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Will Labour listen on Croydon’s planning?

Will Labour listen on Croydon’s planning?
Jun 23, 2017 Shaking Hands 0 comments
This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 22/06/2017.

Will Labour listen on Croydon’s planning?

Sean Creighton has a conversation with Paul Scott, the Chair of Planning, on local housing.

Following the end of the Local Plan Examination Public Hearings I wrote to all of the councillors involved to suggest that it is in their mutual interests to gather and assess whether any more modifications should be offered to the inspector. There is much that both parties agree with in the plan already. Since politicians must take ownership of the plan, it should not be left to the officers to decide what changes could be made.

Whichever party wins the 3-6 marginal seats in the local elections in May will have to interpret the finally adopted local plan. So it is in their best interests that there is a lack of ambiguity to ensure that the plan is as sound and deliverable as possible.

The only councillor to respond so far is Paul Scott, the controversial Chair of Planning. Readers may be interested in knowing what he thinks of my suggestions.

“The process of developing the plan has been extensive, open and transparent, with many changes made as a result of the consultations. The resultant plan has been developed by the Labour administration with the extensive involvement of the relevant councillors having to balance challenging issues especially with regards to accommodating the homes we need and the infrastructure to support them.

The first version of the policies were developed by the previous administration. They were carefully designed to protect the lower density suburbs with the inevitable impact of increasing densities in the already densely populated areas. Putting it simply, building much higher densities in the north whilst protecting the south. We have changed the plan to allow the new housing to be more fairly and appropriately distributed across the borough, providing homes instead of protecting privilege one could say. At the same time we are protecting our open spaces and maintaining the green belt.

I disagree that there is wide scale anger at planning decisions made recently. Maybe you would like to expand on where you think it is otherwise. Yes there have been objections to the increase in density of some low density ‘council estates’, but the council and its planning committee need to plan for the needs of the whole community, including the next generation and those already in housing need. We have a significant housing crisis that we a working hard to tackle.

I appreciate that your interpretation of planning matters is often at odds with our officers and councillors. We however have the responsibility of finding solutions to the crisis. I would suggest that Thursday’s results show that in Croydon the electorate is very much supportive of the proactive approach that Labour seeks to take to address the very real problems our community faces”, said Scott.

In reply I said:

“I am afraid we will have to disagree. It is because I was concerned about the potential negative effects of anger about planning decisions that I wrote my Croydon Citizen article on why people should vote Labour nationally to protect the Green Belt. The tremendous result in Croydon has more to do with the national campaign and people reassessing Jeremy.

It would be dangerous to think that this will translate into a win for Labour in the local elections in May. The turnout for a start is likely to be smaller, and with the result being decided on perhaps a few wards: 3-6 depending on what happens with the proposed ward boundary changes.

One of the things that came out clearly at the Hearings was that representatives of Residents Associations in the south, some of whom were working class, trade unionists and at least one member of the Labour Party, made it clear they were not against growth and development, but it has to ensure that infrastructure problems are not made worse, and that the special characteristics are not damaged. There is therefore much in common between the communities in the north and the south.

The future strategy on the Local Plan is a matter that the whole Labour Group should discuss and take a decision on.”

I then attached my submission to the inspector as to why he should reject the plan as unsound, poorly evidenced, unsustainable, and undeliverable.

Paul Scott decided to respond as follows:

“Somehow I doubt the inspector will disagree with you. Take a look at our manifesto. You’ll see it is about delivering the change we need!

Change will be needed to deliver the homes we need. Change has always been a feature of urban areas. Change does not mean destroying character. To argue against the need for change is to ignore the very people we seek to help.”

I responded:

“Nobody is arguing against the need for change. But let it be the change for the better not for the worse.

There is an obsession with meeting the housing target. The target is just one aspect of what the plan’s vision is trying to achieve. The danger is that the obsession will prevent the achievement of other aspects.

Back in the early 2000s I was involved in trying to persuade Ken Livingstone that letting London grow would create a whole range of problems which have come to pass. London sucks in resources at the expense of the rest of the country, but things get worse. Less growth for London and more growth elsewhere is needed to create a balanced Britain.

There are all kinds of drivers which councils cannot control, and while local plans are about balancing interests, the planning system is stacked in favour of the applicant (GPDOs, rights of appeal, the ‘bribery’ of Section 106 and CIL) and particularly the developer. The way that the decision making system works in Croydon supports that imbalance against the legitimate concerns of those who oppose or have reservations about applications.

If you want residents to have more faith in the decision making process then a number of reforms are needed, including non-validation until an applicant has provided proof of pre-application consultation; non-validation if documents are inadequate; restoration of the rights of the conservation panels to refer applications to committee; an increase in the time allowed for objectors to speak at committee; the running of the committee on the basis that it is not about driving the administration’s agenda, but is semi-judicial with the responsibility that it applies existing planning policies and where it departs from them gives a reasoned argument publicly; the right of people to speak at pre-application discussions of the committee. And that’s just some of them, because there are many nitty-gritty improvements needed as well.”

Paul Scott’s final response states:

“Your suggested restriction of the growth of London would simply end up socially cleansing it, as property prices would spiral higher and the poorer people would be forced out. Yes we need to rebalance the national economy to stimulate growth elsewhere and reduce the pressure on London. Further new towns are also needed to help with this. But forcing the younger and poorer people out of their home city is wrong on every level!

I suggest you familiarise yourself with how the planning system actually works. It is precisely because of the quasi-judicial nature of the planning committee that it makes its decisions in the way it does. Consultation is about identifying issues, it is not a referendum. We will not simply listen to those who shout loudest in determining where new housing can and will be built.

With all due respect, I appreciate your perspective on this, but our Labour administration was elected on a manifesto to deliver new homes and is especially focused on delivering affordable homes for Croydon. We are working to do exactly that – for the many, not the few! The evolution of our city continues. The same evolutionary story that saw the fields and woodland of Norbury transformed circa 100 years ago to provide the new homes needed then.”

The exchange between us was copied to all councillors in both parties. The outcome of several formal complaints against Paul Scott’s actions as Chair of Planning are awaited. To watch him in action just have a look at the webcast of the latest Planning Committee meeting.

I will leave it up to the readers to decide whether either of us is making valid points, and whether Paul Scott’s replies indicate that the Labour administration is willing to listen or not.