Croydon warns against creating “the slums of the future”

Pelling campaigningANDREW PELLING, pictured left, reports from the Labour party conference in Manchester, where Croydon councillors are out in force lobbying for the borough

With Labour eyeing a return to power at Westminster after next May’s General Election, it is of great value to Croydon that 11 councillors are here, making the case for the borough.

Party members from around the rest of the country and the professional lobbyists attending the conference are intrigued by the news they have been reading in the national press about how Croydon has become the go-to place to invest.

Interest is especially keen after Lord Rogers talked of fitting two cities into Croydon town centre.

The Croydon council contingent has also received much praise for their bigger than expected win at the local elections in May, taking back control of the Town Hall.

Labour candidate for  Croydon Central: Sarah Jones, the bookies' favourite

Labour candidate for Croydon Central: Sarah Jones, the bookies’ favourite

Croydon North MP Steve Reed is here, as is Sarah Jones, Labour’s candidate for Croydon Central, and who the bookmakers are convinced will win in May, providing a vital gain on the swingometers come election night. Both are working on honing the winning strategies and team-building for the election.

It is important for Croydon to be well-represented here to argue the case for fairer funding from government and for more investment.

The comments of the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, yesterday on the need to end the delays on delivering airport expansion for London re-emphasised the importance of the council leader, Tony Newman’s, vocal support for Gatwick’s new runway. Such an expansion would bring even more opportunity for Croydon, with residents able to compete for the 20,000 new jobs likely to be created.

The devolution of power to local councils and regions seems to get a mention at every fringe meeting, following the exhausting Scottish referendum.

London Mayoral candidates have been setting out some of their ideas. David Lammy’s suggestion, floated here in Manchester, of a higher minimum wage for London than elsewhere in the country – with Labour pledging to increase the minimum wage to £8 per hour –  makes sense for those who live in one of the world’s most expensive cities, though caution may be needed if such demands might see employers moving their businesses from, say, Croydon, to Redhill or Crawley to escape the increased staff costs.

Sadiq Khan, the shadow spokesman for London but as yet undeclared as a Mayoral candidate, should be attractive to Croydon were he to stand, being a south London MP. He has spoken here of giving more powers to the Mayor over more of out-of-London rail lines, following the much-improved service on London Overground, which operates to east London from West Croydon – a project introduced by Ken Livingstone when Mayor.

The view from the back of the hall: shadow chancellor Ed Balls said he would end the delays over airport expansion in London

The view from the back of the hall: shadow chancellor Ed Balls said he would end the delays over airport expansion in London

The importance of housing as an issue for the electorate was shown by no less than four fringe meetings being held on the subject within the space of two hours.

Croydon councillors Newman, Paul Scott and Sean Fitzsimons were prominent in their participation at these events, with Newman being singled out for praise for the work he does nationally, for the Local Government Association, in making the case for confident policies on delivering Labour’s target of 200,000 new homes by 2020.

At a meeting organised by the National Federation of Builders, Newman said that his council is talking to a number of pension funds who are seeking a 4 per cent return from investing in building housing.

But Newman highlighted something which has been the bane of many local authorities since Margaret Thatcher introduced the right-to-buy scheme in the 1980s: councils have been unable to use the proceeds from those sales, and other housing revenue, to build new homes. “The party needs to be more confident on relaxing the housing revenue account,” Newman said.

Addiscombe councillor Sean Fitzsimons astonished the audience when he told of how unaffordable most homes are in his ward, as Londoners continue to be priced out of Croydon by investor buyers, usually from overseas. Only 10 per cent of homes in Addiscombe, Fitzsimons said, were affordable, and any property that comes up for sale, not just new-build flats but even houses in streets, were being snapped up by overseas investors. He was seeking a mechanism to stop foreign buyers from purchasing homes here, just to leave them unoccupied as an “investment”.

Paul Scott: office conversions creating "slums of the future"

Paul Scott: office conversions creating “slums of the future”

At one of the events, Scott asked a question which made no secret of what Croydon’s new council team thinks: “Does the panel agree with permitted development rights being used to change tired old office buildings to sub-standard housing?”

Croydon’s Labour council has given developers notice that they intend to end the situation, granted by the current Conservative-led government, for rapid and relaxed planning requirements on office conversions.

Scott explained to the meeting why. “We are very concerned about this in Croydon. It is a carte blanche to convert offices badly, and outside most planning controls. There’s no improvement to the outside of the buildings. They are the slums of the future,” he said.

