CROYDON COMMENTARY: As someone who spent their career working on local authority planning matters, STEVE WHITESIDE has found council director Heather Cheesbrough’s attempt to gag one of the Mayoral election candidates just the latest example of shameless arrogance
So Heather Cheesbrough, the council’s “director of planning and sustainable regeneration” is suddenly worried about her career, after lodging a complaint against one of the candidates in the Mayoral election because he has said that if elected she would be asked to resign?
But this is just the most recent example of Cheesbrough’s shameless arrogance towards the people who pay her wages and she’s supposed to serve.
I am astonished that it has taken her so long to realise that the damage that she and her supporting cast in the planning department have done to some of the “Places of Croydon” and the people who live there, might one day come back to bite her.
Since December 2017, when Cheesbrough falsely advised the planning committee that “What goes on inside the property is, frankly, not really relevant ”, I’ve realised just how far she would go to achieve her goals. This sort of untruth is typical of the dishonesty that has become the norm in planning officer reports and presentations to elected councillors since Cheesbrough was appointed to her job by Jo Negrini.
I’ve helped in the submission of several formal complaints that fully and accurately described the systemic issues that had become all too apparent in the handling of planning matters in Croydon: the deliberate misrepresentation or total disregard of residents’ objections, the falsehoods about inclusivity and minimum space standards, the avoidance of detail with regard to refuse and cycle storage, sustainable drainage and landscape design. The list goes on.
My most recent complaint to Cheesbrough, about the unlawful development at 89 Hyde Road in Sanderstead remains unanswered, a year after submission.
With planning conditions which were supposed to have been met before construction works began still not discharged, the building has been allowed to reach roof level and the properties are now on the market.
The elderly residents at 96 Hyde Road are forced to live with this monstrosity to the front and an unauthorised interpretation of developers Aventier’s fabricated (but approved) planning drawings to the side of their home at No98. All of this, courtesy of deliberately poor or skewed officer scrutiny of planning applications, followed by complete lack of any formal enforcement action during construction.
Over the past year or so, I have provided members of the planning committee (both Labour and Conservative councillors) with the facts regarding the continuing misleading statements (or worse) in official reports from members of the planning department’s staff. Although the issues have sometimes been brought up at committee meetings, the points have never been driven home. Councillors (both Labour and Conservatives) have repeatedly let Cheesbrough’s officers off the hook.
In doing so, they have encouraged more of the same.
Last year, I applied to the High Court for a Judicial Review into the unlawful way in which unauthorised development is being “regularised” by Croydon Council’s planning department under Cheesbrough. The case brought was successful, but all the current signs are that the council has no intention of changing this particular “course of dealing”, through the misuse of planning powers delegated to officers.
Earlier this year, I complained about Cheesbrough to the Royal Town Planning Institute, referring primarily to Clause 20 of their Code of Professional Conduct:
Members who, as… managers, have responsibility for the work of an organisation or body engaged in planning work must take all reasonable steps to ensure that planning matters in the organisation or body are conducted in accordance with this Code
Once again, I provided clear, irrefutable evidence of the irrationality, perversity, dishonesty and strategic ignorance used by Croydon’s planners in persuading councillors that when it suits there are always ways to fit square pegs into round holes, regardless of any very obvious mismatch.
Somehow not surprisingly, RTPI found that they were unable to investigate such matters. They claimed that the Institute’s complaints procedures, bye-laws and regulations effectively forbid it. The truth is, of course, that they simply didn’t want to.
I’m really not sure what more I could do to stop Cheesbrough. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop trying just yet.
If Heather Cheesbrough is worried about her career, then so she should be!
From where I and many other residents sit, her planning and landscape legacy in Croydon should have been enough to see the end of that career some considerable time ago.
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