Developers given free rein from a council with no controls

You raise me up: because council planners failed to specify key details for these flats on The Ridge Way, the developers have gone ahead  and built the block overlooking neighbouring homes

Many Croydon residents feel ill-served by the council’s developer-friendly planning department while being ignored by the Town Hall’s somnolent planning enforcement team. Here, STEVE WHITESIDE examines a case in Sanderstead where developers have been given virtual free rein as the result of council incompetence

When an application was submitted in 2018 to demolish a house on The Ridge Way, a residential street off Sanderstead Road, almost 300 people objected, including several existing residents on the street.

Among other things, they were concerned that the proposed block of flats would overlook their properties and harm the road and area more generally. Croydon Council’s planning officers disagreed.

In approving planning application 18/05896/FUL (for nine flats across three or four storeys) in March 2019, the planning committee did so without attaching the usual string of “conditions”, which supposedly ensure that pretty much all of the “detail” is sorted later, by council staff alone, using their “delegated powers”.

It is, of course, a practice that is wide open to potential abuse, often to the detriment of existing residents.

At The Ridge Way, it was the committee that agreed all the details, as contained within the approved documents and drawings.

Despite the sloping nature of the site and with no existing or proposed levels approved as part of the planning application. The only means to judge (and enforce) the height of the new block in relation to the adjoining properties and the road is therefore by looking at the approved elevations and sections.

The approved drawings show the finished ground floor of the new block to be level with the pavement and with the properties either side.

In fact, the properties either side were (and are still) set lower than the pavement.

From what we can see from what is already built, the finished ground floor of the new building may well sit higher than pavement level. Rather than being level with the adjacent properties, the finished ground floor of the building could be at least one metre higher.

As well as changing the view from the road and towards adjoining occupiers, such a significant difference in finished level could impact on things like accessibility and inclusivity, refuse and recycling collection and sustainable drainage. It could all be a very big deal indeed.

Broken promise: this was how 12 The Ridge Way was supposed to look. Unfortunately for existing residents, it has very little relationship with the developed reality

With the block of flats emerging from the ground, some residents have been complaining about potential non-compliance with the approved documents since April this year.

Initially, complaints were made via Sanderstead Residents Association and the ward councillors, but since May some have been writing directly to the council’s planning enforcement team, led by Robert Snodin.

On May 17, an email was sent to Snodin’s team, attaching a number of photographs.  The email from a Council Tax-paying resident made a request for a member of the planning enforcement team to  visit the site urgently “to investigate the non-compliant works at No 12.”

There was no response. And work continued on site.

On May 30, another email was sent to Snodin and his team at the council, attaching further photographs that showed “ the amount of direct overlooking that would take place from the new building ground floor patio doors and windows…”. That’s ground floor windows that overlook the resident’s home and garden.

There was no response. And work continued on site.

It was only after a third email, sent on June 21, that someone at the council actually got around to responding.

Someone’s looking down on you: neighbouring houses have lost their privacy, thanks to slack work by the council planners

Council official John Penn wrote that he had only “very recently” been passed the “enquiry” to investigate.

Penn wrote, “The developer and the architect are both adamant that the current works are fully in accordance with the granted planning consent – 18/05896/FUL.

“At this moment in time I believe the works are in accordance with the approved consent.”

As statements of the bleedin’ obvious go, this is right up there. It is hardly surprising that, when asked, the developer and the architect would both claim to be building in accordance with planning permission. You would expect nothing else.

Pleading once more with the council planning enforcement team to do its job, one concerned resident replied, “The only way to really understand what is going on is for you to please visit the site and see at first-hand the unsatisfactory situation.”

There was no response. And work continued on site.

Last Friday, I emailed Snodin, who said, “When Mr Penn returns from leave on the 19th July 2021 he will need to undertake a site visit to investigate what the current situation is on site and what action might then be necessary given what is found.”

On Monday this  week, Penn emailed to tell me that this “…is an on-going enforcement case and I wrote to the architect before my week’s leave.” He gave no clue as to what it was that he “wrote to the architect”, or why he was corresponding to the architect and not the developer. Nor Penn gave any clue as to how long the architect (or the developer) has been given to respond.

And work continued on site.

