ONE of the longest running planning battles in Croydon Council history came to a head at last week's planning committee. The 12-year fight between the owner of South Norwood's Autoclutch car repair garage, Richard Hough, and the developer wanting to build on his land took on an overtly political feel at the Town Hall last Thursday (July 11). Conservative members all backed Mr Hough, who stood for the party in 2010, whereas Labour members, who form the committee majority, all voted in favour of varying the final condition blocking developer Greathall's plan to build flats and retails unit at Railway Buildings, in Station Road. Committee chair Councillor Paul Scott asked those speaking and comments from the committee members to be solely based on the planning issue at stake – whether the developer could submit his contamination report after or before he started work on the site. Greathall started demolition work in June before all of its planning conditions had been discharged or varied, after receiving help from the council. Derek Bunning, speaking against the application for the North Croydon Conservation Area Advisory Panel, said: "The council should not be party to this kind of transparent manipulation of planning law." And Steve O'Connell, Greater London Assembly member for Croydon and Sutton, accused the developer of "driving a coach and horses through the planning process". He added: "This somewhat unscrupulous developer has demolished without consent." Cllr Scott, backed by council officers' recommendation for approval, said he was confident there was no reason to object to the application. Jason Perry, shadow cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, accused Labour members of changing their minds after Mr Hough stood as a Conservative in 2010. He said the whole planning committee, including Labour councillors, had voted unanimously against the development before the 2010 election. Greathall was only given permission for the development after the Planning Inspectorate overturned the Conservative-run council's decision to refuse planning permission in 2011 – a decision Labour fought. Councillor Humayun Kabir, vice-chairman of the committee, said: "This needs to come to an end. This site will look good [in the future]. It is an eyesore." Mr Hough has been trying to stay on the land he has run his business from for more 20 years since 2002. Mr Hough has been ordered by a Croydon County Court judge to leave the premises by the end of August. He has applied to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal against this ruling. James Groux, of Greathall, has said he wants the development to be complete by the end of 2015.
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