Nicola Townsend is the council’s new chief planner.
Except she’s not.
She’s been appointed as something which is described in council papers as Croydon’s “director of homes and social investment”.
Townsend has worked at Croydon Council since the last century (she did some planning for Tramlink), and has held a senior position in the North planning team – which means she will have had a major hand in discussions and negotiations over the now-aborted £1.4billion Westfield supermall scheme.
As a result of her promotion, Townsend will get a near-£30,000 pay hike, as she goes from being one of the borough’s two “planning team leaders”, to her new director role on £109,140 per year.
The decision was taken by the council appointments committee earlier this week, recommended by council chief exec Jo Negrini and rubber-stamped by Tony Newman and Alison Butler, the council leader and deputy leader.
In one significant respect, Townsend represents an immediate improvement on Smith, in that she is a signed up and recognised member of the Royal Town Planning Institute. Which means that if the Croydon public have an issue with the manner in which Townsend oversees the planning process, or some of the decisions taken on her watch, they will now have some recourse through the professional town planning body.
That was never an option with Smith, who for some reason that remains undisclosed, had discontinued his membership of the RTPI some years ago.
Croydon Council, such as Negrini, who’d appointed Smith, nor elected councillors in charge of planning, such as Paul Scott, never offered any explanation why they felt it acceptable to have a head of planning who was not a chartered member of the RTPI.
According to the RTPI, around 80 per cent of qualified town planners are members of their organisation.
The RTPI told Inside Croydon: “The Institute has a rigorous investigation process in place and we take any complaint against one of our members extremely seriously.
“Our members are required to follow a Code of Professional Conduct – ultimately if our investigation upholds a complaint we can warn or reprimand the member, or suspend or revoke their membership.”
Negrini, Scott and Butler appear to have chosen the appointment of Townsend to reconfigure the chief planner’s role, although no official announcement has been made nor has Townsend’s new job description published.
A Katharine Street source said today, “Calling the post ‘director of homes and social investment’ sort of prejudices the role from the start, with a presumption that they will deliver homes and ‘social investment’, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
“It suggests that what was the head of planning will now be expected to deliver homes, at whatever cost to the borough and its neighbourhoods. It’s a loaded term, and it risks removing the post-holder from any pretence of objectivity in the planning process.”
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