Coulsdon residents are expressing grave concerns about serious potential conflicts of interest in the council’s planning department and proposals to build two massive blocks of flats in a quiet, tree-lined residential cul-de-sac.
The developers at the centre of the latest row are Macar – the same Redhill-based company whose director was married to a senior member of the council planning team when they were nodding through applications for similar blocks of flats in Purley.
The council has never been able to produce any evidence that their planning official, Ross Gentry, made the necessary declarations of interest in advance that revealed that his wife, Natalie Gentry, was working for Macar as a director.
After a brief spell as “head of strategic applications” in Lambeth, Ross Gentry is understood to be back working in Croydon’s planning department once again. Natalie Gentry remains as “planning director” at Macar.
And now, in the all-too-cosy world of Croydon planning, one of Ross Gentry’s former council colleagues, Jan Slominski, is working at the same firm of architects who have designed the gargantuan seven-storey and five-storey blocks of 39 flats that Macar want to inflict on the residents of South Drive in Coulsdon.
Slominski’s new bosses are HTA Design, one of the flashy London firms who managed to get so much work from council-owned Brick by Brick in the past.
Suspicions over the council’s closeness to Macar have also been heightened after officials wrote to members of the planning committee to order them not to make any site visits to South Drive.
Macar want to demolish two existing bungalows and replace them with the flats, where one block would be six storeys tall and also have a lower ground floor. Macar’s plans would see them provide just 16 car parking spaces for the 39 new homes.
Macar’s mantra on their company website sounds very similar to that of Councillor Paul Scott, the architect by profession who, as the developer-friendly former chair of the council planning committee, never once declared an interest in his last six years on that committee.
The massive over-development on South Drive could be worth more than £12million in sales once completed.
Macar say, “Providing much needed new homes for the area, South Drive is a development of 39 apartments that although contemporary in design, manage to blend seamlessly into the surroundings.” Our italics. Coulsdon residents take strong issue with the latter claim, as the Macar block would tower over their mostly two-storey suburban semis.
“Councillors and visitors to our road agree it would be a monstrous eyesore and not in keeping with the road at all,” a resident told Inside Croydon.
The application has had nearly 500 objections. The latest public consultation period ends on June 12.
The council say that Slominski was not allowed to work on Croydon schemes for six months after joining HTA. Not that such an undertaking will have erased his past and existing relationships within the council planning department.
Slominski worked at Croydon Council until July 2020, when his role was “lead officer for strategic development sites. Particular focus on multi-scheme Planning Performance Agreements, and delivering Croydon’s suburban intensification housing strategy”. Now, he describes himself as HTA’s senior planner providing “consultancy advice for residential-led developments”.
The residents fear that if this latest Macar monstrosity is granted planning approval, it will be the first of many.
“It could set a precedent in its sheer size and scale within its proposed environment. If this goes ahead we fear it will open up surrounding and in fact similar residential streets in Croydon for this sort of overdevelopment,” the resident said. The reality is that, through profit-hungry developers such as Macar, over-development has already been going on in parts of the borough for years, usually delivering only over-priced flats for private sale, and precious little housing for social rent.
Coulsdon residents say that Macar’s South Drive proposals break planning guidelines on many counts: overdevelopment, not in keeping with the area, overshadowing, loss of light and privacy and lack of amenity space for new residents.
“The pre-planning advice is worrying in that it seems to suggest that Croydon are more or less happy with the size and design of this plan already. They probably see it as ticking a housing quota box for Croydon,” they say.
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