Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central who was recently appointed housing minister, has quickly found himself bunkered over a proposal to build 129 homes in his constituency – since it seems likely that he will have to declare the development out-of-bounds.
The Tory MP has found himself in the rough over the Hyde Group’s proposal to build the homes on the World of Golf driving range on Long Lane, between Ashburton and South Norwood Country Park.
It is a site which is designated as Metropolitan Open Land, or MOL, the urban equivalent of sacrosanct Green Belt, and therefore supposed to be protected from any such development.
As recently as last month, but just before career politician Barwell finally made the step up to ministerial level, the MP showed that he is implacably opposed to the de-designation of the majority of MOL sites in his constituency for building much-needed housing.
“This land is a vital green corridor and should remain protected,” Barwell said in July when hitching himself to a local campaign opposing housing on similar sites in nearby Shirley.
But that was before he became a junior minister for housing, planning and London, and before a planning application for more than a hundred new homes in Barwell’s London constituency was prepared by Hyde.
Given Barwell’s public opposition to four other de-designations of MOL, how can he not oppose the 129-home proposal in Ashburton without the risk of being accused of blatant hypocrisy? But how can the government’s housing minister go all NIMBY when there’s a seemingly viable scheme to deliver more than a hundred new homes on his own patch?
Public relations spinners for the developers claimed that the housing, “along with the provision of a new public park and a new community building were met with enthusiasm from local residents, a number of whom have already made enquiries about the proposed new affordable homes”.
“Enthusiasm“? Really? A grand total of 48 residents actually turned up for Hyde’s public consultation event, held over two days in February, at a venue more than a mile away from the proposed development site.
As a result of that consultation, the developers have reduced the density of the development, reducing by eight the number of homes to be built. “Residents were keen to see more publicly accessible green links opened up between South Norwood Country Park and Long Lane Wood,” Hyde’s spokesman said. “The number of houses has been reduced from 137 to 129 to accommodate this request.”
The fact that the World of Golf is on MOL was unmentioned by the developers at their consultation event, and was also missing from their recent press release.
But clearly sensitive to opposition to development on such grounds, Hyde say that they have adjusted their proposals, reducing the number of homes to be built and providing a public park which “equates to over 40 per cent of the site and provides new links between existing green spaces. This includes new play spaces for children and new habitats for wildlife in order to promote biodiversity”.
All of the housing is to be “affordable”*, with 30 per cent of the homes offered for social rental and 70 per cent provided on a shared ownership basis.
“The Hyde Group do not feel that [the site] currently meets the criteria for an MOL designation in its current state as it is currently inaccessible to the public, contains a number of built structures, including 20ft high netting and floodlights and hinders continuous access from the open spaces to the north and south of the site,” a spokesman told Inside Croydon.
“The proposed inclusion of 40 per cent of the site as a new park would open the site up to public access and provide a valuable new green space for the local community, improved habitats as well as linking the existing green spaces that surround the site. This is addressed in detail in the forthcoming planning application and all documents will be published on Croydon Council’s website.”
It almost sounds like exactly the sort of development which Barwell, as housing minister, ought to be supporting as he heads the government’s drive to deliver more new homes, and improve on the dire record under David Cameron, when fewer houses were built than at any time since the 1930s.
“We know this will be used by the local community and really enhance the local environment. We will continue to keep the local community informed as the proposal moves forward,” said the Hyde Group’s Conan Farningham.
Barwell’s own position on this development within his own constituency remains undeclared, however. Inside Croydon invited Barwell to tee-off about the proposals. But Barwell – “a Strong Voice for Croydon”, if you believe the Tory MP’s own publicity – has failed to respond.
Perhaps he feels he has been stymied (it’s a golf thing, Gav).
*”Affordable” – in terms of housing in Croydon in 2016, this should usually be taken to mean “far from affordable”, with rents set somewhere north of £1,000 per month.
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