Council planners ignore court order over flats in Sanderstead

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

Court out: council planners are still working with developers to get around a judge’s ruling

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).

No valid planning permission: 54A Arkwright Road has tenants living in its flats, despite a High Court decision to quash its retrospective planning permission

In April 2021, the council granted that application.

It was then that I launched a Judicial Review to challenge the council’s decision. That challenge was successful.

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.

Not much used in Croydon: advice on getting developers to follow planning permissions

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.”

Planning blight: Jason Perry with his Deputy Mayor Lynne Hale

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?

Anyone?

Hello? Is anyone there?

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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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
This entry was posted in Aventier, Business, Croydon Council, Housing, Lynne Hale, Mayor Jason Perry, Nicola Townsend, Planning, Property, Sanderstead and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Council planners ignore court order over flats in Sanderstead

  1. No matter who you vote for, the council always gets in

  2. Jim Lennon says:

    What exactly was changed in the retrospective planning application? Not clear from article unless I missed it.

  3. “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.”

    More accurate would have been: “Those who hoped the new mayor would do anything interesting, unusual, enterprising, surprising, innovative or energetic are in for a great disappointment.”

    What we have is a boring part-time bureaucrat instead of an exciting new leader.

    He has done nothing to merit any positive column inches.

    • Robert Smith says:

      There’s only nothing good if you were a huge fan of SPD2 Arno. The new administration has been a breath of fresh air.

  4. Material changes include (but are not restricted to) the following:
    – roof height raised and solar panels installed above,
    – reduced floor-to-ceiling heights,
    – gross internal areas BELOW national minimum standards,
    – omission of ALL ‘accessible’ units,
    – drainage system now NOT sustainable,
    – cycle storage now external, inadequate and inaccessible,
    – refuse/recycling storage now external and intrusive,
    – soft landscape much-revised and reduced … pathetic.

    Most (if not all) of the above constitute breaches of adopted planning policy.

    Inside and out, the ‘as-built’ development is (courtesy in part to the total absence of effective enforcement) VERY different from what was ‘sold to the Planning Committee back in December 2017. Even MORE inappropriate, unsustainable and unacceptable.

  5. Susan Williams says:

    Well done Steve making a stand and winning.

    Single thing that would change planning in Croydon is if they were to increase planners’ salaries by 40%. Not a huge some of money compared to the mistakes and poor decisions Croydon planners are making.

    The significant result of this the council would attract quality candidates.

    The problem with Croydon planning is that planners have turned into bitter malcontents who lash out and rigidly refuse to stand down from a shit decision.

    The department needs rebuilding and Cheesbrough should go. Why is she still hanging around?

  6. “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.”

    I know Steve is focused on this particular development, but if he looks around the borough a bit he’ll find there are shedloads of applications past their determination date and many of them way, way past those dates.

    The rate of appeals against non-determination in Croydon has roughly doubled since May and and the no. of appelas is currently set to exceed 2021’s by c. 60%.

    These are appeals were the council has failed to come to a decision within statutory deadlines, and the developer then has the decision taken out of the council’s hands by going straight to the Planning Inspectorate.

    From what I gather, everyone in planning and development considers such appeals undesirable (they are themselves slow for one thing), but what is an applicant (with a six-month deadline to appeal) supposed to do when they’ve been hanging on for months and months for a decision with, like Steve, very little-to-no feedback as to when a decision might be expected?

    The reasons for these delays are, I guess, numerous and varied: the high number of applications received by Croydon, a backlog caused by Covid, too few officers owing to cuts under the Numpties, (tin hat on here) reduced productivity owing to WFH and too few committee meetings to process the large number of referrals from RAs and RA-prompted ward councillors.

    In the case of the committee, it is slated to notionally sit 24 or so times a year (six have been cancelled this year, two admittedly related to the Queen’s death) and generally seems to manage two applications per meeting. So this year that could be 36 referrals, which I don’t imagine is denting the pile much.

    One idea might be to up the number of meetings. There are 10 members of the committee and 10 reserves. Why not increase the reserves by another six or eight (three/ four a side), and try to double the number of sittings?

    • In the alternative Jack … perhaps the lack of meetings and short agendas is because those regular and ridiculous recommendations for approval are drying up.

      Perhaps the planning officers are having to be ‘retrained’, their ‘professional judgement’ retuned.

      Perhaps, now that they haven’t got SPD2 to hide behind, case officers are having to look again about how they write reports.

      Perhaps, they’ve been reminded about what it says on their lanyard, especially the ‘Honest and Open’ bit.

      Perhaps, those who are ‘chartered’ at least, have been reminded about what it says in the RTPI’s ‘Code of Professional Conduct’ and advice on ‘Ethics and Professional Standards’

      There again, perhaps not. Perhaps it’s all about something (or more likely someone) completely different.

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