Development Control last night
As expected the DC committee granted planning permission to build both a seven practice ‘polyclinic’ and a school for 461 pupils and staff on the Surbiton Hospital site last night. The votes were 5 in favour, all Lib Dems, and 4 against, all Conservatives.
The proceedings took a full 2 1/2 hours and, as well as the lengthy reports which were received, it was still thought necessary to submit quantities of ‘late material’, including the opinion of Transport for London that the intensive development envisaged would not create congestion in the area! At least, that was what we were told they said, though one of the glories of late material is that neither members nor objectors get to see it and examine it before the meeting starts. I can’t believe that TfL took until yesterday to deliver an opinion on an issue so well flagged up in advance or as important as this one. But followers of this saga will be aware already of the manipulations and distortions of facts and figures which have bedevilled this whole process from the beginning in 2009.
I won’t rehearse all the arguments put forward but I will observe with Cllr. David Cunningham that a proposal such as this, demolishing buildings of townscape merit, despoiling a conservation area, felling 43 trees and risking the creation of gridlock in the area on a daily basis would not have been likely to win approval if put forward by a developer. The arguments put forward by supporters, which included the planning officers (I speak as I heard from the public gallery) failed to address any of the objections in a convincing way and, as at last week’s Scrutiny, relied heavily on ‘confidence’ and ‘belief’ that it would be ‘all right on the night’ as their basis for this major and irreversible decision.
There was little controversy about the health facility aspect of the application – but there never has been. The whole object of the exercise, since we managed to stop KPCT closing down the site in 2005, has been to preserve it for health care in Surbiton. But, before the Lib Dems accuse the Tories of voting against the new health centre, it should be understood that the Council and the NHS linked the two buildings in one application so members could not support one without supporting the other – a proceeding which smacks of subterfuge and one which I was assured as long ago as the summer of 2009 would not be adopted.
In general Cllr. Vicki Harris chaired the proceedings well but spoilt the effect by taking 12 minutes at the end, not to sum up the arguments on both sides, but to make yet another series of assertions in support of the school. She even went so far as to suggest that a playground on the roof was a good thing and that children she knows were asking ‘can we have one too?’ Let us hope that they never get to work out in practice how you get children from a rooftop playground in the event of a fire underneath them.
Cllr. Umesh Parekh had a lot to say, which struck me as odd, considering that he (a) appears in sundry Lib Dem publications promoting the school plus health centre concept and (b) failed to absent himself from the room during the discussion on the application at Surbiton Neighbourhood (whereas Cllr. Frances Moseley, to her credit, did!). This puts a novel interpretation on the words ‘prejudicial interest’ – but perhaps things have changed so much in the last 10 months that I am now sadly out of date!
Cllr. Barry O’Mahony relieved himself of some rather dyspeptic comments on the extent to which Residents’ Associations represent residents. His target appeared to have been the Southborough Residents Association, where he lives, and which he says doesn’t represent him. I believe it has about 300 members in all.
Where do we go from here? Time will tell