Ilford college buildings proposal rejected to protect disabled parking spaces

Plans to build on the car park of a college in Ilford have been rejected after accusations it would discriminate against disabled students.

Redbridge Council’s planning committee met on Thursday November 19 to discuss a proposal to build two blocks, eight and five storeys tall, at Mont Rose College in Eastern Avenue, Ilford.

The buildings would have provided commercial space and 15 homes. The current 26 parking spaces for students would have been replaced with two disabled on-street spaces.

The college’s student union previously pleaded with councillors to consider the needs of 75 disabled people currently enrolled, 15 of whom have serious mobility issues.

Five councillors – three Labour and two Conservative – voted to reject the plans. The committee’s chairman and vice-chairman, both Labour, voted for it while three other Labour councillors abstained.

Cllr Ayodhiya Parkash (Lab, Mayfield), among those to vote against, said: “Parking for disabled students is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

“To deny even one (disabled student a space) is not right, we are compromising too much.”

Cllr Gurdial Bhamra (Lab, Clayhall), who abstained, agreed the plans would “create serious parking problems”, adding that disabled students would “suffer”.

The council’s head of planning and building control, Brett Leahy, repeatedly warned councillors the decision to reject the application would be “challenging” to defend if the developer appealed.

Regarding concerns reducing disabled parking would break anti-discrimination laws, he said this was not a “worthwhile reason” to reject as officers “would never be in breach of legislation”.

However, Cllr Paul Canal (Con, Bridge) insisted that, though officers would not try to break the law, assessing the effect on marginalised groups was “sometimes a matter of judgement”.

He said: “I do not think it’s unreasonable for us to take the view that the impact on BAME and disabled students was not taken into account.

“I think that to grant this application as it stands would threaten the college and I’m not prepared to be quiet on this.”

The applicant Alun Evans argued “accessibility for disabled students [would] be materially improved” if the scheme was approved and noted the college itself had not objected.

He explained: “There is no step-free access at the rear of the building as it stands and this proposal seeks to rectify that with the inclusion of the lift.

“Redbridge Council voted to declare a climate emergency in July 2019 and one of the aims is specifically to reduce car usage and parking.”

However, Cllr Bhamra argued it was unsurprising the college had not objected to the development, as they are the developer’s clients and pay rent to them.

Councillors were also informed that planning permission for the college, granted in 2009, was granted on the condition it would not “hinder the ability for redevelopment” on the site.

Redbridge Council is expected to fail the Housing Delivery Test later this month, after delivering only around two thirds of the housing expected in the borough.

Once this is confirmed, the council will lose some of its powers to refuse future planning applications for housing.

The councillors who voted against were Cllr Canal, Cllr Parkash, Cllr Hannah Chaudhry (Lab, Chadwell), Cllr Vanisha Solanki (Lab, Fullwell) and Cllr Michael Duffell (Con, South Woodford).

Committee chair Cllr Jyotsna Islam (Lab, Aldborough) and vice-chair Cllr Paul Merry (Lab, Wanstead Park) voted for.

Cllr Bhamra, Cllr Shamshia Ali and Cllr Varinder Singh Bola (both Lab, Cranbrook) abstained.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter