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 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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