Panning Planning

The Victorian house on Sylvan Road, WansteadThe Victorian house on Sylvan Road, Wanstead

There is public concern that recent planning decisions and Redbridge Council’s approach to planning do not respect the special character of Wanstead, says Crispin Acton of the Redbridge Liberal Democrats

Permission for the demolition of a Victorian house on Sylvan Road and its replacement with a much bigger block of flats and approval for the construction of a café kiosk on Christchurch Green are two examples of the cause for concern. The former was decided by Redbridge Council’s Planning Committee in March, despite more than 200 objections. The latter was decided by one councillor at the end of August, despite 192 objections.

And a recent reply to a Freedom of Information request to Redbridge Council shows that only two enforcement actions have been taken in seven years in the Wanstead Village Conservation Area.

Most residents we have spoken with do not wish to oppose any and every development outright. For example, residents of Sylvan Road asked for changes, such as reductions in height, but, frustratingly, had no response.

It is unfortunate that Redbridge Council does not engage with residents on planning applications, other than the minimal consultation required by statute. In our view, this makes the process unbalanced, since there are extensive discussions with developers. It gives the impression that planners see their role as facilitating a development rather than giving a fair hearing to the concerns of residents – many of which will be ‘material considerations’ in planning law. There is, surely, an onus on Redbridge Council to go ‘the extra mile’ to involve residents and to follow democratic process, especially where it is, in effect, approving a planning application from itself. Vision, which put forward the refreshment kiosk on Christchurch Green, is an arm of the council.

We are deeply concerned for the future. The government tightened the Housing Delivery Test in 2020, making local development plans invalid where an authority delivered less than 75% of the target over three years – it was 45% in 2019. We think this manipulation of the National Planning Policy Framework is wrong, implying the pandemic had no impact on the achievement of the targets. We believe this should be challenged by Redbridge Council and not simply accepted.

We also think it wrong to suggest planning committees are now required to wave through any and every development. In our view, they still need to exercise judgement and to consider objections seriously where these are ‘material considerations’. There is certainly no reason why the council should not take the trouble to engage more with residents, as the best councils do. This can help to achieve a solution that meets the needs of the local community and the developer. Insensitive developments should not be imposed on residents in ways that detract from the special character of Wanstead.

Crispin Acton is secretary of the Redbridge Liberal Democrats. Visit wnstd.com/rld