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