• Council house-building company formed in 2015 has yet to complete a single new home
• Senior council executive was among the judges for awards where Brick by Brick ‘triumphed’
• Council spent public money on advertising last week with the publishers who organised the awards
• Tables at the awards ceremony cost up to £3,700, individual tickets £350 each
• All Brick by Brick’s planning applications have been granted permission by the council, despite complaints from affected residents
• Council press release deliberately misstates the date when BxB was formed
Croydon Council’s desperation to put a positive spin on its controversial house-building company, Brick by Brick, reached a new low last week, as it used the council press office to spread disinformation about an “award” presented to the company by trade publication Architect’s Journal.
The council press release failed to state that among the AJ Architecture Awards judges was Colm Lacey, the senior Croydon staffer who just happens to be the managing director of Brick by Brick, and that the council had – no doubt entirely coincidentally – also managed to book inthe same week a 1,000-word sponsored “feature” advertorial with Architects Journal about one of its latest development schemes.
“If Brick by Brick had managed to finish just half as many homes as they have been presented with the bits of worthless plastic from various awards nights that they keep crowing about, we’d all be a lot happier,” one disgruntled Town Hall source told Inside Croydon.
Since Labour took control of Croydon Council in 2014, not a single new council home has been started and completed.
Brick by Brick was registered at Companies House in May 2015. It has yet to complete a single home build, and from its first batch of 1,000 planning permissions, using public money and public land, the majority are to be flogged off on the private market. Not one home will be made available as a “council home”.
In last week’s council media release, Alison Butler, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for homes, was quoted as saying, “We set up Brick by Brick to deliver well-designed, high-quality schemes to provide more homes for local people, so it’s great that their smaller sites masterplan has impressed the judges at these national awards.”
Lacey’s role as a judge at the Architects Journal awards was never mentioned in Croydon Council’s press release.
Last Tuesday’s “gala” ceremony, where table bookings cost up to £3,700, saw Lacey on stage at the Roundhouse alongside the evening’s host, actress Sally Phillips, to collect one of the awards.
The mutual back-patting of such awards is often referred to as “log-rolling”, where colleagues, and friends of friends within a close-knit business, nominate, review or recommend one another in a less-than-virtuous circle of self-congratulation, and then all go out on the piss, often at someone else’s expense.
On this occasion, considerable amounts of public money also changed hands, because in addition to any tables booked by Brick by Brick or Croydon Council, Lacey’s boss, council chief exec Jo Negrini, was simultaneously engaging in a piece of self-regarding puffery by taking out a sponsored advertisement with the publishers.
Croydon Council have something of a track record in the conceits which typically surrounding such awards.
Architects Journal’s publishers, Emap, also publish the Local Government Chronicle.
LGC runs its own set of money-spinning awards to flatter the vanities of struggling council leaders. In the past, when Nathan Elvery held a senior position at Croydon Council, he managed to serve as a judge on an award category where it was decided that his own local authority was the winner.
No such jiggery pokery this time around, oh no…
“The AJ Architecture Awards have 75 judges who are grouped into different judging panels to judge specific categories. Colm Lacey was not on the judging panel for the Masterplan category and was not involved in any way in the judging of that category,” a spokesperson for the award organisers said. So that’s all entirely above board then.
And the notion that Croydon paying for advertising with Architects Journal at the same time that it was being handed a gong by Architects Journal was anything more than a mere coincidence was also dismissed.
“The article about the Fair Field competition is sponsored content and is clearly badged up as such both in print and online,” the spokesperson assured Inside Croydon. Which carefully avoided denying that Brick by Brick got the award thanks to the ad booking by the council.
On the night, the citation in the Masterplan category called Brick by Brick’s schemes “a truly pioneering piece of pan-borough urban thinking”.
The piffle continued: “The Croydon Smaller Sites Programme sets out how more than 1,000 new homes will be built on 50 infill plots previously considered to be unviable, combining them into a single masterplan with ‘far-reaching placemaking benefits’.
“This is a ground-breaking approach. The programme has created a strategy for maximising leftover spaces in the borough and making sure these were developed using an innovative model, which was at the same time ambitious for quality and equitable for the citizens of Croydon.”
Note that sleight of hand: “these were developed”, implying that some, if not all, of the homes had already been built. In fact, none have been completed.
The residents of Croydon have seen Brick by Brick push through its applications through planning committee meetings (all of which were chaired by Butler’s husband, councillor Paul Scott), ignoring most complaints with schemes to build on their neighbourhood’s green spaces, or on the sites of garages where Japanese knotweed has never been eradicated, or by creating Communist bloc-style blocks of flats which overshadow people’s private gardens.
Few of those Croydon residents who have endured such over-development would regard these sites as “leftover spaces“.
One member of the Brick by Brick Action Group of residents who have opposed many of the council-backed schemes said that they felt “patronised, insulted and ignored” by the Architects Journal award to the house-building company.
The judges’ citation also included this zinger of a line: “Rather than development being done to the borough, the borough is driving its own development.” It reads as if it was drafted at the Fisher’s Folly desk of self-proclaimed “regeneration practictioner” Jo Negrini herself.
Brick by Brick’s first developments, at sites off Beulah Hill and Auckland Rise in Upper Norwood, won’t be completed until February 2019, at the earliest. “These first units are a selection of one-, two- and three-bedroom flats and houses designed by award-winning architects HTA,” last week’s council press release stated.
The chairman of HTA is Benjamin Derbyshire. Derbyshire just happened to be President-elect of the Royal institute of British Architects at the same time when RIBA decided to award an honorary fellowship to… Croydon CEO Jo Negrini. This was in October 2016, and just before HTA will have pitched for and been awarded design work with Brick by Brick. Just a few more of those uncanny coincidences.
The council press release also included the claim that Brick by Brick was “set up by the council in 2016”, which is clearly an attempt to knock a year off the slow-building company’s delivery time. Companies House records show it was registered a year earlier, with Richard Simpson, the council’s finance chief, the original director.
But then Brick by Brick’s other projects, such as the £30million regeneration of Fairfield Halls (at least 15 months late and £10million over-run costs) and the New Addington Leisure Centre (due to open autumn 2018, now won’t open until 2020; original cost estimate: a pricy £17million, now likely to cost more than £25million) have hardly run according to schedule or budget, either.
“We are absolutely delighted to win this prestigious award,” champion log-roller Colm Lacey was quoted as saying in the council press release.
“We have worked closely with local residents,” Lacey claimed, apparently without any hint of shame, “and a variety of award-winning architects to put together to plan and deliver the highest quality housing for Croydon residents.”
Despite having failed to deliver a single new home in four years, perhaps Lacey was entitled to be flushed with success, though. The AJ Architecture Awards Masterplan category was, suitably, sponsored by toilet manufacturers Roca.
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