"Protect our green, pleasant, suburban character"

At Sutton Council’s “Bonfire night” meeting on 5 November, Richard moved a motion criticising the Government proposals annnounced on 5 September to weaken planning law. The Council agreed a motion directed to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government calling for a re-think. The motion criticised the proposed extension of permitted development rights and the envisaged interference of the Planning Inspectorate in local decisions on planning applications, affordable housing and section 106 contributions.

Here is the full text of Richard’s Speech:

“It is right that the London Borough of Sutton, which has been at the intellectual vanguard of so many policies in local Government, should be at the forefront in leading a campaign against the proposals of the Government to weaken planning law.

The motion is a balanced motion in that we are complimenting the Government on aspects of the announcement made on 6 September that we support, but we are making clear what we oppose.

We support proposals concerning the funding of new affordable housing, the refurbishment of empty homes, support for the FirstBuy shared equity scheme and support for housing associations.

But we are critical of the extension of permitted development rights, and the envisaged interference of the Planning Inspectorate in local decisions on planning applications, affordable housing and section 106 contributions.

What we are saying tonight is entirely consistent with our actions and our words on planning issues.

It is consistent with our words in that we had an excellent debate on planning policy at the Council meeting on 17 October last year. I remember speaking in that debate and noting what we have achieved in Sutton in adopting and refining a planning policy that has secured the green, pleasant, suburban character of Sutton that we all treasure. But we noted in that debate threats and concerns that arose from national policy. We welcomed many aspects of the National Planning Policy Framework but saw four difficulties with the planning system that should be addressed – and for each of these I could cite specific examples in Sutton South Ward:

1. that what is permitted development is already quite permissive and is leading to people building large and intrusive structures that should be brought within planning controls

2. that the planning system is slow moving in dealing with developers who are recalcitrant and play the system

3. the decisions of the Planning Inspectorate are sometimes inconsistent and unhelpful

4. the Courts do not always seem to take breaches of planning law seriously.

These problems remain but, sadly, the Government has not taken our advice set out in the motion we passed. Indeed, it has moved in an opposite direction in what is now proposed.

What is proposed seems to abandon the National Planning Policy Framework, does not address any of the problems that concerned us, and loosens further permitted development law.

I do not believe for one second that the relaxation of requirements to seek planning permission for extensions to domestic properties is going to unleash an avalanche of building work, thus creating jobs. To the extent that this happens, it follows that this will be through the erection of buildings that would not be permitted under current arrangements. So this is a recipe for neighbourhood disputes and the erection of ugly buildings that society does not want, and that we certainly do not want in Sutton.   

I also particularly object to the way the package deals with affordable housing and section 106 contributions. Like most of you, I find that quite a lot of my casework as a Councillor involves families that are living in poor circumstances, often because they cannot find and afford accommodation that fits their needs. We desperately need more affordable housing. There are already “get out” clauses for developers who present financial analyses seemingly proving their development is unviable if they have to provide affordable housing. I am deeply suspicious of those processes and now there are to be further “get out” routes involving the Planning Inspectorate.

What we say in this motion is also consistent with our actions. We have adopted stringent controls on development to ensure it meets the local needs of Sutton, particularly on the development of major sites and on back garden development. We do not want these interfered with by remote bodies in Whitehall and Bristol.

We have worked hard to control development in Sutton in a way that meets what local people want. And so much flows from the way the character of the area is preserved by our planning policies, making it an attractive environment for businesses and families. I never tire of telling people of the virtues of Sutton – low crime, good schools, attractive leafy streets, good transport connections, voted the best place in London to bring up children, a local economy that is surviving the recession well. All these things, to my mind, hinge crucially on having an attractive local environment and street scene.

I hope these proposals will be re-thought.

I strongly believe, in the words of the motion, that it is local people, through democratically elected local authorities, who are the best judges of what development is acceptable in an area.

I commend this motion to Council.”


