Our Town Hall correspondent, KEN LEE, reports on how local council planning issues have become a key campaign matter for the General Election
The Tories have put Labour councillor Paul Scott’s electorally toxic plans to build on Croydon’s Green Belt front and centre in the final week of campaigning ahead of the General Election on Thursday.
Some Labour activists, keen to suck up to their local leadership, continue to deny that the council has any plans to build on the borough’s precious green spaces.
Yet the facts tell an entirely different story: Brick by Brick, the council’s in-house housebuilder, has been allocated sites on green amenity spaces and kids’ playgrounds across the borough, while the council’s planning department de-designated sports fields as Green Belt to allow development to go ahead close to Lloyd Park.
And as recently as last week, with the election just days away, the council planning committee, where Scott is the de facto chair, granted planning permission for private developers to build 126 flats on open space next to Duppas Hill Recreation Ground.
Planning permission for the flats was granted provided that the rest of the green space is used to build a school, at some unspecified point in the future. There are well-founded doubts whether such a school might ever be built. The site has significant transport and access issues – it is close to the Fiveways junction on the Purley Way – and it is less than a quarter of a mile from the existing St Andrew’s High secondary school, which is having to close for a lack of pupils.
Now in election week, Chris Philp – who is looking to retain the Croydon South seat he has held for the Conservatives since 2015 – has written to at least half the households in the constituency to condemn what he calls “Croydon Council’s latest planning shocker”.
It is a line of political attack which Philp’s party colleague, Mario Creatura, is expected to use in his own campaign to win Labour-held Croydon Central from Sarah Jones.
Scott is a director of the central London firm of architects, TP Bennett. He receives nearly £40,000 per year in council allowances for his role as cabinet member for planning, and in the past five years has developed a well-deserved reputation across the borough for an aggressive and bombastic approach at planning committee, dismissive of the concerns and interests raised by Residents’ Associations and community groups.
But thanks to a Scott own goal, Philp and Creatura have been able to pursue the planning issues thanks to a degree of political ineptitude startling even by Croydon Town Hall standards.
In October Scott pushed ahead with revised proposals in the Croydon’s Local Plan to build on Green Belt land, despite the General Election being imminent.
As Scott well knows, Croydon’s Local Plan requires approval by the Mayor of London. Building on Green Belt in the capital is opposed by Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan. Yet with Khan most unlikely to approve Scott’s Green Belt building proposals, the Croydon planning supremo stubbornly put forward possible schemes suggesting building 6,000 extra homes on Green Belt in Croydon Central and Croydon South.
It has amounted to an electoral gift to the Tories, who are contesting marginal Croydon Central which they lost to Labour in 2017.
Philp wants Green Belt properly protected, opposes Mitchley Hill being concreted over and Purley having as much intensification as Croydon town centre. Philp is more sanguine about building more homes in Waddon – the only Labour-held council ward in his constituency – clearly having calculated that he can hold his seat without Waddon voters’ support.
“The council has been handing out planning consents indiscriminately in the past few years,” Philp writes.
“We do need more homes, but new flats should be built particularly on brownfield and town centre sites with good transport links. They should not destroy family homes, which are needed as people have children and destroying them will change the character of our neighbourhood.
“There is nothing in national planning policy that requires the council to do this – next door boroughs like Sutton and Bromley protect their local areas.”
In his email to Croydon South voters, Philp attacks his Labour rival, Olga FitzRoy, stating, “the Labour MP candidate here supports what the council is doing to us and will not stand up for our area”.
As you might expect from a careerist Tory, this is not entirely true.
FitzRoy says publicly that she will “protect our green spaces” and that “I will encourage the council to look after and make the most of our precious green spaces”.
And when interviewed by Inside Croydon’s Under The Flyover virtual hustings podcast, FitzRoy said that she backs Mayor Khan’s protection of Green Belt.
The Liberal Democrats’ candidate in Croydon South, Anna Jones, identified early in her campaign that planning was a vote-loser for Labour that she could exploit to try to challenge for second place on Thursday. One of her many leaflets says, “Anna will stand up for you on planning”, and dedicates a whole page to the issue.
Surrey resident Jones says that as Croydon South’s MP she would be “a Planning Champion”. But she won’t be the MP. In 2017, Jones polled just 3,500 votes – 30,000 fewer than Philp, and third by 18,000 votes behind Labour.
But its seems that the parliamentary candidates from the Conservatives, to the LibDems through to Labour have identified that Scott is costing Labour votes throughout Croydon.
With a well-deserved reputation for his gratuitously aggressive demeanour at planning committee when faced with residents worried about their homes and neighbourhood being changed forever, it is a wonder that the Labour leadership has done nothing to rein-in their snarling pit-bull councillor.
But then that Labour leadership includes Alison Butler, the council deputy leader (£48,660 in council allowances each year), who is married to Scott, and who, with her cabinet portfolio in charge of housing, has managed to oversee the delivery of precisely zero council homes for social rent built in Croydon since 2014.
Listen to the rest of our Under The Flyover Election podcasts:
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