Council directors are withholding information from a local MP on the date that a planning official started a new job. By STEVEN DOWNES
The attempts to cover-up the close connections between Croydon Council’s planning department and some commercial developers who are making millions from building flats in the borough appear to have reached all the way to the top of the local authority.
Dean Shoesmith, the council’s recently appointed head of personnel, has refused to provide a local MP with the date when Jan Slominski rejoined the council’s planning department.
The exact date of Slominski returning to work for Croydon, in the senior role of team leader for the south of the borough, is important to local residents’ groups because it relates to a controversial planning decision on a development for which the architects are HTA Design.
Slominski worked for HTA Design until January this year, the same month that an application for one of their projects was given a favourable report and approval by a council planning official.
Shoesmith – the council’s “Chief People Officer”, as he likes to style himself – has tried to argue that he cannot provide staff’s joining dates without the prior approval of the staff member concerned.
“Perhaps he should go and persuade Mr Slominski to provide him with that permission, and this whole matter can be cleared up very quickly,” a senior Katharine Street source said today.
“Unless, of course, the council and Slominski have got something to hide.”
Shoesmith’s refusal came in a response to an enquiry on behalf of residents from Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for Croydon South.
“A request for an employment date seems a particularly innocuous piece of information about a senior council employee,” the source said. “The Information Commissioner has issued rulings in the past which have allowed that information to be provided without any difficulties. Doesn’t Shoesmith know that? He should do. It’s his job.
“So if council executives are deliberately delaying or withholding that information, it looks like a cover-up.”
Shoesmith’s email to Philp, dated March 18, says, “I confirm that the council cannot provide information about an employee to a third/external party about that employee’s employment details, unless we had the prior consent of the employee to do so…
“… We have had no prior employee consent.”
Inside Croydon has reported before about how another senior Croydon planning official, Ross Gentry, is married to Natalie Gentry, the director of local builders Macar Developments.
We have also reported how Heather Cheesbrough, the council’s planning director and Ross Gentry’s boss, when she was challenged over this blatant conflict of interest, refused to produce any evidence to show that her member of staff had made all the proper declarations of interest.
“All our planning officers have the highest levels of integrity,” Cheesbrough told concerned residents at a meeting held in January.
Cheesbrough, of course, is the council director with such a high level of integrity herself that she had to remove false claims of qualifications on her own online profile when a member of the public caught her out.
Cheesbrough’s meeting with residents was held on the evening of Wednesday, January 19. Also in attendance that night were Nicola Townsend, Croydon’s chief planner, and Slominski.
Residents attending the meeting say they had the clear impression that Slominski was there in an official capacity, as a council employee.
According to the planning director’s own remarks, recorded at the meeting, she appeared to admit that Slominski does have conflicts of interest, but said that these conflicts will be “managed and mitigated”. She never managed to specify how.
“You have my assurance that we have taken all steps we need to,” Cheesbrough said.
Slominski’s former employers, HTA Design, have at various times been retained by both Macar Developments and NewPlace, another developer busy in the south of the borough. The companies also share some common directors.
It was just a couple of weeks before Christmas 2021 that Slominski appeared at a Croydon Council planning meeting as an HTA employee, speaking on behalf of NewPlace, who were trying to push through another large block of flats in Coulsdon. That application was refused by councillors on the planning committee.
But it is Slominski’s relationship with Macar which has caused greatest concerns for residents as they have stood by, powerless, as Cheesbrough and her planning department has allowed whole neighbourhoods to be transformed by block after block of flats.
In June 2020, when Slominski was working at the council previously, he wrote a very favourable pre-app report on a Macar development scheme for 39 flats to be built on a quiet suburban residential street in Coulsdon, South Drive. As he drafted his report, Slominski will already have started his notice period before taking his new job with HTA Design.
Again, when challenged over this very cosy relationship, Cheesbrough declared that all was fine and in proper order.
It was Slominski, too, when working at the council in 2019, who provided the planning report recommending approval for another massive Macar scheme, at Nos 59, 61 and 63 Higher Drive, in Purley, for three blocks, including one that is five storeys tall, containing 40 flats with an potential market sale value of at least £10million.
Now, residents’ complaints over how a planning application for 86 Bradmore Way, in Coulsdon, has been handled have been escalated to a Stage 2 complaint; the locals are increasingly suspicious over the conduct of the planning department.
“The date of Slominski’s return to the council is relevant for this complaint as the officer report recommending granting permission was written on January 19 for the January 27 planning committee,” according to Maureen Levy, of the East Coulsdon Residents’ Association.
“Jan Slominski was employed by HTA, which submitted reports for this planning application at 86 Bradmore Way. HTA was the agent for this planning application.
“If this is not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is.”
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