Town Hall reporter KEN LEE reports ahead of what could prove to be another contentious session in the council chamber, amid calls for a domineering councillor to stand down from a committee
Security is likely to be tight at the Town Hall tonight after Croydon South MP Chris Philp again called for residents to protest at the latest planning committee to “stop the council from continuing with its disastrous policies”.
With the current febrile political atmosphere, security has already been more prominent at recent council meetings, with a burly presence at every entrance to the council chamber.
Tory MP Philp continues to press the line that turning up at the council in large numbers will in some way intimidate the Labour councillors who hold the majority on the planning committee into refusing applications by private developers.
“Croydon Council’s Labour administration and its majority Labour planning committee are still refusing to listen to residents,” Philp told those on his 20,000-strong database of Croydon South residents in a missive entitled “Labour’s Planning Mess”.
Philp goes on to list four specific applications by private developers – Rectory Park in Sanderstead Ward (Demolition of a single detached family home, to be replaced with a block of six flats), Kingswood Lane (also Sanderstead; demolition of a single detached family home and development of nine flats); Barham Road (Waddon); and Grovelands Road (Purley and Woodcote; demolition of single detached family home and development of nine flats). And he suggests he wants a rentamob to turn up and protest loudly.
But some officials in the active residents’ associations in the south of the borough might not all be entirely convinced of the merits of Philp’s call to protest, and some are reluctant to be dragged into party politics.
“I am uncertain about the merits of organising further mass protests at the council so closely linked to one political party,” one RA chair told Inside Croydon.
“Our articles of association are very clear that we are non-party political.”
As if to demonstrate that neutrality, the RA official also took issue with the manner in which Philp’s Labour opponents have been conducting themselves: “We are very unhappy with the aggressive attitude adopted by Councillor Scott and are worried about conflicts of interest with his wife, Councillor Butler’s housing role.
“We would prefer that that conflict were resolved by Councillor Scott not sitting on the planning committee.”
Scott stood down as planning chair last year, but only so that he could pocket thousands of pounds more in council allowances with a cabinet role. Remaining on the committee as deputy chair, Scott has continued to act in a dominant, and domineering, manner at planning meetings. Some Town Hall figures, including members of the committee, have questioned whether his replacement as chair, veteran councillor Toni Letts, is strong enough to stand up to Scott, or is in fact only there to do her predecessor’s bidding.
Such Town Hall intrigue, however, does little to convince concerned residents.
“We know that planning is a policy-based legal process,” the RA chair said, “and we feel that Chris is misleading people by saying that numbers turning up will alter the decisions made on the night.”
Some residents, however, see the matter differently, and as clear-cut party politics.
Sonia Day, a resident on Barham Road in South Croydon, has told a Canary Wharf-based small-circulation newspaper that she sees the council’s consideration tonight of a developer’s money-spinning plan to turn a semi-detached family home into five flats as showing “Croydon Council’s true colours”.
Day lives next door to 11 Barham Road, a house being considered for planning approval into a multi-occupancy set of flats, and she said, “They’re happy to chop these family homes up with no regard to the communities it destroys.”
A previous and similar application for the Barham Road house was refused by the planning committee after presentations by Day and Waddon Labour councillor Robert Canning. The committee had concerns about amenity space requirements that were not met.
When it came to a vote, all planning committee members, except developer-friendly Scott, voted against the application, despite a council official’s recommendation for approval.
The developer has referred that original application to the planning inspector under appeal, with the inspector due to visit the site this week. Canning’s ward colleague Andrew Pelling wants extra protection for the residents of the fine Victorian buildings on Barham Road by listing the best of them, and he is calling for tonight’s application to be deferred until the planning inspector’s decision is known.
The new application has been submitted by Essex-based architects’ firm AARKZ Design Associates, on behalf of developers Budge Homes, who could at least double their investment in buying the property if they are allowed to “cut and shunt” it into five smallish flats, including one in a basement.
It is unclear who within the planning department or on the planning committee is so keen to push through this latest, only slightly amended application, in such a great hurry, although some suspect that professional architect Scott may have had some hand in the matter.
Government planning policy obliges the council to hear the new application in “a timely fashion”. Such is the backlog of applications, or the planning department’s inefficiencies, that the vast majority of Croydon’s planning applications are heard after the statutory eight-week deadline. It is a mystery, therefore, why this case is being fast-tracked with such apparent urgency.
The planning officer in this case is Richard Green, who in his report recommending approval shows that the planning department is, once again, on the side of developers by including a line about the appeal against the previous refusal that states: “An application for costs has also been submitted by the applicant,” apparently in an attempt to bamboozle the councillors in the committee.
But costs awarded at appeal are not something which should be considered by the committee when determining the legal planning merits, or lack of them, of the application.
“The previous application has been appealed to the independent planning inspector,” Pelling has written to Waddon residents.
“The planning inspector will visit the site this week and report with observations on the matter within eight weeks.
“We believe that to allow the Planning Committee to be in the best position to consider the new application, they would be best informed by waiting to learn of the professional planning views of the inspector and that tonight’s planning decision should be deferred to await the planning inspector’s finding.”
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