MP Jones to speak against Addiscombe Road flats scheme

Our housing correspondent, BARRATT HOLMES, reports on cross-party opposition to a property speculators’ multi-million-pound scheme that could change the exclusive Whitgift Estate forever

Sarah Jones, Croydon Central’s Labour MP, will tomorrow night speak out at a Town Hall meeting against a recommendation from the planning department of the Labour-run council, by opposing planning approval for a scheme to build flats on the Whitgift Estate in her constituency.

Sarah Jones MP: backing residents against property developers

Last month, Jones was appointed as Labour’s shadow spokesperson on housing.

Also expected to speak at the Town Hall tomorrow, and opposing the recommendation from the council’s planning officials, will be Steve O’Connell, the Tory London Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton.

Residents on the exclusive Whitgift Estate fear that if the scheme – which involves demolishing an existing house and replacing it with a money-spinning block of flats – gets approval, it would begin the process of changing the area into a flat land, similar to other neighbouring areas.

The meeting has a very heavy agenda, which runs to nearly 130 pages, and sees proposals for many sites across the borough several of which are similar in that they represent the area being intensified into high occupancy use, reflecting the huge housing pressures in Croydon. Councillors on the committee will likely be sitting for more than five hours, perhaps even to midnight.

Wayne Trakas-Lawlor: removed from the planning committee after objecting to Queen’s Hotel plans

Included on the agenda are also the revised, though still controversial, plans for the enlargement of the Queen’s Hotel in Crystal Palace, which was previously rejected by the committee when Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, the popular former Mayor, was a member.

Trakas-Lawlor was removed from his planning committee duties soon afterwards for having dared speak up on behalf of residents and defying the will of chair of planning, his Labour colleague Paul Scott, and the council’s head of planning, Pete Smith.

Smith’s planning department’s recommendation for tomorrow night’s meeting is to grant permission to the Queen’s Hotel application.

Scott is often criticised for represeenting what many see as an over-concentration of power in the council. Scott was recently promoted into Tony Newman’s council cabinet while retaining his planning committee chairmanship. He is married to Alison Butler, Labour’s deputy leader and the cabinet member for housing.

Scott has in the past joked to the committee about his determination to “concrete over” Croydon.

The planning committee is not supposed to operate along party political lines, but somehow invariably does. Since last month’s local elections, Labour’s previous planning committee members, with experience of applications from the likes of the Queen’s Hotel and Scott’s unique style of managing planning business, have all been cast aside.

The house at 114 Addiscombe Road,  doomed to be demolished to make way for nine flats

Three of the six Labour councillors who hold the majority on the committee are new to the council, including vice-chair Muhammad Ali. Of the quartet of Tories on the committee, only Jason Perry has any experience of the council’s planning process, and bombastic Scott.

The application for planning permission on the Whitgift Estate is symptomatic of the kind of over-development facing so many parts of the borough, with speculative schemes being put forward to transform single-family houses into blocks comprising eight or more homes, in developments which will change the character of a neighbourhood forever.

Under Scott – dubbed “The General” by his mate, Newman – that is unimportant.

The four-bedroom house at 114 Addiscombe Road, as shown in the planning committee’s report, sits in a generous-sized plot. The property appears to have been sold for around £600,000 in April 2017. Nine new flats put on the market in such a desirable area are estimated as likely to fetch at least £2.5million.

The planning application is brought on behalf of a company which was registered around the time the house changed hands, and is called Addiscombe Treehouse Ltd.

According to Companies House records, Addiscombe Treehouse’s business is “the buying and selling of own real estate”. It operates out of offices in Crayford, Kent, and has a single director, 34-year-old Lyndon Modeste. Modeste is also a director of two other companies registered at the same Crayford address.

The proposal for 114 Addiscombe Road is to build in its place nine flats (five of them two-bedroomed), while providing only five parking spaces.

Baldly, the report recommends that councillors approve the application as, “The proposed new building would preserve the character of the area.” As those more familiar with the planning process than the six rookie councillors on the committee would expect, the council official who compiled the report has done nothing to justify that sweeping statement.

The council planning documents show the generous garden space of 114 Addiscombe Road. If flats get built, much of that will be turned into a car park which backs on to neighbouring homes

With developers having secured option buy-outs on a number of other properties on the Whitgift Estate, the passage of this planning application could set the precedent for the transformation of the Whitgift Estate, with single dwellings being demolished and their plots being used to build blocks of flats.

Speaking to Inside Croydon before the May local elections, Scott emphasised “the need for an additional 33,000 new homes over the next 20 years”.

He said: “Even that will not be enough to meet the full demand that is anticipated.”

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, wants Croydon to build those homes much quicker, setting a target of 29,490 to be built in Croydon in just 10 years. Even Scott is against that acceleration and the Labour council may yet oppose Khan’s draft London Plan, due to be put in place next year.

But in the context of the housing pressure, Scott has already made it clear that there are no “no-go areas” for new housing. He said, “There isn’t anywhere in Croydon where there are detached houses where we wouldn’t allow semi-detached houses.” Or flats, it seems.

The Addiscombe Road plans show that the flats would have their car park up against the gardens of neighbouring, detached houses on Fitzjames Avenue. The car park will also have space for 17 bicycles, whose riders will daily face competition for road space with the articulated lorries and buses on the busy adjacent A232.

In total, there have been 312 objections submitted against the 114 Addiscombe Road scheme.

Those objectors will together be granted a grand total of three minutes to speak at the meeting – one minute for each of three nominated resident speakers.

Scott, meanwhile, is expected to air his views, at length and repeatedly, whenever it suits him, while council officials will be granted a 15-minute slot to speak in favour of the application. Modeste, or his agents, will also get three minutes.

