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