More than a year too late, Tony Newman, Croydon Labour’s dictatorial council leader, has begun to stir his senior councillors into parroting some kind of attack lines against the DEMOC campaign which is backing a referendum over whether to have a Directly-Elected Mayor for Croydon.
The DEMOC campaigners say that they already have the 13,000-plus signatures required to force the council to stage a referendum on the issue, but they have opted to stay low-key during the covid-19 pandemic and so have yet to present their petition to the council.
Newman (£55,000 per year in allowances), Alison Butler (£48,000) and Paul Scott (£38,000) and others on bumper Town Hall salaries could all be seriously out of pocket in the event of a Mayoral election, which seems likely to be held in 2022.
So it was that at the weekend (well, very late on a Saturday night…), Stuart Collins, the council deputy leader who usually confines his social media activity to rockabilly music and the number of fly-tips council staff have cleared, responded to a tweet from MP Chris Philp to claim that those running the DEMOC petition are being “supported by the far-right who love dictators”.
Such far-right links as imagined by Collins might come as a surprise to the London boroughs of Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets, all of which are under Labour control and have their own democratically-elected mayors, thanks to a policy that was introduced under a Blairite government.
Likewise, Collins’ fellow Labour Party members in Croydon South might also raise their eyebrows at such a characterisation, since their Constituency Labour Party voted strongly in favour of replacing the current system in Croydon with a democratically-elected mayor.
There are seven residents’ associations backing the petition for a referendum in Croydon. The campaign’s 10-strong committee includes three Labour activists. The campaign is also supported by Croydon Conservatives.
DEMOC’s website does have a failed hyperlink to an endorsement from an individual in the Libertarian Party, and links to a former Brexit Party election candidate. The Christian Parties Alliance is also shown on the DEMOC website.
Much of the DEMOC campaign has been built around mounting discontent with the arrogant conduct of the de facto chair of planning Scott, and the unfailing support for even the shoddiest of Brick by Brick planning applications.
Until very recently, Newman’s approach to this impending and serious threat to his regime was… to ignore it and hope it might go away.
Apart from the somewhat arcane recommendations from a governance review, that delivered its report a year late and cost the Council Tax-payer more than £100,000, Newman has failed to engage with the campaigners and offered no change in policies or personnel.
Philp, the Tory MP for Conservative Croydon, says that, “The council’s in-house developer Brick by Brick (controlled by the Council Leader) has become the most destructive developer in Croydon, destroying green spaces. Our own council is doing this to us. A Directly Elected Mayor will be able to end it.”
Collins had responded to another Philp tweet, highlighting the Brick by Brick plans to build next to a wildlife sanctuary in New Addington, in which the junior government minister had written, “The only way to stop the appalling Brick by Brick from concreting over green spaces in our borough is a Directly Elected Mayor, who will have to listen to residents and would have the power to stop Brick by Brick’s activities.”
Collins wrote that the MP was ” talking nonsense as usual”.
Collins wrote: “A Directly Elected Mayor would have absolutely no legal power over planning laws or council planning committees. Planning laws [were] relaxed by his own Tory government to build more homes for people.”
Collins is at least partly correct in the respect that it is the government that legislates on planning and finally calls the shots.
Even where there are some devolved powers, to city level through the Mayor of London, the Westminster government often has the final say.
In planning, the Mayor’s London Plan is up in the air after the Tory Secretary of State Robert Jendrick criticised Sadiq Khan for not delivering enough new homes (backing Collins’ assertion), while also telling him not to build too much in the suburbs of places like Croydon (backing Philp’s comments).
Jenrick issued his letter to Khan in March, just before the London elections were postponed. As with last week’s party-political stunt over funding for TfL in the midst of the covid-19 emergency, the Tories at Westminster are doing what they can to undermine London’s Labour Mayor and attempt to breathe some life into the dead-duck campaign of Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey.
And it is not only Tories who set out to mislead the public over elements of policy. Some Labour politicians do it, too, judging by Collins’s efforts late on Saturday night.
Anyone working in local government, such as Collins, really ought to be aware that directly elected mayors do indeed write their Local Plans that set the housing target and all the policies upon which planning applications are made.
Once prepared, the Local Plan needs to be adopted by the council as a whole. The government can also reject it. In the 24 local authorities that have directly-elected mayors, it is the mayor who decides who sits in their council cabinet, including the councillor responsible for planning, though they do not necessarily choose the chair of the planning committee, although the mayor’s influence will likely be overwhelming.
The mayor in a London borough will not decide on individual planning applications. As now, the planning committee or the council’s professional planning officials will decide those applications with reference to the Local Plan, the London Plan and national planning policy.
Collins really ought to understand this, though his late-night Twitter activity suggests that he does not.
Either that, or word has gone out from his increasingly erratic boss, Newman, that senior Labour councillors should now resort to telling untruths about how the planning system works.
Certainly, Collins’s response to Philp did not impress at least one resident, who replied to the councillor’s tweet by saying, “You are a deputy council leader charged with the serious business of civic progress. Chuntering on about right-wing appetite for dictators makes you sound like an entry-level Sixth Form debater. Croydon is in a mess – get a grip.”
If a referendum and then elections choose a mayor for Croydon who seeks to reduce planning pressures, by being empowered by a borough-wide popular mandate, they should be in a stronger position to match Sutton and Bromley have done to game the system and secure lower numbers of new homes.
In Croydon, meanwhile, Scott still thinks it is his mission to build 34,000 new homes plus 12,000 on Purley Way – effectively increasing the number of homes across the borough by 25 per cent.
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