54 Overton Road


Sutton Council rejected the application to develop 54 – 58 Overton Road and the developer has now lodged an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate, a remote body in Bristol that has been the main cause of inappropriate development in our Ward, overturning sensible local decisions taken by our Council. 

We have already put in our submission to the Inspectorate, in what is a purely written procedure. The full text can be found at the end of this post.

To put in your submission email it to teamp2@pins.gsi.gov.uk for the attention of Peter Lyne, Case Officer, quoting Planning Inspectorate reference  APP/P5870/A/12/2184339/NWF.

We object to the proposal on the grounds that it is overdevelopment of the site, with 50 dwellings crammed in. It is the type of low-quality accommodation that we continue to oppose in our Ward, where there are instances of the Planning Inspectorate overturning local decisions and allowing substantial family houses to be demolished to make way for blocks of small flats without gardens. There are current examples in Eaton Road and Albion Road, sites where building work is currently underway, the proposals rejected by Sutton Council but allowed by the Planning Inspectorate. Half the children in our Ward live in accommodation without access to a garden. There is a shortage of affordable family homes.

In addition, the provision for car parking (33 car parking spaces for 50 dwellings) is inadequate and will lead to great pressure on parking, with additional demand for parking in the area.

Our reasons are, unsurprisingly, almost identical with the reasons given by the Council for rejecting the application.

Our submission objecting to the proposal was included in the papers that went to the Council’s Development Control Committee on 5 September, and Richard attended the Committee meeting, though he was not called to be a member of the panel of Councillors reaching a decision that evening.


For the attention of Peter Lyne, Case Officer
Postal Address:
Peter Lyne
The Planning Inspectorate
3/10 Wing
Temple Quay House
2 The Square
Appeal relating to 54 – 58 Overton Road, Sutton, Surrey, SM2 6RB
London Borough of Sutton Reference B2012/66079/FUL
Planning Inspectorate reference  APP/P5870/A/12/2184339/NWF
We understand this appeal is being determined by written procedure.
We would like to comment on this appeal, and ask that our comments are considered by the Inspector.
We are elected Councillors for Sutton South Ward in the London Borough of Sutton. 
Although the development is not in Sutton South Ward, it is very close to the Ward. The Ward boundary runs down Overton Road in front of the property. Our residents are among those affected by the proposal and objecting to it.
We object to the proposal on the grounds, first, that it is overdevelopment of the site, with 50 dwellings crammed in. It is the type of low-quality accommodation that we continue to oppose in our own Ward, where there are many instances of substantial family houses being demolished to make way for blocks of small flats without gardens. Half the children at the one primary school in our Ward live in accommodation without access to a garden. There are a lot of small flats but a shortage of affordable family homes. Couples who live in the flats in the Ward often find that when they have children, and the flat is too small, they cannot find a home they can afford in the area so have to move away.
Second, the provision for car parking (33 car parking spaces for 50 dwellings) is inadequate and will lead to great pressure on parking, with additional demand for parking in an area that is already fully parked up much of the time.
Our reasons are almost identical with the reasons given by the Council for rejecting the application.
We note that there is to be a site visit. We would like to be advised of the date and given opportunity to attend.
We would like to be informed of the outcome of the appeal when it is determined. We would be grateful if you could advise us of your likely timetable for reaching a decision.
We would be grateful if you could acknowledge this submission and confirm that having sent it by email we do not also need to send it in writing.
Councillor Richard Clifton
  55 The Ridgway. Sutton. Surrey. SM2 5JX
Councillor Heather Honour
  29 The Ridgway. Sutton. Surrey. SM2 5JX
  Councillors for Sutton South Ward


Richard and Heather have helped the residents of Cavendish Road to win another important battle in their bid to control speeding in their road.

And we have succeeded in extending the proposed speeding survey in Cavendish Road to cover a wider area of our south Sutton ward.

