CROYDON COMMENTARY: As exclusively revealed by Inside Croydon, Brick by Brick’s failure to secure the purchase of the Barclay Road Annex building from Croydon College put at risk a multi-million-pound property deal.
At a Town Hall planning meeting tonight, the council’s house-building company presents a much-revised plan for the land beside the Fairfield Halls in a desperate effort to retrieve something from the mess of its own making. ANDREW KENNEDY has pored over the documents
The new scheme being put forward at tonight’s council planning committee is not a planning application, but a pre-application presentation, from developers Brick by Brick for land between the Fairfield Halls and Croydon College. They now want to build 425 flats, compared to previously approved 218, with a slightly higher affordable housing for rent offering, rising from 18 per cent to 20 per cent. It means around 340 of the flats will go for private sale or rent.
And instead of the tallest block being 21 storeys high, as originally proposed, they now want something half as tall again, at 29 storeys.
This is in response to the loss of the main plot of buildings for Croydon College, who are staying in their present location, and of the Barclay Road Annex building, which has been sold off to another developer.
Croydon Council, nor Brick by Brick, the council’s house-builder, never had control of the Croydon College properties and yet they predicated the refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls with the assumption that the profit from acquiring that land and the subsequent large number of flats to be built on it would go towards financing the cultural re-development.
As the report states, referring to the Fairfield Halls, “Although refurbishment is well underway, more resources have been expended than first anticipated, to deal with unforeseen issues and to ensure the delivery of a high quality venue and cultural offer. Whilst the amended scheme is still intended to balance the cost of the refurbishment work, the applicant has advised that despite the increased number of units, the scheme continues to be challenged.”
They are now trying to claw back some of the lost profits by upping the size of the development (“quantum” in developers’ terminology) on one of the plots of land within their control. There are future possible development sites, such as the nearby Croydon Magistrates Court.
This whole debacle could be called Croydon’s Quantum of Solace but we don’t appear to have a Daniel Craig to save us.
I doubt whether the development of the flats and the refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls should continue to be linked. The housing development no longer has any connection to the Fairfield Halls other than being in the same landscape and therefore should be visually respectful of the cultural asset. The apartments should be planned and judged in their own right and in connection to the adjacent building within which they will have to sit.
Originally, it was suggested that the College should move to a new building which would have been linked to the Fairfield Halls by a bridge. If the vision was to bring the College and the Halls closer together in terms of curriculum and artistic endeavour, as well as physically, then this would have made sense. But the link between the two disappointingly never gained traction. Shame perhaps, another lost opportunity, but then the Annexe site would always have been too small for a college.
So we are left with one site where three sides of a quadrangle, a small quadrangle of 750 sqm, will be developed by Brick by Brick, while the fourth side, the sunny southside held by a different developer, is to be built separately.
The extant planning permission was for a new college building of seven stories. But the new developer is likely to request something considerable higher, thus casting a shadow over the proposed quadrangle.
Unless the two developers can agree on a joint plan, which will inevitably delay the Brick by Brick development, there is going to be conflict here.
It would do well to pay heed to the council’s planning officers here, who are retaining a remarkable and welcome distance from the Brick by Brick design team considering the proximity by which they work in Bernard Wetherill House.
The council’s planning staff cast few aspersions over the overall plan for this area, saying that it broadly falls in line with the Croydon Masterplan.
But there are worrying concerns in the detail.
The land from George Street through to Barclay Road is a complicated site with many different landowners and changes of height.
One of the glaring problems is the unresolved nature of the link between East Croydon Station, George Street and the Fairfied Green raised podium. The council need to take a bold grasp here and determine what this link should be. In my view it should be a pedestrian and cycle link similar to New York’s Hi-Line. This will require major funding and bold decision-making.
Instead they are fussing around with a new public competition to design a new Fair Field (known now as College Green) which is already a flat space. Or as it appears in the coouncil official’s report to tonight’s meeting, “Whilst the applicant is progressing a landscape proposal that can function as a landscaped terminus (including opportunities for children’s play)”. In plain English, that’s a £1million prize for the lucky, winning architect.
This is vision weakness, putting off the difficult decisions in favour of an easy option which may never get built anyway.
There is also the problem of amenity space. The proposed plan for the quadrangle of flats is that the space at ground level be a “shared amenity courtyard of 750 sqm … would provide proposed … doorstop play, semi-formal play-space and playable areas of landscaping”.
Yet 750 sqm is very small, a rectangle of approximately 25m x 30m, and with relatively tall blocks on every side. Imagine how the sound will travel up, and the lack of privacy.
This lack of privacy, the closeness of the blocks to one another was raised at the previous planning discussion by at least one of the councillors on the planning meeting. The fact that you can look directly into a neighbours property is a concern and may be exacerbated if balconies, offered up as part of the “amenity space”, are included there too.
There are other areas of concern, too. It will be intriguing to follow this evening’s meeting to see which members of the planning committee ask the most telling questions based on the report and the presentation.
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