BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, on how the borough’s Council Tax-payers are providing another nice little earner for the Town Hall CEO’s chums
In the eight months since council chief executive Jo Negrini unveiled Croydon’s Place Review Panel, it has not had a single design submitted for consideration from Brick by Brick, the council’s own housing development company.
And despite Angela Brady, the co-chair of the Place Review Panel, expressing a perfectly reasonable desire to have an opportunity for an overview of the plans for Hammersfield, the £1.4billion redevelopment of the town centre by Westfield and Hammerson, the biggest development scheme in the borough for almost 60 years, the developers have snubbed Negrini’s experts.
According to Croydon Council, the Place Review Panel “helps enhance Croydon’s built environment to create an attractive destination for London and the south-east. It supports the council’s commitment to ensure development leaves a legacy of vibrant places and design that will be loved and admired by residents and visitors alike”.
Or some load of self-justifying old twaddle like that.
The council also says that, “The Croydon Place Review Panel (PRP) is an independent, multidisciplinary and expert panel that provides advice on projects relating to all aspects of Croydon’s built environment”, and then lists a number of facets, including, “major development schemes undergoing a pre-application process and part of significant regeneration and growth of the borough”, “parks”, “street furniture”, “public realm”, “public art projects” and “civic spaces”.
Last November, when the names of the PRP members were announced, Alison Butler, the council deputy leader and cabinet member for housing, said that the experts’ “valuable knowledge will be instrumental in furthering Croydon’s commitment to achieve the highest quality architecture across the borough”.
But not, apparently, when it comes to the council’s own house-building company.
In a response to a Freedom of Information request, Croydon Council has provided details of six Place Review Panel meetings staged between last November and May this year. The council has not identified nine of the 12 schemes that have been reviewed by the panel so far, stating that, “As outlined in the Place Review Panel guidance … for schemes requiring planning permission, the addresses of schemes remain confidential for schemes in pre-application until they are presented to Planning Committee. The Panel reports will be published if a planning application is submitted for a scheme.”
Brick by Brick has had dozens of its projects granted planning permission in the past four months, and the Place Review Panel has not published a single report on any of them, suggesting that none of them were submitted for review.
Developers wanting to build in Croydon are not obliged to submit their scheme to the PRP, though the council’s guidance states “large, complex and/or strategic schemes are strongly recommended to undergo a Place Review”, for which they have to pay fees starting at £4,800.
Brick by Brick – another initiative with which Negrini is closely associated – is building 1,000 homes on council-owned land and property, often on small sites. The managing director of Brick by Brick is a senior council employee, Colm Lacey, who was Negrini’s deputy in the planning department before she was promoted to the borough’s top job.
“While none of the Brick by Brick schemes can really be described as ‘large’,” one senior Katharine Street figure said today, “many of them do fit the bill of ‘complex’.
“It might have been a vote of confidence in the Place Review Panel if the council’s own housing developers had submitted their schemes to them for their input, and it would have offered Brick by Brick the chance of a ‘seal of approval’ for their designs if the PRP had taken a look, which could have proved especially valuable when it comes to flogging the 570 or more properties on the private market.
“As it is, if the council’s own development company won’t use the Place Review Panel, why should any private developers?”
According to the council’s Freedom of Information response, up to the beginning of this month, the PRP had made available just a single report on any schemes submitted to it – the not very complementary review of Councillor Mark Watson’s self-indulgent £1.1million spending spree along Surrey Street Market, in which the Watson failed to provide the panel with any sight of the “street art” on which he has lavished tens of thousands of tax-payer money.
Given the prestige and importance invested in the Place Review Panel by Negrini, Butler and other council leaders, the Town Hall’s failure to publicise that report on Surrey Street plans speaks volumes for its potentially embarrassing content.
In all, up to June this year, the Place Review Panel has met eight times.
Details of the latest two meetings, on May 31 and June 15, were not made available in the FoI response, but in the first six meetings, Croydon’s Place Review Panel had considered a total of just 12 schemes.
Apart from the council’s Surrey Street project, the only two sites which have since gone beyond the pre-application stage are for 5-9 Surrey Street and for what is now being called Morello II, the Menta and Redrow development on Cherry Orchard Road, which is expected to go before the planning committee soon. Place Review Panel reports on both might be expected to be made available thereafter.
According to the council, celebrity design guru Wayne Hemingway, the “star” name when Negrini revealed her panel of experts last year, has yet to make an appearance at a Croydon PRP meeting, but the other panelists have so far cost the borough’s tax-payers £11,332.20, with the committee chairs each receiving a day rate of £500 or pro rata.
Which, if 11 other developers have all coughed up their £4,000 fee (plus VAT), means that at least the borough’s coffers are in profit.
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