Planners wave away environmental tests on 44-storey prefabs

The world’s tallest modular-built residential tower could soon be coming to East Croydon

The planning department at Croydon Council has decided to allow proposals for a 44-storey residential tower block at East Croydon to go into the planning process without undergoing any independent Environmental Impact Assessment.

One planning expert contacted by Inside Croydon said that the council official’s decision not to require an EIA is “at the least, surprising”.

Another regarded the decision with scorn: “Of course a building of that size needs a proper, independently conducted assessment. Towers that size can change the weather – at 44 storeys, it will be seen from other boroughs.”

Developers Tide Construction want to build what has been described as “a major new residential tower” on the long-vacant site of Essex House on George Street.

In fact, what is proposed is two towers, of 38 and 44 storeys, that will provide 546 modular-built flats – with most of the structure will be constructed off-site, brought to Croydon on the back of lorries to be put together in modules, like a giant set of Lego.

Or “prefabs in the sky”, as our developer source described it.

If it goes ahead, the 44-storey tower will be the tallest modular-built residential block in the world.

The site is close to the Ruskin Square development and is also near to where the council wants to build hundreds of flats around Croydon College and the Fairfield Halls. The Essex House site already had planning permission for 305 homes in 31- and 16-storey buildings, but it is understood that that is due to expire shortly.

Earlier this month an architects’ firm, HTA, submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment application to Croydon Council on behalf of Tide.

EIAs are supposed to ensure that new developments do not have a detrimental effect on people and the environment. On the council’s own website, it says that its “pollution team provides advice on the environmental impact of planning applications. During this assessment issues such as noise, air pollution, odour and contaminated land are taken into account”.

Last month, a council official, using delegated powers, was asked to consider the developers’ EIA application.

In the case of this giant set of Lego, likely to be home to more than 1,500 people, all living very close to one of the busiest rail stations in south-east England, the council official ruled that, “An EIA is not… required.”

The official determined that, “It is considered that the development does not have the potential for significant environmental impacts.”

Of what could be the world’s tallest modular residential tower, the official also wrote that, “In general an EIA will be needed for projects of more than local importance.”

Tide recently completed a similar modular housing scheme in Wembley, which provides student accommodation and, at 29 storeys, is Europe’s tallest modular building.

Tide construction has already built Europe’s tallest modular residential tower, Apex House in Wembley

Tide built that scheme using its off-site manufacturing system, Vision Modular Systems, and claims its factory-built programme often results in a 60 per cent time saving and 80 per cent fewer vehicle movements than conventional construction schemes.

Each module had its furniture, windows, electrical wiring and plumbing all installed in the factory before the modules were transported to the site. The Wembley build took just 12 months. Students are expected to move into their prefabs in the sky this month.

“Apex House is a shining example of what modular construction can bring to UK property, whether its hotels, residential apartments, build to rent or student accommodation,” is the view of Christy Hayes, chief executive officer at Tide Construction.

Apex House was designed by architects HTA Design, the same firm of architects who helped put forward the EIA application on behalf of Tide for its Croydon scheme.

With offices in Kentish Town and Edinburgh, HTA has worked on the new build on the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, a council which has overseen hundreds of existing council home tenants displaced from its estates in what has been characterised as social cleansing.

HTA is also one of the architects’ firms which is much-admired by Croydon Council CEO Jo Negrini, and which was hired by Brick by Brick, the controversial council-owned housing company, for its £250million development programme.

We tried to contact Tide Construction, but they do not have a functioning website, and the telephone in their Baker Street office was switched to answering machine which plays out a message recorded in Chinese.

A public relations firms which acts for the developers was unable to answer our questions about whether Tide intends to conduct any sort of EIA for its scheme.

In the Croydon Council official’s report (which can be read in full here),  it is noted that, “The fundamental test to be applied in each case is whether the development and its specific impacts would be likely, in that particular location, to result in significant effects on the environment.”

Which does make the officer’s decision all the more baffling, and according to Richard Buxton, a lawyer specialising in environmental law, raises the possibility that the decision could yet be referred to the GLA, or even to the Secretary of State.

With the threat of a Judicial Review in the High Court and complaints that the planning department has failed to carry out its legal duties over other building projects, such a referral would mark another embarrassment for our council’s under-fire and under-pressure planners, who, before she got the top job, were formerly under the control of Jo Negrini.

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8 Responses to Planners wave away environmental tests on 44-storey prefabs

  1. derekthrower says:

    Well beyond environmental impact factors shouldn’t the practical issues of such a construction be considered a major stumbling block. The tallest world modular block developer in New York has now stated it will no longer engage in such constructions due to major structural issues, production issues and time overruns. Now we know developmental time never seems to be an issue in Croydon, but any claims about cost savings on such a block appear dubious. Hope you publish this comment and it is not censored.

  2. ‘Pie in the sky?” Mortgage lenders don’t like tower blocks much and certainly don’t like non standard construction. Cash buyers only and that means none will be affordable for the average local family.

