WALTER CRONXITE reports on the splits emerging between Croydon’s Progress politicians over the profiteering plans for thousands of new homes across the borough
Steve Reed OBE, the recently very reticent MP for Lambeth South/Croydon North [delete to taste], has raised “serious concerns” with his Progress mates who control Croydon Council over some of house-building firm Brick by Brick’s development schemes.
Reed says that high-density housing proposed for his constituency will “stretch to the limit” local amenities and services, including GPs, schools and public transport.
Brick by Brick is owned by Croydon Council, as a business vehicle to develop thousands of new homes on council-owned property and land. It has been set up as a private entity so that the new homes will not automatically be subjected to Thatcherite “Right to Buy” rules, which have costs local authorities multi-billions in discounted property prices and contributed hugely to the housing crisis.
But by being a private company, Brick by Brick is also not subject to the levels of scrutiny usually associated with the disposal of millions of pounds of public assets.
And while Croydon Council’s chief executive, Jo Negrini, and the cabinet member for regeneration, Alison Butler, frequently boast of how Brick by Brick is to deliver 1,000 new homes by 2019, what they never state is that not a single one of those new homes will be a council house.
Half of Brick by Brick’s homes will be made available at “affordable” rents or sale prices, which in the over-heated property market here in south London could mean £300,000 for a one-bed flat, or £800-plus per month in rent. And at least 500 of Brick by Brick’s properties – all built on public land with investment from our council – will be flogged off privately. This is less a solution to the homelessness crisis in Croydon, and more a greedy grab for cash using public assets.
The first batch of planning applications from Brick by Brick were submitted last month, with more expected in the coming weeks.
Brick by Brick’s schemes tend to involve the “in-filling” of patches of green space between council flats, or redeveloping community centres. Initial objections to the overdevelopment innate in such schemes came mainly from residents in the south of the borough, particularly in Shirley, who rejected proposals to build on Metropolitan Open Land, which normally would have the same planning protections as Green Belt.
But now residents in Auckland Rise and Sylvan Hill, near Crystal Palace, have added their voices to the criticism, as Brick by Brick seeks to build tower blocks between existing housing.
“Our schemes have been shaped and informed by engagement with local residents,” is the line taken by Colm Lacey, an executive director at Croydon Council who has been installed as CEO of private company Brick by Brick. Lacey must have forgotten about two consultations in the past 12 months, where Brick by Brick’s proposals for Auckland Rose and Sylvan Hill drew support from first 9 per cent of residents and then 3 per cent of residents.
“It will turned a nice green estate into wall-to-wall development,” one resident, Rob de la Poer, told the Croydon Guardian.
“There are gaps between existing housing blocks so they are going to fill them in with more buildings. Some of them are going to be within a few metres of existing houses with views into their property.
“The people on our estate are mostly working class people. All it will do is provide a new housing stock for private landlords.”
And the residents have persuaded their MP, Reed, to write to the council on their behalf. “There is a desperate need for more housing in Croydon, but in many parts of the north of our borough the population is already stretched to the limit,” Reed wrote.
“We don’t have enough school places, GPs, police, public transport or space on the roads to accommodate more people without additional investment first.
“I want to see housing prioritised in areas where these problems are less acute and there is more land available to build on, and any housing development should only be taken forward with the consent of people already living in the area.
“Residents in Auckland Rise and Sylvan Hill have raised serious concerns they would like the council to address.”
Reed raises a number of valuable and valid points, which are applicable to all the current development plans being pushed through by speculators, developers, land owners and the council: the basic infrastructure around Croydon is at breaking point already, through disinvestment, mismanagement and neglect.
And understandably, there’s little confidence among residents in the fairness of the planning process.
The cabinet member responsible for housing in Croydon is Butler. The chair of the planning committee is Butler’s husband, Paul Scott. And the applicant, Brick by Brick, is owned by Croydon Council.
“We will be able to object the plans at the planning process but we will be objecting to the very people who want this to go through in the first place,” de la Poer said.
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