Roll up! Roll up!
Come and get your Brick by Brick house, built on public property, using tax-payers’ money, and going on sale this week as a real bargain at nearly £600,000 for a three-bedroomed house on a ‘neat terrace’! As a special offer to Croydon residents, you can have first dibs on buying these architect-designed properties for a few weeks…
That’s effectively the sales pitch of the council-owned Brick by Brick, the house-building company formed by Croydon Council in 2015 and which, after hundreds of millions of pounds of council loans, is only now bringing to market its first new homes.
None of the first batch of properties are for social housing.
Indeed, most of the homes, in what estate agents might describe as a “desirable neighbourhood in fashionable Upper Norwood”, are going for private sale.
So much for the Labour-run council tackling the housing crisis.
“This is a great moment for Brick by Brick, and for Croydon,” according to Colm Lacey, the former Croydon Council employee now re-styled as BxB’s chief executive.
In the Auckland Rise and Sylvan Road development, there will be 57 one- and two-bedroom flats. Of these, 19 are to be available through shared ownership; even the Evening Gideon has described shared ownership schemes as being an unaffordable joke. Undeterred by the hard financial realities for local residents, Croydon Council and Brick by Brick appear keen to conflate its shared-ownership homes in with their affordable housing quotas.
But then they desperately need to do so.
Brick by Brick has a target of 50 per cent “affordable” homes among the units it is building. In 2019, according to Brick by Brick’s own figures, just 29 per cent of its new housing units will be “affordable”.
Brick by Brick is using a swanky “marketing suite” on George Street in Croydon town centre to flog the new homes.
The former travel agency shop has been rented, it is understood, from the Whitgift Foundation on a 10-year lease which is costing council-owned Brick by Brick – and therefore Council Tax-payers – a tidy £400,000.
To divert Council Tax-payers’ and Labour Party supporters’ attention from the complete lack of any council homes being delivered in Croydon, and the sky-high prices on the housing that is being built by Brick by Brick, the council is trying very hard to push the narrative that the borough’s existing residents have some kind of “priority” in buying the properties.
But there’s more than a hint of social engineering going on here, as Brick by Brick pitches its “architect-designed” homes to the top-end of the market.
In Croydon, the average salary is around £27,000 per year. Even a couple where both partners are earning that amount, or more, would require a deposit of £100,000 to be able to afford to buy one of the Brick by Brick terraced houses that have just gone on sale. Having a two-month window in which to make up your mind that you’ve been priced out of your own neighbourhood is not much of a benefit for Croydon residents at all.
The Ravensdale and Rushden development in Upper Norwood comprises 30 flats and houses. Prices start at £295,000 for a one-bedroom flat, £450,000 for a two-bed apartment and a cool £587,500 for a three-bedroom terrace house.
Even using the Tory government-financed developer subsidy called Help to Buy, a deposit could be from £18,500 for a one-bed, £24,975 for a two-bed and up to £29,375 for a three-bedroom house.
In the estate agents’ sales materials, the 15 houses – built with public money, remember – are described as, “… just off Harold Road, arranged in neat terraces, within an existing community.”
That’ll be the “existing community” where the residents of social housing were shafted by their own council by allowing Brick by Brick to build the private homes on their green space and kids’ play areas.
The marketing blurb asserts that the new, private homes, “… have private gardens as well as a new shared play area for children”.
The blurb continues, “The apartments are generously proportioned, offering open and light-flooded spaces. We’ve used natural materials such as timber parquet flooring in living areas. Kitchens are matt grey, with oak handles, grey Silestone worktops, open shelving and Bosch appliances. Bathrooms are laid back white with herringbone tiling, timber shelving and a classic rainfall shower head.
“Our experienced sales team can take you through the options that could work for you.” You betcha.
The top-end architects hired in by Croydon Council-owned Brick by Brick to design these “high specification” homes is the fashionable East London-based HTA Design, whose company chairman is Benjamin Derbyshire, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
It is, of course, merely coincidental that when Derbyshire was RIBA’s president-elect, his organisation decided to award an honorary fellowship to Jo Negrini, Croydon Council’s chief executive, and someone with no architecture qualifications whatsoever. Though she does call herself a “regeneration practitioner”.
According to Lacey (who was on a tidy £150,000 per year salary when placed on the council’s payroll by Negrini, before quietly being transferred to BxB’s staff last September), “We are now close to completing our first homes and it is incredibly exciting to be able to make them available to Croydon residents on an exclusive basis. This is part of Brick by Brick’s commitment to deliver much-needed new and affordable homes for the people of Croydon.”
“All our homes are thoughtfully designed by fresh and interesting architects and have been built with a resolute focus on quality. This is ingrained in what we do and how we operate. We can’t wait to complete our first sales and give some Croydon people keys to their wonderful new homes,” Lacey gushed, failing to mention that his company and the council will have not built a single new council home since 2014.
Even the second tranche of Brick by Brick homes will offer no social rented accommodation – the sort which might provide homes for the majority of those on Croydon Council’s housing waiting list. Flora Court in Thornton Heath consists of 24 shared ownership homes, while Windmill Place in Coulsdon will have 24 private sale and Help to Buy flats.
But hey: “This is a great moment for Brick by Brick, and for Croydon.”
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