KEN LEE, our Town Hall reporter, on the latest significant announcement which Brick by Brick kept secret from the majority of the borough’s elected representatives
As if to fully demonstrate the complete contempt in which they hold the borough’s elected councillors and the public who pay their six-figure salaries, Jo Negrini and Colm Lacey chose yesterday to announce that Brick by Brick has appointed a new non-executive chair.
The appointment of Martyn Evans, a businessman without any obvious links to Croydon, was kept secret from the meeting of the full council held on Monday night. No one from Brick by Brick bothered to mention it when the house-building company was the subject of a council scrutiny meeting in the Town Hall chamber just a week earlier.
As Inside Croydon revealed on Monday, other important information withheld from Croydon’s councillors by Negrini, the council’s £200,000 per year chief exec, and Lacey, who she put in charge of the council-owned development company, was a delay in Brick by Brick publishing its latest accounts, and the resignation of board member Jeremy Titchen.
According to the company’s own accounts (see page 21), in 2016 and 2017 Titchen trousered £31,500 as a director of Brick by Brick. It seems very likely, therefore, that by the time of his resignation on the last day of 2018, Titchen may have been paid almost £50,000 for attending just a handful of meetings on a house-building company that has not yet built a house.
Evans’s appointment was announced on the council-funded Brick by Brick website yesterday morning, and has been confirmed by Companies House.
Evans replaces Jayne McGivern as chair, after she stood down having landed a job as the executive VP for development and construction at the New York-based Madison Square Garden Company.
As part of that job, McGivern is overseeing the building of something called the MSG Sphere in London… only this won’t be built in Croydon, but in Stratford.
Nevertheless, it appears that McGivern is to continue as a director of Brick by Brick, which paid her £42,000 across 2016 and 2017. Add in her juicy director’s fees for 2018, and McGivern is being paid by the loss-making Croydon Council house-building company at a rate of something north of £3,000 per hour…
That’s the kind of money Evans might expect now that he’s been handed Brick by Brick’s chairmanship.
Evans sounds like someone who is just right for carrying out the latest bat-shit idea handed down from Negrini.
“I started my career working for Anita Roddick at The Body Shop, who taught me that you shouldn’t go to bed at night until you’d made the world a little bit better than it was when you got up.”
Ah, how sweet. Perhaps he should start by donating his Brick by Brick director’s fees to a Croydon homelessness charity?
He is clearly just the sort of person Negrini and Lacey will enjoying sharing chilled white wine and canapés with, come the annual MIPIM “booze and hooker fest” in the South of France in March.
It has not been confirmed, but sources in Katharine Street suggest that Evans was chosen for the role after Negrini read some bullshit puff piece about him in Architect’s Journal, or because he’s said something suitably fawning about Croydon’s (non-existent) rampant growth in Estates Gazette.
Lacey appears to spend much of his time writing articles for trade publications where he claims that using small pockets of public green space, council-owned garages and kids’ play areas somehow manages to “speed up” the delivery of new homes. Brick by Brick, founded in 2015, has so far completed ZERO homes.
Evans’s stated qualifications seem, therefore, somehow at odds with Brick by Brick’s stated objectives. Unless, of course, there’s something else that Negrini and Lacey are not telling the people who pay their wages.
“Martyn has extensive experience of working with local communities to deliver large-scale development projects,” Brick by Brick’s announcement said as they bigged up the company’s new chair.
Evans, they said, “has more 20 years of property and regeneration experience including board and executive committee positions at the specialist mixed-use developer Cathedral Group and then at the listed property development and investment company U+I, which was formed through the merger of Cathedral Group and Development Securities in 2016.”
Given the multi-million-pound dropped bollock by Brick by Brick over the failed property acquisition at College Green, next to the Fairfield Halls, when Croydon College sold an annex building to another developer, it could be that Evans has been brought in to hold Lacey’s hand as they try to retrieve something from the wreckage on that site.
