Angry residents are seeking a full and independent investigation into the role played by a senior member of the council’s planning department in a £300million tower development that was granted planning permission in central Croydon – when the wife of one of the planners was working for the developers.
A residents’ association and the local MP first raised complaints last year about senior planning official Ross Gentry and his wife, Natalie Gentry, the planning director for Macar Developments, over their development of 40 flats in Purley.
On that occasion, a council executive director brushed away the concerns over the lack of any declaration of interest by claiming that Ross Gentry had made such a declaration in April 2019, around the time Natalie joined Macar.
But now it has emerged that in her previous job, Natalie Gentry was working for Martin Robeson Planning Practice, or MRPP, at the time that they were hired by developers Guildhouse Rosepride as planning consultants on the landmark One Lansdowne tower project.
One Lansdowne was granted planning permission by Croydon Council in September 2017 for two towers, one 68 storeys high, and what the developers described as “917 bedroom apartments, penthouses, Grade A offices, bar and restaurant, viewing gallery, glass-bottomed swimming pool”. Yep, that’s the glass-bottomed pool between the two towers, hundreds of feet in the air.
Since that scheme was waved through the planning system, Ross Gentry has been put in charge of Croydon’s “strategic applications”.
But following last year’s row over the husband and wife double act’s role in developments in Purley, attention has now turned to Natalie Gentry’s part in securing planning permission for One Lansdowne and, importantly, whether Ross Gentry ever declared an interest to his employers, the council.
Questioned about the Gentrys over a Purley development last year, Heather Cheesbrough, the council’s exec director for planning, said that “an appropriate declaration” had been made by Ross Gentry in April 2019, around the time that wife Natalie started working for Macar.
Cheesbrough, however, has never yet been able to produce documentary evidence to prove her claim.
But now it has been discovered that Natalie Gentry was working for MRPP, advising Guildhouse-Rosepride, from January 2017 – eight months before the One Lansdowne planning application was passed by the council. No one at the council seems to be able to say whether Ross Gentry ever declared that potential conflict of interest.
Natalie Gentry’s current profile on the Macar Developments website boasts of her experience of working inside local authorities planning departments.
“She made the crossover to the private sector in 2016 where she has worked in consultancy, advising clients on the planning prospects of land and managing the planning application process for all types of development proposals, including major residential and mixed-use development.”
Which is nice. No mention of having hubby working on the inside, though.
What has become known as the “Gentryfication” of Purley is back on the agenda at tonight’s busy planning committee.
Macar has another suburban house that they want to turn into flats, and the planning department has recommended granting permission, even though one of the same commercial developer’s previous schemes is still subject of a formal complaint over Ross Gentry’s declaration of interest that he is the husband of a director of that company.
The council’s handling of the allegations of a conflict of interest involving the married couple also remains the subject of an investigation by the Information Commissioner.
But that hasn’t stopped the council putting an application for the demolition of a family home at 67 Higher Drive on the agenda at tonight’s planning committee.
Last December, Inside Croydon reported how de facto planning chair Paul Scott refused requests from Chris Philp, the MP for Croydon South, and the Foxley Residents’ Association to defer a planning application from Macar for another development on Higher Drive, so that the “cosy” relationship between the company and Ross Gentry could be properly investigated.
Now the council planning department is backing another Macar development, the fourth of its kind on Higher Drive in three years (though not all by the same developer): in July 2017 planning permission was granted for nine flats at 76 Higher Drive; in August 2019, permission was granted for nine flats at 78 Higher Drive; and then this year, Macar was controversially granted permission to build 40 flats in a five-storey block on the site of what was three houses, 59, 61 and 63 Higher Drive.
Tonight, the planning committee is asked to consider the merits of Macar’s proposals for 67 Higher Drive, where they propose building a four-storey block of 17 “luxury” (according to the developers) flats, nine of which are to be for affordable rent.
If – or when – it goes through tonight, it means that a 200-yard stretch of Higher Drive will be transformed from suburban family homes into blocks of flats.
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