Our housing reporter, BARRATT HOLMES, on a piece of party political tit-for-tat which could stall the development of 200 homes by a year
If there is a housing crisis, it clearly can’t be affecting Purley much, after the Tory government’s Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, called in private developer plans to build a 17-storey tower providing 114 homes on a site which has been described as “an eyesore” and has stood vacant for more than 40 years.
Javid just happens to be the boss of Gavin Barwell, the Croydon Central MP who holds the junior government role as… housing minister, and also known as “the developer’s friend”.
The call-in decision was made after prompting from Chris Philp, Barwell’s Tory colleague and the MP for Croydon South, the constituency which includes Purley. Philp has been claiming a victory for the Nimby tendency, saying, “Local residents have been overwhelmingly opposed to this scheme, and so have I.”
Philp helped orchestrate a campaign, including a 9,000-signature petition, against a development which had been painstakingly put together by Purley Baptist Church and backed by the Purley Business Improvement District and the local residents’ association.
In his letter to Philp confirming his decision to call-in the application, Javid wrote: “In general, planning applications are only called-in if planning issues of more than local importance are involved.”
It is hard to see what the “more than local importance” issues are in this case, beyond party political point-scoring between Tory MPs and ministers and a Labour-run council. The Mayor of London, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, opted not to use his discretionary powers to call-in the application, so Philp went over his head.
Planning permission had been granted at a noisy meeting at Croydon Town Hall last December. The scheme will now be subject to a public inquiry, potentially delaying it by months, perhaps a year.
The Secretary of State’s decision rounds-off a bad couple of weeks for Croydon’s council planning department.
The under-staffed and overworked department has had to cancel a meeting on Thursday to consider the revised £1.4billion plans for Westfield’s redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre – now being dubbed “the Waitgift Centre”, after five years of development blight in the town centre.
The planning meeting has been cancelled, according to council sources, because Town Hall officials have not had time to put together all the paperwork.
And last Thursday, a planning department recommendation to build a 600-pupil primary school right next to a busy main road was rejected unanimously by the elected councillors on the planning committee.
So a public inquiry into a scheme which aims to provide more than 200 homes in total, as well as various community facilities for a long-established local church group, is probably the last thing which the council’s planning department needs at this time.
The principal complaint about the Purley scheme is that the tower is out of keeping with the area – a reservation which could potentially block much of the development planned for Croydon in the next five years.
Designed by Proctor and Matthews Architects, the larger of the two developments proposed is called Mosaic Place, using a brownfield site between Russell Hill Road and Brighton Road and including the tower. Purley Baptist Church’s existing 1908 building on the plot will be demolished and replaced once the new centre was completed.
According to the architects, the scheme occupies the only site earmarked for a tall tower under Croydon’s local plan. The project is linked to a 106-home development, known as the South Site on Banstead Road, which features blocks ranging in height from three to eight storeys.
Philp told Inside Croydon, “Hopefully, the Planning Inspector will listen more carefully to local people than Paul Scott, the chairman of Croydon’s planning committee.
“Of course, there is no guarantee as to the outcome. This will take some months. I am very pleased by this – the site needs redeveloping but six to eight floors is more suitable; 17 floors will change the character of Purley, and providing only 20 unrestricted parking spaces for 220 flats will cause chaos.
“It was shocking that the council gave it planning permission and I am delighted that it has been called in and that a planning inspector will now look at it,” Philp said.
Philp has also claimed that the tower “may act as a precedent for other developers to build skyscrapers in Purley”, something which is unlikely if there is no provision in the council’s local plan for other sites to have towers.
But it was good to see a politician, and a Conservative one at that, for once campaigning against what he called “parking chaos” because of the under-provision of parking spaces for the new homes – a common developer trick to reduce their land acquisition costs, effectively passing the buck for parking spaces to neighbouring streets and the local authority to resolve.
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Oh, what a dilemma. I have to agree with Tory Phip, something that offends my conscience, but only about one thing. Not providing adequate parking in a new development, whatever its size, is an almost criminal action and is highly irresponsible. In Purley it would mean parking pollution in all the neighbouring streets as well as constipation in the Tesco car park. For the rest I thoroughly disagree with Tory Philp. The location of the proposed “skyscraper” is in an undistinguished, unlovely, unattractive part of the Borough. Its basically just a promontory jutting into a sea of vehicles. There is no townscape to spoil. A really tall building would actually enhance the whole area and give it some focus. The more individual and innovative the building the better the effect would be. It would bestow character to an area almost totally devoid of that quality. The higher the better, the bolder the design, the greater the impact and the likelihood of making Purley famous again for something other than being the lair of Bernard Ingham.