Our housing correspondent, BARRATT HOLMES, on how a Town Hall veteran has broken ranks over some of the council’s inappropriate over-development
It is no longer just disgruntled residents, unhappy over the way the council and their slow-motion house-builders, Brick by Brick, are concreting over every scrap of green space in the borough who are questioning the calibre of some of the new housing that is going up.
Now even Labour councillors are beginning to ask awkward questions about how some of the Brick by Brick schemes were ever granted planning permission.
“It’s really debatable whether some of these applications, if they were submitted by a private developer, would be recommended for approval,” Pat Ryan, the veteran councillor for Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood ward, has said this week.
Of course, Inside Croydon’s loyal reader, who has been following this sorry saga knows the answer to that.
Allegations of bias within the quasi-judicial planning committee are very serious indeed, and have been made many times by angry residents who dislike the imposition of Brick by Brick schemes on their neighbourhoods. But for such an allegation to come from a long-time Croydon Labour insider suggests that the Town Hall is not such a happy camp as council leader Tony Newman would have everyone believe.
The cabinet member in charge of housing is Councillor Alison Butler. Butler is married to another councillor, Paul Scott, who just happens to chair the planning committee, and has made sure that every single application submitted by Brick by Brick over the past two years has been granted.
Ryan’s comments were made to another hyperlocal news site, News From Crystal Palace, and come after growing discontent over Brick by Brick’s builds on Auckland Rise and Ravensdale Gardens.
“I wasn’t at all impressed,” Ryan said.
What Ryan has had to say will carry particular weight, since until recently the councillor was a pivotal figure within Croydon Labour’s council group, as the chief whip – the very person who was supposed to keep the borough’s Labour councillors toeing the party line.
Ryan has been a councillor since 1992, and is widely respected among residents in his ward.
The Auckland Rise scheme is particularly controversial.
Brick by Brick is building on green open space between a collection of 1960s-built former council homes and social housing.
Residents claimed at the time of the planning application that there had been no equalities impact assessment conducted by the council, as is required by law. This was particularly relevant because one of the blocks of flats affected by the new build are home to disabled residents.
The scheme provides for the seven new buildings, varying between three and four storeys tall, to provide 29 two-bedroom and 28-one bedroom flats. Of the 57 properties being built on the Upper Norwood estates, only 19 of them would be for shared ownership as “affordable” housing. All the rest would be flogged off or rented out privately.
Not one of the Brick by Brick homes at Auckland Rise, being built on public land and using public money, will be what could be described as a council home.
Ryan made his remarks to News From Crystal Palace’s editor, Jerry Green, during the latest developer consultation event.
Green notes that the main criticism of Brick by Brick’s nearby Ravensdale Gardens development “has been the five-storey building going up … diagonally opposite the Beulah Spa Harvester pub. The five-storey building is higher than the pub”.
Green continues: “Behind that, and hidden from the main road, Brick by Brick are building a load of houses. One of these has been built extremely close to the left of No9 Ravensdale Gardens which used to have the benefit of natural light through its side windows. Not any more.
“One resident living there told News From Crystal Palace he now has to have the light in the upstairs room on all day.”
The protection of existing dwellings’ access to light is supposed to be a principal aspect of a planning committee’s work.
The need for a proper equalities impact assessment report at Auckland Rise is becoming all too apparent now for the boxed-in residents. Brick by Brick has built a block of flats in front of one of the estate’s existing blocks which, according to Green, means “people living there who used to enjoy looking out over playing fields now just have the back of a block of flats to look at”.
Other examples on inappropriate overdevelopment through Brick by Brick’s in-fill schemes has even seen the owners of private houses in South Norwood drag the council to the High Court, through a Judicial Review. The residents lost their case.
But Inside Croydon understands that some aspect of Butler and Scott’s working relationship with Brick by Brick may yet prompt further legal action.
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