Time to open up Croydon’s planners to independent scrutiny

CROYDON COMMENTARY: The close working relationship between senior council planners and profit-hungry developers building in the borough is under increasingly close scrutiny. Here, IAN KIERANS suggests some ways for residents to get the answers that they are seeking

The MP, Chris Philp, asked the wrong question.

Green light: This is the kind of development of blocks of flats for which Jan Slominski has in the past recommended planning permission be granted

It would be inappropriate for an employer, such as Croydon Council, to release individual information about an employee, such as Jan Slominski, and Dean Shoesmith, the head of personnel at the council, is perhaps viewing his response to the MP under the Data Protection Act, not to mention Employment Law.

Mind you – as many requesting lawful information from this council will know – they have a varied and extremely “interesting” approach to providing information, and they already have a shed load of rationales ready to meet their needs to withhold information that might not be seen as conducive to their interests.

I believe Croydon residents already have a perfectly clear understanding of how the council’s planning department operates policy, process and interprets planning law, creating a  wonderful aroma that would make Viridor sewage’s treatment plants appear amateurish in creating strong, pungent smells.

Chris Philp should perhaps ask Dean Shoesmith a couple of different questions.

Such as, under the Freedom of Information Act, please provide the dates of all vacancies of planning officer positions by grade between 2019 and March 2022.

Or such as, under the Freedom of Information Act, please provide the advertisement for each filled position of vacant posts. Please indicate if recruited internally or externally.

I am sure that Mr Shoesmith and the council’s legal department will slap an embargo on the part that may inadvertently release individual information by doing so. Job done.

Time for an independent inquiry: could Croydon South MP Chris Philp get the government to act over planning?

The real issue here are those links between developers and public officials. Council officers have to not only be impartial and distinct but also above reproach, and to be seen to be above reproach.

It is clear that there are multiple instances where council officials’ conduct has not been up to those standards, and the evidence is overwhelmingly against them

Chris Philp should ask for an independent investigation of the Croydon planning department, as it has brought the council into disrepute. Perhaps Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, would listen closely to Mr Philp?

Or perhaps Val Shawcross, Labour’s candidate for Croydon Mayor, may like to get interested, as the independent candidate for Mayor, Andrew Pelling, already has done over a matter of major concern to both Labour and Conservative voters?

One can never know the truth until there is clarity and open government.

Secretive: council director Heather Cheesbrough

This secretive council has a definite bunker mentality, responding with silence when challenged.

It is time for Heather Cheesebrough, the council director in charge of development in the borough, to dispel the planning department’s sordid public reputation and open up its decisions to independent scrutiny, and at least install clear ethical controls and processes that can show they are operating impartially and in the interests of all stakeholders.

It’s about time we had a clean breast of matters and move forward to restore this borough’s good reputation.

Read more: Suspicions over secrecy surrounding Slominski’s return
Read more: Buyers beware: High Court judge puts planners in the dock
Read more: Developers given free rein from a council with no controls

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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4 Responses to Time to open up Croydon’s planners to independent scrutiny

  1. Peter Gentleman says:

    Lots of good points here. I don’t know of any other metropolitan council that’s served so badly by its planning department. The fact that Paul Scott scourge has been eradicated and still Heather Cheesbrough in communicative, unhelpful and of most concern, disparaging of residents. This is where planning has really broken down. I think it’s not reparable under the current director of planning. She’s already demonstrated commitment to planning in Croydon by leaving and then returning when her future employer called it off. The CEO of Croydon should never have kept the door open for her return – managerially, what a stupid thing to do a raises, once again, questions of Katherine Kerswell’s judgement.

    In the past I’ve raised serious breaches of planning with Croydon Planning department and rather than acknowledge my letter and explain what they are going to do, they have simply not replied to me nor my MP. But what they have done, is gone back to the developer and ‘suggest’ he submits and amendment to cover his indiscretion which is then passed under delegated powers.

    This demonstrates the extent Croydon Planners have aligned themselves WITH developers again the common enemy, residents.

    This happens, to a minor degree, at times, in a lot of local authorities – it’s inevitable. But in Croydon it is institutionalised and hard wired into how they operate as a Local Authority. That’s unprecedented and that why we need change at the top, including Kerswell.

  2. Hazel swain says:

    bet none of the planners live anywhere near some of the awful blocks they have approved !!!

  3. Anita Smith says:

    Excellent article and excellent response. But where are the other two Croydon MPs in this mix? Are they happy to go along with all the decisions being made by the planning department? Do they ever fight on behalf of residents? I know for certain that my own MP hardly ever replies, even when justified appeals for help are being made. When did anyone last see Sarah Jones or Steve Reed campaign on behalf of residents, over anything?

    For too long, the institution of Croydon Council has stunk from top to bottom. We the residents and tax payers have been treated as ignorant, interfering pains in the neck. How dare we ask when someone was employed at our Council? How dare we question conflicts of interest or indeed anything that they would rather sweep under the carpet.

    Any prospective Mayor that has the guts to stand up and say they will fundamentally open up every department to scrutiny and expose the collusion that we all know is taking place behind closed doors, will get my vote.

    Given the nature of the beast, I suspect they are sitting on a whole pile of other stinky cover ups that they will try and hide until after polling day. They are utterly shameless.

    • Peter Gentleman says:

      I found in the past that a simple letter to Keir Starmer highlighting precisely what Steve Reed’s many failings are has resulted in Reed pulling his finger out so rapidly there’s a distinct ‘pop’.

      Reed is a fair weather politician. Only those with other talents can get away with this.

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