Council planners have ignored an Order from a High Court judge over the granting of retrospective permission for a block of flats in Sanderstead. But as STEVE WHITESIDE explains, the case of 54 Arkwright Road is far from an isolated example of poor practice by Croydon’s planning department
A year on from a Judicial Review into one of Croydon Council’s planning department’s many contentious rulings, when a judge issued a Court Order that confirmed that the development at 54 Arkwright Road is unlawful, and people are now renting flats in that building – at up to £1,800 per month – even though it does not have a valid planning permission. But under Croydon’s dysfunctional council, 54 Arkwright Road is far from an isolated case.
At 98 Hyde Road, in Riddlesdown, the developers had part-built a new block of flats when they were forced to demolish it because of breaches of planning rules. The building was too close to Copthorne Rise – something that the council’s non-enforcement officer initially refused to accept.
This allowed the works to continue for many months, until finally, after several complaints, the then head of development management, Pete Smith, was forced to accept reality. What had been built had to be demolished.
What has replaced the part-built block is another monstrosity. Decisions from the council’s planning department on three applications – 21/01672/NMA, 21/01736/DISC, and 22/00211/CONR – are all more than a year overdue. The current case officer is council staffer James Clark.
Information only recently submitted has confirmed what I had claimed back in March 2020, that the original planning permission had been gained on the back of misleading drawings that gave a false impression (perhaps deliberately?) of the relationship between the proposal and neighbouring properties.
This was from the very start, I believe, a permission based on a lie.
Nevertheless, the properties are now on the market, all with a juicy subsidy for the developer paid for out of your and my taxes: “Available With 40per cent Help to Buy”.
At 43 Downsway, Sanderstead, the decision on a previous application (20/00170/CONR) was determined in a very similar fashion to that which was quashed in the courts for 54 Arkwright Road. The decision on another retrospective, supposedly “non-material amendment” application (21/02186/NMA), is now 16 months overdue.
Like Arkwright Road, this retrospective application – seeking a council planners’ rubber-stamp after the developers have finished building the thing – includes a completely different drainage scheme to that which was originally submitted and approved. Case officer: Chris Stacey.
As at Arkwright, several of these properties are already apparently being rented out.
At 22 Briton Crescent, complaints that the development would not be of the size or shape, nor positioned on the site as shown in the approved documents, dated back to December 2019. It took the council six months to get round to agree that the complaints were well-founded.
Several more complaints have been submitted in the two years since, notably about the very significant change to the approved drainage strategy, which potentially threatens “excessive use” of an existing easement to discharge wastewater via an adjoining property.
As elsewhere, all complaints have been set aside by council officials. In response to a recent complaint, about the unauthorised installation of retaining structures, the enforcement officer (John Penn) told me, “I am aware of these structures… My managers are also aware.” Which is nice. Meanwhile however the build continues, supposedly at the developer’s own risk.
We are now 18 months past the “determination deadline” on what must now also be considered to be a mainly retrospective application (20/06345/CONR). Case officer: Joe Sales.
Even so, these properties are also up for sale, with “40per cent Help to Buy Scheme Available for a Limited Time”. Even without the past week’s disruption to the mortgage market, prospective buyers for any of these flats might encounter problems if their lenders’ lawyers conduct any checks on whether the property actually has a valid planning permission.
At 28 Grasmere Road, Purley, as far back as May 2020, the council accepted that the new build was much closer to its neighbour at No26 than what had been approved.
In fact, the new building is pretty much on the neighbour’s boundary, rather than a metre away as was shown on the plans when the developers were seeking planning permission.
More than two years later, a decision on an application to discharge two pre-commencement conditions – yes that’s right, conditions that should have been discharged before work, including demolition, began – is still outstanding.
A decision on another retrospective application (20/02911/CONR), which has been shown (by a privately commissioned measured survey) to contain fabricated and seriously misleading information, is now also more than two years overdue. Case officer, Barry Valentine.
Finally, at 12 The Ridge Way, also in Sanderstead, following the article on Inside Croydon in July last year, a survey of the street elevation (including the adjacent properties) revealed that the original planning permission was also obtained on the basis of fabricated information.
The ground (and roof) levels of the adjacent property (No10) were shown in the application to be much higher than they actually are, disguising the fact that the proposal would sit considerably higher than neighbouring buildings, creating the overlooking issues about which residents have complained for well over a year.
A decision on what must also be considered and determined as a retrospective application (21/03404/CONR) is now 13 months overdue. Case officer: Carolyn Southall.
That said, on July 29 (a year after the iC article), residents were informed by John Penn that the council was “awaiting a new full application for the site. This would cover all the points raised”. Two months later, and no details of that new application have been published on the council’s planning website.
Meanwhile work on site continues, albeit at a snail’s pace.
A quick check on the council website shows that little or nothing has been added to these applications since they were first validated and the results of information requests suggest that any ongoing contact with the developer is made not by the planning officers but rather by the enforcement team.
According to the Planning Enforcement Handbook published by the Royal Town Planning Institute in 2020, “At its heart, the planning system relies on trust and our enforcers provide the backbone of this trust – trust that those who flout our planning laws… will be brought to account… and trust that the high-quality schemes that achieve planning permission will be delivered with that same quality – that planning will deliver what is promised.”
Ahhh. Trust. And delivering “what is promised”.
So just what have Croydon Council’s enforcement officers been doing to ensure that planning is delivering the high-quality schemes that their colleagues have often deceitfully (sometimes perversely) promised the planning committee at the outset?
If only to confirm what I knew already, I took a look at the council’s website and the “planning enforcement register”, to “search for and view previous enforcement actions” that have been taken on the sites I’ve been monitoring.
It didn’t take long. There appears to have been no formal enforcement action taken at all.
There has been an enforcement file open on all of the sites mentioned here for a considerable time, in some cases from the very start of work on site. Most likely they’ve never been closed. On the face of it then, lots of paper (perhaps) but not much (if any) real action.
It is clear to anyone who chooses to take a reasonable look that all the developments described here have been or continue to be built in ways that are very different to the schemes that council officials recommended for approval, and often very different in quality to what was promised to councillors and residents.
These are just a few of the ones I know about. There may well be many more developments around the borough that have been “managed” in the same irrational and irresponsible manner by the council’s planners, all done under the directorship of Heather Cheesbrough, the Negrini appointee who lied about her qualifications yet remains in post.
Read more: Director of planning’s bogus claim over Institute membership
Read more: Buyers beware: High Court judge puts planners in the dock
Read more: Objections? What objections? Opposition? What opposition?
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