Labour’s Town Hall whip voted down the council-owned developers’ housing proposal, the first application from them to be rejected in four years.
BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, reports
Residents from Selsdon were celebrating today after their concerted objections saw an application from Brick by Brick to build eight houses on a patch of green space thrown out by the planning committee.
It is the first time in four years that the Labour-controlled council’s planning committee has rejected an application from the council-owned development company.
Earlier this month, the council turned down an application from the Selsdon Residents’ Association to have the green designated an Asset of Community Value. Had the village green-like open space been granted ACV status, Brick by Brick will have been prevented from developing the council-owned land.
The council’s planning department had recommended granting planning permission.
This is the second knock-back for a controversial and unpopular Brick by Brick scheme in a matter of weeks. Last month, after persistent campaigning by Waddon Labour councillor Robert Canning, the house-builders abandoned proposals to build an ugly block of flats in his ward.
All Brick by Brick’s previous applications that have reached the committee have been granted. Some Labour members of the planning committee have in the past accused Councillor Paul Scott of “whipping” them to pass schemes submitted by the council’s wholly-owned developers.
Scott is the cabinet member for planning and at one time was the chair of the planning committee. Attempting to influence members of quasi-judicial planning committees, such as by whipping them along party lines, is illegal.
Which makes the voting over Hawthorn Crescent last night all the more remarkable.
Because as well as Tory councillors Ian Parker, Lynne Hale and Gareth Streeter voting against the proposal, one Labour councillor, Leila Ben-Hassel abstained while her colleagues, Clive Fraser and Pat Clouder, actively voted against.
Fraser just happens to be the Labour group’s whip at the Town Hall, effectively council leader Tony Newman’s enforcer of party discipline.
The voting down of a Brick by Brick planning application by the Labour group whip comes just a few days before Newman is to face a vote of no confidence over his mishandling of the borough’s finances.
It may be more difficult for Fraser to ensure that Croydon’s Great Leader receives the unswerving support of all Labour councillors after the whip himself has broken ranks and managed to block one of the council’s house-builders’ developments.
Developers often appeal to the Planning Inspectorate if they have an application refused, and it seems possible that Brick by Brick may do so in this case – in which case they will be contesting a decision reached by the company’s owners. Which could be interesting.
Speaking on behalf of the residents last night was ward councillor Andy Stranack and local Ali Ball, who made the point in their presentation that Hawthorn Crescent “was built in 1928 as a model for how council housing was to be envisaged for the future… The green was an integral part of the architecture of the estate”.
Ball has lived on the Crescent for 16 years and told the committee that the green was “one of the main reasons I purchased my home”.
Ball said, “Countless children have grown up playing on the green in a safe environment and existing amenity space. And green space … is paramount to improving mental health.”
The decision to refuse planning permission also means that a World War II air-raid shelter, built under the green with the capacity for 100 people, will also get a reprieve. Brick by Brick had promised to conduct a survey of the shelter, but never did. In their application, Brick by Brick said wanted to demolish it.
“We have one of the largest preserved World War II air-raid shelters in the county which is full of historic artwork and will be destroyed and no care given to our war heroes who fought to protect our country and sovereignty,” Ball said.
And Ball warmed to the theme. “Since the council reduced land maintenance, we have had continued wildflower growth and bats have increased their residency in the numerous bat boxes in the trees on site.
“If you take away our green space you are destroying the community, nature, the ecosystem and erasing history and memories, brick by brick!”
Perhaps, for a while at least, that’s no longer the case.
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