The petition on speeding in Cavendish Road, which Richard and Heather presented to Sutton Council on behalf of the residents in July, was discussed at the South Sutton, Cheam and Belmont Local Committee on 11 October.

In the discussion, Richard drew attention to a speeding survey conducted in the road in 2008 which showed that even then traffic was exceeding the speed limit, on average, by a factor of over 50%. But the same survey showed problems in other local roads.

The committee agreed to a survey of the area by traffic engineers, charged with finding out the facts and coming back to the committee by next February with costed proposals for dealing with the problem.

We persuaded the committee to extend the survey to a wider area. The roads to be surveyed now are:

Cavendish Road

Christchurch Park

Cedar Road

Cumnor Road

Devonshire Road

Devonshire Avenue

Egmont Road

The committee noted that any recommendations could cost money and decisions would be needed on priorities for spending.

Richard said “This is a good result. I am pleased we are going to undertake a full survey and get the traffic engineers to look at a range of solutions.”

Heather added “I am pleased we are going to look at a wider area. Residents in Cumnor Road and Christchurch Park have also complained to us as ward Councillors about the speed of traffic in their roads.”

The petition was signed by 77 residents of Cavendish Road calling for action on the speed of traffic in their road, where a number of blocks of sheltered housing for the elderly are situated. It was presented to Sutton Council at the request of the residents by Councillors Honour and Clifton on 16 July, and referred to the local committee.

The photo above shows the Cavendish Road residents at the meeting flanked by Richard on the left and Heather on the right.


We must preserve our green and pleasant Borough

As Vice-Chair of the Council’s Housing, Economy and Business Committee, which deals with policy on planning, Richard has joined other Council colleagues in warning that the Government’s proposed planning changes are a recipe for disaster

Sutton Council has joined its south London neighbour Richmond in slamming proposals to relax planning laws for a three-year period. The Borough dubbed the plans a ‘recipe for disaster’ which will split communities, hit house prices and do nothing to encourage economic growth.

It is understood that next week’s Lib Dem Conference in Brighton will call on the Coalition to reject the proposal, arguing that current planning laws do not block development. It will also argue that the proposal goes against the spirit of localism and it will encourage more neighbourhood disputes.

Richard says “The motion we adopted at our Council meeting last October, on which I spoke, went in a different direction. I believe current planning law is quite reasoanable in requiring that a proposed extension is examined to see if it will harm neighbours or the envirnoment. I would like to see plannng law strengthened not weakened.”

Councillor Ruth Dombey, Leader of Sutton Council, said: “These proposals are a recipe for disaster. They have not been properly thought through.”

The proposal came from Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, earlier this month. He issued a nine-point plan entitled ‘Housing and Growth’ in which he announced a relaxation of planning rules for the construction industry and owners of homes and businesses in England. So far the proposals are not law and there is no White Paper. In the absence of such laws Sutton Council is warning businesses and homeowners to think twice before building an extension without checking if planning permission is required.

If the proposals did become law, owners of mid-terrace homes could find their rear windows flanked by six metre extensions on both sides, plunging them into darkness for most of the day – and they would have no opportunity to object. Developers could be allowed to bypass council planning controls to “fast-track” commercial and housing applications. Offices would be permitted to convert to residential use all without planning permission, irrespective of this impact they will have on a neighbourhood.

Cllr Dombey added: “If this is allowed to happen it will set neighbour against neighbour and split communities for years to come. On top of the resentment and loss of quality of life, some people’s houses will also plummet in value if they’ve got no light or a noisy factory is within a few metres of their front door.”

The Chair of the Housing, Economy and Business Committee, Councillor Jayne McCoy, said “There is no evidence that this will do anything to promote economic growth and I strongly advise that anyone considering a project seeks advice, otherwise it could prove very costly.”


Mayfield Road

The Council strenuously fought an appeal relating to an extension at a property in Mayfield Road, in Sutton South Ward (St Jude’s nursing home), and sought an award of costs due to the unreasonable behaviour of the applicant. The Council has won on both counts. 

