After nine years and four planning applications, permission has been given for a controversial housing development in Croydon against the wishes of the both local people and the council.
Mike Fisher, the leader of Croydon Council, said planning inspectors had “ridden roughshod” over local people and the planning committee in granting permission for the block of eleven flats and two retail units on Station Road, opposite Norwood Junction station.
Fisher said it was an “affront to local decision-making” and added: “I can only add my personal opposition to the decision of the Inspectorate and express my sympathy to the people who have fought this for so long.”
Disputed by local residents and Croydon Council since it was first proposed in 2002, the development is to go ahead after the council decided on the advice of lawyers that a further costly appeal against the planning inspector’s decision would fail.
James Groux, of Surrey-based developers Greathall Ltd., said of the property: “It’s going to have high-end retail usage. The quality will be extremely good. Hopefully our development will set a precedent for the whole area. We hope it will start further regeneration.” The planning inspector who arbitrated on the dispute, David Prentiss, said the development would bring “significant benefits” to the area.
But the most vocal opponent of the development, local garage owner Richard Hough, strongly disagrees. Hough, whose garage, Autoclutch, is on the site now owned by Greathall and is earmarked for closure to allow the development to proceed, has been battling against the plans since 2002.
Hough, now 50, began working at the garage when he was just 11 years old. He said the decision went far deeper than a simple planning row: “This is not just my future we are talking about; this is about the community and the history around it.’’
‘’I have spent all of my forties fighting this development. Hundreds of people here feel very strongly about it – people have come here asking what they can do. I had an old lady offer me her savings of £500 to help me fight the plans. I have massive links into the community, and this is a place where we all look out for each other.”
‘’During the riots, local people were watching over the garage for me. I have seen people grow up here over many years. I have been given awards for giving work experience to local youngsters.”
Hough told how 18 years ago, he gave work experience to a youth whose father was in prison and whose mother was largely absent. Last Christmas, the “youth”, now 35, visited Hough with a gift, and told him that he would undoubtedly have ended up in jail if Hough had not given him a chance all those years ago. Known as the “local lionheart”, at a time when work experience and positive role models are still very much needed, Hough concluded: “I will fight this [development] to the end.”
The site is a conservation area whose buildings were constructed in 1870 to accommodate small businesses alongside the railway station. Despite the views of Hough and his supporters that the area should be preserved for that reason, Prentiss said that he considered there to be “significant benefits which outweigh the loss of the non-designated heritage assets [the existing buildings] and the impact of that loss in the significance of the conservation area as a whole.”
However, Fisher – in view of the broader and long-term picture – said: “There needs to be a re-balancing of the country’s planning system so that these judgements can be made solely by local people. I am sick and tired of planning decisions that are entirely local in their impact being made by some so-called national planning expert [the planning inspector] parachuted in from Bristol.”
He added that he would continue to press the coalition to take more account of local viewpoints in planning matters.