Deputy mayor questions developers’ reach for the skyscrapers

Plans for more and taller tower blocks to dominate the skyline in central Croydon might yet encounter a bit of a problem.

Towering aambition: James Murray, the deputy mayor for housing, with the man who appointed him, Sadiq Khan

Towering ambition: James Murray, the deputy mayor for housing, with the man who appointed him, Sadiq Khan

Because London’s new deputy mayor for housing has declared that towers are not the answer for tackling the capital’s housing crisis.

This could add an interesting shift in the dynamic, as the council’s planning department is expected to rule early in the new year on Westfield’s revised scheme, which almost doubles the amount of homes the Australian developers want to build on the site of Croydon’s increasingly decrepit Whitgift Shopping Centre, with 1,000 flats to be accommodated in towers of around 30 storeys tall which would overshadow what remains of the town centre’s heritage buildings, such as the listed Almshouses and St Michael’s Church.

James Murray is a former management consultant and Labour councillor in Islington. Having helped Sadiq Khan get elected as London Mayor, the 33-year-old was appointed to one of the key jobs at City Hall.

Last week, he aired his measured scepticism about tall residential towers – so beloved of greedy developers since they increase their profit potential – in an interview with the Evening Boris which officials in Croydon’s planning department might do well to read.

After all, Croydon Council’s own strategic plan for the town centre argues against too many, and too-tall, tower block developments. There’s strong suspicion that Croydon Council officials will opt for selective amnesia when Westfield present their fait accompli in January.

But the Standard reports, “With developers jostling to build ever-higher skyscrapers, intent on cramming as many homes as the law will allow on to their land, Murray thinks a proper debate is needed on how high-density housing is designed for the future.”

A “proper” debate?

That’ll be a first, especially in Croydon, where bending over backwards to please developers – usually at the expense of existing residents and businesses – has tended to be the default position for Town Hall politicians, whether Tory or Labour.

Jo Negrini: council chief executive

Jo Negrini: will she dare to temper Westfield’s towers?

Croydon is where the new council chief exec, Jo “Regeneration Practitioner” Negrini, has managed to get so close to some in the building industry that, after the council doled out some juicy public contracts to architects firms, they’ve now started to return the “favour” by indulging the Australian-born town planner with empty honours.

The need for more housing is not in dispute.

But the manner in which it is being delivered appears to be something Murray is keen to look at.

The Mayor does have a housing budget, but Khan’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, committed to spending £1.25billion on building 42,000 affordable homes between 2015 and 2018.

That leaves Khan, and Murray, with limited scope for making immediate change, with so much of their resource already tied-up.

But that does not necessarily diminish the influence which the deputy mayor might yield, nor the potential for City Hall to become involved – again – should planning issues over Westfield and Hammerson’s long-promised £1.4 billion regeneration of central Croydon get referred to the Mayor of London.

According to the Standard, Murray said, “Towers and high rises are not the only answer. We need to decide what high-density accommodation will look like. At the moment we tend to think about towers but you can actually get very high density with six, eight, 10 storeys — like the terraces you see in Kensington.”


Suppose that would make a change from previous embarrassingly lame comparisons between Croydon and Manhattan. And it might even provide an improvement in most of the housing stock being delivered.

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5 Responses to Deputy mayor questions developers’ reach for the skyscrapers

  1. Think 30-50 years ahead when these towers need significant maintenance and the annual recharges to owners become prohibitive. Flat values will drop and they will become like the public sector tower blocks of the 60s that are being demolished.

    However with hundreds of private occupiers redevelopment will be difficult and Croydon could be blighted. Developers can maximise profits by going ever higher but they have limited interest in the long-term value of such properties. I’d be watching the quality closely as that will affect long-term maintenance liabilities.

    • Just in case anyone has forgotten, before they took control of the council, the Croydon Labour group – the people who promoted Jo Negrini to her current position – were describing some flat developments in the town centre as “the slums of the future”.

      Meanwhile, down in Purley, and a block of a mere 16 storeys is an unwanted “skyscraper”, according to the Tories, whose MPs include a [coughs] financier for property deals and the man who lobbied to bring Westfield to Croydon.

  2. Finally, someone in power is talking sense.

    To build more and more flats higher and higher is simply not the answer to every urban problem.

    But that seems to be the preferred, simplistic solution of our recent and present councils.

    David Wickens is quite right to point out the overall sustainability of such developments and the inevitable eventual urban blight that they will bring with them.

  3. Most of the flats (sorry, “apartments”) will probably be bought as buy to let with a significant proportion being owned in the Far East who regard London properties as a tradable commodity. The prices will no doubt be out of the range of most Croydonians therefore doing little to help the housing shortage. David Wickens is correct about his assumptions for 30-50 years time. The developers are storing up problems for future generations to pick up the tab (no change there then).

    With regards Whitgift, no doubt the council (aka Negrini) will show a token resistance to the latest proposals for the number of flats. Expect to see a reduction in the proposals of 100 units as a so called victory for the council.

  4. timbartell says:

    No one will be able to stop us having whatever big business wants and what makes the most profit for them.Westfield will bully the planners either you accept what we want or we’ll pull out .

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