In the last few weeks of the local elections, in 2022, the Havering Resident’s Association (HRA) put an ‘emergency communication’ through people’s letterboxes. It claimed that they had secured a leaked document showing plans by ‘the tories’ to sell of Havering’s assets in order to fund election promises.
Promises such as repairing local roads, keeping weekly bin collections, and extending free school meals.
If one was to read the literature, one could be forgiven for thinking that the HRA were against this plan and would stop it if in power.
Oh, how we’d be mistaken for thinking that.
In fact, it turns out that last administration never voted on the proposal. It was developed by council Officers and sent to the Conservatives as a proposed way to balance the books. It never got sign off.
Until now. Until Ray Morgon and his HRA party.
Car Parks for Sale
Part of the recent ‘asset disposal plan’, in the HRA’s budget, is the sale of 3 major car parks in Romford. Angel Way, Como Street, and Slaney Way. This is around 700 parking spaces, 50 of which are disabled.
The sale doesn’t mean that they will stop being car parks but, there are a lot of questions around their future and I’m concerned about how things have played out so far.
It looks like Havering Council will be selling them to Mercury Land Holdings (MLH). For those of you who don’t know, MLH is a property developer which is 75% owned by Havering Council. They are financed by taking loans from the council, and then selling or renting the homes they build.
One can only presume that, in selling the car parks to MLH, the HRA are fully expecting them to become built on.
The sale of the car parks should be a matter for public consultation. Apparently, it has been.
From what I’ve uncovered, the consultation was conducted very quietly. All that was, legally, required was a note in the Romford Recorder. These often consist of a note on page 50 of the Romford Recorder.
No letters were sent to residents. None to local business. Even I, as the ward councillor, wasn’t made aware of the consultation. I’d hardly call that ‘engaging with residents in a transparent manner’.
Still, the HRA & Labour Cabinet haven’t yet voted to sell the car parks. That’s coming in a few weeks, so what’s my problem with the process?
‘Material Planning Considerations’, ever heard of these?
When sitting on a planning committee, one often has a tough choice to make. Developers could be proposing a massively unpopular development, that residents are up in arms about. But, as a voting member, one has to be impartial and not having already made one’s mind up.
This means that, even if I get an inbox of 1000 angry residents, I may have to vote in favour of the development. Because of ‘material planning considerations’.
If voting against something, Councillors have to give a reason. This is because the developer can go to the government to get things overturned. The government will want to know why the proposal was objected to and they want to know that Councillors were unbiased. No bribes to block or approve, etc.
Objections that are considered valid are only certain things. Loss of light, density, drainage issues, impact on the environment etc. These are ‘material’ objections.
What can’t be taken into consideration is the strength of local opposition, loss of trade, loss of property values and so on. You can view an example of what is or isn’t an acceptable objection on Charnwood Borough Council’s website. Material and non-material considerations - Charnwood Borough Council
It’s too late
We’ve seen the HRA’s attitude towards planning, with Ray Morgon’s comments to me about the Data Centre. In short, I’m told that I’ll get a chance to object at the planning stage.
This translates as “we’ll only listen to ‘material objections’. It doesn’t matter if every single Havering resident is against the proposals. If the HRA decide to take an application to planning then all the noise is for nothing.
Should the Cabinet, stuffed with HRA Councillors and Labour supporters on their payroll, decide to sell the car parks to MLH then it is too late. We will only be able to object through the planning process.
Would the sale of the car parks be deeply unpopular? Doesn’t matter, that’s immaterial.
Will it cause a loss of trade to the Brookside Theatre, as people lose somewhere to park? Immaterial.
At least, that’s the way I interpret it.
Re-run the consultation
I’ve not yet met a resident who is keen for the car parks to go. I’ve met plenty who are worried about it and the impact it’ll have on the town centre.
As a councillor for Romford Town Centre, I’m asking the HRA and Labour to re-run the consultation and to speak to residents properly. I want to see them out and about, listening to people’s fears about overdevelopment and meeting the small businesses who are afraid they’ll struggle.
In fact, I’d be more than happy to introduce our HRA and Labour leaders to such residents. This issue is above politics, it’s about the future of Romford.
I’ve also written to the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Board, asking that we be given more information and a report. I’ve got questions.
Where MLH the only ‘bidders’?
Are we getting a ‘fair deal’?
If MLH keep the car parks as car parks, who will get the income from it? Does the council lose out?
Will MLH do a better job at maintaining them?
Can we put conditions on the sale, so that any future development has to provide public parking spaces?
I wait to see what the reply will be.
I fear the decision has already been made. The Leader, Ray Morgon, has a glimmer in his eye as he spoke about the data centre being a ‘treasure island’. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had already decided to plunder Romford for yet more money, in order to fund his election promises.
Sign my petition, calling on the council to re-run the consultation.