Our investigations editor, CARL SHILTON, on an attempted land grab by a council chief executive that has caused anger among councillors in two boroughs – and which has favoured the work of a senior Croydon councillor’s firm of architects
There have been calls for the resignation of Helen Bailey, Sutton’s relatively new chief executive, after she sent a letter to a large Croydon business seeking to interfere with a local planning application while claiming support from local politicians, without once referring to elected ward councillors in Beddington North or Waddon ward.
Bailey wrote in June to Morrisons, which has a large supermarket – and importantly, a large car park – off the A23 Purley Way at Fiveways.
The supermarket is sited in Croydon’s Waddon ward.
Bailey was seeking the company’s agreement to allow the supermarket car park to provide an access route to Sheen Way playing fields, where despite widespread opposition from local residents, the Liberal Democrat-controlled council is trying to push through a scheme to build a special school on the tightly confined site.
Sheen Way is in Sutton, in Beddington North ward.
Further investigations by Inside Croydon have discovered that while Bailey completely ignored elected councillors in two boroughs, she had been in contact with the Croydon planning department.
Croydon’s planners also managed to avoid notifying the councillors for the affected ward – as would usually be expected. Sources within Croydon Council suggest that Croydon planners did, though, confer over the Morrisons access issue with cabinet member Councillor Paul Scott.
The school which Sutton wants to build on Sheen Way playing fields has been designed by TP Bennett architects. Scott is a director of TP Bennett.
Bailey used to work as an aide to Charles Kennedy when he was the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and she was appointed to the £150,000 top job on Sutton Council in February after being interviewed by a selection panel which was made up of a majority of LibDem councillors.
Bailey’s letter, dated June 10 this year, was addressed to Charles McKendrick, the estates director for Morrison’s supermarkets. In it, she wrote that accessing the building site “will help support the timely delivery of the school for the targeted opening date of 2020/21, and it will help minimise disruption to local residents during the construction stage”.
Bailey added: “In short, although we understand that there will be some potential short-term inconvenience for your business, you are in a position not only to support the timely development of a much-needed facility but also save local residents from the risk that the construction traffic will be a danger on local roads.
“The alternative access to the site is through narrow residential streets which will present significant risk to local residents, especially children, and to the project as a whole… I believe that we could work together to achieve this and I know that your cooperation would be highly visible and much appreciated by local politicians, stakeholders and the Department for Education, as well as by the school, its pupils, parents and wider family.”
Thing is, the “local politicians” in Beddington North ward – three independent councillors including Nick Mattey – have opposed the Sheen Way school scheme from the start, for many of the reasons outlined by Bailey in her letter, since the site is too confined and the streets too narrow to accommodate increased traffic volumes for the twice-daily school run. Residents living near the site point to a covenant that restricted its use to playing fields, and oppose the building because of the loss of their green space amenity.
And local politicians in Waddon ward – elected Labour councillors, including Robert Canning – are outraged that a senior member of council staff from a neighbouring local authority should blatantly disregard the usual niceties of discussing such matters with elected representatives for the affected area.
There was a borough boundary dispute between Sutton and Croydon earlier this year when again Sutton Council officials were accused of failing to consult their cross-borough colleagues, as they try to divert the HGV traffic it anticipates when it starts shipping vast load of rubbish to its waste incinerator at Beddington Lane.
This latest “invasion attempt” by Sutton has left Canning “flabbergasted”.
After he was given sight of Bailey’s letter last week, Canning fired off an angry missive of his own.
“I was flabbergasted that your letter did not state that the Morrison’s site that you wished to use to gain access to the Sheen Way Playing Fields is actually in the London Borough of Croydon rather than the London Borough of Sutton. Why was this not made clear in your letter?
“I was even more surprised to read that you claim that accessing the proposed school site via Morrison’s Fiveways ‘would be much appreciated by local politicians’.
“Can you inform me which, if any, ‘local politicians you spoke to in Croydon to justify this claim? Certainly, nobody from Sutton Council asked the Waddon ward councillors – in whose ward Morrison’s Fiveways is located – for our support for, or views on, Sutton’s request.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, the Waddon ward councillors strongly oppose accessing the Sheen Way Playing Fields site via Morrison’s Fiveways. Routing traffic via Morrison’s would increase congestion and pollution at this location (especially as the traffic light phasing out of Morrison’s is very limited), would increase the safety risk to pedestrian shoppers using the road in front of Morrison’s and risks disrupting and inconveniencing businesses around the Morrison’s site.
“This position is also Croydon Council’s position. Croydon Council’s view – which has been communicated to Sutton Council – is that construction traffic for the proposed Sheen Way school that is approaching from the south (and too large to make the left turn from the A23 in to Stafford Road at Fiveways Junction) should access Stafford Road/The Chase from the South via Queensway, Princes Way and Kings Way.
“I look forward to receiving answers to my two questions above in due course.”
Mattey had obtained Bailey’s letter through a Freedom of Information request. The chief executive never bothered to consult with him or his Beddington North councillor colleagues over her approach to Morrisons. Mattey has taken to calling Bailey “Sutton’s 55th councillor”, and today he called for her resignation.
In a widely circulated email, Mattey accused the council CEO of creating a “fabric of lies and deceit” and of “an outrageous lie”.
The councillor wrote, “I have asked you to resign because local government has no place for people who cannot tell the truth and those that set out deliberately to mislead third parties.
“… I fully understand that you thought your letter to Morrisons’ Mr McKendrick would never see be seen by the public… In what you believed would be a confidential exchange you then prove your complete unsuitability to run Sutton Council when you said allowing access ‘would be much appreciated by local politicians’.
“… To try and suggest that you got our approval to make this outrageous lie about our reactions should planning be successful is completely false.
“This sort of behaviour by a chief executive may have been tolerated during your time at Islington, but I can assure you that this has no place in Sutton.
“Therefore, can you tell us please when you are going?”
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