Rats! Slum fears over Menta’s Cherry Orchard Gardens plan

Knocked down: the scene at Cherry Orchard Gardens after two weeks of demolition work, without planning permission

Well this will be a test for our Croydon Council.

Will they back the rule of law and the interests of local residents? Or will they support the interests of the mega-billionaire property developers and ease their way through to help realise the latest “Masterplan”?

Barely two weeks after contractors working for Menta started to demolish buildings at Cherry Orchard Gardens, work stopped yesterday almost as suddenly as it started. According to @Addiscombefirst, the Labour party’s local news website which is also active on Twitter, it was because of the small matter of planning permission not having been granted for the site alongside East Croydon station, apparently.

Indeed, Menta did not submit its planning application for its monster 53-storey tower block until a couple of days after their demolition work began.

Apparently, there was  a rat infestation on the site (as one wag observed, that’s never been enough to prompt immediate demolition work at Taberner House…).

We digress. Menta’s planning application was only submitted at the end of March, with consultation due to continue until at least May 13, as shown by the council’s own website. The application is not due to be considered by Croydon’s strategic planning committee until July. So demolition work might be deemed a little premature.

Menta could even be forced to rebuild the demolished buildings if planning permission is not ultimately granted, though that’s hardly likely to happen, as Croydon Council is in the thrall of developers.

Cherry Orchard Gardens is part of the site for the proposed pedestrian bridge across the railway lines, for which “hard-up” Croydon Council – unable to fund arts, libraries, youth clubs, old people’s homes… – has stumped up £10 million of our money to help add even more “value” for the developers who own sites on both sides of the tracks.

There is a worrying inevitability about all this, with property developers (Menta describe themselves as delivering “planning-led solutions”) making millions of pounds from a scheme as ordinary local people end up living with the consequences. There’s probably a Paul Weller song about it.

The really frustrating thing is that lessons are never learned. This was all happening in Croydon this week while just a few miles up the road at Walworth, the hideous and hated Heygate Estate, foisted on Southwark residents in the 1970s, was finally being hauled down, about 40 years too late.

Yet Croydon finds itself being railroaded towards a high-density development of questionable merit which the excellent CroydonFirst fears risks quickly deteriorating into slums. CroydonFirst calls on Croydon Council to deny planning permission for several reasons, including helping preserve the value of its own redevelopment at Taberner House.

Menta’s application seeks:

  • a 53-storey residential skyscraper incorporating 427 flats (with 173 parking spaces). None of the skyscraper flats will be affordable accommodation.
  • an 18-storey hotel skyscraper containing 165 rooms plus 22 serviced apartments. This hotel will have no parking for either visitors or staff.
  • an 11-storey office block with a pub, retail and restaurant space on the ground floor. This office block will have no parking for either visitors or staff.
  • 72 affordable dwellings (with 24 parking spaces) at Cherry Orchard Gardens, a separate site on the other side of Cherry Orchard Road.

Menta's original vision for East Croydon: you wont be able to notice the lack of parking spaces, or any consideration given to existing, low-rise homes in the area

CroydonFirst says, “Many would observe that this development is a huge improvement on Menta’s previous application – the infamous four ‘pointy’ skycrapers incorporating more than 1,000 flats and 500,000 sq ft of office space.”

But there are reservations (aren’t there always?). CroydonFirst lists the issues as “its proximity to low level Victorian suburban housing”, on Cedar and Oval Roads; “parking”, or rather the lack of it; “the jobs mismatch; the compatibility of such exceptionally high buildings with Croydon’s existing skyline;” and “conflict with the Taberner House redevelopment.”

On the parking issue (just 197 spaces for 499 flats, a hotel and office block), Menta argues that the proximity of East Croydon station reduces the need for cars. CroydonFirst says, “The parking provision seems unrealistically low – with the result that residential streets within walking distance could experience huge pressure on available parking.”

Of course, developers dislike having to provide parking spaces on their sites: there’s no cash in it for them.

But this high-rise scheme is just a foretaste of things to come. Since the 1960s, central Croydon has been characterised as a concrete canyon of wind-blown tower blocks separated by an urban motorway. After half a century of dealing with the social, planning and image problems caused by this, Croydon Council’s “solution” is to encourage developers to build even more skyscrapers.

CroydonFirst writes: “A striking current trend in Croydon is the scale of construction of high-rise residential skyscrapers. Altitude 25 (196 flats) was completed in 2009. Work is underway on the huge Saffron Square development (719 flats in a 45-storey tower) and IYLO (183 flats in a 20-storey tower). Taberner House will be replaced with a high-rise residential skyscraper.

“Up to now, Stanhope/Schroders has indicated that its development of its 9-acre site”, which is next to East Croydon station, on the opposite side of the tracks from Cherry Orchard Gardens, “would be office led. However, Stanhope/Schroders could well decide to switch the emphasis to very high-rise residential skyscrapers if Menta’s application is approved.”

Most astutely of all, CroydonFirst looks at the bigger picture as far as the regeneration of central Croydon is concerned, and the council’s £450 million “top secret” scheme based around its new Town Hall.

Having given away vast tracts of council-owned property and land in the town centre in return for a half-share of the development’s profits, it is essential for Croydon Council’s finances over the next two decades that they ensure that the building that replaces Taberner House – expected to be another large scale, high-rise residential block or blocks – makes as much money as possible from the sale of apartments flats.

CroydonFirst writes: “If Menta’s application is approved, then it (together with Saffron Square and IYLO) will lead to a huge supply of flats at a time when Croydon is seeking the best price possible for the new flats at the Taberner House site.

“Obviously, this creates the danger of an oversupply which could have an adverse impact on the prices that the Taberner House site flats sell for.”

So given all that, Croydon Council is bound to approve Menta’s planning application, then.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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