BARRATT HOLMES reports on the shabby treatment of social housing tenants by one of the country’s largest housing associations
An elderly couple who have lived in a Coulsdon cottage for almost 40 years only found out that they were to lose their home when they read their landlords’ planning application pinned on the opposite side of the road outside their house.
The plans to demolish Well Cottages and replace them with flats have been described as “outrageous” by the local MP, who says that the proposed replacement building would not look out of place amid the bright lights of Las Vegas.
Optivo, the £300million-a-year housing association, has applied for planning permission to demolish two cottages, around the side of Lion Green Road car park, because they “are not economically suited for the area”. Optivo wants to build a modernist, golden cladded block of nine flats on the side, right in the middle of a Coulsdon conservation area.
The planning application has already attracted the ire and objections of more than 150 locals, and now MP Chris Philp has joined the objectors to the scheme.
The cottages, one two-bedroom, the other three, have been part of the local social housing stock since the closure of Cane Hill Hospital. The cottages were built around 130 years ago as part of the Victorian asylum’s estate, providing homes for hospital workers.
When Cane Hill closed, the cottages passed through the hands of a variety of public bodies as landlords responsible for their up-keep: English Partnerships, the Homes and Communities Agency and, for a while, the GLA, until most recently they were passed over to what is now Optivo (formed by the merger earlier this year of housing associations AmicusHorizon and Viridian Housing).
The succession of landlords have ill-served their tenants in the cottages, and failed to maintain the fine Victorian homes. One of the cottages has been vacant for some time and is boarded up, while the other has at least recently had new central heating and kitchen fitted.
Yet the couple, one of whom is now wheelchair-bound, who have lived at Well Cottages since the 1970s only found out by accident that their landlords wanted to demolish their home, when they noticed a council planning notice on a nearby telegraph pole. Thanks to “Big” Eric Pickles, local authorities don’t even have to send letters to properties affected by planning applications any longer.
Friends of the couple maintain that Optivo failed to visit or write to the couple to tell them of their plans, and how they might be re-housed. “It would have been nice if Optivo had the courtesy to inform the tenants, not just pin a notice at the end of their drive,” they said.
Local residents are not impressed with Optivo’s architect’s vision for the future of the site, either. “It looks more like a B&Q warehouse than a decent block of flats,” they said.
Tory MP Philp, too, is unimpressed with Optivo’s plans, and believes that Victorian cottages in a conservation area should be restored and given a fresh lease of life.
“This application to demolish an elegant pair of semi-detached properties, the last surviving buildings associated with Cane Hill Hospital, and build a modern gold-clad block of nine flats, is outrageous,” Philp told Inside Croydon.
“It would look more at home in Las Vegas!
“Contrary to Optivo’s statement in their submitted Design and Access report that ‘… it will rejoice resemblances of the existing surrounding context and respect the land’, their proposal is completely unsuited to this site and rides rough-shod through the special nature and character of this Coulsdon site.
“We should be respecting and looking after our heritage assets, not bulldozing them and replacing them with ‘playful modern takes’ on historic cottages.”
The deadline for submitting comments on the planning application (which can be accessed by clicking here) close in a week’s time. Without the buildings having any protection of listed status, it is likely that the council’s planning committee will have no grounds to oppose the redevelopment, despite the widespread dislike being expressed for Optivo’s plans.
“It’s almost as if the housing association is using the long-term neglect and lack of proper maintenance of the properties as their excuse for demolishing the cottages,” one concerned Coulsdon resident said.
Last Wednesday, when preparing our original report on this shabby example of over-development, we put a number of questions to Optivo, including asking them to put a figure on the costs estimated to bring the cottages “up to standard”.
Multi-million-pound property owners Optivo have said that, whatever the amount, it is not “financially viable”.
Nearly a week after being asked about the cost of restoring the property, Optivo has refused to put a figure on the cost.
We also asked whether the housing association had submitted its plans for the site to Croydon’s Place Review Panel, to get the considered judgement from the council’s panel of tame architectural experts.
Optivo have also failed to answer that question, which suggests that they have not dared seek an objective opinion on their plans, probably because they are sensitive to the possibility that the Panel will take a disliking to their Las Vegas-style flats.
Optivo have also stated that their scheme to demolish a heritage building “is the best option for the whole community”.
We asked them to show where they had consulted the community to justify such a claim. Again, Optivo have refused to address this question, probably because it is clear that they have never sought the views of Coulsdon residents before submitting their planning application.
And finally, we also asked whether failing to speak to, telephone or write to its tenants about plans to demolish their homes was Optivo’s usual practice. Only today has Optivo responded with a bland statement which includes a throwaway line to say that their staff are in contact with the tenants. There’s no hint of any apology or any regret for their treatment of the couple.
Optivo’s statement this morning says:
“We want to reassure the local community we have not made the decision to redevelop Well Cottages lightly. We have considered all the options, including the renovation of the current properties. However, they do not meet the current Decent Homes Standard. They require significant repair work. It would not be financially viable to bring them up to this standard and continue to offer them at affordable rent. Croydon Council have confirmed that the cottages are not a designated heritage asset.
“Together with the local authority, we weighed up the historical value of the properties against the housing demand for the area. We feel this is the best option for the whole community. This redevelopment will provide much-needed affordable homes, built to a high quality, for local people. The planning application is currently going through the statutory planning process with the local authority and members of the community will have the opportunity to comment.
“Our staff are in contact with the residents at Well Cottages. We will continue to work closely with them to find a suitable replacement home that meets their needs.”
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