CROYDON COMMENTARY: Among the many bad planning decisions made by the council in recent years, those taken to allow a redevelopment in Rectory Park, South Croydon, ‘must surely rate as some of the most perverse’, according to STEVE WHITESIDE, who details a case which has drawn the attention of the Local Government Ombudsman
Despite numerous objections, a petition and at least one formal complaint that included concerns regarding significant inaccuracy within planning applications to redevelop 4 Rectory Park in South Croydon, it has taken until now and for the developer’s own architect to publically discredit the original submission to the council’s planning department.
The case revolves around a scheme, inevitably, to demolish an existing family home and replace it, according to the original application, with a two-storey block of flats. The developer involved is a company called Aventier, who in the past decade has been very busy in and around the south of the borough.
At the end of January this year, the council received an application to revise the planning condition for what the developers are now calling “Redstone Apartments”.
The expressed intention of a new application (20/00461/CONR) is “…to rectify the inaccuracies and discrepancies illustrated on the planning drawings… and depict the site and development in its true form”.
In plain English, what has been built at 4 Rectory Park looks nothing like what the council granted permission to build, and now through a bit of reverse engineering through the planning process, they want to get the paperwork to match what has been built.
This is what passes for “planning enforcement” in Croydon with some commercial developers who are better known to the planning department.
In this case, the architect, hired by the developer, has written in documents submitted to the Croydon planning department: “The approved plans and elevations entirely contradict one another. The approved elevations misrepresent the plans and more significantly they drastically misrepresent the surroundings and topography.”
Yet this is exactly what many existing residents and ward councillors raised as warnings during the planning process, and since, warnings which were repeatedly overlooked by Croydon’s ”highly professional and experienced team of planning officers”.
Given the planners’ initial advice to Aventier over this development, why did council officials ever recommend approval of this overdevelopment in the first place?
Aventier made use of the pre-application system. This system allows a developer, for a fee, to discuss their initial plans with the planning department, who then give them a nod and a nudge in the right direction so that their planning application will get approved.
Back in February 2017, at the pre-application stage, the council’s case official, Robert Naylor, provided the following advice to Aventier:
- “You need to reduce the bulk and align with the existing building line… as the scheme is currently too dominant.
- “You need to greatly reduce the area of flat roof … this is not in keeping with the local character.
- “The current scheme appears to be an overdevelopment at the site.
- “It is considered that the proposal would be detrimental to the character (of the) area.
- “A reduction in the number of units … could alleviate some of the issues.
- “As it currently stands the scheme would not receive a favourable decision.”
Yet for some reason, apparently undaunted, Aventier’s subsequent planning application (17/00687/FUL) was for an even larger and more prominent block of flats, which protruded even further beyond the front building line and with even more flat roof.
Despite the previous advice from council official Naylor, the planning department prepared a report to go to the planning committee (which is made up of elected councillors) which recommended approval for the Aventier scheme.
This report stated: “The location of the proposal is not located sufficiently far forward as to appear visually overbearing or out of keeping in the street scene…” and “… the proposal would not be prominent or out of scale, and the design does not detract from the character of the building (sic)”.
On this basis, Aventier’s application for 4 Rectory Park was approved by the planning committee.
The author of the planning report was… Robert Naylor.
Aventier’s second full planning application (18/00588/FUL) was for a development of seven flats, with six on-site parking spaces. The proposed block was even larger, protruding even further beyond the front building line, with even more flat roof.
Nevertheless, referring only to the previous planning approval as a precedent, Naylor advised the planning committee that in his professional opinion the proposals were acceptable.
On this basis, the application was approved.
The council has never managed to explain Naylor’s extraordinary change of heart at the all-important decision-making stage, which appears nothing short of perverse.
Shortly after the second application was approved, and in response to continuing concerns raised by the public about the lack of information, Naylor told us, “Drawing number BX14-S3-105 shows the proposal in the street scene. The drawing… contains the existing street level… the drawing also indicates the finished floor levels for each storey and how these relate to the surrounding area. These are all to scale and enable council officers, councillors and the public to accurately monitor the development.”
Yet fast forward to January 2020, and the developer’s new architects, a firm called Coleman Anderson, now identify that same approved drawing, BX14-S3-105, as being among those which “drastically misrepresent the surroundings and topography”.
So why did Naylor and his boss, planning chief Pete Smith, choose to conceal that important information from the councillors on the planning committee, the decision-makers?
Since 2017, public representations have detailed ways in which the proposals of both Aventier and then Rectory SSB (who apparently bought the site with planning permission) have failed to demonstrate compliance with a whole host of adopted standards and policies on this site. The council’s planning officers have studiously ignored those concerns.
The council’s management of the planning applications relating to this site appear to show a consistent and conscious bias towards approval, at the expense of any proper consideration of design quality, sustainability or the potential impact on neighbours, neighbourhood and community.
The latest application does at least acknowledge the misinformation upon which the original decisions were based, as well as a certain amount of non-compliance with what was approved. However, it makes no mention of many other significant post-decision changes, including an apparent wholesale “redesign” of the approved sustainable drainage strategy.
Sadly, as far as Croydon Council’s planning department is concerned, 4 Rectory Park is not a “one-off”. There are other “small site” (and probably some large site) proposals that have followed the same “privileged” path through the development management process.
As a consequence, what is being built at 4 Rectory Park and elsewhere often turns out to be even worse than what was originally approved.
Meanwhile, it’s understood that Naylor is no longer employed by the council.
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