Our Sutton reporter, CARL SHILTON, on how the council leadership has suffered another damaging knockback
A meeting held in Sutton last week proved that it really is possible for a committee to vote down a proposal for overdevelopment backed by the majority group on the council.
And in rejecting LibDem-controlled Sutton’s proposal to build a special school on Sheen Way playing fields, the planning committee also – albeit inadvertently – provided a proverbial kick in the nuts to Croydon’s Paul Scott.
Sutton Council needs to find a new home for the special school currently based in the historic Carew Manor in Beddington.
A suitable site has been located within the borough, at Rose Hill. But for reasons that can only be guessed at, the council has never brought forward proposals for a school to be built there. Rose Hill happens to be in Sutton North ward, which is represented by Ruth Dombey, the council leader…
Instead of an eminently suitable site, Sutton decided that they could build on playing fields which serve the Highview estate, just off the Purley Way, and which are used by the local primary school.
Cue justifiable public outrage. As well as building over a housing estate’s one modest patch of open space, the scheme was flawed in a whole raft of ways.
Elliot Colburn, a Tory councillor and now the MP for Carshalton and Wallington, managed to file a 9,000-word objection to the scheme.
Jillian Green, one of Beddington North’s three independent councillors and a resident of the Highview estate, said, “I absolutely support the need for a new school but I think the children deserve better than being bussed into an estate with narrow streets and receiving their education next to a railway line, industrial units and housing.
“The children, staff and parents deserve a much better open site with easy access via roads and public transport.”
Many of the faults with the council’s proposals involved access for the special school’s 300 pupils, as well as for the heavy construction traffic the building of the school would involve: the only route in and out of the site is via a narrow cul-de-sac. Once the school was open, that would be likely to generate more than 120 vehicle journeys into the cul-de-sac, twice a day.
Notoriously, last June, Helen Bailey, the £180,000 per year council chief executive, sent a secret letter to the property director of supermarket chain Morrison’s, asking for permission to carry out a local authority version of Anschluss and use part of the supermarket’s car park at Fiveways, in Croydon, to enable construction lorries to access the building site, in Sutton.
The only trouble was, when those local politicians – the independent councillors in Beddington North and Croydon Labour councillors in Waddon – discovered Bailey’s sly ruse, they were anything but approving. Suffice to say, Morrison’s declined the Sutton CEO’s kind offer.
The three-year-long saga finally came to a head last week, with a virtual planning meeting. Such was the Department for Education’s support for the scheme that… no one from the ministry showed up, not even virtually.
Around 120 people did manage to log-on to the planning meeting, including the 10 councillors who are committee members.
And the proposals were not without some support. LibDem councillor Jill Whitehead, a Dombey loyalist, claimed that there was no traffic problems driving into the Sheen Way playing fields when she used to go there to play hockey… in the 1960s.
But despite such compelling, finger-on-the-pulse arguments, when it came to a vote, the proposal was rejected, 7-3.
Only Whitehead, Amy Haldane (LibDem) and Richard Clare (LibDem) were in favour.
Eric Allen (Con), Tim Crowley (Con), Tim Foster (Ind) and Tony Shields (Con) were joined by LibDem councillors Kevin Burke, Drew Heffernan, the Worcester Park councillor who chairs the committee, and Vincent Galligan in voting against.
The fall-out from the decision could be considerable.
Anticipating the council having to defend against an appeal by the free school academy trust that had brought the proposal, Bailey has now been forced engaged the costly services of consultants and a QC who specialises in planning law to put together the case of why building on Sheen Way playing fields is such a bad idea. Colburn’s magnum opus may help, as could the 25 pages of objections filed by firebrand Beddington North councillor Nick Mattey.
There is also a Croydon-related footnote to the story.
The ill-considered proposal to concrete over a piece of green open space, denying youngsters their playing fields, potentially means no more fat fees for the architects who drew up the project – a London-based firm called TP Bennett, where one of the directors is none other than Paul Scott, Croydon’s concrete-fetishising cabinet member for planning.
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