Six years after being granted permission for a controversial 54-storey block – potentially the tallest residential block in Britain – and developers Menta Redrow will be back at Croydon’s planning committee tonight asking for permission to chop their tower in half.
When they sought permission originally, in 2011, Menta said the build would take five years.
To this day, not a single brick or slab has been laid on the site, next to East Croydon Station on Cherry Orchard Road. Instead, the site is occupied by the “world’s shortest skyscraper”, in the form of the developers’ marketing Portakabin, which a ward councillor has described as “an eyesore, and an affront to local residents”.
Tonight’s pre-application approach to the council ought to present the planning department with an opportunity to take a firm line with the developers over the immediate future of Croydon’s £22million Bridge to Nowhere. Because despite having originally agreed to have the railway station’s northern access bridge on their property, with all the associated benefits it might afford to the eventual occupiers of their buildings, Menta Redrow have spent four years blocking the bridge being completed.
While “Morello I” down the road, the slow-working developers’ first phase, is close to completion, tonight Menta Redrow are dipping their toes in the water to see how the local authority planners and councillors might react to the suggestion of abandoning its overly tall tower and a proposed 16-storey hotel, and instead build two 25-storey blocks on the same site.
The change of mind about the height of the development has been welcomed by local Labour councillors, who originally objected alongside residents and the area’s Tory MP, Gavin Barwell, because the 54-storey tower would overshadow many of the neighbourhood’s conventional homes. The revised proposals are much more in scale with developments nearby: No1 Croydon, Richard Seifert’s Threepenny Bit building outside East Croydon Station, is 24 storeys; Altitude 25, on the other side of George Street, is 26 storeys.
As well as 100 flats, including a small number of “affordable” shared ownership homes to be built at Cherry Orchard Gardens, on the other side of the road, Menta Redrow is now proposing to build 168 units in each tower on what it calls the “Morello 2 site”.
According to the council staff’s report ahead of tonight’s meeting, the key changes from the previous planning permission and the outlines being presented now sees land owned by Network Rail excluded from the proposals, and “The Porter and Sorter land does not form part of these emerging proposals”, which may please a few pub-goers.
But the council report reveals that in seeking changes to their plans, the developers may offer the local authority and Network Rail – who shared much of the cost of building what became the Bridge to Nowhere – some opportunity to resolve the matter and finally provide people on the Addiscombe side of the Brighton tracks more convenient access to the railway station, and across into the town centre, as had always been intended.
The council’s planning report states: “As part of the previous consent, a direct link to the pedestrian bridge over the railway was included. The bridge as built does not extend to the boundary of the land owned by the applicant. Hence, in order to complete the link at the appropriate level, the previous planning permission included development on Network Rail land. Publically [sic] accessible terraces were included (above Network Rail structures) which were intended to connect to the bridge-link. A ‘grand staircase’ was included to connect the public realm to this terrace link.
“At present the proposal includes a staircase within the application site and the offer of a commuted sum for the construction of the remaining link to the bridge.
“The previous planning permission also indicated a terrace on the southernmost tower, to facilitate a future pedestrian links to Billinton Hill (as part of future improvements to and in the vicinity of East Croydon Station). Prior to Billinton Hill works being undertaken, the approved scheme proposed a temporary solution to deal with differences in levels, which included a lift and stair access to be provided for public use towards the southwest corner of the approved hotel.”
The report also states: “One of the fundamental objectives for any development of this site is making a connection to the East Croydon station bridge (via steps and a lift) in accordance with the adopted East Croydon Masterplan. There is an absolute requirement that the scheme delivers a physical link (steps and lift) (component EC9 of the masterplan) to connect to the eastern end of the East Croydon Railway Station bridge, to open the 24-hour footbridge and a new gate line to the station.” We added the italics for emphasis.
The council official who drafted the report continues: “Although omitted on initial pre-application iterations, the development now proposes a bridge link which is to be broadly welcomed. However, the details of the link and its intended delivery as part of this development is somewhat conceptual at present and the details and intended delivery need to be further developed (working alongside other developer partners – including Network Rail).” We added those italics, too.
“The various mechanisms by which officers can be made confident that the link will be delivered need to be resolved by the developer and progressed as part of this proposed development. At present, the applicant is proposing to deliver the steps and lift within their site but without progressing the bridging link across Network Rail land to connect to the existing bridge itself. The applicant has proposed a financial contribution, payable to the council, so that the link can be delivered at a later date which might well leave the intended link to the station bridge re-resolved for the foreseeable future.”
There is some suggestion that by “re-resolved”, the council official meant unresolved.
And for anyone who subscribes to the notion that Sod’s Law – what can go wrong will go wrong – in all matters to do with Croydon Council and planning issues, the following passage from the report to tonight’s meeting will only deepen their pessimism: “There does therefore remain a degree of uncertainty as to how the actual physical connection to the existing bridge and associated opening of the public footbridge/new station gate-line will be delivered. Officers are of the view that the physical delivery of the bridge link (whether it be temporary or permanent) needs to be delivered as part of the redevelopment of Morello 2.”
The developers’ scheme for Cherry Orchard Gardens is also much reduced, too, with retail and community uses removed from the reconfigured proposals, a reduced amount of public open space and town houses included in the 2011 scheme now dropped from the plans.
There may be many millions of reasons for the developers to come back with a much revised scheme at this stage. With thousands of new properties liable to come on to the Croydon market in the next three-to-five years, including on the Taberner House site, as part of the Westfield development and council-backed properties around Fairfield Halls and Croydon College, further delays in developing Redrow’s expensively acquired rail-side site could see demand for their flats reduced, and the sky-high prices they thought they might command slump.
Hence the new-found urgency, and potentially more leverage for council planners to get from Menta Redrow what they originally promised and what the area needs.
ECCO, the East Croydon Community Organisation, has welcomed this fresh opportunity to finish an important and expensive piece of public works which has been blocked by private interest.
Of the Bridge to Nowhere, ECCO says, “Residents have waited for it for five years and should not have to wait for another five. Since the first application was made, the share price of Redrow plc has more than tripled as profits have handsomely increased. In short, this is a very profitable development for a very profitable company, and it is reasonable for residents to expect work on the completion of the bridge to commence as soon as possible.”
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