Redbridge Council goes a whole year without making planning decisions in public

Redbridge Council has gone almost an entire year making all its planning decisions in private.

The council’s planning committee is scheduled to meet monthly, but since last October, ten of the twelve meetings were cancelled and two that did go ahead did not consider any applications.

Planning applications appear before councillors on the committee if they are “large, complex or controversial”, according to the council’s website, while less significant applications are decided by council officers.

When asked about the absence of planning committee decisions, a council spokesperson suggested the local elections in May meant developers had avoided submitting plans that might be controversial.

Neighbouring boroughs Waltham Forest and Havering both held planning meetings for large applications in the months before and after the May elections.

Cllr Paul Canal

Conservative group leader Paul Canal alleges the Labour-run council has been artificially cancelling public planning meetings “to deny scrutiny”, pointing to controversial applications decided in this period.

He said: “The council has obligations under planning act to perform functions in an open and transparent way… you can’t just decide to cut public out meetings. 

“The real reason behind Labour’s decision to cancel the planning meeting was to protect their members from scrutiny.”

He added that the lack of public meetings was “an abuse of process” and showed “contempt for residents who took the time to comment on applications”.

Cllr Canal said a recent example of the council’s “arrogance” was approving a shipping container Kiosk Café on Christchurch Green, Wanstead, without a public meeting despite more than one hundred residents writing to object.

Despite public uproar, planning committee chair Jyotsana Islam and head of planning Brett Leahy refused to allow the decision to be made in a public meeting and issued a written decision in February.

Two months later, the council changed its planning website so the public could no longer see comments residents had made about applications.

At the time it claimed this was due to the need to protect people’s personal data and denied there was any link to the controversy around the Wanstead café application.

Until 2014, smaller applications were dealt with by the council’s three area committees, but these were scrapped by council leader Jas Athwal, who argued councillors were “not qualified” to make planning decisions.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter