EXCLUSIVE: The council has approved a scheme for another block of flats which is to be built by a firm with close links to a senior member of the planning staff, and where another planner appears to have helped draw up the architects’ submission. STEVEN DOWNES reports on the murky web of undeclared interests
Ross Gentry, the Croydon planning official whose wife works for one the busiest developers in the borough, has been accused of deliberately running down the clock of a planning meeting so that proposals for a block of flats could be passed on the say-so of one of his council colleagues, rather than receive proper consideration by a committee of councillors.
The case of 86 Bradmore Way, in Old Coulsdon, exposes the nexus of local property firms’ multi-million-pound interests and the murky web of undeclared conflicts within the Croydon planning department, where residents believe that profit-hungry developers are being given preferential treatment over the interests of the broader community.
The latest planning committee meeting, held on January 27, granted permission to demolish an existing house on Bradmore Way and replace it with a three-storey block of seven flats. The application was made by a firm called New Place Associates. Companies House records show that New Place is closely linked to the company which employs Natalie Gentry, who is married to council planner Ross Gentry.
The director’s name on New Place’s application is Joe Garner. According to the official records at Companies House, Garner is also a former director of Macar Developments (32WR) Ltd.
Garner’s co-director at New Place is Benjamin Fish, who is a director of several other companies, many of which appear to be single-development businesses, often based around property interests in the south of the borough. Fish is also listed as a director of Macar Developments (32WR) Ltd.
Companies House records show that Macar Developments (32WR) Ltd was established in 2019 jointly between parent company Macar Developments Ltd and New Place.
Also listed as a co-director at Macar Developments (32WR) Ltd is Alex MacDonald, who is managing director of parent company Macar Developments, whose planning director is Natalie Gentry, who just happens to be married to a senior member of the council’s planning department. Cosy!
On the Macar website, MacDonald’s profile blusters: “Having spent over 15 years working in the property industry, Alex has seen it all…
“He has quickly built a reputation as someone who people want to do business with and now has extensive expertise in working with architects, local authorities, planners, builders and the public.”
Ross Gentry was in attendance at the January 27 planning committee, where his filibustering interventions on earlier agenda items were noted by members of a local residents’ association and have resulted in a formal complaint to the council.
Ross Gentry made no declaration of interest at the meeting over the 86 Bradmore Way application.
But the conflicts within the council’s planning department do not end there.
New Place’s architects on the scheme are HTA Design, a firm beloved by the council’s former CEO, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, and until very recently the employers of a former Croydon planner, Jan Slominski.
Slominski is regarded with distrust among local residents’ associations for the favourable manner in which, when working for the borough panning department, he treated previous planning applications, some from Macar, others from New Place, and including one or two designed by HTA.
As Inside Croydon previously reported, Slominski recently quit his job at HTA, and has rejoined Croydon Council with a promotion to a more senior position, placed in charge of developments in the south of the borough. That includes those in Old Coulsdon, such as the one on Bradmore Way.
The formal planning statement submitted with the application includes a report from HTA Design which gives no authors’ names, beyond a brief note on the frontispiece that says it was written by “ASI” and “Checked by JES”.
Other planning documents on the council’s planning portal list the HTA Design architect as Arjun Singh – almost certainly “ASI”. The application was submitted to Croydon Council in April 2021, when Jan Slominski – perhaps Jan E Slominski? – was still working at HTA Design.
A quick check of HTA Design’s staff list today could find no one with the initials “JS”, never mind “JES”.
This opens the real possibility that the Croydon Council planning department has just recommended for approval a scheme to build another ugly block of flats, where the senior planner responsible for the south Croydon area had actually worked on the architects’ proposals, for a scheme which is now going to be built by a firm of developers whose directors work alongside the employer of the wife of a second senior member of the planning staff.
And all despite the council having received 451 objections to the proposals for 86 Bradmore Way.
In the formal complaint to the council’s head of planning, Nicola Townsend, the residents of Bradmore Way highlight how the January 27 committee was subject to a 10pm “guillotine”, meaning that anything no considered by the councillor committee members before that time would default to the officer’s recommendations.
“During the meeting, a planning officer, Ross Gentry, was allowed to interrupt proceedings repeatedly during the hearing of 86 Bradmore Way to discuss the previous case, which ran down the time available for examination of 86 Bradmore Way,” the residents’ letter of complaint states, before pointing out the evident common business interests of Macar and New Place, of MacDonald and Natalie Gentry and Garner and Fish.
Heather Cheesbrough, the council executive director who lied about her professional qualifications, has previously dismissed any complaints about the Gentrys’ blatant conflicts of interests, and recently said that she welcomed the return of Slominski to her staff.
In the formal complaint, the residents object to the way in which there were 10 amendments to the application submitted on January 20, just seven days before the committee meeting – for an application that had been sitting on the desk of the Croydon planners for eight months.
The residents suspect the planning department of deliberate collusion in the interests of the developers.
The residents say, “These additional, revised or amended plans were not considered… prior to the planning officer’s report being written as they had not yet been submitted. Therefore, the planning officer’s report to the planning committee is misleading and incomplete and misdirected the councillors on the planning committee.
“The residents were not given an opportunity to question and examine those documents and were not given any additional time by planning to consult and, possibly, object to those documents.”
The residents have asked the council to withhold the decision notice on 86 Bradmore Way “until such time as this complaint, and any further steps we may take against the granting of this planning application, is resolved”.
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