BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, on a quiet announcement by Croydon’s deputy leader of the local authority’s move into the private property market with 3,000 homes
Brick by Brick, Croydon Council’s controversial housing developer, is to triple the number of homes it builds across the borough.
There has not been any back-slapping council announcement of this steep increase in the number of properties Brick by Brick is to build. Indeed, in the company’s business plan which was put before the council for approval this month, there was no explicit mention of the increased target.
But according to a written answer to council questions last month, Brick by Brick is now expanding its operations to build 3,000 homes.
In some respects, this is in response to the revised house-building targets contained in the Croydon Local Plan, which calls for 31,850 homes to be built in the borough by 2036.
Brick by Brick is Croydon Council’s wholly owned house-builder. It has so far submitted plans for 38 sites. All have been granted permission by the local planning authority… Croydon Council.
Brick by Brick’s schemes use council finance to build on public-owned sites. Several schemes have proved deeply unpopular with existing communities affected by the “in-fill” buildings proposed and the resulting loss of public green space.
Last week, 17 residents’ associations and groups from across the borough called on Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, to insist that Croydon Council holds ballots of existing residents before going ahead with any redevelopments. Any tripling of Brick by Brick’s targets risks being similarly unpopular with even more of the borough’s communities – and Labour’s council leader Tony Newman has Town Hall elections just weeks away.
Alison Butler, Newman’s deputy leader and the cabinet member responsible for housing, let slip the tripled housing target in a written answer to a question about how many homes Brick by Brick had actually completed.
Butler did not address the question she had been asked. That’s probably because, after nearly three years, Brick by Brick has so far completed a grand total of zero new homes.
Butler chose instead to answer a question she had not been asked, and in so doing managed to reveal something which could cost the Labour group hundreds, if not thousands, of votes at the Town Hall elections in May.
In her answer, Butler wrote that Brick by Brick “is currently looking to provide around 3,000 units across 50+ sites throughout the borough”.
Butler’s response continued: “The Brick by Brick model is designed to maximise the return from development activity to local residents, while also addressing housing need.
“Brick by Brick has a total number of 756 homes within its programme that have been granted planning permission with a further 513 homes forming planning applications currently being considered by the Local Planning Authority. Brick by Brick also has a number of pipeline sites currently being worked up with a view to submitting planning applications later this year.”
Butler presumably does not anticipate any issues in gaining planning permission for any of Brick by Brick’s schemes, despite residents’ complaints and opposition. The Labour council’s planning committee is chaired by councillor Paul Scott, Butler’s husband.
When unveiling Brick by Brick as a house-building vehicle to get around Thatcherite right-to-buy rules, Butler, Scott and Newman made much of the promise that the council would ensure that 50 per cent of all the new builds would be “affordable” housing of some sort.
But the company’s own, most recent figures show that it is struggling to meet those targets, and is instead intending to build more homes for private sale than for social housing.
On the 38 sites that the company has so far obtained planning permission for, its plans allow for 1,050 homes, to be completed by the summer of 2020.
On 16 of those sites, there is to be no affordable housing at all. Those properties, built using council finance on council-owned land, will all going for private sale. In total, 571 of the homes to be built over the next two years will go straight on to the private housing market.
It could be that the intention with the additional 2,000 homes to be built – on as-yet unspecified sites – will be mainly for private sale, to generate cash for the council to help pay towards
In the company’s business plan (which you can read for yourself by downloading the pdf here), they say that Brick by Brick, “also has a substantial pipeline of sites which are at an
earlier stage of delivery… Design and viability work is underway on many of these sites and as they progress through the [Brick by Brick] design and viability gateway process, they will be reported to the [Brick by Brick] board for approval…
“It is likely that these sites will progress to planning application stage from summer 2018.”
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