Planning director worried about her career? So she should be

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

False claims and cover-ups: Croydon’s planning director, Heather Cheesbrough

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.

Unlawful development: with planning conditions still not met, developers of 89 Hyde Road have started selling their flats. Cheesbrough has failed to respond to complaints

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.

Cheesbrough’s legacy: 98 Hyde Road is a monstrous example of how the planning department is out of control

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.

Read more: Landscape of deceit: director deletes qualification claim
Read more: Buyers beware: High Court judge puts planners in the dock
Read more: Developers given free rein from a council with no controls
Read more: Councillors slam Bellway’s ‘sham’ consultation over Lido site

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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
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15 Responses to Planning director worried about her career? So she should be

  1. miapawz says:

    I and most of my neighbours will vote for any mayoral candidate who gets rid of her and SPD2.

  2. Wayne says:

    Having spent the last two years battling a development by Silverleaf Developments which included my land, I can confirm the “irrationality, perversity, dishonesty and strategic ignorance”. Gaslighting, withholding documents, making statements that were unfounded or blatantly untrue, failing to mention a list of policies (including mandatory policies) that the development failed, refusing to answer any questions including those asked in FOI requests, directing me to documents that didn’t contain information in order to avoid providing truthful responses, making statements at committee and in reports that were presented as fact but which were not, claiming not to know planning diagrammes were inaccurate despite this being raised by residents multiple times, claiming that evidence showing the planning team knew the development was harmful, breached privacy and would cause access problems was not admissible in a Stage Two complaint as it was new information – in beach of their own complaints policy. And so on. It was Steve Whiteside’s report to the Planning Committee pointing out an eyewateringly long list of failed policies that resulted in the development being turned down – none of which were mentioned in the planning report. I can only hazard a guess as to why the planning team are willing to push through developments that are so harmful. There is no first line of defence against opportunistic or damaging developments. For Heather Cheesborough, it seems residents are just collateral damage.

  3. Perhaps the Planning Dept prefer recommend/grant consent rather than risk the costs of dealing with an appeal? No doubt they have a budget for appeal costs but given the parlous state of the Council finances that is probably inadequate.

    • That doesn’t explain the undeclared conflicts of interest, David, the director of the development firm that is sleeping with a senior Croydon planner, Cheesbrough’s cover-up of that situation, and now the other senior planner who appears to be granting permission to schemes that he worked on for private architects.

      Bad projects that do not comply with planning law or policy tend not to win appeals.

      But Croydon’s planning department has been in thrall to a couple of development firms for several years now.

    • SallyM says:

      Appeals are heard by the Planning Inspectorate who wouldn’t approve these ridiculous developments. By approving them, they avoid any real scrutiny of their decisions unless residents fund legal action. Cheesborough and her team rely on the fact that residents cannot always afford to. But the trail of breadcrumbs is being followed and the truth will out.

    • Parties in planning appeals normally meet their own expenses. Costs do not, as a rule, follow the result.

      It is ONLY where the Council has (1) behaved unreasonably AND (2) this has directly caused another party to incur unnecessary or wasted expense, that they MAY be subject to an award of costs. Even when (1) and (2) are satisfied, the award of costs remains discretionary.

      Believe me David, if I thought that the issue of possible costs at appeal was the only problem here, I would have never have got involved. But it’s not, not by a long shot!

  4. Gary Parker says:

    I don’t understand what has happened in Croydon Planning apart from the fact that all relations between the public and planners have broken down.

    Planners are suspicious of residents, there is no public discourse, applications are poorly administered, information is missed and not adequately scrutinised, there’s an alarming turn over of staff and unbelievably poor communications.

    There’s something fundamentally wrong in Croydon’s Planning department that everyone is turning a blind eye to.

    • SallyM says:

      Many residents and other parties know what is going on. That is why it is imperative that Heather Cheesborough and Nicola Townsend are moved on (along with those that have clear conflicts of interest such as Ross Gentry and Jan Smolenski). Only then can the planning department be cleaned up and can start to rebuild public confidence. It won’t happen overnight but residents now need to see their views and objections properly considered and careful and sensitive handling of planning applications. The planning committee members need to vote based on the merits of the application not along party lines. We are, sadly so far away from that, I fear for how much more damage will be done to the borough before we see any kind of change.

      • Gary Parker says:

        When things have gone this wrong you’d expect the Chief Executive to be there. I understand from my local RA, Chris Philp MP has nine unanswered letters to the Chief Executive on this very matter.

        Clearly the rot is still at the top.

  5. P Singh says:

    The endless controversies, the accusations of incompetence, the disregard for policy, law and the principles of public office, the lack of respect for the public she serves, the defensive soundbites. She’s basically Croydon’s Boris Johnson.

  6. miapawz says:

    We found out today that Macar developments ‘we flatten your house for profit*’ tried to buy three houses in a row on our tiny road in Kenley in order to build more awful flats. This despite the ones in Welcomes road not selling and the location not being part of the ‘intensification’ zone. Thankfully thwarted temporarily as one house sold to real people who wnat to live in a house.

    Someone needs to get rid of the conflict of interest in the planning dept and start working for the people not against the people

    *my personal suggestion for their mission statement

    • SallyM says:

      I wonder why Macar would be willing to take a risk on buying three houses in a row? Unless, of course, they were confident that any planning application they submitted would be approved.

    • Bessel Klerk says:

      Macar’s Director of Planning is an ex senior Croydon planner and is married to a current senior Croydon Planner.

      Residents in neighbouring road have been waiting 3 months for Croydon Planners to respond to a planning concern. When Macar picked up the phone to Croydon Planning on the same matter, there was a Croydon planning officer on site within 3 hours.

      This shows you how bent Croydon Planning is. And what a poor service it gives residents.

  7. You can see why radical change is needed in the leadership of this Department with such appalling arrogant behaviour.

    Officers must not be unelected politicians able to operate outside policy nor be able to act in such a disdainful way with residents.

    I believe that I will be able to stand up successfully against attempts by the officer concerned to try to debar from office if elected as Mayor of Croydon in that officers’ referral of me to the Ethics Committee for undertaking to remove that officer who has lost the confidence of Croydon residents.

    The popular voice of the electorate must be heard and respected.

    • You will be aware, not least because I’ve told you, of (some of) the shameful tactics used by officers in their attempts to misdirect the planning committee. You will also know that misrepresentation of fact is regularly overlooked by committee members, even though they have been previously provided with direct evidence of same. Another episode of this ‘sham’ procedure is apparently due to be played out this Thursday (28 April) and I will be sending councillors my thoughts on that in due course.

      If you, or any of the other mayoral candidates would like further information on the above, or would like to join residents on a visit to see how some of the awful developments approved by Croydon’s current ‘planning process’ predictably turn out, please do get in touch.

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