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.
“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.”
“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”.
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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