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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Having watched the virtual planning meeting last night I fully support the proposal to stop these events until there is proper public engagement and scrutiny and full committee involvement.
It was quite embarrassing to watch.
Cllr Toni Letts seems to have no understanding of planning – I can’t put it any other way. Yesterday when discussing the new proposed public space alongside Fairfield Halls, she kept referring to people ‘peeing in water foundations’, when I guess she meant water fountains?
It’s simply not good enough.
And on the issue of the new public space beside Fairfield Halls which was discussed as a pre-planning submission item, for once on the committee there appeared to be consensus that what was being proposed was pretty dire.
Sadly, nobody had the foresight or strength of conviction to just say it as it is.
The site is very important for Croydon. It is probably the most important new civic public space in the town centre in 50 years. I have no idea who set the brief or who chose the design team [The Ed writes: professional architect Paul Scott had some involvement], but the proposals really are lacklustre.
The designers would not dare make these frivolous proposals in Kingston upon Thames or in Westminster but hey-ho, it’s Croydon, we can relax a bit here. Somebody on the Committee should have had the balls to say that yesterday. Where was Croydon’s Design Champion, Cllr Paul Scott, when we needed him?
Clearly the committee thought the proposals were awful but once again, like the Emperor’s New Clothes, nobody had the confidence to say it. And goodness know what the Place Review Panel has done to allow this level of mediocrity to get this far unchecked.
Who selected the designers?
I expect Jo Negrini was involved again, with a juicy £1million contract to dole out to her architect friends (how else do you get made an Hon member of RIBA?), thinking she knows exactly what Croydon needs. She could not be more mistaken.
They were known in the profession for their ‘Cookie-cutter whimsy …’ They have built a Romanesque church out of sparkly blue sequins and turned the head of Hercules into a squishy seat.
This is jokey, frivolous post-modern Pastel pink kitsch when Croydon desperately needs strong, inspiring timeless design that will knit our town centre back together again.
The proposals looked tired even as conceptual designs. Can you imagine the built reality?
The proposals presented last night should be binned. Croydon town centre deserves so much better.
This is a lesson of what poor client patronage and a weak and unchallenging planning system produces. And Croydon becomes the butt of everyone’s humour once again.