Croydon should vote Labour to protect the Green Belt and Planning Control


By - Monday 5th June, 2017

Vote red to keep Croydon green, says Sean Creighton


Happy Valley in Coulsdon.
Photo by Andrew Bowden, used under Creative Commons licence.

One of the major issues at the Croydon Local Plan public hearings has been the perceived threat to the Green Belt. This concern was shared by both residents associations and the Croydon TUC Assembly environment forum.

It would be understandable if voters in the southern parts of Croydon decided not to vote Labour this coming Thursday because of concerns over the Labour council’s actions. But if that is a major consideration, then the current local problem needs to be seen in the wider context of the political battle over planning.

The idea of the Green Belt grew out of the Garden City movement. In 1919, the London Society’s proposed Development Plan for London called for the creation and protection of green spaces in what were then the outer suburbs. In 1935, the Labour controlled London County Council under Herbert Morrison’s leadership proposed to ‘provide a reserve supply of public open spaces and to ­establish a green belt or girdle of open space land, readily ­accessible from London’s urbanised area.’ The Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act of 1938 enabled work to begin to buy land. Over 20,000 hectares were purchased up until soon after the Second World War, to be safeguarded from development.

Clem Attlee’s Labour government’s 1947 Town and Country Planning Act supported the concept of green belts. More significantly, it introduced the requirement for local plans, and contained measures to preserve historic buildings. Its 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act set the basis for the identification and protection of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) along with national, and local nature reserves. It was Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1967 that introduced conservation areas in the Civic Amenities Act of 1967.

Council officers have shown themselves unwilling to listen

It is also important to understand the process of the development of Croydon’s Local Plan, and the pressures being placed on all local authorities by the former Conservative Governments including in the Planning and Housing Act, passed last year.

The strategic approach of the Croydon plan was started under the previous Conservative administration. It is clear that the details to support the strategic policies are officer rather than councillor driven. It was a surprise to the Conservatives at the public hearing that the idea of a tower block in Purley was in their draft detailed policies and proposals document in 2013. On Labour’s side, Councillor Joy Prince spoke against a particular scheme in Waddon ward.

It is clear that much of the detail that has caused concern on a wide range of issues in the plan has been the ideas of the officers, who have shown that they have not been prepared to listen.

Assuming the inspector approves the plan without any further modifications, whichever party wins control of the council next May will have to interpret and implement it. There is still about four to five weeks for the two parties to take control of the next stage of the process and decide what further modifications they can mutually agree.

The council’s ability to control development has been undermined

One of the problems that has faced both parties locally has been the national government insistence on letting London grow with new housing, which then has required the London Mayor (both Boris Johnson and now Sadiq Khan) to set targets which the boroughs must seek to achieve.

The council’s ability to control development has been undermined by the relaxation of planning requirements by Conservative governments since 2010. Since April 2012, there has been a presumption in favour of all ­planning permissions. Through the government’s relaxation of the General Planning Development Order system, Croydon has seen a large number of office blocks converted to homes without having to meet the minimum London space standards. This has also prevented the council from stopping the enlargement of many three-bedroomed houses as a first step to converting them later on into flats.

The main thrust of the representatives of the developers and house builders at the public hearings has been to try and weaken the plan to give themselves more flexibility to manipulate the rules, and impose their ideas. These usually have nothing to do with meeting the needs of existing residents, and will not meet the changing needs of new residents. The local Conservatives have made it clear that they do not want more freedom for the developers.

Worse is to come if the Tories are re-elected nationally

Worse is to come if the Conservatives are re-elected in the current general election. Under the Planning and Housing Act passed last year, the Conservatives propose to weaken the planning system even more, to overrule local plans and to force the building of starter homes at 80% of private market rents, regardless of the range of housing needs in adopted plans.

The 2016 Act significantly reduces local authorities’ planning powers. It represents a major overturning of the principles of Labour’s 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, which required local authorities to have local development plans.

The Labour manifesto makes it clear that alongside its ambitious programme of new house building, it will protect the Green Belt. It is only a Labour government that will be open to reversing the loosening of planning requirements. So if you want to protect the Green Belt, then the only vote has to be for Labour.

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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  • Robert Ward

    Baffled on your logic here Sean. Our Croydon Labour Council is rubber stamping applications over local objections.

    The tower block in Purley is not a question of whether there is a tower block but how high it is and how much parking, etc is included.

    Declassifying Shirley land from Green belt/Metropolitan Open land to unprotected so they can build on it is one of the big issues there that the Labour council has again steamrollered through against massive local objection.