The council’s planning department not only left out an MP’s objections to the Queen’s Hotel scheme, they tried to ignore entirely the findings of their own panel of conservation experts. KEN LEE reports
Serious questions continue to be raised over the competence, or lack of it, of Croydon Council’s planning department, and – once again – of the conduct at planning meetings of the chair, Labour councillor Paul Scott.
Last night’s meeting was an object example of a recurring theme at Croydon Council planning committees.
There was an official council report recommending the granting of permission for the Queen’s Hotel scheme in Crystal Palace, despite objections from 250 residents, opposition from two MPs and two Assembly Members, and after the proposed scheme had been subject to a damningly critical report from the area’s conservation advisory panel, a group of experts appointed by Croydon Council.
That the submission opposing the proposal from the MP, Steve Reed OBE, was not included in the council planner’s report to the committee could be seen as a woeful error by officials.
If Reed’s objections were left out of the report in error, then it is incompetence of the worst kind. If deliberately omitted the matter is, if anything, even more serious. Given the findings of the recent Ofsted report on the council’s children’s services department, it is long past the time when the work of some senior council officials can be taken on trust.
The chair of the planning committee, Scott, should be demanding of the council chief executive, Jo Negrini, and the chief planning officer, Pete Smith, how this could have possibly happened, and insisting that those responsible be held to account.
But Scott won’t do that, because that might be too close to serving the public interest, rather more than the closed interests of a few senior council officials and a clique within the politicians at the Town Hall.
Last night, as well as omitting from consideration serious objections to the scheme, the council’s planning department ignored others which criticised the hotel scheme strictly on material planning reasons.
The North Croydon Conservation Area Advisory Panel said of the Queen’s Hotel proposals that they are “completely unsustainable development and must be rejected out of hand”.
It should be emphasised that the panel is not some self-appointed group of NIMBYs, but is an official part of the council’s decision-making process, set up at the council’s request to provide expert advice on conservation area applications. Included in the panel’s membership are an architect, a local historian and a former lead on planning issues for the Local Government Association.
Yet its report was all but ignored by the council’s planning department and was given little consideration by Scott, as the meeting chair.
Inside Croydon reproduces the panel’s report, in full, here. Any emphasis added (in bold type) is ours. Labour councillors Scott, Prince, Kabir and Clouder, who voted in favour of the Queen’s Hotel development, might do well to read it all.
We strongly object to this application.
Despite the proposed retention of the mews buildings to the rear of the site, which is welcome, we must maintain our comments as made previously.
The application for expansion needs to be seen in the context of the existing size and character of the hotel. It is already extremely large, especially for a hotel in a suburban location on the edge of a small town centre: 334 rooms, which is itself an increase in size of around 25% following approval in 2015 for an additional 64 rooms. Its budget, downmarket, business model creates significant detriment to the local community and the character of the Church Road Conservation Area, including the widespread and often obstructive on-street parking of the tradesmen’s vans which form a large part of its clientele.
It is openly advertised on escort websites as a venue for the sex trade. Its proprietors have, in the recent past, housed asylum seekers in overcrowded and squalid conditions in defiance of both planning and housing legislation.
It is very clear from the application documents that the intention is that the hotel would continue to operate the same business model, but with double the number of rooms compared with its size pre-2015.
This is not a marginal expansion, but adding the equivalent of a large hotel to one which is already very large.
However, the resultant hotel would lack many of the amenities normally associated with large hotels, like conference and meeting rooms, lounges, appropriate reception space and banqueting facilities. Some additional breakfast and bar space is proposed, but apparently no restaurant for lunch or evening meals. There would be no outdoor amenity space for guests, in contrast to normal expectations for a large hotel outside a city centre location. A pool and gym are proposed, but very modest in size for a hotel of this size. There is no reason to suppose, therefore, that the development would result in anything other than the huge scaling up of the negative impact which the hotel causes the Conservation Area in its current form.
We question whether the siting of additional hotel accommodation on this site is acceptable in London or local policy terms. Both the London Plan and local policy strongly steer the location of hotel accommodation towards major centres, and current and emerging local policy indicates a number of sites for potential hotel development in Croydon town centre. We therefore question whether a sequential assessment confined to sites in the nearby town centre is at all adequate as a basis for asserting the in principle acceptability of the proposed development.
Even if the proposed use is acceptable in principle, the actual scheme must, of course, meet other requirements. For this Panel, the most critical is that development should preserve or enhance the Church Road Conservation Area.
The council’s appraisal identifies the demolition of historic buildings and new development that disregards the layout, scale and character of surrounding buildings as two of the main threats to the Area. The proposed extension to the southern façade fronting Church Road would both worsen its existing piecemeal character by introducing an unsympathetic element, and significantly increases the scale and massing of the structure as seen from various points along Church Road.