The residents affected, in common with objectors to other schemes pushed through the planning committee by Scott, feel that this is unfair and unbalanced.

On a mission: Alison Butler and Paul Scott

Which is why MP Jones’s decision to speak on behalf of her constituents was so welcomed. As well as Jones and O’Connell, Park Hill and Whitgift ward councillor Vidhi Mohan will also speak on their behalf.

It may well be around the council’s high-handed attitude to change of character that the three politicians’ concerns will concentrate.

Residents feel that the council were dismissive of character concerns from the start of the application process last summer, even at the pre-application stage where the developer pays the council a fee to brief them about the application.

The long delay between first consideration of applications and decision by committee emphasises just how slow the process is, thus blocking much-needed housing.

Understaffed and overworked local authority planning departments, not just in Croydon, are as much a reason why housing does not get built as the opposition of neighbouring residents.

And whoever it was who drafted the planning department’s report on this application had clearly not bothered to read the council’s own, recently adopted Croydon Plan. That states that the Whitgift Estate is, “a good example of the residential character of detached houses on relatively large plots”.

With Scott on a mission to get his committee to deliver on Croydon’s 33,000 new homes, it will likely not matter what’s written in the Croydon Plan, despite the five years of consultation and the costly Planning Inspector’s public inquiry that went into it.

At the election last month, Mohan won Park Hill and Whitgift’s single seat, but it was  the Conservatives’ fourth most marginal ward.  Development pressures, and Scott’s bullying approach to planning matters and the committee, were both issues at the election, the latter prompting widespread public complaints.

The depressing thought for Whitgift Estate residents will be that, even if it was a Conservative-controlled council, they too would be granting planning permission to such schemes. The neighbours of 114 Addiscombe Road might even be persuaded to consider getting a valuation on their own properties, and consider how much it might all be worth if they can squeeze nine flats on to them.

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6 Responses to MP Jones to speak against Addiscombe Road flats scheme

  1. derekthrower says:

    Let’s be clear about this. More housing has to be provided, but the drive to remove regulations which allow such over development do not arise from the Local Authority but from Central Government. You don’t have to guess which Housing Minister from Croydon was a driver of such removal of “red tape”. For all the criticism of Mr Scott he is only enforcing Government policy. As per usual with him and the Croydon Labour Council it is the policy of his opponents, which no doubt will lead to a directorship or two for the Scott household when their dismal reign comes to an end.

  2. Ian Geary says:

    Genuine question then: where should the 24,000 homes go in Croydon?

    Or are we happy with the current housing situation becoming gradually worse?

    • It would be wrong to conflate or confuse providing necessary housing with the many get-rich-quick schemes of property speculators, out to make a quick buck by playing on exactly the sentiment implicit in your comment, Ian. It is the kind of feeble or cynical argument put forward in such cases by Croydon Council, and by Paul Scott and his architects chums.

      These nine flats will do nothing to resolve any housing shortage. They certainly won’t provide any homes for social rent, which is what is the real crying need in Croydon and throughout London, and which our local authority is doing little to resolve.

      There remains, in Britain today, more land given over for golf courses than is being used for housing.

      Paul Scott, and Tony Newman, are keen golfers. Maybe they could identify a less-well-used golf course, perhaps failing to make decent income for its owners, and organise its de-designation as Green Belt (they manage to do this when they want to create Croydon’s first selective school for 40 years) and CPO, and on the site create a new garden village of publicly owned, social rental homes, including flats and family homes, together with the public infrastructure necessary to sustain a community.

  3. derekthrower says:

    Clearly there is huge potential in the town centre for more development. The sites of Taberner House, Nestle Building and other sites around St Georges Walk will one day have to be developed and not left in the asset sheets of property developers. Whatever is developed instead of the Whitgift Centre will see additional housing being added to its plan as high street retail goes into permanent decline. Large properties have always been redeveloped into sites of multiple flats in Croydon. The only problem with the removal of any effective local planning control is that the developers now call the shots and push for over development of sites which will have negative external consequences for the local area and will probably be left under occupied. The redevelopment of Leon House looks like being an example of this.
    Further Croydon Council seems always able to facilitate land for the development of Schools when they are unable to provide evidence that the local area really faces such demands. This is demonstrated by new Academies & Free Schools failing to have a complete school rolls, but still being approved. No doubt when these are assessed as failing they will be turned over to residential uses.

  4. Anita Smith says:

    Let’s be clear.

    The many thousands of new homes that Croydon is expected to build is as a direct result of a demand by the Mayor of London, not Central Government. The London Plan now trumps the Croydon one. Nowhere in this London Plan does it mention affordable housing, simply that huge amounts of flats must be built.

    Perhaps Mr Khan would like to visit Croydon and see how many hundreds and hundreds of luxury, non-affordable flats there are on the market already in Croydon?

    The proposed application to build nine flats in place of a family home on Addiscombe Road does not address the genuine housing problem for Croydon people. It simply lines the pockets of the developer and brings us one step nearer to concreting over Croydon.

    The council’s planners are riding roughshod over the genuine concerns of residents and by slavishly following the dictats of Mayor Khan are showing where their true loyalties lie.

  5. derekthrower says:

    Claptrap. Wonder who gave the Mayor these regulations to implement large scale developments. Usual Tory mendacity of getting unpopular plans they really want and picking on a scapegoat to implement them and take the blame for unpopular consequences. If Central Government does not want this the Secretary of State can simply direct Local Authorities with all the executive powers up it’s sleeve to follow it’s direction. With regards to this particular development, it does not even qualify as being referrable to the Mayor of London. So open your eyes to reality and look at who has the ultimate power to implement Housing Policy.

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