That is a victory of sorts for those who objected to yet more brutalist concrete blocks being constructed in central Croydon, and for those who condemned the council’s original money-making proposals as having all the grace and appeal of Ceaușescu’s Bucharest.
But the revised scheme to be put forward for consideration at a planning committee meeting on Wednesday by CCURV, the joint venture property speculation
scamscheme between Croydon Council and John Laing, has not met with overwhelming approval from the public who have seen it.
One part of the new proposal includes a 32-storey residential tower block, while three other blocks will all be built to a taller height than had been proposed in the original scheme.
A press release issued from the council’s £220 million glass palace HQ last week was headlined: “New site designs will ‘save Queen’s Gardens’.” Which by implication confirmed that the council’s own previous plans had put the town centre public open space under threat.
The council now says that there are “proposals to double the amount of affordable housing previously included in the scheme”, so that now 126 of the 420 new homes will be on offer at “affordable” rents – thus actually bringing the scheme into line with the council’s own stated housing policy.
This will, of course, impact the potential profit to be made from the scheme, possibly by as much as £12 million, according to estimates of the sale value of the “apartments” (they’re never flats), which objectors fear will be targeted at yuppies looking for second-home “investments”, rather than anything to lessen London’s housing crisis.
But then this development was always about eking out as much cash from council-owned property as possible, to pay off the disastrous costs of building Fisher’s Folly, the new council offices on Cost A Mint Walk.
There may be good reason why the 32-storey block still towers over the rest of the scheme: a deal has already been done for Essential Living, a company which specialises in managing private rental blocks, to “forward purchase” the 230 “bespoke apartments” planned for this part of the site, limiting scope for other changes on the site.
Property speculation on the rates
Property speculation with the council’s land and buildings with Laing, through the CCURV joint venture put together by the former council CEO, Jon Rouse and the previous Tory Town Hall administration, was always controversial. Florid-faced Mike Fisher, the Conservative leader, and his mates kept the details a closely guarded secret. As the venture unwinds in costly disaster, it’s becoming increasingly clear that they had a lot to hide.
With the council HQ building alone burdened in more than £80million-worth of borrowing on top of its excessive development costs, CCURV has proved to be a high-risk venture for which the people of Croydon will be paying for generations to come.
Tony Newman, the Labour leader of the council, had promised that within days of taking charge, promised that he would “throw open the books” on CCURV if his party won the Town Hall elections in May, and for the first time cast the light of full public scrutiny on the deal.
More than three months on, and the CCURV deal has still to be exposed to proper scrutiny. So much for openness and transparency.
The Taberner House redevelopment remains one means of dragging back into the CCURV pot something to pay off the debts accrued on Fisher’s Folly. That was why Laing, egged on by senior Croydon Tories, tried a secret land-grab for a chunk of Queen’s Gardens – a piece of public property that was never theirs to use.
The new Labour administration is now left with a part-demolished, asbestos-ridden 1960s tower block, and the conundrum of what to do with a site bordered on two sides by a six-lane urban motorway.
In a public statement of Orwellian proportions, given that it is less than six months since the then Conservative-run council approved previous proposals for the site, Croydon Council last week acknowledged that there were “concerns that the original proposals would have resulted in an over-development of the gardens”.
The council says that instead of five blocks, only four will be built and this will “see the existing green space extended, running between two pairs of blocks up to the Croydon Flyover”. Whoop-de-whoop!
“We were concerned that the original proposals under the previous administration would have taken away what is currently a popular and busy public green space, and we know that those who live and work in Croydon shared these concerns,” Alison Butler, the council’s deputy leader, was quoted as saying.
“These important changes to the designs mean this open space can now be retained and enjoyed by all members of the community.”
Public consultation on £100m scheme commented on by just 13 people
But what is telling is quite how few people have any idea of what is contained within the new plan for the area.
Since the present Tory-led government removed the obligation on local authorities to write to residents and businesses neighbouring properties where planning applications have been submitted, thanks to “Big” Eric Pickles, a couple of tatty pieces of A4 pinned to a lamppost is now allowed to suffice as “notification”. Thus we arrive at a situation where this potentially landmark scheme, in a town centre conservation area and worth an estimated £100 million, has attracted a grand total of 13 comments ahead of Wednesday’s planning meeting. Openness and transparency?
Of those commenting, only two have been in support of the plans.
Leading the opposition to the outline scheme has been the Mid Croydon Conservation Area Advisory Panel. Their reservations include the lack of enough affordable three-bedroom units (few families can live comfortably in the two-bed “apartments so beloved of those marketing to yuppies), and concern about the increasing population density in central Croydon, observing that, “There are other sites which are more suitable for development”.
The advisory panel’s comments also included:
• The development would not have a community feel
• Small gaps between buildings inappropriate for future residents – insufficient light and privacy
• The development will impact on services such as GP surgeries and schools
• The proposal impact on the view adjoining the Town Hall
• The 13 storey block will obscure views of Bernard Weatherill House and Fairfield Halls.
• The development would exceed the housing density stipulated in the London Plan
• The development does not comply with the Masterplan
• The Queen’s Gardens is a garden not a park and does not need a café and play facilities
and, interestingly since it contradicts the line being pushed out by the council…
• The green space within the Gardens will be reduced by play facilities and hard-standing within the future gardens
A senior council source has told Inside Croydon that the Taberner House redevelopment plans presented on Wednesday are only an outline scheme, and that there is still much work to be done. Given that work has only recently started on the Ruskin Square site, by East Croydon, a decade since it was cleared and half a century since it was in active use, it is hard to know whether to take our council source’s comments as re-assurance, or a cause for concern. After all, land-banking the Taberner House site is not an option for our cash-strapped council.
- Read more about the costly consequences of Fisher’s Folly here: One year on, council staff shunted into Davis House
- Developers’ bulldozers ordered to get off Queen’s Gardens
- Jon Rouse: an alchemist who turned property into debts
- Advisors reject Taberner redevelopment as ‘Eastern Bloc’
- Council wants to build high-rise flats on Queen’s Gardens
- Exclusive readers’ offer: a free glass of wine for diners at Albert’s Table
- Special readers’ offer: 25% off meals at PizzaExpress Purley
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema: The Two Faces of January, Sep 4
- David Lean Cinema: Fading Gigolo, Sep 6
- Thornton Heath Festival, Sep 7
- Stop the Incinerator Quiz Night, Sep 8
- David Lean Cinema: Camille Claudel, Sep 11
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Soul Symphony Community Choir sessions, Sep 16-Dec 23
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- David Lean Cinema: Chef, Sep 18
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- South Croydon business breakfast, Sep 20
- Open House London weekend, Sep 20-21
- David Lean Cinema: A Night At The Cinema in 1914, Sep 22
- Activity to Work back-to-work workshops, Sep 23
- David Lean Cinema: Jimmy’s Hall, Sep 25
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Fancy dress family funday, Sep 28
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 407,847 page views (Jan-Jun 2014) If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org