According to the Royal Town Planning Institute: “At its heart, the planning system relies on trust and our enforcers provide the backbone of this trust – trust that those who flout our planning laws (and often other laws at the same time) will be brought to account; trust that those who strive for high quality will not be undermined by those who would deliver ill-planned and ill-designed development; and trust that planning will deliver what is promised.” Now wouldn’t that be nice, for once?

Having recently looked at what has been built so far at 12 The Ridge Way, a local builder has suggested that the only way to put things “right” is to demolish what has been built so far and start all over again. But by this morning, Croydon Council “planning enforcement” has still to make contact regarding any plans they may have to visit the site.

The Ridge Way is little more than two miles from the council’s offices, less than a 10-minute drive away. If they preferred, they could always take the 412 or 403 bus.

Of course, the danger of actually making a visit to The Ridge Way is that the council officials might just see the glaringly obvious. I say might, because history shows that with the council’s planning enforcement officers, this is most definitely not a given.

Meanwhile, work continues on site.

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16 Responses to Developers given free rein from a council with no controls

  1. This council is trashing Croydon, and they don’t care. Perhaps we are not paying them enough to ensure their loyalty to the Borough, and we are getting what we pay for!
    We need some planning experts to give their opinions on what is happening here.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    This is not the only case as Croydon Council knows – and more individual investigations into their actions are in progress independently of the administration.

    Just about all developments are the same with the same impacts – effectively we are at the mercy of the Developer with the local Police also helpless to intervene saying this is a civil matter. (Yet strangely still able to attend en mass at New Addington at the request of Brick by Brick at what was clearly according to themselves a civil matter.Strange double standards approach to civil policing. Makes it difficult to gain the trust of the community we keep hearing they want.

    But I digress – Croydon Council in response to a Freedom of Information request on planning applications was –

    ” All of these applications were determined under delegated powers and were not presented to Planning Committee for a decision. Therefore there are no minutes. The decision of the Council is recorded in the delegated reports and the decision notices which are already available on the council website. Please see attached a guide for searching the register.”

    So lets be clear now about why there are no planning meetings – most appear to be via delegated authority. Yet there is no mention from many of the 70 Councillors at how there role has been marginalised with some notable exceptions rapidly silenced. In fact quite the opposite I wonder why?

    From appearances there are no apparent controls on these delegated powers, no documentation and no one overseeing what is happening. No executive is owning up to doing a thing. I am sure they can answer the request for themselves to provide documentation to the contrary and look forward to the response with bated breath -well I would but I need a breathing apparatus now due to the terrible dust pollution we are exposed to by developers who fail to follow the Code or conditions of planning locally.

    One would assume previously that West Croydon was now the Wild West with uncontrolled landlord and developers along with rampant drugs prostitution knife crime murders and unlimited (and unrestricted) anti social behavior – I could joke that is just the Landlords/Developers – but it would not be a joke – despite the vast majority that try to make a respectable and honest living and conduct themselves responsibly and not victimise those that object to their development. And all down to the failures of the planning process (the Government and Legislation bear responsibility also )

    No this administration is an equal opportunity administration and stuffs residents in both Labour and Conservative wards equally. We really are all in this together (except the Council and Councillors)

    However it is clear that this Council irrespective of leadership has paid scant regard to its enforcement duty, its duty towards the fabric of the Borough, its duty to its residents both private and social, and is laughable at best in its role to provide effective administration.

    It appears we are the victims of the immoral ethics of local and National Politic’s. and the at best reckless games of monopoly both parties play with OUR assets and money.

  3. Ian Kierans says:

    You also need to note that a few departments in Enforcement have been severely cut along with most other areas – and some are only office based and only 9 – 5. Clearly they would be unable to do enforcement anyway but even if they did there is only a Voluntary code that can just be ignored by developers.
    It would be nigh on impossible for any enforcement team to fulfill its role now. though they do their best and work to breaking point daily with abysmal conditions and senior leadership.

  4. David Harvey says:

    I suspect a comment here from us as the builders may not be welcome by many but i do feel it is important to try and explain our position. Whilst we are not the developer, we are trying to keep everyone happy and construct a beautiful building to compliment the local neighborhood with it not looking like an awful block of flats. In terms of the street scene, when the finished article is presented, we will make sure it is no higher than has been permitted. This is partly because we feel it is incumbent upon us to build something to be proud of, and in truth its in no ones interest to detract from the beautiful road.

