The first phase of residential development at Ruskin Square, on the prestigious gateway site next to East Croydon Station, is to include controversial Poor Doors for the residents of the 36 “affordable” apartments included in the scheme.
Places for People, who are managing the residential scheme for site owners Stanhope and Schroders, are planning what they call a “pre-launch” (whatever that piece of PR bullshit is supposed to mean) for the project this Wednesday, at which they will announce that they have decided to call the building “Vita”.
As in Ryvita, perhaps, since the 161 apartments in the fast-rising block seem certain to generate a lot of crisp bread for the developers: at current market values for one- and two-bed yuppie flats in and around Croydon, the apartments in the Vita block being built on a disused coal merchants’ yard alongside the railway tracks could generate more than £140million in sales.
Places for People went public with the scheme on Faustbook earlier this month, their publicity team choosing to emphasise how close the new properties will be to central London, rather than any attractions of living in Croydon. It is a familiar pitch used when marketing property to overseas-based buy-to-let investors. “Our pre-launch event is happening in the next couple of weeks,” they announced. “Register for your invite at http://www.vita-ruskinsquare.co.uk, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
We asked Places for People about their plans to “manage” the 15 “affordable” rented homes and 21 shared ownership flats that are included in the development (included only as a condition of being granted planning permission). They have failed to respond to our enquiries.
But Places for People have been speaking to other interested parties, and have confirmed that there will be separate entrances to the scheme with access to the two main “cores”. While they claimed not to be entirely certain of the final access for different groups, they were able to confirm that all rented units will be located at the northern end of the building “which has its own separate access”.
That sounds very much like a Poor Door to us. And the pictures they’ve produced look like it is a Poor Door, too.
Diagrams produced for the scheme clearly show that there will be a prestigious and swanky front entrance, accessed from Dingwall Road and East Croydon’s “Bridge to Nowhere”. And there’s to be another, “secondary” entrance, round the back of the development. Handily placed by the service road.
Apologists for this kind of Apartment Apartheid – who include some members of Croydon Council’s Labour cabinet – make the case that the service charges to pay for the brightly lit entrance lobby, concierge services, gyms, pools or other amenities provided in these modern luxury developments would be prohibitively expensive for those who take up the affordable homes. Some even suggest that high-rise blocks of affordable housing built in these developments should not have lifts, because of the cost of maintaining such kit in working order.
The use of “affordable”, in this context, is in any case misleading. These are not social, or what in the past might have been council, homes. In a scheme such as Vita, “affordable” would mean a flat sold or rented at 80 per cent of the local market rate, which could see a two-bed apartment up for sale at more than £250,000 – hardly in the price bracket of a young family trying to exist on the salary of a nurse, fire-fighter or teacher.
In other residential developments around Croydon, the split between commercial and affordable housing is being managed by building entirely separate blocks: no Poor Doors, just the Poor House, perhaps? This includes the scheme being run by the Labour-run council on the site of their former offices at Taberner House.
That will not be the case in Ruskin Square, however, where it looks highly likely that the occupiers of the 24 affordable homes will also be excluded from Vita’s roof-top garden space. “The residential development will comprise a mix of 1 and 2 bedroom units for sale and rent with their own shared courtyard, garden and roof-top amenity space. Completion is due in the summer of 2016,” the developers’ blurb says.
There are some, though, who see through the practical and financial excuses for such Poor Doors schemes, and who highlight how such developments can be divisive for the community.
Richard Rogers, the Labour peer whose internationally renowned architecture practice designed the Lloyd’s building and Heathrow’s Terminal 5, yesterday spoke out against such schemes.
Lord Rogers has repeatedly called for the use of brown field sites – such as at Ruskin Square – to be used within London to alleviate the housing crisis, and he has identified Croydon as having enough such sites to build an entire new town. “Sustainable, lively, friendly cities are compact,” he said on BBC London yesterday. “They’re about people being together.
“I think it is critical that we have enough affordable homes. I am worried about breaking down communities – social communities – especially when you don’t have a real mix, of rich and poor living together,” Lord Rogers said.
Meanwhile, here at Inside Croydon Towers – where we know what the back door’s for – we wait anxiously to receive our invitation to Wednesday’s “pre-launch” of Vita. We’ve even pencilled-in the event in our diary, where we notice it is to be held on April 1…
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