There is a history of planning difficulties with this site, with three different extensions being the subject, at different times, of appeals to the Planning Inspectorate against Council decisions. 

This application sought the retention of an outhouse built in a garden at the north end of the site, without planning permission, which had already been the subject of earlier appeals that had been lost. 

Unusually, not only did the Planning Inspector dismiss the appeal but made an award of costs. He points out in his judgement that arrangements were made for visits to the site as part of the process of determining the appeal but the applicant did not turn up. He says in the judgement: 

“For these reasons, I therefore find that unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary or wasted expense, as described in Circular 03/2009, has been demonstrated and that a full award of Costs is justified.”

Richard has attended previous appeal hearings relating to this property. He says “I am not surprised at the view the Inspector took. This appeal was never likely to succeed. I have tried to assist in sorting out the planning problems the applicant faces by arranging meetings between him and local residents. I hope he will now take the necessary action to resolve the remaining planning issues.” 

The Inspector says “The proposal would cause harm to the living conditions of the residents of the adjoining property by reason of its overbearing nature contrary to DPD Policy DM2 and the Framework, which aims to protect amenity by ensuring no adverse affect (sic) on the amenities of the occupiers of adjoining properties.” The Inspector also makes reference to the importance of the Area of Special Local Character.



The Devonshire Avenue Nature Area could be an element in a Neighbourhood Plan

Richard made an important speech at the meeting of the Housing, Economy and Business Committee, of which he is vice-chair, on 18 September, setting out his views on the subject of Neighbourhood Plans. Several organisations in the Ward have indicated an interest in preparing a Neighbourhood Plan, but none has made a specific proposal so far.

Richard said “I am an enthusiast for Neighbourhood Plans as any process that brings the community together to discuss such plans for their locality is an integrating process promoting social cohesion, which I applaud. But I think such plans should be ambitious in their scope rather than looking narrowly at the design of buildings. The impetus for such plans must come from the community, so the role of the Council should be largely advisory (in particular advising on the definition of a neighbourhood, how to ensure a neighbourhood forum is representative and how bodies can ensure draft plans are consistent with broader planning strategy), and undertaking certain statutory functions (arranging independent review of any plan and a referendum on the plan).

The Council should give a basic level of support to all bodies preparing plans – including signposting to sources of advice and application arrangements – and additional support for the process in areas where there is more scope for development, where plans will help meet other Council objectives such as tackling social isolation and social exclusion, and where there is deprivation.

Neighbourhood plans could be an important step to promoting social cohesion, motivating the local community, spreading good practice on tackling loneliness and tackling social isolation, by community action. This has happened in Hackbridge, with their plan, and is happening in the village in Oxfordshire where my brother is leading the development of the village Neighbourhood Plan.”


We have actively campaigned against the planning application for 54-58 Overton Road and were delighted when the Development Control Committee, after considering a paper in which our objections were recorded, threw it out, on Wednesday 5 September.

Although the development is not in Sutton South Ward it is right next to the Ward, as the Ward boundary runs down the middle of Overton Road. Our residents are among those affected by and objecting to this proposal.

We objected to the proposal on the grounds that it is overdevelopment of the site, with 50 dwellings crammed in. It is the type of low-quality accommodation that we continue to oppose in Sutton South Ward, where so many houses have been demolished to give way to flats. There is as a result a shortage of larger family homes and many children grow up in a flat with no garden. In addition, as many objectors pointed out, the provision for car parking (33 car parking spaces for 50 dwellings) was inadequate and will lead to great pressure on parking, with additional demand for parking in an area that is already fully parked up much of the time.

We will continue to oppose this type of development. We oppose the demolition of family homes to make way for blocks of small flats as it is leading to an imbalance of housing in the Ward. Unfortunately the developer can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and in both Albion Road and Eaton Road (the site pictured above) there are current examples of houses demolished after the Council rejected the application but the Planning Inspectorate granted it. We cannot control that aspect of the process but will continue our campaign to protect the quality of housing, and life, in Sutton South.


