Lobbyist to meet councillors over Selhurst stadium proposals

South Norwood councillors will next week be meeting with a representative of a lobbying firm working for Crystal Palace Football Club to discuss issues around the stalled development of a new £100million stand at Selhurst Park.

Set to be transformed: five years after the club started on its planning application for Selhurst Park, they are to start again

According to a spokesperson for the club, Crystal Palace are now “finalising the financing” of the project, ahead of a revised planning application for a development which could see the ground’s capacity increased by almost 10,000, to 34,259.

Planning permission for the scheme was granted by the council in 2018, but the club never signed the required Section 106 agreement, which will have provided for community infrastructure to accompany the new stand.

Importantly, the S106 agreement had provisions for the re-housing of residents of six houses on Wooderson Close – with five of the homes being council-owned – on land that the club needs for its expansion of the ground’s footprint.

Inside Croydon understands that the council’s housing department has now recruited a consultant specifically to deal with the negotiations with the club over the relocation of the affected council tenants, who claim they have been dealing with the uncertainties over their homes for the past four years.

The council has not helped in providing assurances to its tenants, some of whom say that they have heard nothing from the Town Hall about the proposed demolition of their homes for more than a year.

Inside Croydon has learned that the board of directors at CPFC recently gave the go-ahead for the club to submit an amended planning application.

They have also engaged development lobbying firm the Terrapin Group to help “smooth” the process with decision-makers.

In an email sent to councillors on July 6, which has been seen by Inside Croydon, Kevin Davis, a business director at Terrapin, wrote, “Since 2018 the project has not moved forward as the club has had other priorities, but that is about to change.”

Davis described the changes to the revised planning application as “quite minor”.

He wrote that the planning application will include amendments relating “to advice from the fire engineer and also some adjustments to the landscaping to improve security and create more sustainable drainage”.

Davis’s email confirmed that the club had never signed its S106 agreement.

“It is hoped that this new application will be submitted over the summer and we can see the application at a committee in the autumn of this year,” he wrote.

In his email, Davis sought an opportunity “to brief” the councillors for South Norwood ward, who represent the residents of Wooderson Close.

Terrapin adviser: Kevin Davis

Davis is expected to meet Labour councillors Louis Carserides, Christopher Herman and Stella Nabukeera, along with the council’s planning director Heather Cheesbrough and Wooderson residents next week. In his email, Davis appeared keen to get local support on board before the council’s long summer recess, while offering to “answer any questions that members might have about the changes we are making”.

Davis’s company, Terrapin, makes no secret of its aims to fulfil its clients objectives and secure planning approvals.

Terrapin has been very active recently in Croydon, where one of the company’s corporate clients managed to buy the town centre’s Croydon Park Hotel at a knock-down price, for nearly £30million than the cash-strapped council bought it for.

One of Terrapin’s newest recruits to its staff is Stuart King, the West Thornton councillor and the leader of the Labour group at the Town Hall. Until the local elections held in May, King had held a key role in the council’s financial recovery, including the disposal of property and other assets.

Shape of things to come: How Palace’s architects have drawn the future new stand at Selhurst Park

Terrapin was founded by a former Tory councillor in Wandsworth, Peter Bingle, who has been described as “a sleazebag lobbyist”. Part of Terrapin’s schtick is to offer influence on planning matters to developers.

“Terrapin understands the London political scene,” they boasted on the company website. “Our consultants are experienced advisers who are able to de-risk large, complicated schemes at the start of the planning process and then work with clients to ensure a successful outcome.”

For his part, Kevin Davis is a very experienced operator in local authority planning matters. Until May, he was the leader of the Conservative group on Kingston council, his time there including four years as council leader.

In the case of the Selhurst Park development, Davis and Terrapin would appear to be pushing at an open door: in 2018, the council planning department recommended planning approval and the planning committee agreed, unanimously. The only strong objections came from residents of Wooderson Close who were about to lose their homes.

The London Plan then, as now, requires that if any social housing is to be lost because of new development, then the developers must arrange and meet the costs of it being replaced, like-for-like, and also as close to the original location as is reasonable.

There does, of course, remain the important issue with the proposals of Sainsbury’s, the supermarket chain, who have a branch at Selhurst Park and own a crucial packet of land which the club needs to acquire in order to complete its development.

But the principal reason Crystal Palace are facing this repeat round of the planning process is because, according to a senior source at the council, “There is no current planning consent for Crystal Palace Football Club…

“The [Section 106 agreement] was not signed and therefore due to the passage of time and new planning policy, the application would need to be reconsidered against this new policy.

“Therefore, the club has been revising its application to address these new requirements.”

Despite the quasi-judicial nature of planning committee deliberations, where decisions cannot be pre-determined, the club appears very confident that it will be granted planning consent again.

A spokesperson for the club told Inside Croydon, “Croydon Council have resolved to grant permission for the redevelopment of Selhurst Park and that has not changed.

“We are totally aligned with the council, and we’re working through some necessary updates to the planning application and London Plan requirements. It is necessary for an updated planning permission application to account for the above – this will be submitted shortly.

“We remain wholeheartedly committed to the project, and are finalising the financing.”

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About insidecroydon

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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