  3. Leaks and Alignment Issues Plaguing Atlantic Yards’ B2 Tower Were More Severe Than Reported
    Has the Failed B2 Tower Ruined Large-Scale Prefab Housing for the City?
    (NY Times)
    Don’t worry about environmental impact assessments…..anyone can get them through our excellent planning processes….Viridor got theirs (incinerator)through Sutton Council and the Mayor (Boris)
    As for fitting together and leaking,what could possibly go wrong? !
    Judging from the Sutton Council mess looking at financial dealings would be of interest.

  4. joeycan says:

    So; although an Environmental Impact Assessment was presented for the first draft proposal of the 32-storey Taberner House replacement block and the failed (thankfully) Arrowcroft development at East Croydon, [ in that instance, in part because the Judicial Review highlighted, among other concerns that of environment and public safety], a Council Official has ruled that an Environment Impact Assessment for a 44-storey modular building, is not necessary even though its cost will be at least as much as the Taberner House project and may be as much (god forbid!) as Bernard Wetherill House. Do these people not learn!

    The reference given by derekthrower concerning the use of modular structures for tall buildings in New York makes for interesting reading. I noticed amongst the catalogue of structural issues which seemingly continued into 2016, four years after construction started, that the well known Croydon street-lighting contractor SKANSKA shared the partnership. I wonder if Skanska are, in any way, involved with the Tide Construction aspiration.

    I would also be interested to know if Croydon’s Head of Development Management, who appears to be the Official who signed off on the exclusion of an E.I.A. has the delegated financial powers to clear such an expensive project without proper public scrutiny.

    On the matter of seeking a judicial review, surely Steve O’Connell, the Croydon representative to the GLA could, after reading the disaster of the high rise modular construction saga in New York, put public pressure on Mayor Khan to authorize such an Inquiry. This would not only provide a precedent/warning of the dangers of such high modular structures but given that the Political landscape of the Borough may well have changed down the line from now, in the case of O’Connell might even provide him with some kudos.

  5. Lewis White says:

    The disasters at Grenfell House and Lakanal House, highlight the fact that the upper sections of tall buildings are unreachable by the highest fire appliance escape ladders or platforms we have so far in the UK.

    A press article I read today suggests that in the US, much higher escapes exist.

    Most UK residential tower blocks have landscaped space around them , so such escapes could be used.

    One hopes that these new Croydon developments will all have two staircases, and sprinklers, and that the surrounding streets allow the use of the best escape platforms available.

    Typical 20th Century high block construction included steel-reinforced concrete floors and support columns, which are tough and uncombustable except in the highest temperatures.

    The problems of fire seem to lie in the cladding and internal structures and fittings, including timber, plastic and metal (often composite sheets combining two or more materials).

    Will these “portacabin” structures introduce even more combustibles into these residential buildings?

    Let’s also hope that a thorough-going fire risk, escape and fire hazard minimisation assessment is conducted involving fire and construction experts, and then independent experts to assess the decisions of these experts, as the potential risks of key “flaws” with new design and new building technology are high.

    Thinking of the UK situation ……. surely there should be national “tall buildings” standards for all structures over 15 storeys? Access, escape routes, etc etc, must surely need a major review to avoid another disaster like Grenfell? The ability of the London Fire Brigade and other brigades to provide the best escape ladders and platforms should be included in this.

    Croydon Fire Station should be provided with the very best, highest escape available worldwide, as we are already hosting many new and converted tall buildings for living. There is a big difference between office blocks and residential blocks in terms of presence of potential fire sources. Not much cooking goes on in offices.

    Croydon’s new or newly converted residential tall buildings (Taberner House redevelopment –Leon House– Saffron tower–and many more) demand a quantum upgrade in the LFB’s ability to get into high Croydon buildings at high level.

  6. The LFB are to put in their highest practice tower at Croydon Fire Station.

    There will be a public exhibition of their plans in the Babcock Training Room at the fire station on
    Thursday 23 November from 3pm to 8pm and Saturday 25 November from 10am to 3pm.

    Planning permission will be required.

    As councillors we have been told that the facility would be used during the working day. When we went to the facility at Park Royal we were impressed by the lack of pollutants with the smoke contained within the facility.

  7. Lewis White says:

    It’s reassuring to know that Andrew Pelling and other councillors have been to the Park Royal LFB training facility, and that the smoke from fire tests was contained in the facility .

    I hope that the adjoining residents of the flats on the hill above the Croydon Fire Station / Babcock site, and across Roman Way in Old Town, also have had or get the chance to go there too, as they can see for themselves. The possibility of their breathing smoke or invisible polluted vapour escaping from the test facility–even by accident , should filtration fail– is clearly a serious cause for concern. They live there, and many people will be at home “during business hours”.

    Will the Council will be insisting on an Environmental Impact statement as part of the Planning Application for this project, and scientific proof from the London Fire Brigade ( not just reassurances) — of the effectiveness of such filtration measures at the Park Royal facility?

    If not, they should do, and if proof is not provided, the Croydon training facility should be outposted to an industrial site off the Purley Way, well away from densely-built residential areas.

    Come to think of it, and I am being serious here, the Beddington Incinerator would be an ideal location, with a tall building which could be adapted with add-on high level gantries, to create life-like training opportunities for simulation of tower block fire events.

  8. derekthrower says:

    Looks like some stories about the unconventional builds from the land of Jo Negrini have been hitting the ground recently. Funny how the Australian system of large scale speculative development shares so many aspects of the British system.

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