    From the outset we have engaged with the local community and taken comments back to the developers and they have tried to respond fairly to all concerns. We will build to the approved plans and are mindful of the effects schemes such as these have on local people now, during and in the future.

    It is not built higher in the ground and it will have to be both accessible for all and ultimately within its overall height as permitted at project close. Its obvious that there once was and still is huge opposition to this development.

    We have the tough job of building it and we try very hard everyday to do a great job. We have worked with the developer to employ a much more ECO-Friendly build which is our specialty in terms of materials and overall end efficiency using less energy during and when built. There will be no incoming gas or ability to burn fossil fuels in property, so far more environmentally conscious. These should be lovely spaces in which to dwell and ultimately fit into the local architecture seamlessly. Taking this lighter weight approach has also massively minimised heavy site traffic in terms of deliveries and cranage which we did in order to protect the local area and keep it all safe.

    I might be quite close to all of this, but we are well positioned to try and look after everyone and i wish to point out here this developer is not a bad one. They understand and i know they listen, issues with expectations not being met in terms of sloping site and what appears taller to the rear will be address sensibly by the developer with neighbors, so we and they have been promised.

    From our side as the builders we are happy for concerns to be directed to us, as upset in the neighborhood only runs the risk of us stopping and this going on longer to everyone’s pain and our increased cost.

    I hope we can continue to work in the area with your blessing and from us as fellow human beings we do not want to leave any lasting bad feeling with anyone. Local planning policy is not something i can comment on but simple human kindness and a willingness to work together is what you will find here and i hope this is all concluded with minimal further worry or concern.

    Thank you for your patience with us.

    • In reply to Mr Harvey.

      You say… “It is not built higher in the ground …”, but there are many who think otherwise, including those most affected.

      You say that “We will build to the approved plans…”, but which approved plans are those? As I understand it, the neighbours have been asking to see the drawings you’re using for some time.

      If levels are provided that back your claims, then great. But if levels become available that show the ground floor to be as high as it looks in relation to the adjacent properties, then that’s a different matter.

      In that case, the council should look again at what you’ve built and what your full proposals are now, and decide afresh whether or not that different development is acceptable when considered against the current development plan … read as a whole.

      All that needs is another planning application … determined in the correct manner (Croydon planners please note!)

      I think that’s fair.

      Perhaps, like many (if not all) builders in the area that have been found to be building what they shouldn’t, you too may benefit from Croydon’s infinite ‘reasonableness’ in these matters and be allowed to continue the construction while the application is determined. History shows that this can take a very, very long time ……

      Of course, they would tell you (maybe) that to continue would be at your own risk … but at risk of what exactly the planning ‘enforcement’ team have yet to disclose.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Mr Harvey,
      Unfortunately Council Planning departments in this borough have granted planning consent in some questionable circumstances. They may follow planning law and the current legislation but clearly people are upset and feel that this impinges on their style of life or in many cases – life itself.

      Sadly responsible builders (and developers) are tainted with the brush of others less reputable. No matter how you do this it will have a detrimental impact on others. That can be mitigated by Builders who deal with matters understanding this, like yourself.

      You are in effect the victim of a legislation that is in some cases morally and ethically wrong. We are all a victim of a Council that fails to consult, act reputably and
      is unable to enforce its own conditions or in effect much at all over the last year if not longer.

      We are a victim also of a Council that does not bother with Planning Committee’s preferring delegate authority, and no apparent accountability. It also appears they are unable to find reports papers or minutes and seemingly does not bother taking notes either. All anyone gets is a decision without any documentation or evidence to support that decision.

      Strangely we have a lot of very silent Councillors. Quite a number appear to be behaving like puppets with someones hand up their rears moving their lips or would be if anyone saw the lips move.

      If you lived next door to your development and were disabled with critical health problems and called an Ambulance/carer/medic to get you to hospital then found it was unable to get to you as a very long lorry was craning steels onto your site and blocked access for 70 minutes and finding that no one moves an inch,the police are not interested the council fail to respond. So you are now left with permanent heart damage or died. Would you feel this had been minimised or mitigated?

