Residents on a plush suburban street on a hillside in Purley have been thrown into a panic since the weekend after demolition workers showed up and started grubbing up trees and clearing the site of not one… not two… not three large detached houses, but FOUR.
And according to locals, it is all being done without fully approved planning permissions or amendments.
The original scheme was for three of the houses, and was submitted by Macar Developments. It was granted approval by council planners in January 2020 after a favourable report from a Croydon Council planning officer who later got a job with an architects firm that now carries out work for clients including… Macar Developments.
In the past year, Macar has submitted at least eight applications to remove or significantly amend the conditions that had been attached to their original planning application. Not all of these have been granted approval.
Indeed, Nicola Townsend, Croydon’s head of planning “management”, had a notice posted on Higher Drive only last week, inviting comments and objections before a deadline of February 3.
Residents complain that for some of the proposed changes, the details are not yet available on the council’s planning portal.
Macar’s wrecking crew don’t appear to want to wait for such niceties, it seems.
The locals say that demolition work has begun and that mature trees which were to have been retained as a condition of the original permission have already been removed.
The local residents’ association, Foxley, and a councillor, Simon Brew, both contacted Townsend and the council’s planning department over the weekend to appeal for urgent enforcement action, but so far without any success.
In 2019, Macar Developments applied for planning permission to demolish three houses on Higher Drive – Nos 59, 61 and 63 – which they want to replace with three blocks of flats, of up to five storeys high (on a street of mainly two-storey family homes).
Macar’s blocks, with the Moat housing association lined up as buyers, would deliver 40 new homes, 20 of them for affordable rent. The estimated market sale value of the new homes is at least £10million.
In many respects, the scheme symbolises much of what established residents in Croydon’s semi-detached suburbia distrust about the planning system, as it transforms the character of their neighbourhood, into which many of them have invested their livelihoods and life’s savings.
When the original scheme was being considered by the planning department, it attracted 167 comments. Not one was in favour of the proposals.
The objections included those from three separate residents’ associations and from Croydon South’s Conservative MP, Chris Philp.
But the housing proposals also highlight the dilemma for planners faced with a clear need to deliver thousands more homes, a demand that is factored into the targets and policies handed down by the Conservative government, of which Philp is a junior minister.
Under Croydon’s Local Plan, the council is supposed to oversee the delivery of 32,890 new homes in the 20 years to 2036. Of these, about one-third of the homes are expected to be built on “windfall sites”, such as the brownfield sites offered by the demolition of three large houses on Higher Drive.
As the officer’s report recommending approval two years ago stated, “Windfall schemes which provide intensification of existing residential areas therefore play a crucial role in meeting the need for new homes.
“The proposed development would create a significant net increase in new homes and would make a contribution to the borough achieving its housing targets.”
With the scheme providing 50 per cent affordable husing – five one-bed flats at London Affordable Rent, 13 two-bed-roomed homes at affordable rent, and two three-bed affordable apartments- what has been proposed compares very favourably with anything that the council’s own house-builders, Brick by Brick, ever managed, even with millions of pounds in subsidies from, among others, the Mayor of London.
None of which, however, ought to provide developers carte blanche to go ahead without complying with planning conditions, or without planning permission altogether.
As well as the works being carried out at 59 to 63, yesterday there was been a crew on site at No67 High Drive, for which there has never been any planning permission granted.
According to one worried neighbour, “There were originally three houses being bulldozed. Now it seems that a fourth has been added.
“The development was originally for 40 flats, the biggest development to hit us locally. Now, they’ve started work at No67 Higher Drive, too, without planning approval.”
It is understood that offers to sell up were made to the owner of the house between the two buildings sites – No65 Higher Drive – but they were turned down.
“Where this might leave them, with a huge block of flats on one side and goodness knows what’s being proposed on the other, heaven only knows.”
The Croydon planning officer who recommended approval for 59, 61 and 63 Higher Drive was Jan Slominski. That’s the same Jan Slominski who left his council job to go to work for architects HTA Design.
When at the council, Slominski recommended approval for a similar-sized – 39 flats – Macar over-development in Coulsdon. Having helped push that scheme through the planning system, he then resurfaced working for HTA Design on its delivery.
With pre-application advice having been given to Macar on Higher Drive, Slominski will have provided a crucial insight into what the council will have found “acceptable”. Or put another way, what they could get away with.
Macar are the developers who have Natalie Gentry among their directors. Natalie is married to Ross Gentry, a senior member of the Croydon Council planning department and a former colleague of Slominski.
As Inside Croydon has reported previously, it appears to be a common practice among developers to “game the system”: they seek planning permission for one scheme and then, maybe a year or so later, come back with significant “amendments”, by-passing elected councillors on the planning committee and getting nodded through by planning staff with little attention being given by Croydon enforcement officials.
As a measure of the sheer scale of the changes being made to Higher Drive by this scheme, the three houses that Macar are demolishing between them cover 572 sq m. Macar’s new blocks of flats under their original application had 3,138 sq m – more than five times bigger.
And now Macar’s as yet unapproved planning amendment for 59, 61 and 63 Higher Drive includes what they describe as “slight increases to slightly enlarge the footprint at the rear in which would involve both outer wings (on the north and south sides of the building) extending further rearwards at ground, first, second and third floors”.
In their urgent email to the council’s planning enforcement officers, Foxley Residents’ Association wrote, “Not only has work started without full permission, but a number of the trees that were supposed to be retained have also been cut down.
“Can Planning Enforcement please intervene urgently as this is now beyond impunity and taking the council and the residents for a ride.”
And Simon Brew, a councillor for Purley and Woodcote ward, also wrote to council officials. “Application 19/03282/FUL was granted permission but the developers discovered that it couldn’t be built as approved without major alterations to the design, so 21/007772/CONR was lodged early in 2021.
“This is still shown on the website as awaiting decision, yet when passing the site last week, I saw that some work had started.
“Please intervene and tell them to stop work until the design is fully approved – it may turn out that the new design also cannot be built.”
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