CROYDON COMMENTARY: Croydon, and London, has a housing crisis, and Cane Hill offers an excellent site for many new homes. We should not let Coulsdon’s residents get in the way, writes DAVID CALLAM
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has committed himself to doubling the number of new houses built in Greater London to 42,000 a year. So he will be looking for suitable construction sites across the capital. Maybe he’s found one in leafy Coulsdon.
Croydon Council’s Masterplan for Coulsdon, including the Cane Hill site, has recently fallen apart, but Boris already has form for rescuing the hapless south London authority, brokering the £1 billion commercial investment in the town centre.
Perhaps he could do something similar to ease Croydon’s housing problems at an important gateway to Greater London on the borough’s southern boundary?
The site is the long disused, vandalised, fire-ravaged and finally demolished Cane Hill Hospital. BoJo has already done a build-now, pay-later deal with Barratt’s to provide 677 homes in a four-phase development, with work due to start next summer.
The builder has now asked for more land to build on, so it can link its new “village” directly with Coulsdon centre.
It is more than 20 years since the hospital closed, rendered surplus to requirements by the National Health Service “care in the community” initiative that saw many large asylums, like nearby Netherne Hospital, sold off to commercial developers.
Cane Hill is designated Metropolitan Open Land and protected by strict planning regulations: construction is only allowed on the footprint of the original buildings, leaving most of the site as park or farm land.
There have been a number of initiatives suggested for the site, none of which has come to anything. Croydon Council worked up plans for a swanky science park: it took a group of Coulsdon opinion-formers on a day trip to Cambridge and Guildford to show them what it had in mind; low-rise, high-quality pavilions scattered among the greensward where international companies would research and develop.
After some years of defending its bright ideas from guerrilla initiatives by local residents’ groups, the council discovered it had been wooing the wrong government department: disposal of the site had passed from the Department of Health to The Treasury and the local authority had to begin the process again.
Later, the council conceived a cunning plan to build executive houses on the site, but still conforming to the original planning restrictions. Meanwhile, The Treasury passed responsibility for the site to the Mayor of London.
Open land is something Coulsdon has in abundance – across the Brighton Road from Cane Hill is the magnificent Farthing Downs which leads into Happy Valley, and then gently uphill to the commons of Coulsdon and Kenley. This extensive expanse of countryside has been secured in perpetuity for the recreational use of the general public and is splendidly maintained by The Corporation of London.
I believe we could re-designate the Cane Hill site (150 acres) without any serious loss of amenity and use all of the land to create a greater expanse of housing than the present plan envisages. I would suggest an estate slightly larger than the award-winning Park Hill Village (120 acres) in central Croydon. The vision of the village, as agreed in the early 1960s between the County Borough of Croydon and Wates, the developers then, called for high-quality, high-density housing for 8,000 in carefully created neighbourhoods.
Park Hill estate is well-maintained to this day and still commands good prices in the retail property market.
I would offer the houses on a 50/50 co-ownership tenure, making them truly affordable for hard-working people who are earning an average wage.
Locals will be forming a protest group even as they read this: the time has come to call their bluff. We have a housing crisis in Croydon: we cannot allow policy to be dictated by vociferous people with sharp elbows who would selfishly deny others a decent home.
Coulsdon is well-served by public transport, with railway stations at either end of the town, giving good access to central Croydon and onwards to central London.
The Coulsdon bypass is a comparatively recent addition but curiously it was built as a single carriageway in each direction and is already congested at times. However, it will need widening as part of the upgraded access between the new Hammerson and Westfield retail complex in central Croydon and the M23 at Hooley.
That will help to keep Coulsdon through traffic to a minimum and make for a safer and less polluted high street along Brighton Road. It may even be possible to enhance the already quaint village atmosphere.
The additional housing would improve the Coulsdon economy exponentially, making footfall greater and business more profitable for the retailers whose shops line Brighton Road; it might also persuade the council to allow Waitrose to replace its ageing supermarket.
And it would make viable Croydon Council’s long-discussed plans for a library and leisure centre, which Barratt’s should be persuaded to finance out of its increased profits from the development of extra houses.
Croydon has a serious housing problem with which Coulsdon could help. After decades of dither, it is surely time to consider the bigger picture and get on with it.
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Coming to Croydon
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- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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