the Planning Inspector said that they were not.
However, Euro Hotels’ amended plans, which were brought to the council last year, have now won the approval of the inspector.
So, instead of 530 hotel rooms, 170 vehicle parking spaces, and three coach parking spaces, plus “subterranean accommodation” and a swimming pool, the hotel has now been given a green light for 495 rooms, 207 vehicle parking spaces, and three coach parking spaces, plus “five subterranean levels which provide parking, a swimming pool and servicing space”.
The hotel will more than double in size, from 10,844 sq m to 24,310 sq m, and will now have more rooms than the Hilton on Park Lane in central London.
Which is probably not much of a consolation for the local residents who did much of the detailed work to oppose the scheme, and raised funds to pay for a barrister to present their case, against the developer and Croydon Council, at the inspector’s hearing.
In his 27-page report, published this morning, Robins writes, “The original description of development set out in the application form for Appeal 1 differed from that above [the second version of the plans].
“However, the revised description, notably in relation to the retention of the rear Mews building, was agreed by the council and the appellant, and the application was determined on the basis of that revised description and associated drawings.”
It has emerged that in January this year, just weeks before the inspector was due to hear the cases from all sides – including representations opposing the expansion from Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE and the Labour ward councillors – the council’s own planning department was stitching up a revised agreement with the hotel owners.
“A Statement of Common Ground, revised and dated 15 January 2019, was submitted as agreed between the council and the appellant,” Robins states in his report.
The residents’ case was out-flanked by their own council even before the hearing was convened.
“A completed legal agreement for each scheme pursuant to Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 was submitted after the close of the Inquiry. These deal with matters relating to local employment and training, sustainable car use, including a car club, contributions to signage, a Coach Parking Management Plan, including requirements for pre-booking, and a Car Parking Management Plan, including a sliding scale of parking fees upwards from zero.
“Both Plans having identified periods for review. If required following review, the agreements have provision for contributions to provide a Controlled Parking Zone. Phasing delivery is also identified in the agreements.”
All of which might have been achieved at any point in the previous two years, and could, had the council’s developer-friendly planning department been doing its job, then gone before the planning committee for consideration. But they never did, with the Statement of Common Ground agreement being hatched behind closed doors, to the exclusion of the residents and their elected representatives.
This morning Stephen Mann, one of the three Labour councillors who sided with the residents against the plans, pledged to “continue to hold the hotel to account to ensure that they deliver on their promises to be a better neighbour and a better contributor to our local community into the distant future”.
Mann and his co-councillors in Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood ward will have their work cut out: the inspector’s report includes seven highly detailed pages of conditions which the hotel owners must meet as part of the development’s planning approval.
Mann’s post to the local community’s Facebook page said, “As many of you may know there are two schemes that were being appealed and it is only the smaller of the two that has been approved. While this is an improvement on the much bigger scheme, there do remain some considerable concerns many of which relate to the transport provision and impact on the street scene.
“The focus now turns to mitigating the impact of the development and ensuring that construction traffic and traffic servicing the development does not adversely impact on residents and businesses in the area. There are discussions underway with council officers.
“Throughout this, the fight shown by local community in particular the Fitzroy and Wakefield Residents Action Group, Fran Bernstein, the Norwood Society and many others has been brilliant. To win on one count and to get so close on the other is to be commended and the many hours of work put in, unpaid, to fight for your community which got us this far can only be congratulated.”
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