The issue of Croydon Council planning staff conflicts of interest was raised at the Planners online meeting with Residents Associations on Wednesday evening. Regeneration Director Heather Cheesbrough introduced her staff taking part including Jan Slominski, newly appointed as Head of the South Team.
A Residents Association representative expressed concern about this appointment because she alleged that Jan Slominski had caused a lot of problems supporting developers when he had previously worked for the Council, and suggested that he be allocated to another Team.
Discussion on Jan Slominski was discussed by Inside Croydon in a posting on 18 January about the start of demolition of the houses at 59-63 Higher Drive by Macar Developments. It is clear that the writer did not know that Slominski had rejoined the Council. I re-raised the issue of conflicts in a discussion at the on-line meeting about developers applications to vary conditions, of which Macar has an outstanding request for 59-63 Higher Drive.
Macar’s Planning Approval
Macar had been granted permission by the Planning Committee on 19 December 2019, confirmed in the decision letter dated 23 January 2020. 31 conditions were set out, most to be subject to application and permission prior to first occupation.
So far Macar has submitted applications demonstrating how it meets 8 conditions. The Council has approved 5 (drainage), 6 (construction logistics), 7 (piling) and 15 (lighting). The Council has only part approved 4 (contamination) and 8 (elevations and materials). Condition 4 is supposed to have been approved before the implementation date. 21 (car parking) was not approved. The planners decision on a variation request on Condition 2 (plans) is awaited. In the online discussion I referred to a letter I had sent a few hours before the online meeting to the Chair and Vice-Chair of Planning.
Section 106 Agreement
The Council’s Section 106 agreement includes a clause in Schedule 1 that Macar must give the Council five working days notice of the intended implementation date of the start of the development. I posed the following questions to the Chair and Vice-Chair.
- Does demolition mean the start of implementation?
- Did Macar notify the Council and if so on what date was the notification received?
- Did the Planners check that the demolition did not start in the five days notice period?
- If demolition represents the start of the implementation date has Macar breached the terms of its planning approval given it has not had all pre-implementation conditions approvals?
- If Macar is in breach what action can the Council take?
- Can the Council rescind the planning approval?
Under the Section 106 agreement Macar is required to pay before the implementation date a number of financial contributions, including:
- £48,016 carbon offset (50%)
- ££4,000 air quality
- £5,000 offsite car club
- £18,337 Employment and Training (Construction)
- £12,000 Bus Route Feasibility Study
- £5,000 Highway
In addition at least three months before the implementation date Macar was required to submit its Local Employment and Training Strategy. I posed the following questions to the Chair and Vice-Chair.
- Have these payments been made and on what date(s) were they received?
- Has the Training & Employment Strategy been submitted, what date was it submitted and what date was it approved?
Potential Conflicts Of Interest
Inside Croydon suggested that there may be a conflict of interest involving former planner Jan Slominski who had left the Council to work for HTA Design, Macar’s architects. HTA is the design company that worked on the Cane Hill site for Barratts, the Ten Degree development at 100A George St, and the Tide College Road site.
Although a Google search says that he joined HTA Design in 2020 his page on the actual website has no photograph or details about him. In the light of his appointment to Croydon the reason for this is now obvious. His Linked in page states that he started with HTA in June 2020. During the period he worked for Croydon from April 2018 he is on a ‘team’ photograph with Heather Cheesbrough, Ross Gentry and two other Council planning officers with senior project team members of Tide, HTA and Greystar. (www.e-architect.com/london/worlds-tallest-modular-buildings)
I asked the Chair and Vice-Chair of Planning:
- What date did Jan Slominski submit his notice of leaving his post?
- What was the date he notified his manager that he was applying to work for HTA and request that he should have no further involvement in HTA and MACAR planning applications?
- If relevant what date did the Manager approve this request?
While working for HTA he represented applicants at Planning Committee meetings about 18 The Grove in September and 41 Fairdene Rd on 18 November, the latter being refused.
Inside Croydon points out that there may be another potential conflict of interest in that the planner Ross Gentry’s wife Natalie is Planning Director of Macar. He was also part of the online meeting. His wife’s picture and profile can be seen on the company website which states that after 10 years as a local authority planner she ‘moved to City Hall to advise the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson followed briefly by Sadiq Khan, on major and strategic planning applications in London’. She is not a Macar Company Director. Her Linked-in page shows that she is Director of Gen-PLAN, which Companies House states is an urban and landscape consultancy of which she is sole Director.
What Inside Croydon did not state was that the issue of Ross Gentry’s potential conflict of interest on 59-63 Higher Drive was dealt with in the addendum report to the 19 December 2019 Planning Committee meeting.
‘Section 24 of the planning application form, which was published on the Council’s website on 12 July 2019, clearly states that Natalie Gentry, Planning Director at Macar Developments is married to Ross Gentry, Team Leader – Strategic Applications. The appropriate Declaration has been made which ensures that Ross Gentry has had no involvement in any internal discussions relating to the proposed development or the officer recommendation and has no managerial responsibility for any of the officers involved in the assessment of the application.’
When I referred this at the online meeting Heather Cheesborough explained that the potential of conflicts of interest is taken very seriously and measures taken where they might exist. I stressed the importance of the Council ensuring that in the interests of its reputation in planning it needed to make this clear.
In my letter I asked:
- When did Ross Gentry declare his potential conflict of interest in relation to Macar Developments?
- Is there a public register of actual and potential Council staff conflicts of interest?
- Who is responsible for administering the register?
- How is it monitored to ensure that staffs are not involved in dealing with matters in which there is a conflict?
I await the reply from the Chair and Vice-Chair of Planning.
Inside Croydon has now reported on the Wednesday meeting concerns.
P.S. Macar Developments has been busy with applications for 67 Higher Drive, 24 Coulsdon Court Rd, 40 Woodside Grove Rd, 32 Woodcrest Rd, 1 South Drive, 2 Northwood Rd (rear of 5 Higher Drive and 119 Purley Oaks Rd.