      Would not letting those affected know the delivery times in advance and ensuring those disabled were able to be safe or assisted by the developer to make adjustments to ensure safety would be more reasonable and preventative – or perhaps you feel the Council should have put this as a condition of development?

      You are perhaps one of the more decent builders and I personally have a lot of sympathy for your position that is not of your making. I also respect the mitigation you have put in place and are attempting. I also feel your reply is very welcome and perhaps more should have your courage.

      However fundamentally as you may guess I feel you are delivering something that should never have got off the drawing board. It may be legal and may be required and we as a society need to understand the housing crisis better. but administrations and law makers also need to understand the how to do this equitably and fairly and not run roughshod over residents and voters nor treat them as mushrooms. They should ensure the local resource is there to support this also and finally they should also take into account peoples right to family life and the right to life itself.

      Kind Regards

  5. Eve Tullett says:

    The council won’t be happy until every green space in Croydon is paved over and covered with high rise flats.

    • This site for nine homes was replacing a previous family house. A brownfield site.

      • Ian Kierans says:

        And does anyone wonder why the term and interpretation of brownfield site usually used for commercial/industrial areas did not exclude single family home sites from over development?

      • 9 or less = no social housing. I would rather see 18+ on the site with at least 50% at social rent.

        • miapawz says:

          A quiet road in Sanderstead is not really appropriate for 18 flats – thats too high a density. This was a single family dwelling – two small houses would be fine. The place for 18 flats is central Croydon surely.

          • Ian Kierans says:

            I tend to agree that 18 on a quiet road is too much. But 2046+ by a quiet road is an avalanche that has buried it without a murmur from anyone. The pips squeaked their last 10 years ago and more are going in every day! The North is full – the Centre is also but has empty flats as no one can really afford that. The Vultures of Public and Private slum Landlords and developers are picking at Croydon’s South.

          • There is a current application for a 19-flat 2-storey-plus-flats-in-the-roof development on the site of a bungalow in Woodland Way, Purley, adjacent to Foxley Wood, which is a private road, the local ”millionaires row” of large detached houses, like Shirley Hills. It is a very cleverly designed scheme, which manages to slot the building in within the BS5837 acceptable limits of intrusion into the root protection zones of the surrounding large trees. I don’t doubt that it will be given consent in some slightly modified form or other. And if there, it’s going to happen everywhere.

  6. Lewis White says:

    I am wondering if anyone in the Council Planning Depatment has had detailed discussions with Thames Water and the Envoronment Agency about the capacity now and over the next 50 years, of Croydon sewage treatment plant (Bedddington Treatment works ) to treat the existing sewage plus the year-on-year increase in volume due to all the new housing being added throughout the catchement area, which includes a huge swathe of Croydon plus a surprising extent of adjacent highland Surrey, from Caterham and Tadworth. What is it designed to take, what is it taking (in dry weather but also in storm events) and how long can it cope ? Or is it already not coping all of the time?

    All this new building changes a single suburban home plot into one with 4 or 6 flats. That is a lot more people, each of whom eats, drinks, washes body and clothes and … goes to the loo.

    UK-wide, Climate change is making rainfall events more severe, exacerbated by the paving-over of the urban and suburban environment with front gardens which are now often 100% concrete This is resulting in more and more surface water run-off onto the streets, making streets into torrents.

    Illegal connections divert water from such paved areas, and house roofs and extensions — illegally–into the sewers– adding more storm water volume to the sewers– much of which ends up at treatment works like Beddington. In many instances, the works cannot cope, so a mix of raw sewage plus water from the streets ends up being discharged to the local stream or river.

    This has certainly happened at Beddington, resulting in the Wandle waters being filled with untreated waste. Fish populations are killed. Bathroom debris is festooned from bushes and trees growing on the banks.

    In theory, paved front gardens are now meant to have to have a cut-off channel with grating and a soakaway to take the run-off, and stop it running over on to the pavement then the road. Often, these are not installed, or are “dummies” without a soakaway.

    Under the Highways Act, since the 19th century, it was prohibited to discharge water on tio the highway (with certain exceptions only). This law was “honoured more in the breach than the observance”.

    Sadly, a sewage works is not planned to deal with more than a small proportion of highway runoff.

    I would like to know– who is looking at this issue ? and what is being discussed , if anything?

