Meeting with the Planning Department March 7 2023

March 2023

Meeting with the Planning Department March 7 2023

Your Chairman went along to the 6 monthly meeting with the Planning Department (PD) earlier this month.

At the previous meeting, which was the first under the new administration of Mayor Perry, the whole meeting was spent talking about new build targets, the levels of completions against those targets and the adverse impact of the cumulative numbers of new developments on the availability of school places, transport and health services for residents in some of the other areas of Croydon. However there was less animosity as there had been at previous meetings as it was already apparent that the rate of approvals in the suburbs of Croydon was slowing down.

As I wrote at the time, listening to the complaints from other RAs made me realise that on balance most of us within Croham Valley had not been badly affected by the last administration’s desire to build so much in the suburbs of Croydon.

This time the PD gave us an update on the internal workings of the department and the plans over the next few years.

In 2022 the Department had been reviewed by the Government’s Planning Advisory Service (PAS) and the results have just been released. Not surprisingly the PAS stated that the department had somewhat fallen behind in processing applications as it had been under resourced (see below). In addition the PD had some bad practices and had lost the confidence of Croydon residents. The PAS did say however that the department was willing to learn.

The PAS made many recommendations;

  • The PD make the process of validating new applications more efficient along with many other working practices recommendations.
  • The PD becomes better at communicating citing poor communication (rather than actual use) around the use of the monies from the CIL and Section106 received by Croydon from developers.
  • The Department become better at Enforcement against developers who build something other than that which has been approved!
  • The Department improve their IT. See more of this below regarding Tree Preservation Orders.

I wondered whether some of the bad press the PD received was due to their poor IT.

The PD then went on to talk about enforcement. The council have a bad reputation for enforcement. The three new townhouses down Croham Road are three story but the plans said they should be four. This was reported over a year ago but no action has been taken and the townhouses are now occupied. As an aside we obviously prefer three stories but want to make the point that compliance is compliance.

Councillor Jeet Bains (Conservative – in charge of the Planning process) explained that Brent – a similar sized Council has many times the number of enforcement officers. We were told that recruiting the right type of people (someone ready to have a vigorous discussion) is difficult. Since May 2022 outstanding cases are down partly as a result of having a “no phone answering” session”.

The numbers since May 2022 are:

Cases outstanding then 1,350.
Now 1,100
Closed 800
New cases 550 (my calculation)
6 Enforcement Notices
2/3 Prosecutions

We did not have a chance to discuss the apparent low levels of enforcement notices/prosecutions compared to the number of cases closed. The Council acknowledged that it needed to publicise its successes, prioritise the big cases give more information of what is being enforced generally and going forward communicate progress a lot better.

A part of the discussion on Enforcement it was agreed that protecting trees was a priority and that both planning and enforcement officers would “drop everything” if it was reported a tree with a TPO was in danger. It was acknowledged however that the TPO details were on paper and should have been computerised by now in common with many other Councils.

Steve Pennington from the PD talked about planning policy in general.

The “Local Development Scheme” (LDS) which is the project plan for the planning policy process (if that makes sense) is out of date and is to be replaced. The new Scheme is to go to Cabinet in March. The timetable for the Local Plan Review is attached below.

The Local Plan Review (for consultation early next year) is to focus on;

  • design criteria
  • removal of intensification areas
  • long term new build numbers
  • post current planning cycle
  • HMO policy
  • Strengthening of Green Belt

The PD made the following comments

  • No change in existing targets following the recent Governmental NPPF consultations.
  • Despite retraction of the SPD2 document the Local Plan still has to be in compliance with the London Plan. However no specific issues were raised.
  • The small sites target is still in operation – although there was no further discussion on this. I think it was implied that going forward there will be better designed applications to fill the small site target.

The last topic presented on by the PD was in terms of Validation of planning applications. This was one of the items of improvement mentioned by the PAS. Most of the changes suggested seemed common sense. Many changes were directed towards clarifying the requirements for small developments/extensions.

What was more interesting were the statistics regarding timing of approvals. In addition to individual decisions going to the Inspectorate if a desicion is not made within 8/13 weeks for a small/large application (if I am correct) I was not aware that the Inspectorate will start the process of making all decisions if a PD falls below 70% compliance for less than 8 week for small and 60% compliance within the 13 weeks (or longer if prior agreement with the developer) for large.

The PD stated that after significant extra work they are currently at 75% compliance for both small and large whereas in May 22 they were very close to breaching both targets. The RAs were appreciative that the PD had retained its own decision making abilities.

Overall I sensed a PD coming to terms with the new administration and seeming to enjoy the more relaxed relationships with the RAs arising from the policies of the new administration.

Jeremy Gill

Author: Jeremy Gill

Chair, CVRA