One of the borough’s largest organisations representing the interests of residents has called on the council to stop all planning committee meetings until the covid-19 emergency is over – and they have singled out the Brick by Brick proposal to concrete over a site adjacent to the Hutchinson’s Bank nature reserve as requiring particularly close scrutiny.
“To ensure proper public scrutiny of critical major decisions across the borough, we urge you to reconsider Croydon Council’s position and suspend all planning processes until the public can meaningfully attend planning meetings,” the Addington Residents’ Association chairman, Wiktor Molleskog, wrote in his letter to Tony Newman.
The Addington Residents’ Association represents 750 households, and more than 2,000 people.
Croydon Council has chosen to continue with its planning commitee meetings during lockdown, but under very limited and limiting “virtual” circumstances: only five councillors are allowed to participate, including de facto planning chair Paul Scott and two Labour councillor colleagues (ensuring an in-built party majority), and no members of the public can address the committee directly, as would normally be the case. Statements of objection are allowed, but they are read into the meeting by a member of council staff.
The council’s third “virtual” planning meeting was held last night, with Newman’s hand-picked appointee, “Thirsty” Chris Clark, once again in the chair. On this occasion, Brick by Brick had no applications on the agenda.
In the letter, which has been seen by Inside Croydon, Molleskog wrote: “We, the Addington Residents’ Association, are concerned at recent planning decisions being announced, especially that around Hutchinson’s Bank, a site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation in New Addington managed by the London Wildlife Trust.”
The Hutchinson’s Bank application has already created a storm of controversy, since the wildlife reserve is one of the few homes for the brown hairstreak butterfly, an endangered species, and one which relies on blackthorn to breed. Brick by Brick wants to destroy blackthorn bushes and trees on the margins of their site next to the reserve.
Molleskog’s letter outlined how emergency measures laid out in the 2020 Coronavirus Act had given councils the authority to continue with their planning process, as well as the option to delay decisions.
“To ensure proper public scrutiny of critical major decisions across the borough, we urge you to reconsider Croydon Council’s position, and suspend all planning processes until the public can meaningfully attend planning meetings,” he said.
“Alternatively consider appointing a special planning committee comprising one representative each from the elected political parties, as has been done by Brighton and Hove City Council, where one councillor from each of the Conservative, Green and Labour parties meet to decide urgent planning applications collectively.
“The current bypassing of public access to the planning process risks long-term loss of important oversight which will result in poor decision-making.
“This must nor be allowed to happen.”
The cause of Hutchinson’s Bank has this week gone national, with Brick by Brick described in Private Eye magazine as “wildlife despoiling cowboys”.
The satirical fortnightly highlights how in Brick by Brick’s planning application, the developers had answered “No” to whether the site is home to or adjacent to protected or priority species or important habitat.
“Nor did it submit its application to the scientific experts at Natural England, as required by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.”
The magazine also noted that Brick by Brick is wholly-owned by Croydon Council. The Hutchinson’s Bank planning application, they wrote, “will be determined by, er, Croydon Council, which since Brick by Brick’s establishment in 2015 has not turned down any of its planning applications”.
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