We need quality homes, not quantity, to avoid ghettoes

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Location. Location. Location. LEWIS WHITE is less concerned about the need to build flats in the redevelopment at College Green, provided they offer enough open spaces and are of the right quality, and not mega-sized tower blocks

David Wickens’ article on the plans for the Fairfield Halls and College Green – “Can two-bedroom flats really be the solution for Fairfield Halls?” – was very clear-sighted, and very helpful, whilst Arno Rabinowitz’s contribution as a comment adds in just a few words a cautionary floodlight to help us avoid the pitfall of naive acceptance.

The Fairfield Halls, with College Green top left of picture, is about to be changed forever

The Fairfield Halls, with College Green top left of picture, is about to be changed forever

One thing I would like to add is the observation that, for central Croydon, we have to be looking at flats, for two reasons. The first is land values. Taberner House could never be replaced with semi-detached houses, thatched cottages, or even Addams Family-sized mansions: the land value is too high and the setting is wrong.

In town centre locations, flats look right – if the designs are good, if daylight comes in through correct placing and massing of blocks relative to the sun (too often, it is squeezed out by ignorance, and greed, the two main supporters of bad design) and if materials are well-chosen and domestic in feel, for example, the right type of brick, not smooth machine-aesthetic metal panels like certain office blocks, or guaranteed to stain and look very grubby within two years.

The next questions flow on rapidly from the conclusion — how high should the blocks be? Seven-storey, 15 to 20, or Mega Mental… sorry Menta Tower-type developments of 50 to 60 storeys? Next question: how many bedrooms? One would have thought that a mix would be right.

I agree with those who feel that Croydon needs more people living in and around the centre of town, to avoid a deserted town centre after 6pm.

I hate the bleakness of the asphalted footways, the litter, the lack of greening and the deadness of much of Croydon after dusk. My personal proviso is that the highest standards of urban design, architecture and landscape architecture are needed to create a green town that has good buildings, laid-out with care about scale, inter-relationship between buildings and landscape, and direct sunlight, all linked with roads and walkways of the right scale, that are paved in natural materials like York stone and granite, and planted with trees.

Croydon after midnight: Lewis White says he I hate the bleakness of the asphalted footways, the litter, the lack of greening and the deadness of much of Croydon after dusk

Croydon after midnight: Lewis White says he “hates the bleakness of the asphalted footways, the litter, the lack of greening and the deadness after dusk”

Only a certain type of person will actually want to live in a non-green environment. They will tend to not have children (because all children need a garden to run around in, and experience mud, nature and fresh air) and they will be desperate for any accommodation… or just not care about environment… or be absentee landlords who have no desire to live on site.

Most of us want either a garden, a green roof, or would want to live in a flat in a nice block, in a street with trees and landscaped frontages to the blocks of flats, and not too far from a good park.

We should not be designing a Croydon to just satisfy the space needs of desperate people or absentee landlords. We will end up with an ugly, bleak concrete, inhuman town. Rather like the Croydon of ill-repute.

So am I for flats on the Fairfield area? Well, yes, but subject to them not being mega-sized multi-storey human storage boxes, and subject to them having lots of natural light and lots of trees and green areas within view of every flat, and that they should comprise of decent buildings.

Ghettoes of two-bedroom flats, owned by absentee private landlords? That sounds bad to me.

I would urge everyone who cares about getting the future of Croydon right, and steered in a green direction, to go the public consultation on the Fairfield and College Green area, which is happening tomorrow and Saturday. Have a look at the plans, and quiz the designers. I certainly will be going there. I hope to see other Inside Croydon readers… I will be incognito, but will be holding a rolled-up copy (on a vellum scroll) of Inside Croydon, recognisable instantly.

Judge for yourself– here is what Croydon Council is saying:

A two-day exhibition is to take place showcasing the plans to turn Croydon College, Fairfield Halls and the surrounding College Green area into one of London’s leading cultural and educational destinations. The exhibition will be held in the Croydon Clocktower court area in front of Central Library, between 11am and 7pm on Friday, 6 November, and 11am and 5pm on Saturday, 7 November.

It will be an opportunity for members of the public to meet the project team, view the plans, ask questions and make comments on the scheme. The plans see the construction of a new state-of-the-art building for Croydon College with modern facilities, on the Barclay Road annex site.

The neighbouring Fairfield Halls will also be transformed into a 21st century concert and events venue designed to attract leading acts from around the globe.

The project team behind the scheme includes Rick Mather Architects, a practice known for its work on the Royal Festival Hall in central London and the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, and Croydon-based consultants Mott MacDonald.

  • Lewis White is a a chartered landscape architect from Coulsdon
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5 Responses to We need quality homes, not quantity, to avoid ghettoes

  1. College Green is one of only two pieces of green land in Central Croydon. If it is turned into flats then Wellesley Road will simply become a concrete chasm for its whole length and Croydon’s reputation as a soulless wasteland will be consolidated forever. Lewis White is right, of course: if flats are built on College Green they should be of the highest possible quality in every aspect. The point I was trying to make earlier, in my last gravitas-laden contribution, is that they are not necessary. No one really knows exactly how many flats are being built, being planned or in the pipeline for the square kilometre that is Central Croydon but the number certainly runs into the high thousands. I will try to find out at the Clocktower tomorrow but will certainly fail. They are being built following the mantra of Ray Kinsella, the character played by Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams”. If you build it, he was told, they will come. In the film, they did. In Croydon, they won’t: the flats that are already being built are too expensive, many are simply being used as parking places for money from abroad, almost none are suitably priced for ordinary, working local people and there are simply too many. The market is, or will soon be, totally saturated. The flats will not sell. It is as simple as that!