Evans’ own bio talks glowingly of how the companies he has worked for, including Cathedral, have used PPP, the Public Private Partnerships so beloved of the Blairites and proving so costly to local authorities and the NHS now. So he is clearly about a decade out of date.
“We are in partnership with local authorities across London and the south-east to develop complex mixed-use schemes that have some public asset at their core,” Evans says.
“We’re creating new town centre spaces in Bromley and Deptford and regenerating entire areas of Brighton and Sittingbourne.
“We’d like to be known as developers who make beautiful inspiring places for people to live and work in,” says Evans, sounding like a wet dream for any self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner” such as Negrini.
The Bromley plans – where a town centre site has been renamed and had the word “Quarter” added to it to make it somehow more attractive to those with the budget for a “luxury apartment” – will seem very familiar to Inside Croydon’s loyal reader, weary after more than a decade of promised redevelopment that has never been delivered.
In Bromley, their town centre regeneration is due to be finished by 2025 – so they could well be ready before the replacement Whitgift Centre is built in Croydon.
Bromley’s scheme is being developed by Countryside Properties, the private company which is also replacing 390 flats in the Guinness Trust’s Loughborough Park estate in Brixton with 530 more profitable “luxury apartments”.
In Bromley, a public open space, Library Gardens, is to be “regenerated” (chunks of Queen’s Gardens being hijacked for a housing scheme, anyone?), and a town centre church and maisonettes are to be demolished, as 14-storey towers and 410 flats replace them. In Tory-controlled Bromley, there’s not been a peep of outrage over “skyscrapers”, as there has been in nearby Purley.
Brick by Brick’s press release about Evans was not without the usual laughable balls-up, describing the Dartington Hall Estate in Devon as “a Medieval estate that was established in 1925 as an experimental rural community”. Well, we think we know what they meant to say.
Evans is estate development director at Dartington.
This, Brick by Brick seems to claim, somehow makes Evans “a respected authority on facilitating sustainable urban design and placemaking”. On a 1,200-acre estate. In Devon.
The giveaway over the clique-like connections between Evans and Negrini – who was made an associate fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, presumably in recognition of the huge amount of council money she will be spending with their members – comes in his role with the RIBA-backed London Festival of Architecture, and mention that he has “contributed to The Architects’ Journal and Estates Gazette“, two of the foremost cheerleaders for Brick by Brick.
Lacey was ready with a joke or two in the quotes attributed to him. At least, we hope he was joking. According to Lacey, “Brick by Brick has established itself as a market leader in developing small sites responsibly”, oh how we laughed…
And the company over which Lacey presides has “a focus on beautifully designed and affordable housing”. Only 39 per cent of the 290 units that Lacey’s Brick by Brick aim to complete in 2019 will be “affordable”.
For his part, Evans spouted the expected soundbytes, doubtless the sort of thing he’ll be expected to say to assembled property speculators at MIPIM in Cannes in a few weeks’ time.
“Delivering high quality, affordable homes is one of the most acute challenges we face, particularly in a period of great economic and political uncertainty,” he is supposed to have said.
“Brick by Brick has pioneered the delivery of such housing, rapidly building an industry-leading reputation for design quality, innovative thinking and practical delivery.” He never mentioned building council homes, probably because Brick by Brick isn’t building any.
“I am excited to chair their board at a time of significant expansion for the company and as it continues to build its delivery pipeline with admirable speed.” Hahahahaha.
Not only do Negrini, Lacey and Evans treat elected councillors and the Croydon public with contempt, it seems clear that they take them all for fools, too.
But one note, buried at the end of the press release, does offer a slither of a possibility of greater accountability for the council chumocracy that Negrini has constructed around her.
Evans’s appointment, they say, “is part of a refresh of our board membership. Croydon Council, Brick by Brick’s sole shareholder, is also set to nominate two new representatives to the board in the coming weeks”.
Perhaps they could be people who don’t need to burnish their careers with bullshit articles in trade journals every so often, but can be appointees who stand up for the interests and rights of the people of Croydon, whose money is paying for Brick by Brick’s dubious developments?
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