It isn’t only over suburban blocks of flats that the council planning department appears to work against the interests of the residents they are supposed to serve. Housing correspondent BARRATT HOLMES reveals how officials have been persuading one developer to ignore their own policy on tall buildings
Housebuilder Bellway has started a public consultation on proposals for 180 homes to be built on the site of the former Purley Way Lido on Waddon Way. The developers want to call their project “The Platform”.
The last splash from someone going in at the deep end from the lido’s Grade II-listed Art Deco diving board was heard in 1979, when the open-air pool closed for a final time, with the site used as a garden centre until Wyevale closed that in late 2018.
Bellway acquired the site, initially announcing the intention to build 168 homes alongside the Purley Way Playing Fields. The retail value of such a development is estimated at more than £50million.
But now it is Croydon Council planners who are taking the plunge, though they have only managed a massive belly-flop.
Anyone viewing the consultation paperwork, or attending the consultation events organised by the developer this week, will discover that Bellway is now inviting views on a larger scheme which also includes a 10-storey block of flats and very limited off-street parking in an area with notoriously poor public transport.
According to well-placed sources, Bellway were encouraged to take these steps after discussions with Croydon Council’s planning department.
Bellway has recently been leafleting large parts of the neighbouring area in Waddon to encourage residents to have their say on its proposals, including two public events at the Croydon Aerodrome Hotel.
The first takes place today from 2pm to 6pm. The second is tomorrow, from 4pm to 8pm.
With the developers hoping to get away with providing dedicated, off-street parking for only half of the proposed 180 homes, the plans present a very real prospect of on-street parking chaos on the residential streets off the Purley Way– plus that 10-storey block towering over the existing two-storey houses on the Waddon Estate.
Insiders at the council say that during the lengthy pre-application process with the we-know-best planning department, pressure was brought on Bellway to make substantial changes to its scheme, with no regard to the views of residents and their elected representatives.
Pre-application advice is provided by council planning officers, for a juicy fee to the local authority. Its purpose is to outline how the planning department is likely to determine any subsequent planning application, and any changes that are likely to be needed, to offer a development the best chance of being granted planning permission.
In other words, “Do as we say if you want planning permission.”
Bellway’s original, smaller proposals had their building heights capped at six storeys.
Croydon Council’s planning department’s insistence on a 10-storey tower on the Waddon Way site appears due solely to planners’ desire to deliver a taller block because one had been included in their draft Purley Way Masterplan. Tall buildings would aid “wayfinding” around the local area, was the reason offered by the arrogant planners.
Waddon’s local councillors, Robert Canning, Andrew Pelling and Joy Prince, described this as “laughable nonsense”.
The councillors’ view was formed, in the main, because this hare-brained concept does not feature in the council’s own current planning policies or guidance. The councillors are convinced that “wayfinding” is nothing more than a feeble attempt to justify 10- and 12-storey blocks of flats.
As well as criticism from the Waddon councillors, plans for tall tower blocks in the Purley Way area have been roundly condemned by residents, together with Croydon South’s Tory MP, Chris Philp, and Neil Garratt, the Conservatives’ London Assembly Member.
But Croydon Council has a well-deserved reputation for running sham consultations and then ignoring what residents and their elected representatives say in the responses they submit.
The council planners ran a consultation in early 2021 into its deeply flawed draft Purley Way Masterplan. To this day, they have failed to publish any report on the consultation to show who responded, what the responses said and how, if at all, the council took them into account.
What they have done is cut and paste text from that unloved draft Masterplan and copied it into its widely criticised Croydon Local Plan review. It appears that as far as planning officers are concerned, the proposals contained in the draft Masterplan are now a done deal.
And they also know that once one tall tower block is granted planning permission in an area, the possibilities for allowing ever more blocks of flats become much greater. The decision to refuse permission for two ugly 12-storey blocks on the other side of the Purley Way, next to the Wing Yip Chinese market, was another blow to the intensification wet-dreams of the council planners.
The Local Plan was last agreed in 2018. It is based on masterplans for the various parts of the borough, and also takes a lead on development targets from the London Plan from the Mayor of London’s office. It is supposed to provide planning guidance on what is, and what is not, acceptable. Croydon’s Local Plan review was rushed out earlier this year, an apparent attempt to entrench certain development principles before the elected Mayor steps into the Town Hall in May.
The Bellway scheme is being regarded as the council planners’ back-door route towards their original objective to build 12,000 flats in block after block along the Purley Way “corridor”. Since Paul Scott, the councillor who once admitted he wanted to concrete over Croydon, was shunted off planning duties, that particular housing target has been revised down to 7,500 homes along the Purley Way.
In the meantime, while the council planning department waves through intensification applications for friends and family elsewhere in the borough, other developers are left with little choice other than to go along with the pretence from Fisher’s Folly that draft planning policies are the final versions and to pre-empt what the final text of key planning documents might say.
The alternative is to wait for policies to be finalised. But waiting is not good for profits.
In this case, the eagerness of planning officers and the willingness of the developer to jump the gun on the planned limits on building heights has also come unstuck following intense lobbying by the Waddon councillors.
That lobbying saw the council cabinet agree last December to drop the proposals in the Croydon Local Plan for other 10- and 12-storey tower blocks at Fiveways, the Old Waddon Goods Yard and at Waddon Way.
References to 10- and 12-storey buildings at these locations were removed before consultation began in January on the 1,000-page Croydon Local Plan review. Yet planning officers seem to want to carry on as if this significant change was never made by Croydon’s elected representatives.
Even with this modest change, the council’s consultation on the Croydon Local Plan review was universally panned, including by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who raised concerns that the council’s approach to the plan’s review could be unlawful.
The outrage and discontent created by the Local Plan review has since seen it set to one side, to await the outcome of the local elections on May 5.
Croydon’s first executive Mayor is expected to want to make substantial changes before the Local Plan is passed to the government’s Planning Inspector for evaluation.
The deep distrust of Heather Cheesbrough, the council’s executive director responsible for development and planning, and her department is well-founded, since Croydon’s planners aren’t even following their own guidance on tall buildings.
Supplementary planning guidance is clear that proposals for tall buildings will be encouraged only in the Croydon Opportunity Area, areas in District Centres and locations around well-connected public transport interchanges. Even though this part of Waddon is poorly served by public transport – with no bus service at all along Waddon Way – the planning department continues to instruct Bellway to ignore its own guidance on tall buildings.
A Katharine Street source said: “Bellway’s original plans sought to take account of local factors such as building heights around Waddon Way and on-street parking stress.
“Unfortunately Croydon’s arrogant planners are hell-bent on seeing as many new homes as possible built in the Purley Way area with no consideration given to the impact on local residents or the needs of those who will occupy the new properties.
“It’s outrageous that they are telling a reputable developer to pre-empt the review of the Croydon Local Plan and build a 10-storey tower block in Waddon Way based on a proposal in a draft Masterplan which councillors asked to be changed.
“Croydon’s new Mayor will need to shake up the planning department and stamp their authority on it. Many people and politicians of all colours across Croydon think the planning department is out of control – and they are right.”
Waddon councillor Andrew Pelling, who is set to run as an independent candidate for Croydon Mayor, has already pledged to insist on the resignation – or sacking – of Cheesbrough if he is elected on May 5.
Bellway has set up a virtual consultation for those unable to attend this week’s drop-in events at www.waddonwayconsultation.co.uk.
Comments can also be e-mailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who are not online can request a consultation pack by calling 0800 298 7040.
The consultation closes on April 10.
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