BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, on how the borough’s ‘award-winning’ house building company has taken nearly four years to build its first house
The first homes built by Brick by Brick, Croydon Council’s loss-making house builders, won’t be available to be lived in until “early in the New Year”.
That will be nearly four years since the Labour-run council set-up the housing development company, the brainchild of the council chief exec, Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini and run by the council’s senior development executive, Colm Lacey.
It means that in its first four years of existence, loss-making Brick by Brick have received more awards from their architect and developer mates than they have built homes.
Since Tony Newman’s Labour-lite group took control of Croydon Town Hall in 2014, apart from completing on projects which were already under way, there have been no new council homes built in the borough.
Indeed, although Brick by Brick has planning permission granted for nearly 1,000 homes around the borough, it is even failing to come close to its own target that 50 per cent of those properties should be “affordable”, with more than 60 per cent of Brick by Brick-built homes going for private sale.
There is a strong possibility that Brick by Brick is struggling even to deliver 40 per cent affordable homes. According to Croydon Council this month, just “280 of the consented homes being built by BxB will be genuinely affordable rented properties”.
Of course, Brick by Brick is also the developer in charge of the £30million Fairfield Halls refurbishment which, as Inside Croydon revealed exclusively, is now running at least 15 months late on what was supposed to be a 24-month programme. It is increasingly likely that the final bill for the Fairfield Halls, as a result of Brick by Brick’s slow progress, will come to £40million or more.
The Brick by Brick housing programme uses council finance and builds on publicly owned property – often, controversially, pockets of green space and communal areas close to existing housing, often social housing.
Despite widespread opposition to many of the schemes from existing residents in the neighbourhoods affected by BxB schemes, the council’s planning committee has never refused a single application from Brick by Brick.
The council planning committee is chaired by Councillor Paul Scott. In charge of the council’s housing policy is Councillor Alison Butler. Councillors Scott and Butler are married to each other.
In Croydon between 2014 and 2017, according to figures from the London Tenants’ Federation, there were 5,999 homes built, of which just 6 per cent – 361 – were for social housing (through housing associations).
According to the LTF figures, that put Croydon among the leading London boroughs for volume of development, but only mid-table when it comes to providing homes which ordinary, hard-working families can afford to rent.
While Brick by Brick’s buildings are being reserved, in the first instance, to existing Croydon residents, the council’s concept of “affordable” and what local people can afford may not be the same thing.
The news that it will be New Year 2019 before the first Brick by Brick homes are occupied comes from the council’s magazine, Your Croydon.
These homes are at the corner of Beulah Hill and Harold Road, comprising 15 two- and three-storey houses and 16 flats and, the council’s official magazine tells us, they “will be ready for the first residents to move into in the New Year”.
This is later than the 2018 estimates previously offered by the council.
The next Brick by Brick scheme, at Auckland Rise won’t be ready until next spring, according to Your Croydon. On that scheme, 38 of the 57 homes being built will be going for private sale – that means 66 per cent of the properties built with public money on public open space are being flogged off on the private market. In this part of south London, new-build one-bedroom flats can be sold for as much as £300,000.
In those handful of properties that Brick by Brick are not putting on the (still lucrative) private market, the council magazine explains that by “affordable” rented properties, it means that residents “will pay no more than 65 per cent of the average market rents”.
It continues, “For example, a two-bedroom flat that usually costs £1,380 per month will instead be let at the Local Housing Allowance rate of £900.”
Further, the council tells us that, “Once built, these homes will be owned and managed by Croydon Affordable Homes (CAH), a charity set up by Croydon Council.”
This is, of course, all an elaborate ruse to try to get around the Thatcherite Right To Buy policies of successive Tory and neocon governments, which have stripped local authorities of much of their housing stock, while allowing some property owners to get-rich-quick off the back of previously public property.
But it fails to explain why Croydon’s “award-winning” house-building company, Brick by Brick, has taken four years to build its first homes, nor why it is failing to meet the Labour council leader’s boast of delivering 50 per cent “affordable” homes.
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