Planning chief wants to give permission to more blocks of flats

As Croydon Tories get their facts wrong (again) and heap praise on the borough’s planners, a council director warns that she wants to green-light more developments. By STEVEN DOWNES

Heather Cheesbrough, Croydon’s planning chief, wants the council to grant even more planning permissions across the borough.

Heather Cheesbrough: wants to increase the number of planning approvals

Anger and resentment has been building up for years as the borough’s leafier suburban streets have block after block of flats imposed upon them by profit-hungry developers, with the council’s planners apparently willing accomplices.

Indeed, sometimes the planners are more than mere accomplices: one senior member of Cheesbrough’s planning department is married to the director of a firm of developers who have somehow managed to secure approvals for some particularly hideous blocks. Not that Cheesbrough sees anything wrong in that.

Cheesbrough admitted to a planning committee meeting last month that sometimes, “emotions boil over”.

The director of planning told Labour and Conservative councillors at the planning committee on August 26 that, “We do need to increase our rate of approvals.”

Wrong again: MP Philp’s tweet yesterday

The over-development of parts of the borough is sure to be an election issue next May, and is a leading driver in the calls for the council to change to having a directly elected mayor, with Chris Philp, the Tory MP for Croydon South, claiming yesterday that, “Croydon Council approves 90 per cent of planning applications.”

But government junior minister Philp got his figures wrong.

According to Philp’s own government’s figures for the whole of London, Tory boroughs like Wandsworth (93 per cent), Westminster (90 per cent), Kensington and Chelsea (89 per cent) and Bromley (82 per cent) all grant permission to a greater proportion of planning applications that Croydon does.

Across London, the average approval rate is 78 per cent.

According to the latest figures, for the year to the end of March 2021, Croydon granted 69 per cent of planning applications.

As one Katharine Street source suggested, “This probably simply reflects how truly dreadful many of the applications are, which the council’s planning department recommend for approval, but which then get turned down.”

Cheesbrough told the planning meeting that that Croydon’s approval rate is “the eighth lowest in the country and much lower than Sutton and Bromley”.

What the senior council official failed to mention that, at 97 per cent, Croydon delegates a greater percentage of its planning decisions to her officers than most other boroughs.

Croydon has received one of the highest number of applications in the capital, more than 2,500 in 2020-2021, the eighth highest of London’s 32 boroughs, and Cheesbrough (salary: £100,000-plus) said that the planning team is “extremely busy”.

The latest figures for planning applications show Croydon approving just 69%

Croydon’s planning department has the “highest number of outstanding applications that we have ever had, over 1,600”, according to Cheesbrough.

This plaintive appeal – perhaps for yet more staff? – from Cheesbrough brought the following comment from Richard Chatterjee, the long-standing Conservative councillor for Shirley North, one of the areas where residents have been resistant to the building of block after block of flats.

Councillors, Chatterjee said, “should be really appreciative of the excellent work the planners do as the guardians of the quality of buildings in the borough”.

Guardians, no less.

Tory Richard Chatterjee: praise for planning ‘guardians’

“Thank you very much councillor,” developer-friendly Cheesbrough said.

“I think council officers will be really appreciative of that sort of comment, because we do think we are guardians.”

Cheesbrough said her remarks came in the context of “quite frankly, awful correspondence from local residents against the planning officers”.

She said, “I know that all the planning officers in the team have the highest personal integrity and professionalism.”

Late last year, Cheesbrough had a “should I stay or should I go now” moment,  when she accepted a senior role at another London authority, only to change her mind when there was an abrupt change of that council’s CEO.

Given the growing dissatisfaction over the blockification of the borough under Cheesbrough and her former boss, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, while Councillor Paul Scott  oversaw Croydon’s planning policy, it seems likely that if the planning director gets her way and approvals do increase to a rate of 9 out of 10 applications, then many residents may decide that it is the time for them to “go now”.

Certainly, there’s already a widespread view that Cheesbrough, like Negrini, should be long gone.

