Scott in power cut as he is ‘purged’ from planning committee

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

Paul Scott: was the best recruiting sergeant for the democratically elected mayor campaign

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.

Toni Letts: eccentric and often irrelevant

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.

The Pimp House at Norwood Junction stands testimony to the failures of Brick by Brick, which bankrupted the council

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.

Opposition to Brick by Brick, and other private developments, grew steadily during Scott’s term as  planning chief

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.

The composition of the council planning committee for the new civic year – with no Paul Scott for the first time in more than a decade

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.”

Butler and Scott: for a time they were Croydon’s power couple

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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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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14 Responses to Scott in power cut as he is ‘purged’ from planning committee

  1. CentralCroydon says:

    And good riddance.

  2. Wendy Kilcran says:

    How soon will Scott’s removal take effect?

    • The 2021-2022 committee memberships are due to be approved at next Tuesday’s council annual meeting, as explained in the article.

    • “Not fast enough” is the right answer, Wendy. Now he’s off the Committee, he should be kicked out of Croydon Labour Party and told he won’t be selected for next year’s council elections. Same goes for Butler.

      • Margaret Scanlan says:

        As a member of residents group in Thornton heath fighting a development application – literally in our back gardens, 10.3m from our properties to development – I am so delighted that he won’t be able to bludgeon members of committee into passing every application that comes before the committee. The planning process of Croydon council has not been fit for purpose for some years.

  3. All this might have been funny had they not, over ten years, completely disconnected residents of Croydon from the planning process.

    That is unforgivable.

    The whipping of opinions, the overbearing self righteousness, the behind the scenes briefings and ‘deals’ and the covert and overt bullying of committee members. All under the ‘protection’ of Tony Newman.

    None of this has served Croydon’s environment or its residents.

    We must now remove the divisive clauses Scott has poured into SPD2 Planning Guidance; penned by him and giving him the justification to ride roughshod over planning in our borough.

    And Cllr Scott should no longer have the title; Borough Design Champion. One thing is for sure, he is no Christopher Wren.

  4. jackgriffin1933 says:

    Scott’s authority seems to have been in abeyance for some time as, from what I gather from a number of developers spoken to in the last few months, there has been a significant change in sentiment within Croydon planning these past six months.

    Blocks of nine flats are not getting waved through anything like they were before – and there is much push back to scale down to seven or even five.

    Whether nine, seven or five, there is also a new emphasis on three-bedroom units – the penny finally dropping that adding dwellings doesn’t help housing shortages if they are configured against the need (i.e. one and two-bedroom units being favoured over family accommodation).

    Blocks of nine are now also more difficult as there is a new insistence on one-to-one parking provision, the fantasy of driving ‘active transport’ and the reality of previously forcing parked cars onto already crammed streets being recognised.

    There also seems to be a big shift in favour of houses over flats – esp. three and four-bed dwellings – for obvious ‘family accommodation’ reasons. I can certainly live with that.

    I also gather that the more experienced/ established local developers – rather than the goldrush chancers that have piled in in the last couple of years – have smelt the wind and ‘volte-faced’ (sic) already; now preferring/ seeking to do small housing schemes where they would have tried for flats up until last year.

    All that said, I have also started to think the south of the borough – in which I live – has overplayed its objecting hand, in that the resident associations seem to have adopted a universal position on development: nothing anywhere.

    A mate, a former Croydon planner who then moved to Reigate & Banstead, used to describe the R&B councillors’ attitude to planning as ‘BANAANAs’ – Bugger all, not at all, not anywhere.

    Croydon’s southernmost councillors, and RAs, seem to chant the same mantra. But when you object to everything, you object to nothing. You’re just irrational sound and fury.

    There is enough space in the south – on detached plots, massive back gardens and between plots – to create decent family homes (small pockets of three- and four-bed terraces and semis) that don’t necessarily trash the neighbourhood.

    There are some reasonable examples going up on Hartley Down and Old Lodge Lane at the moment, for instance.

    The RAs should save their (identikit) objections for the stuff that truly offends lest Croydon remains deaf to them. They might prevent more by objecting to fewer.

    Not sorry to see the back of Scott and the end of the ‘rule of nine’ for all that though.

    • When you object to everything you object to everything.

      When you object to nothing you object to nothing.

      That seems clear to me.

      Or are you suggesting you let a few piles of rubbish through just to show willing?

      I’m confused.

      • jackgriffin1933 says:

        As far as I can tell, the RAs (at least mine – HADRA) object to everything – no matter what the quality, design, value, need etc etc etc.

        Big, small, good, bad, ugly, handsome, flats, houses, whatever.

        There’s no discernment.

        It’s just no regardless.

        As a result, it renders their objections white noise – meaningless.

        I’m suggesting they let a few piles of the decent stuff through just to show willing.

        Then the objections to the rubbish might carry more weight.

  5. Lewis White says:

    Whilst unsure of the specific sentence used about everything and nothing, I do agree with Jack’s message that “There is enough space in the south – on detached plots, massive back gardens and between plots – to create decent family homes (small pockets of three- and four-bed terraces and semis) that don’t necessarily trash the neighbourhood.”

    I would add my own sentiment that in some cases, a 3 storey block of flats is appropriate as a replacement for a single large dwelling on a biggish plot.”

    It is really redious when RA’s and individual residents and Councillors get up to object to almost each and every development, just like they used to in Reigate and Banstead “back in the day”. Not sure if Councillors do so much now. (I used to live there).

    Some people would like to go back to bungalows being built all over the countryside to achieve domestic nirvana, 1920’s-30’s 40’s style. Result? Bye bye Green Belt. Good bye unspoiled Countryside. Hello Peacehaven near Rottingdean East Sussex. Hello ribbon development.

    Looking at the population as a whole, it is plain that we need in every area of the country a mix of flats, and houses, with starter homes, homes for families ideally with gardens, homes for downsizers and small homes for older people, whether in “retirement villages” or “retirement blocks”. Easily sad, but not easily done.

    Looking at Purley at present, driving along Foxley lane, I thought that there were many rather good new developments that sit well on their plots, with decent architecture and landscaping, while at the East end, dwarfing the Library next door, there is a new, very bulky, monster.

    I do hope that Planners are empowered to sift out these too-bulky projects, and allow new ones that are scaled right for the sites and context. Sometimes, the existing dwellings are tiny, and time expired. Redevelopment for flats along main roads and on bigger sites can a good change.

    We are lucky in the fairly prosperous South London / Surrey area, that there are a lot of good developers, and very little derelict land. Who can blame them for maximising numbers of dwellings on site, if planning policy allows it, even encourages it?

    • I think you’re missing the point, Lewis. Everyone isn’t anti-development as you suggest. They are however anti Planning Guidance Document SPD2 which opens Croydon’s doors wide open to both good and crap developers. It also largely removes planners’ ability to reject applications without risk of ending up at appeal and the council having to foot the bill.

      PaulScott heaviliy influenced the writing of this document and then rammed it down the throats of residents at committee.
      I challenge you and Jack to find another local authority in the UK that ties the hands of its residents (and planners) as much as Croydon does through SPD2.

      We have Scott to thank for that.

  6. Chris Flynn says:

    What does DEMOC stand for and hope to achieve that can’t be achieved under the current systems?

    • DEMOC means you have moderately more chance of not being stuck with the likes of Tony Newman and the cabal in his cabinet.

      It doesn’t guarantee it by any means. But even a moderately better chance is good enough for me and I expect many other residents in this borough think the same. Especially when, ten years from now, they are still experiencing the maximum increase in their council tax bills to pay off our borough debt.

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