Having managed to piss off people from Upper Norwood to Purley, from Shirley to Coulsdon, Brick by Brick, the council’s wholly owned and wholly opaque home-building company, and the Town Hall planning department are undertaking a pre-Christmas charm offensive.
For many who have observed the conduct of the company so far, it may be a bit late for that.
This Wednesday, December 13, Brick by Brick will be setting out their stall in Ruskin House to demonstrate that building on one of the few remaining patches of open space in the town centre will somehow help ease the housing crisis, while also not jeopardising the state of the Grade II-listed neighbouring building.
Those living on the other side of Coombe Road, in Heathfield Gardens, have already been dumped upon by Brick by Brick, as flat owners and tenants have been ordered out of their garage spaces to allow for the already densely populated area to have further housing built there.
The consultation about the patch of land on the corner of Edridge Road is being staged in Ruskin House from 4pm to 8pm.
Alternatively, members of the public – which generally means the people who are paying for Brick by Brick’s misadventures, but who are usually denied much of a say in whether their schemes go ahead – can visit the website here to view the plans and comment. Note that: the consultants, Newman Francis, will not be loading the plans for the site until after the consultation event. Visitors to the consultation, therefore, will be turning up without being able to form a judgement beforehand.
It can only be presumed that they don’t want anyone to review the plans in advance and turn up at the consultation with a notebook full of awkward questions about building on this awkward site.
This would not be the first time that Brick by Brick has been accused of underhand tactics. At last week’s question time session during the full council meeting, one member of the public stood up to suggest that staff members from the house-builders, sent out in a pair to appear like a young couple eager to acquire their first home, had been knocking on doors in one part of Croydon offering to buy the property from home owners.
According to the Town Hall questioner, the “young couple” never mentioned that they worked for Brick by Brick.
A quick, private sale would, of course, speed all sorts of things along, such as the planning process and any possible need for a potentially messy and expensive Compulsory Purchase Order through the council, although such a practice would, of course, stray on the wrong side of ethical.
Alison Butler, the cabinet member in charge of Croydon’s Labour council’s house-building project (number of council houses built since 2014: 0) agreed with the questioner that any such stunt would be unethical, and she denied outright that Brick by Brick had ever done such a thing.
How she would know this, with such certainty as she displayed in the Town Hall chamber, is not known.
In her very brief, almost abrupt answer, Butler gave no undertaking to investigate the claims made by the Council Tax-payer. The questioner was not allowed to raise a supplementary question.
There are mounting questions about Brick by Brick, not least how a Labour council scheme using £240million of council property and funding can fail so dismally to meet its own targets for providing quasi-affordable housing (down to 36 per cent, when 500 of its 1,000 properties were supposed to be affordable), and is providing just 80 homes – a miserable 8 per cent – for social rent.
And now Croydon’s chief planning officer appears to be going in to bat on behalf of Brick by Brick, with a public session originally planned for this week entitled “New Ways of Working”.
There’s no explicit mention of Brick by Brick, but the event was called after lobbying from residents’ groups in the south of the borough, where their concerns have, substantially, been about the operation of the council-owned builders.
The event was also to have been staged this Wednesday, December 13, though it is now thought to have been postponed.
Pete Smith, the council’s chief planner, wrote to residents’ associations to invite them to send along representatives to Fisher’s Folly during working hours (naturally; you wouldn’t want to make a public event staged by the council as readily accessible as possible), from 3pm to 5pm.
Any questions for the meeting, arranged at relatively short notice, had to be submitted in advance, by last Friday. That, for sure, is a “New Way of Working”.
Smith, nor Butler, nor anyone else at the council bothered to publicise this event with Inside Croydon, but we understand that they requested that those wishing to take time out of their working day to attend the event should advise the council. In the absence of any specified requirement from the council, and if you think you might want to attend when the meeting is re-arranged, we suggest you could contact the council via email to Smith or his boss, council CEO Jo Negrini, at Jo.Negrini@croydon.gov.uk or Pete.Smith@croydon.gov.uk.
We always like to help, after all. For Croydon Council, that might be a new way of working.
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