  2. I went to the exhibition this morning…three smooth little notice boards, a heap of questionnaires and lots of cheerful, besuited functionaries talking to each other.

    The boards contained the usual PR flannel and over-ambitious projections of the beauty of the wondrous scheme, all advertising and puff really and nary a word as to how it fits into the general housing scheme, the flats already being built and how it will ameliorate the loss of the last but one smidgeon of green space in Croydon’s town centre.

    I could not get near anyone to ask any questions so, once I filled in my questionnaire (which is pretty amateur), a bit like the old News of the World reporters, I made my excuses and left.

    It’s clearly all decided, all organised, all set up to go and nothing is going to change that.

    Now all we have to know is the names of the internal roads. That should be fun. Stand by for those seeking fame: Belvir Boulevard, anyone? What about Elvery Avenue?

    Newman Road might prove to be a cul de sac.

  3. Lewis White says:

    Thanks, Arno, I look forward to seeing the proposals tomorrow.

    The existing Green is in fact a 1960’s grassed roof garden on top of the underground car park. Sa dto say, unlike its sister, the Queen’s Gardens, the Green has never really worked properly, as a park, as it is very open, windswept, and isolated from active routeways, and lacks what urban designers call “an active frontage”, in the form of surrounding buildings with doors and windows facing the Green, so there have been few people around to use it.

    At one end it has had a bleak plateau of concrete paving slabs alongside Wellesley road, then, on the College side, a deep open moat-like space (part of the basement car park open to the air), then, at the railway end, a strange portal structure in concrete, (masking the multi-storey car park) , and on the South side, the concrete Art College and the blank side elevation of Fairfield Halls.

    The connection between the College and the Green has improved in recent years, as a result of the College building a good entrance on to the Green, but the Green has remained rather dead in feel. The paving is all cracked, and the whole place is down at heel. The green area is still attractive, but the skateboarders are the only real focus of liveliness. Why not give these young people (they are athletes!) a better “skateable” environment, and something else, an artificial grass pitch on part, to give the Croydon College students and many others, a pitch right next to the campus. Lots of people would use one at night and weekends, as well as during the Collage day.

    I am not against flats around the green, but I look forward to visiting the exhibition tomorrow to see what is being proposed.

    On Arno’s well-made point about whether we are now witnessing supply of new flats outstripping demand, the real danger is that developers build too many small flats in buildings that are too high, with massive service charges to pay for the expense of maintaining and renewing high-speed lifts, and getting water up to the top and sewage down. It will not be cheap.

    If the flats don’t sell, and developers go bankrupt, who will buy them up?– probably, a council desperate to house the people who can’t afford the service charges. Result? Social housing in the sky.
    Not a fantastic prospect.

    We can do without building modern, private versions of the 1960’s housing estates, such as those now being taken down at the Elephant and Castle. I hope that anything proposed around the Green will be green and pleasant. Good Town Planning– Not “Town Cramming”

  4. Lewis White says:

    Well……… I went to the exhibition on Saturday afternoon, and, like the other members of the public who visited, took the opporiunity to talk with the people there. The ones who were there were a senior Planning officer from the Council, an architect from the firm designing the college development, and a structural engineer. who confirmed that the deck over the underground car park is very strong, and able to support the proposed landscape of stone paving, grass and trees.

    All three were not PR “Suits” , and listened as well as explained.
    It is evident that the existing college green will be reduced in size, as the “far” end as viewed from Wellesley Road , including the adjacent multi storey at the East end (railway end), be redeveloped for a new Croydon College.

    The existing main college site would be redeveloped, after the new college is made ready to take over from the old. The visual “artist impressions” suggest that the materials used for the college will be god-quality brick and glass, not grey concrete nor rendering which are both notorious for staining.

    The good thing about the College Green design in my view is that the design gives the space a surround of “active frontage”. The Fairfield will get a new ground-level side extension with a glass-frontage alongside the Green, to show the activity going on inside. The new college will likewise have a glazed fronatge on the groujnd floor.

    The reduced Green will take the form of two large lawns, surrounded and intersected with walkways. The lawns will be tilted slightly towards the South, to create a sunny environment for sunbathing and picnicking. The edges would be stepped to create places for people to sit.

    My only worry about the proposals is that the existing wide, boring and windswept (now broken) concrete paved areas alongside Wellesley Road will be merely reproduced In tasteful smooth granite. A performance stage would be exposed to wind and traffic noise!.

    I would like to see some source of animation eg a skateboard area or a football cage to replace the dull paving by the roadside,

    I will email these observations in, and hope for another good response.

  5. The roof to the car park is abut one metre below the surface. That is insufficient depth for most trees of any substance.

    As to “god-quality” brick and glass, I didn’t realise that Croydon was to become more like Heaven!

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