Town Hall to have own architects department once again

Croydon Council is to recreate its own, in-house architects’ department.

According to a report in Architects’ Journal, the council architects will be used to design housing schemes across the borough.

Jo Negrini: off to Cannes next week, to speak on behalf of Westfield. Paid for by Croydon Council

Jo Negrini: architect of her own placemaking

“The move bucks the trend of recent decades, which has seen councils ridding themselves of architects departments. Croydon said its new unit will assist a newly formed development company established by the council to deliver new housing on 80 sites it owns,” the report stated.

The new unit comes from the department run by the increasingly powerful Jo Negrini, Croydon’s “executive director, place”, to give her the ridiculous official council title; or the Town Hall planning, housing and development chief, to describe Negrini’s six-figure-salaried job in the terms which most of the people she is supposed to serve will understand.

Running the project will be Colm Lacey, whom Negrini appointed as her director of development just over a year ago. Negrini and Lacey had previously been colleagues at Lambeth Council and more recently at Newham, where they will have worked closely with Westfield on its Stratford development.

Lacey appears to be already fluent in Croydon Council-ese: “Council funding may demand that the company is a commercial success, but our placemaking ambitions insist that it leads by example and creates beautiful, sustainable and socially conscious developments.”

“Placemaking ambitions”?

“Socially conscious developments”??

The borough’s architects’ office will be headed by Chloe Phelps, whose “team will directly design some projects while leading stables of private practices on others in a ‘collegiate approach’,” according to the report.

The Architects’ Journal was not entirely positive about the Croydon Council move, with one planning expert, Brian Waters, a partner at a private architects’ practice, accusing council architects in the past of “eating the lunches of consultant architects”.

Colm Lacey: reunited with Negrini in Croydon

Colm Lacey: reunited with Negrini in Croydon

Another private sector figure, Owen Luder, the former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said that guaranteeing the unit’s independence will be important. “Inevitably the pressure will be on to give the ‘right’ answers,” he told AJ.

According to Lacey, the architects’ office is a response to the council setting up its own development company – or what we at Inside Croydon have called “Son of CCURV”.

And we all know how well CCURV went… Well actually, no we don’t, because despite promises before the election that he would “blow open the books” on CCURV and its various over-spending projects, council leader Tony Newman has become astonishingly coy on the matter.

The opposition Tories, having been responsible for paying £140 million for the council’s headquarters building, offices which might normally be expected to cost less than £50million, have been most reluctant to persuade Newman to keep that particular election pledge.

Perhaps having an architects’ department working inside Fisher’s Folly itself, they might help avoid unnecessary future over-spends on other council projects – the price tag on the New Addington swimming pool and leisure centre is reckoned to be twice what similar facilities are costing elsewhere in London.

The council’s architects’ office will concentrate on housing developments and, according to Lacey, on those low-profit and small schemes for which Croydon appears to have struggled to find private firms willing to take on the work.

“Many of the sites are on the small or mildly complex side,” Lacey said, “and our previous experience as a public authority procuring design quality and innovation for these types of schemes has not been positive.

“It seemed that the best of London’s architectural talent wouldn’t get out of bed for fewer than 30 units.”

Lacey said that the new department would “stay much, much smaller and focus on one key task – providing well-designed, high-quality, cost-efficient housing for local people”. Which the Tory Government will then insist can be sold off later at discounts which can amount to £100,000 a time…

And then Lacey slipped back into Council-ese… “This is going to be a fascinating journey… Croydon continues to evolve and reinvent itself, and the ever-changing economic, social and political context provides a fascinating backdrop to the key challenges of design and development in modern-day London.”

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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
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2 Responses to Town Hall to have own architects department once again

  1. Interesting given that Local Authorities have divested themselves of many qualified professionals over recent years to lessen the wage (and pension) bill.

    However just why would any talented Architect (or other construction professional) want to join Croydon Council if they are to be limited to small scale housing development? Sounds like a career cul-de-sac to me and you risk recruiting candidates who have limited ability.

  2. In my earlier days I worked on Social Housing with Wimpey -improving their house types, with Camus on pre-cast high rise building and with a local firm on private timber housing. Even on a projected New Town in Iran with Costain,

    Thus I feel qualified to comment on housing issues. In principle, if we are to meet the demands of pressing Housing requirements, new homes need to be built off site in specialised factories; which can both be efficient in both energy & materials terms. Why build houses outdoors under Britain’s variable weather? Why think only in terms of brick-on-brick in the mud when using CAD and laser cutting machines these homes can be precision assemblies finished in a matter of days and usable within weeks, not months, craned into position by a new breed of skilled workers, other artisans working under cover in the dry.

    We are currently addicted to a very amorphous style in terms of appearance. That pretentious ‘Tudorbethan’ mock period, tile hung, archaic tile roofed ‘Thirties’ hybrids which preclude modernity & style -even insulation to an extent, they all leak energy. Would we accept archaic-looking vehicles on our drives with external headlights?

    We need a massive re-think. I recall a Planner insisting on a ‘Sussex-Style’ barn with a wasteful dormer roof with restricted interior headroom in order to ‘fit in’.This is the 21st Century, the CAD & Robot age.

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