Scott said that he and the council are in favour of replacing old buildings and for good conversions. But referring to London housing standards introduced by Mayor Boris Johnson, Scott said that the permitted development rights are being used by developers in Croydon, “way outside London standards, with the council receiving an application for a 13 sq m flat, which is not as big as the standard for a double-bedroom”.

  • Andrew Pelling is a Labour councillor for Waddon ward

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", 2015 General Election, Addiscombe West, Andrew Pelling, Boris Johnson, Business, Croydon Central, Croydon North, Housing, Ken Livingstone, London-wide issues, Mayor of London, Paul Scott, Planning, Property, Sarah Jones MP, Sean Fitzsimons, Steve Reed MP, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Croydon warns against creating “the slums of the future”

  1. davidcallam says:

    The council is right to campaign for a fairer financial deal for the borough and the cost of sending a contingent to Manchester is probably justified. But I think Ed Balls set the tone in his speech yesterday and I doubt there will be any extra cash available any time soon.

    • We are reliably informed that the cost of attending the conference was paid by the individuals or their local party. Not by the ratepayer

    • davidjl2014 says:

      Mr Balls’ answer to everything is to borrow more money. Haven’t the Labour Party done enough already to bankrupt this country for future generations (oh no sorry, that was the fault of the bankers and the 2% of the population who are millionaires, and were taxed less by the Labour Government than they are now!). Yet he, aspiring to be Chancellor in the future, publically admits that borrowing Is the solution. Stand by Croydon, when this Socialist Council are finished, nobody will have a pot to piss in if Mr Balls’ economic ideology is enforced here. God help us all if Labour win the next general election.

  2. arnorab says:

    William of Occam was right. The simple answer is usually the best. The simple answer is that not all the flats currently being constructed or planned in Croydon can ever be sold. All the offices currently being planned or constructed can also never be let or sold. There is just not enough money nor a big enough population.

    Croydon is heading to be a ghost town of the future, a bigger version of what it is now. Hammersfield will be too late, too costly, too old-fashioned by the time it is finished ( late and horrendously over budget) and will quickly fill up with Pound Shops, short lets and discount stores for a while. It too will never be all let.

    • davidcallam says:

      What a gloomy forecast. And based on what, precisely?
      I could equally argue that the Hammersfield investment is the first properly financed development for decades and is as likely to be successful as the other London shopping cities in Shepherds Bush and Stratford.

      • That misses the point, David.

        Having Hammersfield surrounded by low-quality, sub-standard office-to-flat conversions could undermine their £1 billion investment, deterring visitors from the supermall.

        And let’s face it, if these conversions fail even to reach minimum accommodation standards set by Boris, “modern day slums” may be putting it mildly.

        • davidcallam says:

          According to Inside Croydon, the council has given notice to spiv developers that rabbit hutch flats will no longer be allowed. So the idea that the rest of central Croydon will be so blighted is an exaggeration.
          Please don’t confuse the present get-rich-quick scheme with the proper conversion of office blocks, which have produced spacious accommodation elsewhere and could be a good way to modernise elderly commercial buildings in the town centre where it is not cost-effective to demolish and redevelop.

          • There’s no confusion, David, with “good” conversions. The Shapps-inspired removal of planning controls for office-to-flat conversions has – in Croydon at least – seen some very poor quality schemes, producing hundreds of rabbit hutches.

            And hundreds are just a brief stroll from Hammersfield in the town centre.

            Hardly the sort of prestigious development aspired to.

          • A lot of these flats will never come to market – I can’t see many homeowners buying into such schemes anyway. In reality they will be private rented accommodation, which while much needed, tends to work best when it’s alongside a mix of homeownership and social housing.

  3. davidjl2014 says:

    All sounds great doesn’t it. Lets just carry on and crucify the 2% of our English population who are millionaires. You know, the people we just love to hate, and all because they’ve have got more money than you and me. Some of them might have actually worked as hard in their lives as Ed Miliband thinks all working class people have to do.
    After the conference Miliband and Balls are off to Hollywood…. they are casting for a remake of Dumb & Dumber!

  4. mraemiller says:

    Having worked in many of Croydon’s offices I think the plan to convert them all into homes is a bit far fetched. For one thing a lot of the 20 story offices have a circular airflow system which is hard enough to control at the best of times. Open a window on the 4th floor and everyone on the 20th floor suffocates. Many of these systems didn’t work 20 years ago they’re not going to suddenly start working even better when you partition the rooms. Then there’s the toilets and plumbing all being centralised and round the edges or the lift shafts to cut costs further. Many of the office blocks I would imagine it would just be more logical not to mention cost efficient to just knock them down and start again. Not that I’m an expert on refurbishing buildings but I thought I’d inflict my ill informed opinions on the general population anyway…

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