Those who hoped new Mayor Jason Perry would sweep away the bad practices of the council’s planning department are in for a bit of a disappointment. STEVE WHITESIDE with the latest in a long-running saga
Even the decision of a High Court judge is not enough to get Croydon Council’s planners to follow proper planning process.
It’s now been more than a year since, in response to a Judicial Review of one of its planning department’s many contentious rulings, the council was ordered by a judge to quash its decision on 54 Arkwright Road.
The Court Order that followed confirmed that this as-built development was unlawful. The building as completed did not have a valid planning permission.
This saga goes back to 2017, when the council planners granted permission from developers Aventier for the demolition of existing building at 54 Arkwright Road, Sanderstead, and the erection of a two-to-three-storey building which would include six two-bedroom flats and one three-bed flat, as well as the “formation of vehicular access and provision of seven parking spaces, cycle and refuse storage and landscaping”.
In 2020, with the building work pretty much complete, there was a retrospective application submitted by the developers to alter the planning conditions for 54 Arkwright Road (by this point, Aventier had sold on the property).
In April 2021, the council granted that application.
The Consent Order was “sealed” in the High Court on September 22 last year. The decision by Nicola Townsend, the council’s “head of development management”, was to be quashed, leaving the as-built development without valid planning permission.
As has been reported by Inside Croydon in the past, Arkwright Road is just one of several developments around the borough where profit-hungry developers have been granted planning permission for one scheme, then built something that would make them more money and, without the kind of scrutiny given to initial applications, shoved in a late, like-it-or-lump-it retrospective application for the building that they have just completed.
Usually, the council planners “like” it, and the new build’s neighbours are left to lump it.
In the case of 54 Arkwright Road, it took Croydon Council five weeks to formally acknowledge that their decision on application 20/04314/CONR had been quashed.
Almost five months later (on March 18 this year) that retrospective application was reported as “withdrawn”.
A few days after that (March 24), a new planning application (22/00085/CONR) was validated, having been submitted two months earlier.
The latest Planning Statement claims that the applicant had been advised by “counsel” that the Order was “legally flawed” and that this retrospective application does not have to be determined by a planning committee. We have yet to have sight of this legal advice.
The description of the application was, “Application under section 73A of the Town and Country Planning Act for retrospective planning permission.” A week later, “Non Referrable Application” notifications were sent to councillors, meaning that they could not insist that if recommended for approval by the council’s planning staff, the application should be seen by a planning committee. This would cut the public, and councillors, out of the process altogether.
On May 18, residents submitted a petition, which sets out why, given what the council’s own Development Management Advice Notes say, residents can “legitimately” expect that the new (retrospective) application should be referrable to the planning committee, subject to meeting the criteria set out in the council’s constitution.
Surprise, surprise, two days later “Referrable Application” notifications were sent to the councillors; around the same time the application description was changed to omit the reference to S73A of the Town and Country Planning Act.
It is only S73A of the TCPA that provides the council with the power to authorise development which has already been carried out, not in accordance with approved documents or conditions attached to a planning permission.
To date, the council’s planning department has provided no formal explanation for these changes to the application which they appeared so keen to push through earlier this year, in the apparent hope that no one was paying attention.
We do know, however, that in her objection, Sanderstead councillor Lynne Hale, the new Deputy Mayor of Croydon, said, “What has been built is in breach of the details of the consent given, differing materially and significantly to the approved documents.”
The Deputy Mayor asked for the scheme to be referred to the planning committee, for it to determine.
We are now four months past the determination deadline of May 22, yet there is still no sign of an officer recommendation or a decision being made. Not publicly at least.
So a year after the Court Order was issued, the development remains unlawful, without any valid planning permission.
Yet some of the flats have been occupied for some time. Others are on the market for rent. A three-bedroom flat in “Ark Apartments” went on the market just last week for a tidy £1,800 per calendar month.
Hale’s boss, Mayor Perry, has made much capital with various residents’ associations over his swift action to bin the planning department’s Suburban Design Guide, or SPD2. Many believe that SPD2 was used by the planners to inflict hundreds of inappropriate developments on the borough’s suburban neighbourhoods – a “developers’ charter” to build with impunity and for development companies make massive profits.
Now SPD2 has gone, what happens next?
What happens to the mess that SPD2 has helped create, and to those at the council who foisted it upon us?
How will those who have so manifestly failed to ensure the delivery of the high-quality homes be brought to account? Hello? Mayor Perry? Deputy Mayor Hale?
Hello? Is anyone there?
- 54 Arkwright Road is far from an isolated instance of planning department shortcomings allowing developers to build what suits them… For more case files, read more here: Council delays and lack of enforcement cause residents misery
Read more: Director of planning’s bogus claim over Institute membership
Read more: Developers given free rein from a council with no controls
Read more: Objections? What objections? Opposition? What opposition?
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