Read more: Council planners’ 3-month delay over Sanderstead complaint
Read more: Director refuses to admit conflict of interest over South Drive
Read more: The mysterious case of Rectory Park’s growing block of flats
Read more: On planning issues, MP Philp wants to have his cake and eat it


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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
This entry was posted in 2021 Mayor Referendum, 2022 council elections, Business, Chris Philp MP, Croydon Council, Croydon South, Heather Cheesbrough, Planning, Property, Richard Chatterjee, Shirley and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Planning chief wants to give permission to more blocks of flats

  1. JessicaMc says:

    If Heather Cheesbrough is unhappy with the correspondence from residents she might want to ask herself what she is doing that warrants such correspondence. She needs to go. The planning department will never have any credibility while she is still employed there.

  2. Heather Cheesbrough was appointed by Jo Negreedy as part of her “executive friendship” group and therefore has no credibility in this borough.

    She was director of planning when Croydon Planning Guidance SPD2 was forced through – this is the document which allows developers to knock down small detached houses and build massive 4 or 5 storey block of flats with hardly an restriction to height, volume, massing or appearance. No other local authority has a self-destructive planning policy like this and we can thank Heather Cheesbrough for it.

    But, Cheesbrough was formerly working at St Albans Planning department where she wouldn’t allow residents to change the gutters on their homes without being put under the spotlight.

    What changed between St Albans and Croydon?

    I expect it was a much larger salary and an eagerness to have an easy life by appeasing Cllr Paul Scott.

    I don’t think the reason Cheesbrough begged to come back to Croydon Council after apparently leaving at the start of the year was anything to do with a moralistic position on her employers new CEO.

    I expect it was because her prospective employers had read Inside Croydon.

    • Just because your post is popular doesn’t make it right.

      It’s a shameless witch hunt. You are blaming Heather Cheesbrough for a planning policy that was voted through by Labour councillors, led by Cabinet Member Paul Scott and backed by Council Leader Tony Newman.

      Your other claims are – so far without foundation. If you’ve got the goods to back them up, let’s see them.

      • Wrong. The vitriolic little piece of Planning Guidance called SPD2 which is the rule book developers use to do all the damage we see today to Croydon was put together by Heather Cheesbrough’s planning department when she was director of planning.

        Lots of local authorities have ambitious housing targets as voted through by Scott and Newman but the vehicle enables this (SPD2) was penned by Cheesbrough and the then head of planning, Pete Smith.

        Scott didn’t write SPD2, it was authored by Heather Cheesbrough’s department and as planning guidance goes, it’s one of the worst I’ve ever read. I challenge anyone to find anything similar in the UK.

        And stop looking at ‘like’ statistics, Arfur – you’ll go blind.

        • There’s none so blind as those who won’t see.

          Who benefits from you personalising this issue, by wrongly pinning all the malaise on one woman?

          You’ve already answered that question. Last April you wrote the following for Inside Croydon:

          “The corruption of a significant part of the planning process in Croydon is not the result of some local Labour Party secret plan to “redress political balance” in the borough.

          It’s come about because we have a council leader who is only able to keep hold of power by buying the loyalty of councillor mates through bestowing cabinet posts and generous expenses allowances. Mobs function in a similar way.

          Tony Newman couldn’t care less that Councillor Paul Scott has shifted Croydon’s Planning Policy to one of “let’s throw away the rule books and open the door to developers across the suburbs”.

          Scott, still the de facto chair of the planning committee, refuses to listen to the advice of government and city planning specialists who are clearly eminently better qualified than himself.”

          • I’m not personalising the issue. If the buck doesn’t stop at the director of Planning, where does it stop?

            Councillors set the policy, the Director of Planning writes the planning guidance to achieve it.

            There are other boroughs who have similar housing targets as Croydon but they have not, as Heather Chessbrough has done, penned the equivalent of SPD2.

            I suggest you read SPD2 – it’s one of a kind. I attended a planning awards ceremony a couple of years ago and it was been lauded as ‘unique, innovative and experimental’. Heather is happy to go up to the stage to receive her reward but ignores the ‘ Croydon lab-rats’ who have to put up with this truly awful piece of planning guidance. Less of the ‘defenceless woman’ critique, please – it’s nothing to do with that.

          • “If the buck doesn’t stop at the director of Planning, where does it stop?”

            With the chair of the Planning Committee – Paul Scott – and the Leader of the Council – Tony Newman, that’s where.

  3. Kim Watts says:

    Does a map exist for the whole of the Croydon borough showing where flat development applications have been granted?

