Purley residents outrage over planning’s ‘husband and wife act’

Croydon Council’s planning committee has had an application for a development in Purley rushed on to its agenda for tomorrow, its last meeting of 2019, with a scheme submitted from a company whose “development director” is married to a senior member of the council’s planning staff.

Houses such as these on Higher Drive in Purley are constant prey for profit-hungry developers

When contacted by Inside Croydon yesterday, neither Jo Negrini, the council chief executive, nor Ross Gentry, Croydon’s “south area team leader” in the planning department, gave any confirmation that Gentry had made a declaration of interest over his relationship with a Macar director, as is required by law.

According to one concerned resident who contacted Inside Croydon, “The relationship between Macar and the planning office appears, at best, to be very ‘cosy’.

“Does the planning officer go home and have a chat about his day’s work with the Macar planning director?”

Macar Developments want to demolish three two-storey detached houses on Higher Drive and replace them with a five-storey block of 40 flats.

It is one of at least 13 development applications which Macar has with Croydon Council at present. Macar’s planning director is Natalie Gentry, who it is understood is married to Croydon Council’s Ross Gentry.

The five-storey block of flats Macar wants to build on Higher Drive for a housing association. Half of the flats would be ‘affordable’

Natalie Gentry is a former Croydon Council staff member, who has also previously worked at the Greater London Authority.

Last night, the local residents’ association wrote to Paul Scott, the de facto chair of the planning committee, and his puppet, Toni Letts, demanding that the Higher Drive application be deferred until the relationship between Macar and the council’s planning department can be properly investigated.

The Foxley Residents’ Association claim that “errors and omissions” in the council’s planning department’s report – which recommends granting planning permission for Macar’s scheme at 59 to 63 Higher Drive – would be “open to challenge by way of Judicial Review”.

A Freedom of Information Act request by the resident has revealed correspondence from Macar’s Natalie Gentry to the council planning department (though not addressed directly to Ross Gentry).

Macar’s Natalie Gentry: putting pressure on council planning officers

The residents believe that the email shows Macar’s Gentry attempting to put pressure on the council, following the payment of £48,000 for “pre-app services”.

Some developers pay for a pre-application consultation with the council’s planners so that they might receive advice which is likely to make their application successful. Such arrangements, common in the planning field, often have all the appearance of a legitimised bribe.

Natalie Gentry has worked for Epsom-based Macar since April this year.

In her email, dated September 16, 2019, she writes that Macar had already secured a buyer for its block of flats, namely Moat housing association.

She notes that a Macar colleague, Alex (believed to refer to Alex MacDonald, the company’s managing director), “is getting very frustrated with the level of service being provided by Croydon Council and making him question the benefits of the £48,000 he’s given Croydon Council for pre-apps services.”

The residents’ association suggest that the Gentry email, “raises lots of questions on whether this has any bearing on the manner in which this contentious application has been fast-tracked to the planning committee without due consideration of all the material issues…”.

The email from Natalie Gentry to Croydon Council, as revealed through an FoI

Foxley RA has submitted further FoIs on all correspondence between Macar and the planning team, “as we believe there is a conflict of interest”.

This is an area, of course, where perception is everything. The council’s planning department’s first duty is to serve the public, and the public perception, according to one of their members, is that “this husband and wife act raises huge questions about how the planning process is being handled”.

In their urgent email to Letts, Scott and the planning committee, Foxley RA say, “Given this latest development, we request that at the very least, a decision should be delayed until the FoI request has been complied with and the conflict of interest investigated.”

Ross Gentry: council planning staff

When Inside Croydon raised the matter with Negrini and Ross Gentry yesterday, the only response was a paragraph from the press office which stated, “To avoid any potential conflicts of interest that may arise as part of council business, all officers are required to complete declarations of interests, whether they be financial, a close personal relationship or otherwise.”

Which, of course, is not the same as stating categorically that Ross Gentry has ever made any such declaration.

Indeed, even if such a declaration has been made, there then remains a need to put some clear blue water between Ross Gentry and any applications submitted by the company which employs his wife in a senior capacity.

Macar Developments website shows how they are building blocks of flats right across the south of the borough – where Ross Gentry heads up Croydon Councils planning team

Yet Negrini and Ross Gentry have so far failed to respond to our request to demonstrate what steps the planning department has taken so that the head of planning for the south of the borough has no involvement with the many development applications received from Macar.

Given the number of Macar projects – on Russell Hill Road, Woodcote Grove Road and The Drive in Coulsdon, all illustrated lovingly on the company’s website – it is hard to imagine how Ross Gentry can supervise the work of the planning department’s south area team and not come into regular contact with schemes proposed by the company which employs his wife in a senior position.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Croydon Council, Housing, Jo Negrini, Paul Scott, Planning, Property, Purley, Toni Letts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Purley residents outrage over planning’s ‘husband and wife act’

  1. You can tell the type of relationship that Macar has with our beloved Planning Department by the minatory and dictatorial tone of the email. The Council are clearly the servant in this relationship. At the same time there seems to be some implication that somehow Macar has paid for planning permission and is not satisfied with the service it is getting for its money.

    Now, had the planning applications been for,say, a revived branch of the long defunct Mac Fisheries all this would make some sense.

    As it is all this seems to suggest, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor, that there is something fishy in the henhouse.

  2. sebastiantillinger7694 says:

    This excellent journalism demonstrates the dangers of unleashing Paul Scott’s entirely untested SPD2 planning policy on Croydon’s suburbs.

    It’s a narrow-minded political act that is not based on housing demand. This is clearly demonstrated in the New London Plan, published in full today. It says Croydon’s housing targets are not realisable and they have therefore been substantially downgraded. It says Croydon should not be relying so heavily on windfall sites. Paul Scott’s response to this is likely to be to carry on regardless – he’s saying he knows better than everyone else.

    Windfall sites are sites which are not planned for – ie it’s easy planning fodder for Scott and the planning department. All they have to do is remove all the rules (the purpose of SPD2) and watch the developers come charging over the hill. In this case it’s Macar, with multiple sites all over Croydon’s southern suburbs.

    You might think this is a risky proposition for Macar, the developer. Not so when you have SPD2 and your new Director of Planning is married to a senior Croydon planner.

    Planning is now seriously compromised in this borough and the public have no confidence in it.

    Planning has been allowed to become the personal plaything of Paul Scott and our streets and roads are going to suffer irrevocably because of it.

    Tony Newman needs to step in and take control of this by restructuring the planning committee.

    Starting with the immediate removal of Paul Scott.

  3. David Wild says:

    Even non windfall sites seem untenable, many being conversions or additions to commercial premises resulting in their ongoing uses and development being severely restricted.
    A look at the latest Croydon Plan shows the extent of the problems.
    Businesses need space to set up and expand, converting all of the ‘suburbs’ into housing ONLY will force more and more businesses out, lowering the demand for housing !!

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