WE THINK of Greenwich Council as secretive and unhelpful, but compared to the Planning Inspectorate it's a beacon of openness.
The deadline is already approaching for comments on Greenwich Hospital's brazen planning appeal to be allowed to knock down the Market after all. According to an advert in this week's Greenwich Time, it is March 22nd, less than three weeks away.
But go to the website of the inspectorate, which is handling the appeal, and you find the message: "We regret we are not currently publishing documents for this appeal." So I can't tell you if anything has changed about the plans or if any new dodgy claims have been put forward by the developers. A perfect example of what happens when democracy gives way to the quango state.
What I have found, however, is an encouraging decision on another Greenwich Town Centre and Greenwich Hospital planning appeal - and another minor PR own goal by the Hospital.
To start with the latter: they have engaged a new consultancy firm, the accurately-named Sensitive Projects, to get the appeal through. Sensitive Projects ("we advise on projects which are often controversial and unpopular") consists of David McFarlane, who was the Hospital's previous PR at another firm, and a woman called Harriet Kerr, who was a director of PPS, another outfit which specialises in getting unpopular developments through. PPS is a very interesting company.
In 2007, in an investigation for my then newspaper, the Standard, and Channel 4's Dispatches, 17 minutes in, PPS was accused of using forgery, impersonation and even bugging to manipulate the planning process.
I found that fake letters of support for a highly-controversial planning application had been dispatched to councillors - the people whose names appeared on the letters had never written them; and that people posing as PhD students had visited councillors, pumping them for inside information about their views. I was leaked an internal PPS document boasting of how they managed to "create" favourable letters for projects, including that one. I was also leaked, from within PPS, a verbatim, 20-page transcript of a private meeting of councillors
I found mysterious new people who had joined a residents' association which had opposed the development - then turned the association neutral, and then as soon as the development was approved, had vanished from the scene without trace. It's a funny old game, the property business.
Harriet Kerr was not involved in the projects I investigated at PPS and there is no suggestion that she acted in any way improperly while at the company, or since. But these lobbyists will still be worth keeping an eye on, I feel.
My second piece of news about the market appeal is that if precedent means anything at all, we might be all right. This is not, it turns out, the first time in recent months that the Hospital have been refused planning permission by Greenwich Council, then taken it to appeal. Last year, the council turned down their bid to put new shop fronts on 2, 3 and 4 College Approach (currently laid out as house fronts) and a remodelled shop front on 5 College Approach.
Last summer Greenwich Hospital appealed - but the appeal was largely refused (they did get permission for the remodelled shop front at No 5.) The inspector, Christine Thorby, said the plan would be "to the detriment of the character and appearance of the... wider historic area," conflicting with the same council planning policies as the market proposal.
Now it's true that the College Approach properties are listed buildings, described by the inspector as of "very high quality," and the market buildings proposed for demolition aren't. But the decision is one more little thing weighing in the balance against the Hospital getting its ghastly Bluewater scheme past the goalie in injury time.