  4. miapawz says:

    I can’t post a picture of the blocks built on Northwood avenue, Higher Drive or Park Road Kenley but If I could you would see small bungalows and average residential houses dwarfed by three story blocks of 7-9 flats with frequently no parking, no stand off and out of scale with local housing. As a local resident and with neighbours who do agree housing is needed we oppose these out of scale 9 flat blocks as over development. We would welcome town houses, more small houses, Terraces, blocks of 4 or 6 flats with gardens and parking as all would be more scaleable and fit in with local houses better and give future residents better homes and not make existing residents lives so awful. What we can’t understand is the blatant profiteering and destruction of residential areas/nastiness from this council/it’s employees in the planning department.

    • miapawz says:

      I forgot to add that the 9 flats are as you well know built to avoid the need to build ‘affordable’ homes and to maximise profit for the developer but are often far too many for tiny sites. We know the SE needs more homes but why not do it nicely, sensitively, in keeping with the local areas? and provide more GPs, buses, parking? PS neither the Tories nor Labour could run a bath. Both getting it totally wrong.

  5. Chris Philp and the rest of the Croydon Tories are being two-faced over the planning issue.

    Croydon Labour in general and Paul Scott in particular deserve all the criticism they get over Brick by Brick’s turds being plopped all over the borough.

    But the market forces that persuade owners of detached properties in the leafy south to sell up to developers keen to make a killing are symptomatic of a wider malaise, stemming all the way back to Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy and her political dogma that councils have no role in providing housing for local people.

    In government for over 10 years, the Conservatives have done next to nothing to help the homeless, and have recently been plotting to “reform” planning laws by giving councils compulsory housebuilding targets and stopping homeowners from being able to object to planning applications.

    It’s only the shock defeat in the Chesham & Amersham byelection which has now caused the Tories to reconsider this move – for the moment.

  6. Stephen Blythman says:

    Sounds as though the planning officer and Councillor Chatterjee are delusional.

  7. Geoff James says:

    Just to expand your world view slightly. In several cases the houses have been sold to ordinary buyers that sincerely explain their need to bring their family to such a nice area and access the schools etc etc. Only when the ink is dry on the completion contract has it become clear that the buyer was lieing through thier teeth – they were a developer (or an agent of a developer.) The previous owner is then distraught because of the plight they have unintentionally inflicted on the neighbours that have known for (often) dozens of years.

    I also have many concerns with he new housing policies – but what is clear is that the current system is not working some thing must change. There are many benefits to the new system

    • miapawz says:

      This has been happening in Kenley, the Kendra folk have been warning people not to accept offers that are too good to be true. Some offers are falling through too.

  8. Ian Kierans says:

    ”Guardian” Amazing This from the department failed to do any impact assessment at all. delegated a decision and blocked attendance of residents – ignored residents that were critically ill and failed to take into account the impact on people critically ill, failed then to do nay enforcement of conditions attached or in fact anything at all, allowed developers to move suspended bay signs from one area to outside their own development leading to residents getting fined, ignored all the evidence of the above including some extreme anti- social behaviors of developers and builders ranging from dumping waste over adjoining residents property to violence and intimidation.

    Ms Cheesbrough in emails promised investigations (as did Ms Mustafa) guess w according to Croydon Complaints department nothing was ever lodged or done by either.

    That kind of ”Guardianship” is extremely detrimental to anyone’s health.

    What is totally hilarious is that when the developer fully blocked a pavement leaving building materials fully blocking the pavement, vans fully dropped kerbs and disabled access and over tonnage heavy vehicles blocking the whole road on many occasions for hours all without as much as a flicker from any Croydon enforcement officers of any description at all. Strangely they all played pass the parcel with the reports of those multiple issues.
    Yet somehow one found time to speak to a household further down the road yesterday at lunchtime about some blocks that obstructed the pavement (there was enough space to get a mobility scooter and wide pram through but it was a bit of a negotiation). What was remarkable was the white Toyota Prius with the council hi-vi that completely blocked the dropped kerb and disabled access further down the road. What was all the more weird was that there was tons of legal parking available

    Perhaps this was not a council person though and they just walked down to the beginning of the road for a laugh.
    P.S Happy to provide photo date and time by email to inside Croydon

