CROYDON IN CRISIS: The best mate of discredited council leader Tony Newman spent seven years dominating and domineering the planning committee – and never once did he declare an interest over colleague architects or Brick by Brick. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Labour councillor Paul Scott has been sacked from the council’s planning committee.
Scott’s removal from all positions of influence in planning will be met “with a sigh of relief” according to one organisation of residents’ associations, while the council’s Conservative opposition greeted the news by saying that Scott’s toxic legacy “will be felt in Croydon for generations”.
Scott, the best mate of Tony Newman, the discredited former leader of the council, is missing from the list of planning committee members for the coming civic year in papers that are to go for approval at next week’s Town Hall annual meeting.
It will be the first time in a decade that Scott, an architect by profession, has not been a member of the powerful and important committee. Last October, in the council cabinet reshuffle that followed Newman’s resignation, Scott also lost his generously paid position as the cabinet member for planning.
The decision to remove Scott from the planning committee was taken by Hamida Ali, Croydon Labour’s new leader, in her latest step-by-step move to distance herself from Newman’s old regime.
Scott is understood to have spent the past three weeks trying to overturn his sacking, but without success – a demonstration perhaps of the rapid loss of support for the once dominating clique which he, together with his wife, ex-deputy leader Alison Butler, and Newman held over the Labour group.
Also dropped from the planning committee’s membership is another enthusiastic Newman supporter and ally of developers, Toni Letts.
Letts is the septuagenarian councillor who became notorious during her spell as planning chair for her often eccentric and usually irrelevant interventions.
Scott, a director of London architects firm TP Bennett, spent the past seven years on the planning committee never once declaring an interest when presented with a scheme which had been put forward for permission by architects or architects’ firms with whom he may have collaborated or worked in the past.
Nor did he once declare an interest over schemes submitted by the council’s own developers, Brick by Brick, even though Scott’s wife, Butler, as cabinet member for housing, was directly responsible for all those projects.
Under the Relevant Authorities (Disclosable Pecuniary Interests) Regulations 2012, “a failure to register a disclosable pecuniary interest within 28 days of election or co-option or the provision of false or misleading information on registration, or participation in discussion or voting in a meeting on a matter in which a councillor or co-opted member has a disclosable pecuniary interest” are criminal offences.
Scott always maintained that he had no pecuniary interest in the matters brought before his committee.
Under Newman, Scott was handed a carte blanche special dispensation in 2014, renewed in 2018, which avoided his ever having to exclude himself from planning meetings at which he may have had a potential conflict of interest.
The terms of that dispensation were discussed in a secret, Part B, meeting of the council’s ethics committee that have never been made public.
Scott was also accused of breaking planning law when he told Labour members of the planning committee – who held an in-built majority – that they must pass all Brick by Brick applications.
The Local Government Association’s advice says, “Planning decisions cannot be made on a party political basis in response to lobbying; the use of political whips to seek to influence the outcome of a planning application is likely to be regarded as maladministration.”
But in 2018, a councillor told Inside Croydon, “Planning is supposed to be quasi-judicial and members go in with an open mind… But as far as Brick by Brick was concerned, we were told a while ago that the way the planning applications were designed, if one application is refused, they all fail.”
In the same year, veteran Labour councillor Pat Ryan made public allegations of bias in favour of Brick by Brick applications, as he felt that his ward, Upper Norwood, was being unfairly treated with the council house-builders’ schemes damaging the quality of life for existing residents.
Although there was a call to investigate the allegations that Scott whipped the planning committee, Jo Negrini, the council chief executive at that time, refused to do so. She claimed that there was no connection between Butler, as cabinet member, and Brick by Brick, because BxB, wholly owned by Croydon Council, was a private company…
Between 2015 and 2018, Brick by Brick submitted planning applications to its owners, the council, for more than 40 sites, and a total of 1,036 new homes, many on green spaces and children’s play areas, and often despite strong opposition from existing residents.
While Scott was chair of the planning committee, from 2014 to 2018, not a single Brick by Brick scheme was ever refused planning permission.
Scott only stood down as chair of the planning committee in 2018 because the law prevented him from collecting two lots of SRAs – special responsibility allowances – and his mate Newman decided to “promote” him to cabinet level responsibility for planning. Scott continued on the planning committee, though, dominating proceedings and often dominating his immediate successor, Letts.
Scott’s domineering conduct at the committee would often see him abuse his position as chair, spending longer talking up the perceived merits of a developer’s scheme than the developers themselves. Opponents of developments – often residents, some addressing a council committee for the first time – were dealt with brusquely, even rudely by Scott as the planning chair.
In some cases, where the committee was evenly split on a proposal, Scott would give himself a second vote to push the developer’s scheme through.
And in one notorious instance, when a Labour committee member failed to vote in the way demanded by the chair, Scott brow-beat the elderly councillor into changing their vote. It was after this particular meeting that all planning committees were officially webcast.
Such conduct saw Scott become the architect of his own downfall, and was a core cause of the rising unpopularity of Croydon Labour across the whole borough.
DEMOC, the residents’ associations’ campaign for a directly elected mayor, collected 21,000 signatures in 2019 and 2020 backing a petition calling for a referendum on that issue. The vast majority are believed to have signed up in response to the council’s planning policies under Scott.
Today, Gerry Meredith-Smith, the chair of the DEMOC, told Inside Croydon, “Residents Associations and residents across Croydon are sighing with relief.
“They will be hoping this is a step towards a more normal planning process in Croydon, where the professional planners make their decisions free from any pressure to approve or recommend for approval applications that most sensible councils would refuse.”
And Jason Perry, the leader of the opposition Tories on the council, said, “While Paul Scott has sat on planning for years, the legacy of his time will be felt in Croydon for generations.
“His developer-friendly planning policies have resulted in the destruction of the character of our suburbs, with countless inappropriate developments being forced through against the opposition of local residents and ward councillors.
“The disdain and contempt with which he has treated concerned local residents has damaged the reputation of both Croydon Labour and Croydon Council.
“The local Conservative Party have long called for his sacking and welcome this first stage in his removal from the council.”
Perry’s party colleague, Chris Philp, the MP for Croydon South, an area which has suffered considerably at the hands of developers during Scott’s planning reign, was equally scathing.
“Paul Scott was the driving force behind the Newman regime’s drive to concrete over every inch of green space in the borough. His departure will be welcomed by residents.
“The sad truth is that we still see the planning committee routinely vote through damaging applications with the six Labour councillors in favour and the four Conservatives against. The real test of whether there has actually been a change is whether the Labour majority on the committee stops voting through every terrible application.
“We will have to see if their behaviour changes now that Scott has, thankfully, been purged.”
Inside Croydon approached Councillor Scott for comment on his sacking, and asked whether he would be seeking re-selection to stand as a Labour candidate for the council in next years’ Town Hall elections. But by the time of publication, he had not responded.
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