BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, on a slap in the face for Croydon’s planners
To the “delight” of Croydon Conservatives, James Brokenshire, the Tory Government’s local communities and housing minister, has reversed the decision of council’s planning department, its planning committee and his own department’s planning inspector and tonight announced that he is blocking the development of the Purley “skyscraper”.
The controversial ruling further delays the redevelopment by the Purley Baptist Church of the long vacant site at Purley Cross, and with it 220 new homes.
The decision will be seen as darkly party political.
Planning permission for the scheme, including a 17-storey tower overlooking the ugly gyratory road system, was granted by the Labour-controlled council two years ago, in December 2016.
But Conservative MP Chris Philp, backed by some vociferous residents’ associations, persuaded his party colleague, the then Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, to call-in the decision in April 2017, amid accusations of blatant Nimby-ism at a time when there is a desperate need for more housing right across the borough.
Eighteen months, one General Election and two ministers later, the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government tonight issued a 94-page report, including the decision of Javid’s successor, Brokenshire, to overturn the experts.
There is already a suggestion that in so doing, Brokenshire has gone against his own Government and department’s policy, as was announced in a speech in March this year by Prime Minister Theresa Mayhem, who wanted a shake-up of the National Planning Policy Framework and introduce measures to encourage a faster pace of building, and relaxing regulations governing the height of buildings.
The developers had included the tower in order to build enough housing units for private sale to make the overall scheme financially viable. Without the tower, there has to be some doubt about whether the land-owners will be able to develop the site, which has stood vacant for 40 years.
Following a planning inspection hearing in January, both the government inspector and Brokenshire made several favourable comments in their reports about aspects of the scheme. Even in today’s ruling, they speak of elements of the scheme “giving an enormous lift” to an area which has remained derelict for five decades.
But in the Communities department’s written ruling published today, they said, “Having carefully considered the Inspector’s findings… the Secretary of State disagrees that, for most of the scheme, the overall standard of design can be described as being sufficiently high to merit substantial weight.
“While the Secretary of State agrees that the standard of design for parts of the scheme is more than acceptable, particularly some of the lower elements, he has some serious concerns around design…
“Having carefully considered the Inspector’s reasoning… the Secretary of State does not agree with him that, taken in the round, the proportions of the tower would be of a high standard of design and, in particular, he has serious concerns about the height of the tower
in this location.
“Although the Secretary of State acknowledges that LP [Local Plan] policy DM42.1 refers to the potential within Purley District Centre for ‘a new landmark of up to a maximum of 16 storeys’… he notes that not only would the current proposal exceed that maximum height but … no specific justification has been given in either the LP or the application to
support the height of this site as proposed, having regard to its relationship with the existing built urban form.”
Tim Pollard, the leader of the Conservative minority group at Croydon Town Hall, said tonight, “I am delighted to learn today that the Secretary of State has overturned the planning permission Croydon Council gave to the so-called Purley Skyscraper.
“We want to see that site developed but the scheme was too large and Croydon should never have given it permission.”
Philp told Inside Croydon that he saw the decision as a lesson for the Labour council and that it should “stop indiscriminately passing pretty much every application that comes before them”.
Philp said, “I support appropriate development, but this is not appropriate. It is five times higher than the next tallest building in Purley and has only 30 parking spaces for 220 flats. It would have changed the character of Purley.”
Philp also found that Croydon Council leader Tony Newman had managed to get his facts wrong, after the councillor had tweeted this afternoon that Purley was an “affordable housing project”.
“It was not,” said Philp, pictured left.
“It was around 20 per cent affordable and 80 per cent private, far less affordable than the council’s own target.”
And the MP added: “This campaign has taken more than two years, and was supported by 11,000 local residents and seven local residents’ associations. I will never forget the two-hour-plus cross-examination I received at the hands of the developers’ top planning QC.
“I hope that a sensible, appropriate scheme for the site can now be bought forward.”
That, though, appeared to be in some doubt tonight.
The site owners, Purley Baptist Church, issued a press statement which said that they were “surprised and deeply disappointed that the Secretary of State has turned down our proposed development”.
The statement continued: “We understand that the scheme faced much opposition, principally regarding the height of the tower, but felt that the evidence presented to the inquiry held in January more than justified the proposal. This is borne out by the inspector’s recommendation to approve the scheme.
“We’ll now take time to consider where we go from here… We remain open to dialogue with any individuals or community groups who’d like to know more about our situation or have suggestions to make as to how we might proceed.”
The developers have six weeks to lodge an appeal against the decision.
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