A new planning application for the Altitude 25 development at East Croydon, seeking to allow short-term, serviced lets of some of the unsold apartments, has cast further doubts on the council’s grand plans to build a city in the sky.
The Conservative-run council’s plans are for high-rise homes for 17,000 more people, squeezed into central Croydon, some in the 55-storey Mental Tower by the railway tracks at East Croydon.
The need for new affordable housing was underlined when the 2011 census showed the borough’s population to be 346,960, or 20,000 more than the council had been estimating.
The notion is embraced with enthusiasm by local Tories, who see such housing as being a means of “civilising” a town centre that was too reliant on an evening drinking culture, and also as a means of justifying opposition to “back garden grabs” in the south of the borough, where many of the Conservative councillors have their voters.
Steve O’Connell, the area’s London Assembly Member, and a Conservative councillor for Kenley, claimed to be opposed to the Mental Tower at the final (too late) planning meeting at the Town Hall. However, his true enthusiasm for the scheme came to the fore when he asked Boris Johnson not to use the Mayor’s planning powers to intervene in the matter in a question he posed at the London Assembly.
Question by London Assembly Member Steve O’Connell
Will you confirm that you will not take a direct hand in the Menta development at East Croydon and will not interfere in Croydon Council’s ability to make its own decisions and listen to the local residents as the locally elected authority? Will the Mayor back the decision of the Council on this issue?
Answer by Boris Johnson
I will work closely with Croydon Council to bring about the necessary regeneration and improvements to Croydon town centre, including joint working on a planning framework for the town centre opportunity area. I will not intervene in planning applications that have no strategic planning implications. It would be wrong, however, to promise not to use my planning powers in particular cases before the application has been referred to me.
The precursor of the Mental Tower can be seen just across the road from East Croydon Station, at Altitude 25, which to this day the owners deny is so-named because the high-rise apartment block is only 25 per cent occupied. Cursory checks of estate agents’ websites show that apartments which were first offered for more than £1 million when Altitude 25 opened in 2009 may now be “snapped up” for barely half that price.
The lack of uptake for these initially very expensive, generally one- and two-bedroom apartments ought to have demonstrated that demand for executive flats is not there, undermining the politicians’ plans to build upwards.
In the Latitude properties, at the back of the Altitude tower, the owner, Plumdean Ltd, has been forced to secure the permission from Croydon Council for “continued use of 55 of the residential apartments which form part of Altitude 25 as serviced apartments for short-term rent on a temporary basis”.
Continuing with short-lets demonstrates how misguided are any plans for Croydon’s development based on over-optimistic perceptions of the desire of Londoners to move to Croydon and pay premium prices to live in the skies above East Croydon station. Plumdean, after all, is relatively successful in having some occupancy of its completed building: the unfinished IYLO building stands as a monumental warning against the council plans.
A Croydon Council housing paper which showed some social housing provision through shared ownership purchases of properties in Altitude 25, in partnership with the housing association Amicus Horizon, points to the likely future reliance on social housing to fill these towers of folly.
But whether the current Conservative administration at Croydon Town Hall will be comfortable in allowing large numbers of social housing tenants – many of whom might not be natural Tory voters – to move in to swing wards in a Croydon Central parliamentary seat which could be targeted by Labour at future elections would seem unlikely.
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