A senior public architect in New York City has made a thinly veiled criticism of the handling of the £20 million “Bridge to Nowhere” at East Croydon station by local government funding bodies, including Croydon Council, suggesting that they made a fundamental mistake by failing to secure proper contractual demands of the developer of the Menta Tower.
The footbridge, being built by Network Rail with additional funding from Croydon and the Boris Johnson-run Transport for London, may even lack permission from the landowner on the eastern side of the railway tracks, Menta, to build there, thus failing to provide the planners’ hoped for “vital link” from the proposed 54-storey tower block and Addiscombe, to central Croydon.
As first revealed by Inside Croydon, at the start of the month the most senior councillors at the Town Hall were asked for an additional £2.7 million of public funding, to make up for a shortfall caused by Menta refusing to pay its agreed share of the bridge costs.
Undeterred by this set-back and the uncertainty over the future of the bridge – a key element of Croydon CEO Jon Rouse’s “East Croydon Masterplan” – our council submitted its scheme to the prestigious New London Architecture Awards. And won.
One of the award judges was David Burney, the commissioner at New York City’s Department of Design and Construction, and among the most senior architects working for the city.
Contacted by Inside Croydon, Burney outlined the planning system in the United States for similar public projects working with private sector developers: “There would typically be some form of contract that can be enforced in a court of law,” Burney said.
“And if a developer receives public funds, they are often in the form of tax abatements that can be withheld if there is a failure to perform.”
Of course, and as Burney well knows, a comparable system does exist in Britain. It would only fail to work in a similar manner if the local authority had not secured a watertight agreement with the developers before work commenced or planning permission was granted.
For his part, Burney denied that he and his fellow award judges were in any way embarrassed by handing the masterplan prize to a scheme which was so fundamentally flawed in its practical delivery.
“I’m afraid it was not within our purview as design jury to review the feasibility or the probability of the development being implemented,” Burney said.
“Obviously it can happen that design awards are given to projects that, for various reasons, turn out not to be feasible or are not realised for other reasons. On the basis of the information submitted to the jury, the design seemed a bold attempt by a local authority to provide a comprehensive plan and create successful public spaces.
“I’m sorry if it is not working out that way,” he said. He’s not the only one.
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