According to ANDREW PELLING, the first phase of development proposed for the long-vacant Ruskin Square site, in a town crying out for family housing, consists of a couple of ugly blocks of flats that even the architects admit are not appropriate to house families
Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, or AHMM, is the award-winning architecture practice that must deliver the first phase of developing Ruskin Square, the wilderness land next to East Croydon Station.
A top-quality development here, by blue-blood corporate developers Stanhope and Schroders, is key to Croydon’s future success. The site has been vacant for more than a decade, but its strategic importance for Croydon has long been underlined by the name of the owners: “Croydon Gateway Limited Partnership”.
Next to one of the busiest railway stations in the south-east, with speedy links to London and beyond, Gatwick airport and the south coast, this site is what people see first when they arrive in Croydon. Our gateway.
It is not just our opinion. “Ruskin Square is critical to Croydon’s regeneration – it’s the primary gateway into the borough, occupying a key site between the town centre and one of the capital’s busiest transport hubs at East Croydon Station.” So says Jon Rouse, Croydon Council’s £248,000 per year chief executive.
Yet the detail of the first phase of the scheme shown to councillors last week by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris is a disappointing let-down. It is little more than a couple of uninspired blocks of flats.
The developers were at the strategic planning meeting at the Town Hall to seek feedback ahead of lodging a reserved matters application, and are planning to begin development in April to “meet funding requirements”.
Stanhope and Schroders are quite right to await a solid economic recovery and an anchor tenant before committing to office development. It is, though, a statement on our town and the state of its economy that Croydon has not yet been able to attract a major office development for this Gateway site.
It is to the borough’s enduring shame that the council’s obsession with delivering a white elephant Arena at the site, a misjudgement shared by both sides of the Town Hall, all egged on by the Croydon Sadvertiser, managed to see the longest economic boom in British history pass by Croydon as an opportunity for redevelopment.
The council could have been the anchor tenant to kick-off Stanhope’s office development, but instead the Mike Fisher-led Tory administration has chosen to spend at least £140million – of our money – on a new headquarters building on CostYouAMint Walk, with a building that under PFI arrangement we won’t actually own for 25 years, as public money has been used to play the property markets. Badly.
The proposal put forward for what is now known as Ruskin Square was for “Phase One” development, with what the architects described as a plinth and two blocks, 22- and 9-storeys tall, providing 161 one- and two-bedroom flats. Just 21 per cent of the flats – 34 in all – will be affordable units. There is to be landscaping including a private communal open space at ground level and an access road to the north and east.
It will not be completed until late 2015.
Tucked next to the railway line at the foot of the Bridge to Nowhere, it all looks set to be a less-than-inspiring set-off point for Croydon’s redevelopment.
The bricked design, with its right-angular cellular bounded grids, looks like, well, flats. With its service road wedged between the building and Platform 1 will not be a great welcome to Croydon. Allford Hall Monaghan Morris say their design makes the building look like it is “shooting up into the sky”. It’s a tall gridded box.
Each floor will have a straight walkway each feeding five flats. There have been more inviting designs used for prisons.
Asked about the project’s suitability for family housing, the architects were more hmmm than AHMM. Allford Hall Monaghan Morris admitted that the development was not for families and that Phase Two would, hopefully, include more appropriate housing. But they did say that the 6.5-metre x 1.8-metre balconies were “generously” sized and would offer good play space for children. Yes, seriously.
In addition there would be a one- or two-bedroom flat set of rooms reserved as a children’s play area. It’ll be brave parents who send their children off to play on the balcony of a 21st floor flat.
One positive is the green space proposed for the roof space, with allotments for residents. But the proposed glassed breakfast room may prove to be unused.
So it’s a development for a town that needs family housing that the architects say is not really appropriate for families.
The real danger is that, like Altitude 25, IYLO and other developments offering “luxury apartments” to a market crying out for family accommodation, this development is just not going to sell.
All in all, it is hardly the kind of inviting gateway that Croydon so desperately needs.
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