Planning to fail


Over the last 10 years, Redbridge Council has increasingly excluded residents from the planning process, argues Paul Canal, who laments the decision to approve the Snaresbrook Station car park development

We used to have up to 50 meetings a year attended by local people. The abolition of the Area Planning Committees, which met up to 33 times a year, was followed by the removal of residents’ – or indeed councillors’ – rights to call in applications for public discussion. For an astounding 10 months, we didn’t have a single public planning meeting – and that was not as a result of covid!

In their place, behind closed doors, a planning chair sits with an officer and they alone decide what should and should not be discussed in public. There is no right of appeal. Every other decision is made by an officer, unchallenged and unchallengeable. It appears as though the views of the public are neither sought nor considered important. Yet, even where we have the rare meeting, the odds are stacked against residents. Developers have (and pay handsomely for) access to officers for several years to discuss and refine their plans. Residents get barely five weeks’ notice and only two minutes to advance their views, and that is if a meeting is held at all! Petitions signed by hundreds are counted as only one objection – a democratic outrage. The committee then invariably waves the application through, albeit with the occasional crocodile tears and expression of “regret”.

Which is how we now have the Snaresbrook monstrosity, an overbearing building plonked in a car park. Whilst the borough is crying out for family homes, Redbridge Council have not only approved the 70-plus one-bedroom flats, but flats up to 30% smaller than planning standards normally allow. Simply astonishing, but ideal if you are a slim Hobbit.

The local plan, a statutory document, determines land use. If a former car park is quietly reallocated as development land, the die is cast. There are no legal grounds to object. All you can do is mitigate the impact by working to have a development acceptable to the community. Except, in reality, the community have no say. We get to the party when all the food has been eaten and the music has stopped. In our two minutes, we can appeal and implore and they can ignore. Which they invariably do.

I recognise we need more homes and I am not against the building of homes on car parks by stations per se, (though I note that no thought or provision has been given to those who drive to the station, car drivers being as popular as Ebola in Redbridge). I am, though, viscerally opposed to this lumpen carbuncle with the grace of a tub of lard and the profile of a battleship. It is simply too tall, flies in the face of planning guidelines regarding scale and mass, and should never have got to planning, let alone be passed. And it is the neighbouring residents who will suffer the most. I am genuinely sorry for them. They have not just been failed, they have been royally shafted.

Paul Canal is a Wanstead resident and Conservative councillor for Bridge ward.