    What is its designed capacity?. When was this last decided? How much additional waste water has been added to the works since the last time it was upgraded. ? How much untreated or part treated waste water is discharged to the Wandle ? and …. capacity, now and in future, with all the new building, recent, and planned and not yet planned. ? And what is bgoing to happen as a result of climate change.

    If we want to see the Wandle running all year, clear and clean, and filled with water plants, fish and other fauna, ALL waste water whether from the sewers or the streets and roofs and front gardens will need to be intercepted, stored, and then cleaned properly.

    Urban “clean “rainwater runoff needs either to be fed back into the soil, and allowed to self-cleanse via bacteia, then percolate back through the subsoil layers to get back into the water table OR stored in lagoons at the treatment works and then 100% screened, scrubbed, de-nitrified and bio-treated via giant reedbeds, and UV light, before discharge to the Wandle.

    Al this needs to happen. Especially with all the new buildings being built.

    I wonder, how does this ideal scenario really measure up to the reality of Thames Water’s treatment— now and as planned for the coming 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ??

  7. It’s now over three weeks (16 July) since I submitted a Petition to the Council, objecting to the current planning application for this development (21/03404/CONR). The petition was signed by 118 residents.

    Paragraph 2.34 of Part4K of the Council’s Constitution states that “… The wording of petitions … will be published in full by the Council on its website. …”. But despite me chasing the case officer and her managers, the Petition has still not been uploaded.

    Just in case it never arrives on the website (i.e. in case officers continue to ignore the Council’s Constitution), I’ve copied part of it below, just to give a flavour ….

    Inappropriate/incorrect application type

    According to the Council’s DM Advice Note 6, “…If … amendments are accepted as a minor amendment, the procedure does not involve giving any publicity to the revised plans. This is because of the judgement that they do not have a materially different impact to the formally approved plans. …”. But the Council HAS consulted, which means that officers have already recognised that what has been submitted does not constitute proposed minor amendment.

    As the Application Form confirms, development had commenced well before application was submitted. Most if not all the external walls are already installed to first floor level, using the materials (‘ICF Blocks’) shown on the drawing now submitted (MA 002). The construction method used would always have necessitated this material change and has been progressed without planning permission.

    As Advice Note 6 explains “…. If you are already in breach, then the development would have become unlawful and you would have to make a retrospective application for planning permission to continue … development of the land. …”

    The development at 12 The Ridge Way is contrary to the approved drawings described in Condition 1 (and Condition 2) attached to planning permission 18/05896/FUL. The development is therefore unlawful.

    As the work has commenced the application cannot be a Section 73 (s73) application to develop land without compliance with conditions previously attached. In essence, a s73 application is forward looking. This should therefore be a Section 73A (s73A) application, for planning permission for development already carried out. s73A applications are retrospective or “look backwards”.

    The Council’s consideration of the s73A application must not then be limited to s73(2), the effect being that the application under s73A will be determined in accordance with the current development plan and all material considerations (i.e. not impermissibly limited to the use of ‘brick slips’).

    Residents will expect that the s73A application will be determined in the correct manner, including being referable to a planning committee, subject to meeting the criteria set out in the Constitution. …

    The 118 signatories does mean that the referral criteria HAVE been met (only 40 were required).
    And work continues on site !

    • Ian Kierans says:

      When a developer takes council signage of bay suspensions from one location and places that at their location for their own purposes as their bays were not suspended as per their application and no notices were given to any resident.

      For a disabled person to be threatened and told they would be fined and the police called unless they removed their legally parked vehicle it is pretty bad.

      That the builders and contractors carry on and not just block the vehicle in but also the persons access to their house also (and actually store their materials on their property also) is astounding.

      However when the person who puts up council signage confirms they had never put this up in front of the contractors and calls his area manager one would think some remedy would occur?

      Not a hope they were instructed to put up new signage retrospectively in the full knowledge no one had been informed. As you can imagine those in the bays were issued tickets by Croydon Council and fined and had to appeal those fines. Thankfully the whole episode was recorded and witnessed and photographs taken along with Parking enforcement being informed.

      To date there has been no acknowledgement of this matter not even in the response to the Complaints. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Is this a blatant cover up? How would one know. They were asked to provide the current process for this action under the Freedom of Information Act. We are still waiting for answers.

      Please do let me know if yours is answered anytime this decade.

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