We were recently approached by residents in Worcester Road concerning the licence application to re-open the former “Academy” public house in Grove Road as a nightclub. They were concerned at a likely impact on late night noise problems in the area.

Following discussions with residents, Richard submitted representations on the prevention of public nuisance to Sutton’s Licensing Committee, and spoke at the public hearing held on 28 March.

He pointed out that it would be a matter of concern for premises so close to many residential properties to be offering music, dancing, films and sale of alcohol (for consumption on and off the premises) until 4.30am, seven nights a week, and then – after a break of just a few hours – starting again at 9.00am.  The application, if approved, would lead to an unacceptable degree of public nuisance, particularly due to noise from people coming away from the premises into neighbouring streets in the early hours of the morning.

Although the premises are not in Sutton South Ward, some of the people coming away from the club in the early hours would walk through our Ward. Concerns had been raised by the police about disturbance and noise late at night, drunken people walking home, alcohol-related brawls and anti-social behaviour. The application should be refused. 

We are pleased say that the application was refused, the Committee citing in particular problems with noise, community impact and alcohol-related crime.


Sutton Council’s planning policies mean gardens are safer in green and leafy Sutton.


Gardens are safer in Sutton as the Borough’s green policies have blocked “garden grabbing” for development to a greater extent  than anywhere else in London.

In 2006, 91 planning applications to build new residential units on back gardens got through in the Borough, but in 2010/11 only 23 were allowed.

The fall of 68 is by far the biggest across the capital and is the result of the authority’s policy of restricting back garden development, which was toughened up even more in the Borough’s recently-approved Site Development Policies document.

Richard says “As I have said in a number of speeches seeting out my views on planning at meetings of the Council, we are succeeding in maintaining the green, suburban feel of Sutton, and protecting our precious green spaces.”

The recent tightening of policy will make it even more difficult for would-be developers to build on back gardens in Sutton.

The Council toughened its opposition to back garden development in 2009 when its Core Planning Strategy insisted that any development must respect local context and distinctive local character.

And in March this year the Site Development Policies document made permission even more difficult to obtain with a series of rules to resist garden builders.

The policy insisted that ‘The council will not grant planning permission for the development of new housing units on back garden land, where the site either individually or as part of a larger street block:

·         Makes an important contribution to the character and appearance of the surrounding area; or

•         Is considered to be of ecological value; or

•         Is likely to make a contribution to mitigating the impacts of climate change; or

·         The proposal adversely affects the amenities of future occupiers or those currently occupying adjoining or nearby properties.


Sutton Council has launched a consultation on proposals to change Council tax payment requirements and entitlement to Council tax benefit. This results from changes proposed by the Government to “localise” Council tax benefit payments.

The Government’s proposals provide opportunities but present major problems. They enable Sutton to adopt its own scheme of entitlement to Council tax benefit (paid to those in hardship to help them make Council tax payments) but since the funding provided by the Government has been cut to 90% of the previous level the scheme Sutton will be required to adopt is bound to be less generous than the current scheme.

You can see the full proposals by clicking on this link.

The one positive aspect is that it will enable Sutton, subject to consultation, to remove incentives for people to keep properties empty, by removing discounts that enable people with empty homes and second homes to pay less council tax. 

While the new scheme for paying Council tax benefit is less generous, the Council has sought to protect the elderly, the disabled and those with small children. This is in accordance with our principled belief, as Liberal Democrats, in fairness and helping the disadvantaged.

Richard, as vice-chair of the Housing, Economy and Business Committee, is closely involved in this work. He says “no-one wants to introduce a less generous scheme for payment of Council tax benefit, but Government decisions force us to do this. The one ray of light in these proposals is that we can put pressure on people who are keeping properties they own empty to get them back into the housing market. When properties are in short supply we cannot afford to have homes remaining empty.”