BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, on the mounting anger and opposition to the council-owned house-builder’s plans, with objections coming even from the local Labour MP
Another day, another planning disaster looms from Brick by Brick and Tony Newman’s Labour-lite council.
While chief exec Jo Negrini couldn’t give away free beer at poorly attended, council-backed events staged to promote Croydon’s development plans in Cannes last week, the local Tories were drumming up public opposition to Brick by Brick schemes at what was a genuinely well-attended meeting last Thursday.
The Tories are now orchestrating a “non-political” group to march on the Town Hall next Monday, the final full meeting of the council before May’s local elections, where they will protest against the council-owned builder’s overdevelopments. Pitchforks and flaming torches optional.
The news that Newman’s deputy, Alison Butler, the cabinet member for housing, has quietly tripled Brick by Brick’s house-building target, to 3,000 units, is being used to stir-up further fears about the council’s true agenda, with the Tories pointing to the ease with which Green Belt protection was waved away to enable the council to build a large, selective free school on playing fields.
The Tories are now questioning whether 31 open spaces and parks around the borough might be under threat of similar bulldozer treatment, after the sites were denied protection from development under the recently approved Local Plan.
But it is not just political opportunism from Croydon Tories which has created such strong feelings over proposals by Brick by Brick. Recently, 17 residents’ groups united in their opposition to the house-builder’s plans. And now, Newman’s Labour-lite council is even receiving objections to one of its schemes from a Labour MP.
Before next week’s astroturfing demonstration of public outrage, there’s a planning meeting this Thursday where residents from a usually Labour-voting area in the north of the borough will be opposing a scheme to demolish garages on Avenue Road and build an ugly block of flats.
The local MP, Steve Reed OBE, is among those who have filed formal objections to the proposal, but despite very strong grounds – contained within both the Local Plan and council planning rules – residents affected by this latest Brick by Brick in-fill scheme are not hopeful that the planning committee will do the right thing by them and refuse permission.
Brick by Brick, after all, is funded by a £10million loan from Croydon Council, which they have used so far to buy £9million-worth of public property from Croydon Council.
So far, every Brick by Brick project presented to Croydon Council’s planning committee has been granted permission, often despite strong objections from existing residents. The council planning committee is chaired by Paul Scott. Scott is married to Alison Butler.
The residents affected on Avenue Road ought to have planning law and precedent on their side.
A previous, similar application, on nearby Warminster Road, was denied planning permission for reasons of over-development. That, though, was not submitted by a house-builder owned by the council.
Residents have also found multiple instances in the council officer’s report – which, as they always do, is recommending that planning permission should be granted – where Brick by Brick’s scheme breaks the guidelines laid out in the Local Plan.
The area’s existing housing stock is largely two-storey semis and terraces, some with dormers. The Brick by Brick plan is for a three-storey building with 12 flats which will overlook or overshadow several residents’ homes and gardens.
Croydon’s Local Plan states, “Proposals should be of high quality and, whilst seeking to achieve a minimum height of three storeys, should respect: a. The development pattern, layout and siting; b. The scale, height, massing, and density; c. The appearance, existing materials and built and natural features of the surrounding area.”
Existing residents insist that Brick by Brick fulfils none of those requirements.
As one resident states in their submission, “The development fails a basic design principle of back land development, where the form and height of any development should be subordinate or the same as the frontage development that surrounds it. It should never be more.
“The council endorsed this principle in 2014, when planning permission was refused to erect a three-storey building on the adjoining back land site (40a Warminster Road/ ref 14/00980/P).”
The evidence that this proposal is a gross overdevelopment is readily found in the council’s own planning report. The report submitted to the planning committee states that the density of the development is 302 habitable rooms per hectare.
The London plan sets an upper limit of 200 habitable rooms per hectare for this area.
As another resident told Inside Croydon this week, “If the density exceeds the limit by 10-20 habitable rooms, then it might be possible to argue the form and design a development is appropriate. But there is no justification for a development that exceeds the limit by 100 habitable rooms per hectare.
“The London Plan does not mince its words when it comes to developments that exceed the appropriate density ranges. It states: ‘Development proposals which compromise this policy should be resisted’.”
The proposal, which comprises nine one-bed flats and only three two-bed flats, also fails to meet planning requirements for the proportion of family housing that needs to be provided, and for the amount of play space provided for children.
And citing the requirements of planning policies of Croydon Council, the resident adds, “What distinctive qualities of this suburban environment have been used to inform a development that proposes to squeeze a large three-storey flatted building on to a restrictive back land site? How does it enhance the sense of place? How does the design of the flat roof make a positive contribution to an area that is characterised by pitched roof slopes?
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