Town centre high rise towers are building up divisions

CROYDON COMMENTARY: East Croydon resident ROD DAVIES joins the debate about the over-development of the town centre, with a warning for the future

At the heart of the East Croydon Masterplan is an incomplete footbridge, a tower that may not be built, and a building site that's not been built on for a decade

The Menta Tower on Cherry Orchard Road has been a contentious development since its proposals were approved by a Tory-run council’s planning committee

If the Greater London Authority is correct that Croydon needs to provide 40,000-plus homes in the future, and existing residents in what are currently the borough’s leafy suburbs object to any significant development in their areas, then there is little option but to construct a very densely populated town centre with little access to green space, unless everyone is willing to share the burden of providing space for housing.

Ultimately it is all about the choices we make.

However, in my opinion there is an additional factor that everyone appears to be missing. If this high-rise town centre is constructed to meet demand, we will have the potential for further division in the borough. Already there is a north~south split between Labour and Conservative-voting areas.

Once the town centre is developed, we will have another distinct community that will generate very high levels of Council Tax per hectare. It will have very little public realm to pay for and it will be very cheap to deliver public services to.

How long will it be until this community starts to object to subsidising the outer areas?

Consider the Menta-Redrow developments. I estimate that they will generate something in excess of 30 times the Council Tax per hectare than, say, Shirley and Sanderstead.

Developers of the "Morello" Menta development have already stripped Cherry Orchard Road of its cherry trees

Developers of the “Morello” Menta development have already stripped Cherry Orchard Road of its cherry trees

As this development occupies only a short stretch of Cherry Orchard Road, there will be few lampposts to pay for, their bins will be emptied swiftly from central points, and due to their proximity to the hospital, ambulances will easily hit performance targets.

Being next to the railway station and the town centre, the development doesn’t require an extensive network of suburban streets to be maintained. The list of differences goes on.

In my opinion, a dynamic will be created for a third geographical entity in Croydon that has none of the political allegiances to either the local Conservative or Labour Parties. It may well elect councillors as independents or from other parties (such as the Greens or LibDems) who could then hold the balance in any council.

They may well start asking some very difficult questions about where council income is raised and where it is spent, and that may lead to the outer suburban areas being faced with significant reductions in services.

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3 Responses to Town centre high rise towers are building up divisions

  1. Nick Davies says:

    It’s a bit more complicated than that. The amount local authorities spend on environmental things like bins and street lights is relatively small. By far the largest proportion of expenditure goes on education, housing and social services. If the Menta block were to be filled with families with school age kids the charge on resources will be significant; even more if many of them need housing or social care. It would create a far greater call on the call on the council’s resources than the leafy suburbs.

    We shouldn’t assume that all those 40,000 homes are for wealthy young childless professionals to the exclusion of everyone else. The truth is it’s the housing situation of everyone else that the GLA is trying to get the boroughs to address, and at the same time they need to address the education and social needs of all those people.

    • Rod Davies says:

      While I readily acknowledge that as agents for central government, councils have little or no discretion regarding expenditure on the core services you identify.
      Nevertheless, it remains a fact that for the discretionary services the amount of money raised in the town centre and the peripheral areas will be significantly higher per hectare than elsewhere and the costs of delivery will be lower. This might be more palatable if every ward in the borough was actively sharing in the burden of providing new homes and other regeneration initiatives, but they are not.
      Since the commencement of the local plan consultation the “leafy suburbs” have actively lobbied for protection against development and in conjunction with political direction the local plan reflects this. The Croydon Places concept divides up the centre periphery areas and links them as minor entities into “Places” that are dominated by the protected leafy suburbs, and it has the effect of disenfranchising these affected areas.
      The burden of responding to current and future demand has fallen on the town centre and the immediately adjacent areas. This inequity divides the borough into those who live in “leafy suburbs” and those who do not.
      Logically the future residents of the high properties will ask, if they are paying a level of council tax equivalent to those of houses in the suburbs per unit, but per hectare contributing at least 30 times as much, shouldn’t a high level of service be provided in the high density areas? The dramatic differences between the inner area and the outer areas are likely to be stark, and those in the inner areas are unlikely to feel association with the outer areas they rarely if ever go to and certainly do not depend on.

  2. Lewis White says:

    The thought of the Menta tower filled with children is a nightmare scenario. Sadly, bonkers projects have a habit of getting built. We all need to pray it does not get built. If it does, we are storing up social and mental health problems for the future, big time.

    The recent Dubai fire would make me think long and hard before buying a flat in a tall block.

    If urban folk tales are true–that all these flats get bought by oligarchs and oil rich Arabs, there is not much chance of them bothering to contact “The Council” to complain. However, I certainly understand the points made by both Rod and Nick.

    If politicians really want to provide flats, we should be looking at renewing town centres like Coulsdon, where potentially, 4 storey blocks above shops would be viable, and a number of worn-out urban areas such as parts of Broad Green. These might need Compulsory Purchase.

    The question is– have politicians got the willpower or courage?

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