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Bonkers Blog June 2011

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22 June - Planning for office - but it all came to nought

Wyncham HouseEver since I attended a planning committee meeting nearly two months ago I felt that planning was deserving of a closer look, but where to start? There are so many applications and most will be deadly dull but one involving councillor Davey eventually caught my eye so I called in at Wyncham House to see if I could look at the file. The staff there could not have been more helpful.

The case involved an empty shop in Nuxley Road, Belvedere which Bexley Conservatives wanted to turn into an office and HQ for the May 2010 election. Councillor Davey put his name to the planning application in late January 2010 (date stamped 21st) requesting permission for the temporary change of use. Isn’t that rather late in the day to get through the lengthy planning procedures and install phones, broadband etc? The plan involved repainting the place too

The council officers did their job and as a result 40 people put their signatures to a petition objecting to Davey’s plan and half a dozen wrote long letters expressing disquiet at Bexley Tories trying to get planning permission for a change of use very similar to several which had been turned down. Suitable examples were given including action by enforcement officers to ensure compliance where applicants had previously strayed. All this was rather odd because councillor Davey had claimed to have already consulted his would-be neighbours. They must have changed their minds

It was notable that all the objectors were asking why planning permission was being requested after the changes had been implemented and everyone claimed to have seen the evidence. Election literature being ferried in etc. If that had been proved it would be a clear breach of planning regulations but there was no evidence that any council officer followed things up with the landlord or those objectors; too hot a potato I suppose.

The Belvedere Community Forum took a lead role in objecting to the apparent ‘one rule for them, another for us’ and produced more evidence that the premises were indeed already in use as the Tories’ office when their planning application said something different. Messages from the Erith & Thamesmead parliamentary candidate Colin Bloom spoke of meeting there. Who was telling the truth; the Community Forum and the various letter writers or councillor Davey? I have no idea.

Within the papers was a letter dated 1st December 2009 from councillor Davey to the landlord seeking his permission to change usage from shop to political office. That would be rather better timing than late January for a May election but in other respects I found it rather odd. It was in pristine condition and didn’t look as though it had been sent anywhere. It appeared to have been tacked on to the planning application after its initial submission. Without a reply from the landlord I fail to see how it helped the planning application. It merely served to reinforce the various claims by witnesses to have seen the shop in use as an office long before the application was submitted.

If this was an attempt at a retrospective application in the expectation that a councillor would be able to get permission for a change of use which would ordinarily be rejected, then it failed. The wheels of officialdom moved too slowly and eventually councillor Davey realised that he had run out of time and exactly six weeks before the election he accepted he was never going to get an office ready in time and abandoned the idea.

I think I shall look at some more planning applications to see what else might not quite stack up.

 

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