  9. Hazel swain says:

    dear god //more flats .. Croydon already looks like a Blade Runner dystopia .its not just flats … in my road,3 bedroom family homes are being converted with rear and loft extensions,turning them in to blocks of flats by stealth … im sick of living in a town ( NOT A CITY!!!) that is nothing but a building site , overcrowded , noisy and dirty.. and dont get me started on the damage caused by huge delivery lorries on tiny roads , trees and residents parked cars ( thats if you can find a space !) … maybe its time to stop or share the love with some of the less crowded parts of the borough …

    • miapawz says:

      Hazel, do you agree that there is nothing left unruined. Croham is under the cosh, Sanderstead falling, Riddlesdown, Kenley, Norwod, Selsdon, Coulsdon, Purley houses going left and right. Purley itself is about to be coshed with a 17 story tower block. It is not in keeping with the height of anything. It will most certainly look dreadful. Every corner is having red ugly blocks built on sites where little family homes sat in gardens. What is not clear is where families will move to after they want to move out of a 1 bed flat with no garden and no parking. And where are the Doctors surgeries, the schools, the shops, the buses, the roads and the parking for these flats?

  10. Sals says:

    Croydon had such a bad reputation for poor development in the town centre in the 60s and 70s. Now it’s happening in residential areas with ugly, out of proportion, blocks just plonked anywhere. Other boroughs are able to increase housing and build flats more sensitively without damaging neighbourhoods or hurting residents. Heather Cheesborough and Nicola Townsend (?) along with the Paul Scott’s will go down in the the history of Croydon as the people that did this.

  11. Bleeker says:

    It’s a vicious circle. Poor planning decisions ruin the town and reputation, so good planning officers don’t want to work here, so poor planing decisions get made and so on.

  12. Ian Kierans says:

    We should remember that Ms Cheesbrough albeit the director now of that department is an employee of the Council and delivers to her objectives as instructed and within her remit. The final authority is the head of the Council – Ms Kerswell. She is effectively what is normally known as a change agent. Put in place to effect change to a set of parameters that may bear no relation to the normal running of a Borough. The Councillors on the Planning committee albeit determining decisions are also bound by rules and advice (supposedly). If anyone thinks Ms Ali has any say or sway with Jenryck I very much doubt that.

    Our first problem is that the laws and regulations are unhelpful in general to preserve and conserve whilst also allowing reasonable development in the ever increasing search for more homes.
    Our second problem is that the council is unable to actually do the job well and to its full ability and abrogates as much of its tasks and responsibilities as it can – maybe resource -maybe covid are pat excuses now but those same issues existed prior to that.

    The third problem is that the culture of all organs is to assist and support development. Sadly this leads to ignoring the concerns and impacts on current residents as they have no rights in the process at all. Consultation is so constrained and Communication with residents is mostly after the fact – it really is just lip service and tick box efforts. All residents communication back to this sandbox appears to be ignored or never received or passed on.

    When every department is being reduced and this council knows it no longer has the resource to monitor police enforce or in fact hold any development to its provisions yet still keeps granting permission in the full knowledge it cannot meet its own obligations appropriately is just obtuse.

    However the manner of how this council behaves when caught not following its own processes and procedures are indicative of a culture far at odds to what is professed and is looking pretty sordid. For that the Executive and Councillors involved have only their own selves to look in the mirror at.

    Getting things wrong or making mistakes is one thing – it is something that always happens. How one deals with those errors portrays the character and honesty of those employed and elected to act on our behalf.

    This Council is not only short of money. It appears to be short of much more than that.

  13. miapawz says:

    Jenrick has just been given the boot. I wonder who will be the new person?

  14. Ian Kierans says:

    Was he too good at his job – or just not pliable enough ? Ah well we will never know.

    What we do know is this – Gove told the BBC’s World At One: “I wouldn’t say I stabbed him in the back but I certainly came to the judgment in the immediate aftermath of the referendum campaign that, while I had originally thought he was the best person to be prime minister, for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into, I didn’t think he was the best person at that point.

    “It’s not treachery. I explained my reasons at the time.”

    How immediate was the aftermath? one second? Perhaps two? The speed of altering stance and all without any communication at all? Wow – definitely a suitable candidate for Croydon style local democracy.

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