It’s time to consult on Croydon Local Plan

By - Friday 4th September, 2015

However flawed and problematic, public consultations safeguard us all, argues Sean Creighton

An important consultation should be starting in the autumn: amendments to the Croydon Local Plan are expected to be considered by the cabinet on 21st September. The Plan will provide part of the framework for dealing with planning applications in a way that meets the requirements of national government and the Mayor of London’s Plan.

The ability of Croydon Council to control the process of development growth in the future has already been undermined by the granting of permitted development rights on house extensions and the conversion of offices to flats, and will be further undermined by further measures announced following the Chancellor’s budget.

Planning is not neutral – it’s political

Even if it wanted to, Croydon Council cannot say there has been enough growth and that the pace must be slowed. It is forced from above to encourage extra houses. With the loosening of controls over office conversions, it cannot even control the size and quality of the units being created.

The planning system is not neutral – it is a political process seeking to resolve competing interests and needs on such matters as housing, employment, roads, traffic, pedestrians, schools, hospitals, or green spaces.

The planning system does not start with neighbourhood and community plans worked up with the involvement of local residents, building up into the plan for the local authority area. The top-down plans for London and for each borough ignore the complexity of local needs and problems and the character of areas. Therefore the solutions that are advocated do not necessarily address these matters. Planning should be people-focused. It needs to ask questions like: what are the economic, housing and social needs of the people of Croydon? How does the current system operating in Croydon meet those needs? What needs does it not meet? How can change held meet those needs?

Ken Livingstone went for global city status and Boris has continued it

In his Spatial Plan, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone decided to promote London as a global city. He rejected the alternative argument that London’s growth should be curtailed. Boris Johnson has continued the same strategy.

It was recognised by many community activists at the time that London faced a number of challenges about its future direction, including:

  • how to prevent the increasing social polarisation between very rich and the poor as the middle-classes increasingly move out
  • how to reduce commuting into London for work from further and further afield
  • how to ensure that there is affordable local housing for the workers needed for public services
  • how to ensure that major regeneration projects positively benefit neighbouring communities

The last decade has seen these concerns become major problems.

The redevelopment of the King’s Cross railway lands illustrated the tensions. Part of the theoretical justification behind the development consortium’s plan was that by concentrating offices at major interchanges, people would come to work there, and not filter out and add to congestion on London’s road and public transport systems. At first glance this seemed to make logical sense, but it was pointed out that:

  • there was no guarantee that the jobs that would be moved into the new development would come from elsewhere in the centre of London
  • if they did move in from elsewhere in central London, how would it be ensured that the businesses that move into the vacated space do not simply attract workers from outside London?
  • if the jobs created were simply job transfers from other locations, what would the knock-on effect be for the areas from which they were drawn, if no new businesses moved into the vacated property?
  • there was no guarantee that workers already commuting into King’s Cross would switch to jobs in the new development
  • new jobs in the development supported by improved transport could simply draw more commuters into London and encourage more people to live outside London
  • there could be a negative knock-on effect on surrounding areas, pushing up property prices, making housing less affordable for lower income groups and putting existing businesses serving local communities out of business, as landlords push up rents and seek to attract businesses focused on serving the needs of the transient office population

Developers parachute in and ride roughshod over community concerns

In other words, however, laudable the aspirations for these new developments, they were likely to deepen London’s basic problems.

Are these issues similar to what is now being faced with the new office developments clustering near East Croydon station?

Too often developers and businesses are seen to parachute into an area with proposals that ride roughshod over legitimate community and environmental concerns. Local people are the weakest player in the current planning system. This means that a lot of communities feel that proposals they oppose are forced upon them, and that their areas are changed in ways they do not agree with.

Once the Croydon Local Plan is adopted there will be tensions between its different goals, meaning that some aspects will be given more weighting importance than others by the Planning Committee and officers. Whatever the system’s inadequacies, it is only through active engagement in the planning process that local people can attempt to try and ensure that the decisions are taken that reflect their needs and concerns.

Past planning mistakes have harmed communities

The current planning framework and approach to development is not in keeping with the sustainable development approach. The future planning system: 

  • must engage communities, and contribute to people feeling connected with the process of government
  • must recognise that past planning mistakes contributed to the break-up and decay of communities
  • should be a key process to achieving environmental, economic and social sustainability

A changed system should include:

  • A requirement for all planning proposals of a certain size to use community participation methods to enable local people to influence the outcome
  • The establishment of neighbourhood governance structures to determine community based plans
  • A requirement on the local planning authority that those plans will form the basis of future versions of the Local Plan
  • The right to use the Citizens’ Jury approach to question local residents, community, voluntary and business organisations, the applicants, the planning officials and other agencies involved about the planning proposals

Finally, as a safeguard to community interests, community organisations should have the right of appeal against planning decisions to which they were opposed.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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