Tory Bains is forced to confess: planning is ‘all but broken’

Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on the latest confessions to emerge from the Conservative council’s cabinet

Not fit for purpose: Jeet Bains says that the dysfunctional council’s planning department is not working

The planning department at Croydon Council is “all but broken”, according to a Planning Advisory Service report.

The Planning Advisory Service is part of the Local Government Association’s independent support for councils.

Jeet Bains, the Tory councillor in Mayor Jason Perry’s cabinet who is responsible for regeneration in the borough, told a council meeting this week of a planning department with “a severe shortage of staff” that is unable to recruit “good people” because of the council’s “toxic reputation”.

There were “pockets of best practice”, Bains told Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, but Croydon’s planning was a “hollowed out department”.

Bains described “many years of neglect” with a lack of investment in IT systems that has left the council’s planning with “simple systems that just don’t do the job.”

Lack of staff and poor systems compromised planning applications processes, enforcement and planning control, Bains said.

Bains was careful to praise staff who were “highly professional” and showed “huge efforts”.

Much of this decline and decay in the planning department had been allowed to happen over the past five years, the period in which Heather Cheesbrough has been the director in charge of the borough’s planning department.

Still here: Heather Cheesbrough

Appointed in January 2016 by the now discredited former council CEO, Jo Negrini, Cheesbrough today holds the title of “director of planning and sustainable regeneration”.

During her time in Croydon, Cheesbrough had championed the unpopular planning policy, SPD2, which Perry has scrapped, helped to push through block after block of flats in a relentless over-development of some suburban areas, as well as having some responsibilities around the catastrophic Brick by Brick housing company.

Cheesbrough herself became a campaign issue during the Mayoral election campaign earlier this year, when Perry promised change to the audiences at hustings. Perry’s election rival Andrew Pelling went as far as to call for Cheesbrough’s dismissal. Cheesbrough sought a ban on Pelling through the council’s ethics committee.

Bains, a former Tory Party parliamentary candidate, made no comment on any prospect of action over the planning department’s leadership, preferring instead to use the opportunity for a bit of political point-scoring.

With Mayor Perry, who runs a local business, saying that he would have second thoughts if he was an investor in Croydon, developers will be hesitant about putting money into Croydon with the dysfunctional council itself now forced to admit that its planning department is not fit for purpose.

Worse is to come.

At the same council meeting one of Bains’ cabinet colleagues, Councillor Scott Roche, said that the cash-strapped council has no money to spend on highways maintenance.

Read more: Cancelled planning committees are ‘shouting incompetence’
Read more: Council delays and lack of enforcement cause residents misery
Read more: Director of planning’s bogus claim over Institute membership
Read more: Buyers beware: High Court judge puts planners in the dock

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12 Responses to Tory Bains is forced to confess: planning is ‘all but broken’

  1. Where will it all end? Keep on telling is the truth IC, however bad the news is. All we can do is hope for a miracle and the departure of the “director of planning and ‘un’sustainable regeneration

  2. Sarah Bird says:

    Dear God can it get any worse ?

  3. Adrian Lee says:

    “Jeet Bains, the Tory councillor in Mayor Jason Perry’s cabinet who is responsible for regeneration in the borough, told a council meeting this week of a planning department with “a severe shortage of staff” that is unable to recruit “good people” because of the council’s “toxic reputation”.”

    ☝ This comment unfortunately rings very true. I was having professional conversations about 18 months ago with a well respected colleague who works as an interim trouble shooter at Director level in housing/regen depts at local councils facing varying degrees of crisis. He was not inclined to put his hat in the ring at Croydon at all. To paraphrase his view – “They’ve made too much of a mess of it. Anybody who’s any good will steer clear.”

    I’m not quite as scathing as regards the CEO who came in to fix things as I think that the initial appointment to the top job (under heavy manners from the LGA?) was always bound to be a thankless task with limited prospect of being able to recover the situation rapidly. But it’s also true that many of the most capable organisation fixers will not touch Croydon with a barge pole. This is likely to get worse before it can get any better.

  4. derekthrower says:

    So it is all part of the aspirational Tories programme to blame everything on someone else, rather than take any responsibility and start improving the situation in Croydon.

    This is desperate politics.

    Will the last Tory in Fisher’s Folly turn off the switch as they effectively close down the local authority and hand the keys over to a centrally appointed Board to carry out the last rites on the London Borough of Croydon.

    We need all these relics of the last decade to be cleared away to start again.

  5. Cllr Scott Roche stated that the Council has no money to spend on highway maintenance?

    Were that to be true then, among other things, there will be no highway gritting, no repairs to potholes, no unblocking of highway drains and no replacement of street or sign lighting. That would be a recipe for some major insurance claims because the Council has a legal duty to maintain the highway.

    All profit from on-street parking must be used for transport-related functions, so there is funding available.

    Have Croydon chosen to spend this elsewhere?

    • derekthrower says:

      Cllr Scott Roche does seem to be unaware of the legal responsibilities of the Council.

      No doubt this inept announcement will, as you imply, be used to support a number of legal liability claims being sent to the council’s insurer regarding negligence, thus ramping up the next premium payment required to be provided by the council.

      Or will this hopelessly inept council just not bother to pay that, too?

      • Nick Davies says:

        They might not have insurance for this but be “self-insured”. Some councils do this, for some risks, the rationale being, I suppose, that it’s cheaper to wing it in the courts if someone goes after them than use an insurance company.

  6. derekthrower says:

    After seeing the performance of their legal representatives, it really is a matter of winging it.

  7. So where is this ‘Planning Advisory Service report’?

    Why and when was it produced? Who was involved and what EXACTLY does it say ?

    Is this more that will all be kept under lock and key?

  8. Anton Smithson says:

    Cheesbrough purred over the prospect of having SPD2 decide every housing application in the borough. It made her life incredibly simple, she had the backing of Paul Scott, all she had to do is sit back and drive Croydon planning recklessly up the hard shoulder.

    However, she made the fundamental mistake of forgetting planning is there to serve the community; residents first, developers second. Her response was to build a culture of distrust between planners and residents. Residents concerns, without exception, were ignored, emails and questions were never replied to and at committee the public was treated with utter contempt through the 3 min dog whistle. Cheesbrough, personally, appeared to take great pleasure in admonishing their carefully prepared statements – it was a despicable tag-team event with Cllr Paul Scott.

    Roll the clock forward, residents have had enough, 2 years of hard campaigning and Scott and Newman are kicked out, there’s a mayoral election, SPD2 is revoked, and planning control is removed from Labour.

    The problem is the damage to the planning department as a result if all this. It needs to be rebuilt and Cheesbrough needs to be moved aside.

    • James says:

      You’ve summed up the situation perfectly. Heather Cheesborough and her mini-me Nicola Townsend need to go, even if it means carrying vacancies. Residents would accept delays in planning applications if they know they will be handled properly and with the residents of Croydon in mind going forward. They have no credibility and their positions are untenable. They have lost the trust and confidence of the people of Croydon, they have damaged the borough, and every day they are paid Croydon tax payers’ money is a day too long. Unless there is a clean break with the past, the Planning Team will will never be trusted. Kerswell failed to act and Perry needs to act decisively. Now.

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