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.
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.”
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”.
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.
“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”.
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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