‘Ludicrous’, ‘grotesque’ and ‘vandalism’ are some of the milder rebukes aimed at the council’s planning department’s latest piece of developer-friendly work. And now Sadiq Khan has joined the critics, while a Tory MP is threatening a Judicial Review. EXCLUSIVE By STEVEN DOWNES
The council planning department’s revision of the Local Plan, potentially saddling future generations with hundreds of unnecessary blocks of flats above the housing targets, could yet be dragged through the High Court, according to one Croydon MP.
The Croydon planners’ “Developers’ Charter” has even been slated by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has highlighted that the revisions proposed fail to follow the requirements of his own London Plan, which was published last year.
Khan’s criticisms of Croydon’s planners add to a pile of similarly negative comments, including those made by Croydon South’s Tory MP Chris Philp, Val Shawcross, the Labour candidate for Mayor of Croydon, and several residents’ associations.
Between them, they have all raised serious concerns, some even suggesting that the review, as drafted by the council’s developer-friendly planners, is unlawful.
And the Local Plan review, which closed to public consultation last week, has prompted one senior councillor to call for the sacking of Heather Cheesbrough, Croydon’s director of planning, for allowing such a reckless document to ever be put forward.
In a 23-page submission drafted by one of Mayor Khan’s senior planning officials, and seen by Inside Croydon, they state that “there remain two key issues – the proposed approach to tall building development and the failure to recognise and reflect the Mayor’s strategic target for affordable housing”.
This, they state bluntly, means “that the draft Plan as written is not considered to be in general conformity” with the over-riding London Plan.
The schooling meted out by Lucinda Turner, City Hall’s assistant director of planning, would scupper the developers’ free-for-all that Cheesbrough’s team appeared to want to usher in. The Mayor of London’s team wants Croydon to conform with their plan and “Recognise and reflect the Mayor’s strategic target that 50per cent of all new housing is to be affordable, based on gross residential development”.
At a stroke, if implemented, this could halt the block-by-block concreting of Croydon’s suburbs with small blocks of nine flats which usually all go for private sale. If half of all new homes have to be “affordable”, profit-hungry developers would be forced to seek their easy pickings elsewhere.
And if that spanner in the works is not enough, then Cheesbrough’s planning department has managed to bring Tory Philp and Labour’s Shawcross together in common purpose to halt the Local Plan review in its tracks. The MP believes that the planners have acted unlawfully by not following due process and called their proposals “grotesque”.
The plan’s authors are now supposed to be drawing together the various comments submitted to them during the (deliberately) under-publicised public consultation.
They then have to forward their revised plan to the government’s Planning Inspector for their approval, or rejection.
Philp told Inside Croydon, “The council is definitely seeking to rush this through before the Mayoral election. The new Mayor will have the power to request that the Inspector restarts the whole process.
“I will explore whether there is scope to launch a Judicial Review on the basis that the council have not properly and fully consulted.”
Philp also believes that the council planners have set too high housing targets, at 46,000 units by 2039, instead of the 32,000 required in Mayor Khan’s London Plan.
One submission, made by Labour councillors in Waddon, laid in to the proposals by saying, “We think building 4,000 extra homes in the Purley Way area with no transport improvements is ludicrous.”
Other submissions from residents’ associations say that the housing targets contained within the council’s Local Plan review “are based on flawed policies and out of date information”.
And Shawcross has meanwhile called for the process to be halted until May 6 – after those first Mayoral elections are held in the borough, to give whoever takes over the Town Hall administration an opportunity to amend the plan.
Shawcross says that the post-May 5 administration, which she hopes to lead, “may well not share the same policy approach as the old one, therefore the timing of this series of amendments is inappropriate”.
Shawcross said, “Normally, binding, long-term policy decisions would never be taken in the run-up to a local election.”
The Labour mayoral candidate attacked the “intensification” policies that have been implemented over the past eight years by her Labour colleagues, and which are enshrined in the Local Plan revisions.
As Inside Croydon reported last week, Shawcross has characterised the Local Plan proposals for some of the borough’s suburbs as “a short-termist act of vandalism”.
She said, “It is vital that we protect the character of Croydon. The plan needs to recognise the needs of residents, businesses and community organisations and as it stands at the moment, it does not.”
And today, the mishandling of the Local Plan has prompted one veteran councillor to call for the sacking for the head of the council department responsible.
Heather Cheesbrough has managed to alienate thousands of residents across the borough since she was handed the head of planning and development job by her predecessor, Jo Negrini. Often condescending and frequently patronising, of councillors as well as the “mere” residents she is supposed to serve, Cheesbrough has tolerated blatant conflicts of interests held by planners she has appointed. She has also been caught out lying about her professional qualifications.
Today, Councillor Andrew Pelling met with the council’s most senior legal official, and it is understood that he intended to raise the matter of Cheesbrough’s Local Plan review as the latest cause for her dismissal.
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