The proposed buildings to the rear, of up to six stories, with no significant spaces between them to break up their visual impact, would further compound the huge detrimental impact on the visual amenity of the Conservation Area. The applicant suggests their proposed re-cladding of the existing 1970s extension at the north end of the Church Road façade would be an improvement. We suggest any such improvement is negligible, since the incongruous scale, height and massing of this extension would be unchanged, and it is vastly outweighed by the expansion of the hotel to the south and to the rear.
The proposed expansion of the hotel would be detrimental to the setting of other attractive heritage assets nearby, notably the nationally listed houses at 124, 126 and 128 Church Road, and the locally listed “chalets” opposite (191 and 197). We note that the application wrongly states that there are no nationally listed buildings in proximity to the hotel.
The further very significant increase in the scale, height and massing of the hotel which would result from the proposals would have a severely detrimental impact on adjoining owners.
This is particularly the case for residents of Fitzroy and Wakefield Gardens. The proposed new blocks to the rear of the current main building would be visually dominant and intrusive in relation to the “Regency Garden” to the south of the hotel site, which is communal amenity space owned and used by Fitzroy and Wakefield residents. The northern end of the terrace of houses in the spur of Fitzroy Gardens to the west of the “Regency Garden” would be particularly adversely affected by loss of outlook and the visual dominance of the proposed development.
The applicant has sought to mitigate what would otherwise be severe overlooking issues to Fitzroy Gardens residents through such devices as angled windows and obscure glazing. However, these features come at the cost of further worsening the already dreadful amenity of the hotel accommodation and the poor appearance of the scheme.
We have already noted above the limited and poor quality public areas proposed in the expanded hotel. Even worse is the wholly unacceptable quality of much of the bedroom accommodation. More than 100 of the proposed rooms, nearly 20% of the proposed accommodation, would be entirely windowless or lit only by areas or light wells. The maze-like layout and arrangement of rooms over many levels is also unsatisfactory, and an invitation to crime and anti-social behaviour of the kind already all too often present on the site.
The transport assessment provided with the application is laughable.
It takes as its comparator for estimating trip generation a hotel located near Clapham Junction, with a PTAL of 6. It fails even to state correctly the PTAL of the site, which is 2, not 3, as asserted in the assessment. It claims that Crystal Palace station is 800m from the site, when it is, in fact, over 1km by the shortest easily legible route, and up and down very steep gradients which are a particular obstacle to guests with luggage. The hotel proposes to provide just 18 spaces for vans, when tradesmen form a large part of its existing clientele.
Even if the car parking proposed on site were adequate (which we doubt, given the differences with the comparator hotel), the assessment fails to address the obvious likelihood that guests would choose to seek parking on nearby streets rather than paying for parking in the hotel. As the assessment acknowledges, there is significant existing parking stress on nearby streets already, which will be compounded by other development in the area, for example the near-complete Alto scheme in Sylvan Hill, and the recently consented Brick by Brick scheme on the Auckland Rise estate, which the council accepts will generate overspill parking on nearby streets.
The assessment fails to acknowledge the current constraints of the highway infrastructure in Church Road, notably the very frequent traffic congestion, northbound especially, backing up from the Triangle past the hotel, and the narrow footway widths, especially to the north of the Fox Hill junction.
Its optimistic conclusions about the transport impacts of the proposal are therefore wholly unreliable. We would expect significant extra levels of congestion and parking stress in an area already under severe strain, and pressure on inadequate footway space.
The assessment of coach parking requirements is beyond laughable.
The London Plan clearly suggests a requirement of up to 11 spaces on site, which seems plausible in the light of the business model of the hotel, which relies heavily on parties of children and young people who arrive by coach. The hotel, at its current size, already typically accommodates at least three coaches on site on a regular basis. The locations proposed for potential off-site coach parking are at distances of 1.5, 2.5 and 6 (!) miles from the hotel and are charged.
The inevitable consequence of failing to provide adequate parking on site is that coaches would end up seeking parking in nearby streets, with further severe impact on parking stress and highway safety. Even if they could somehow satisfactorily be parked away from the hotel, they would still need to set down and pick up outside it. The transport assessment completely fails to address how this would be done.
Its assertion that there would be only one movement each in the morning and evening peaks is wholly ludicrous, given that these are the times when guests will naturally be collected and dropped off. The swept path drawings assume that coaches will only arrive from the south and exit to the north via left turns: even these movements encroach significant on the opposing carriageway. Movements on and off the site requiring a right turn would be even more problematic. Currently, coach movements on and off the site frequently bring both sides of Church Road to a standstill for some minutes with lengthy, complex and hazardous reversing manoeuvres, and coaches are often parked illegally and dangerously outside the hotel, including on the footway, and with passengers alighting and boarding left hand drive coaches on to the carriageway.
The proposed development is a massive overdevelopment of the site, completely out of keeping with a suburban environment, which manifests itself in its numerous unacceptable features, including its visual impact on the Conservation Area and adjoining properties, the unsatisfactory nature of its accommodation, the need to undertake deep and disruptive excavations, and the highly negative traffic and parking impacts.
It is completely unsustainable development and must be rejected out of hand.
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