Boris agrees £250m “build now, pay later” Cane Hill scheme

The Greater London Authority yesterday exchanged contracts on a £250 million “build now pay later” deal to redevelop the 83-hectare site of the former Cane Hill asylum at Coulsdon.

Cane Hill is the site of the former mental hospital famous – notorious? – as the enforced home for the mother of Charlie Chaplin and the brothers of both David Bowie and of Michael Caine. Not many people know that, you might say.

Barratt Developments was announced in January as the chosen developer of the Homes & Communities Agency, the quango with a capital investment budget of nearly £7 billion.

Although this is a scheme with a significant investment of public funds, and despite the well-publicised shortage of affordable council homes available in London and Croydon, just one-quarter of the 650 homes proposed will provide “affordable units”, leaving the developers to ensure maximum profit from the rest of the site.

It could also be observed that more than 400 prestige new homes will do little to harm the demographics of the Croydon South political constituency.

According to a report in Construction News, the builder will also provide up to 70,000sq ft of commercial space including business, leisure and retail.

Construction News says: “A central objective will be to integrate the derelict site within the surrounding area and to strengthen links with Coulsdon town centre. The aim is to submit a planning application within the next year and secure planning by the middle of 2014.”

In an formal statement from Barratt attributed to Mark Clare, the company’s chief executive:“This is a great example of high quality public sector land being brought to the market and largely developed on the ‘build now pay later’ principle.” The reading-between-the-lines bit of this is that the public is funding this, and Barratts will profit from it later. Nice.

And who is claiming the credit for this “wizard scheme” of using public funds for private profit? None other than London Mayor Boris Johnson! Anyone would think that Boris harbours some deep secret political ambitions to stand for parliament in Croydon South in 2015… (as was speculated by the Lord Ashcroft-funded website, Conservative Home, last month).

“This is a huge step forward in the development of much needed and quality housing on the site of what was an old and disused hospital, which has been derelict for too long,” Boris said, speaking in English rather than Greek, but showing a surprising masterly of the bleedin’ obvious.

“Supporting vital jobs in the construction industry, this project will also give a welcome boost to Coulsdon town centre.

“As we push on to deliver more affordable homes on public land, it is projects like Cane Hill which can help make neighbourhoods across the capital better places to live, work and invest in.”

Despite the Victorian buildings being badly damaged in a fire long after the hospital had been closed, the redevelopment plans for Cane Hill will renovate the listed former chapel and water tower.

Barratt Homes are among the clients of the West End-based planning PR company HardHat.

UPDATE: And hey presto, the day after the £250 million “we pay now, they profit later” deal is inked, Croydon Council’s favourite PR spinners Tweeted this gem of information:

@WhiteLabel5: Barratt Homes (@Barrattplc) are Principal Sponsor @DevelopCroydon Conference 2012, 27th Nov @FairfieldHalls, it’s great to have them onboard

How convenient, and purely coincidental, of course

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4 Responses to Boris agrees £250m “build now, pay later” Cane Hill scheme

  1. Will it be completed in time for Mr. Johnson to occupy a prestige new home?

  2. What a wonderful example of public incompetence over many years?
    After Cane Hill closed 20 years ago Croydon Council was on the case in a flash. It devised a scheme to build a science park on the footprint of the existing buildings.
    A university would come on board – I don’t think the authority was ever specific about which one – and would act as the catalyst for a cluster of high-tech businesses working out of low-rise pavilions similar to those on science parks in Cambridge and Guildford.
    At the time, we were told that residential development was out of the question. The site was in the metropolitan ‘green belt’ and that made it too complicated to gain the necessary planning permission.
    There were those who believed the site would make an ideal housing development, similar in scope to Park Hill or Forestdale, but with a higher proportion of public housing. Neither of the major political parties was prepared to take up the initiative.
    The present decision is a disgrace. It does nothing to alleviate the chronic shortage of affordable housing in the Croydon area – by which I mean property that can be bought, part-bought or rented comfortably by people earning average wages.
    But short-sighted politicians are happy to let the market rip; an overheated market fed by the failure of their successive housing policies.
    Will Croydon Labour Party oppose this opportunistic Boris plan? I wouldn’t bet on it

  3. The loss of what essentially is public owned open space at former hospital sites over the years has been a cause of concern.

    In London there is no need to build on open space given (1) the number of derelict industrial/commerical areas, (2) the number of empty office blocks which could be converted to housing – as has been happening on Albert Embankment, and (3) there are large numbers of former houses which are used for non-housing purposes which could be released back for housing if the occupants could be re-located in empty office and commerical premises.

    It would help if the Government would free conversions at the same VAT rate as new build.

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