EXCLUSIVE: Our housing correspondent BARRATT HOLMES on a possible breakthrough to solve a development crisis across the capital
A document leaked from the council’s planning department suggests that a solution may have been found to one of the longest running political disagreements in the borough.
The memo, seen by Inside Croydon this morning, could save the council and the government millions of pounds by averting the need for a public inquiry – a second one – into plans for what some people have come to call the Purley “skyscraper”.
The proposal, apparently the brainchild of councillor Paul Scott, the Labour council’s planning “guru”, would see the so-called “skyscraper” reduced in height from 17 storeys to just four floors, to make it more in keeping with the surrounding area.
“He’s turned the problem on its head, literally,” a Town Hall source said.
Under the radical proposal, additional housing units would be constructed in as many as 10 basement levels, dug deep under the site, and extended out under the Purley roundabout.
“It’s such a work of genius,” the council source told Inside Croydon, “we’re just surprised that Councillor Scott did not think of it sooner.”
The source said: “Tunnelling technology today is much advanced, with all the experience and science used to build the Channel Tunnel and CrossRail. There is a belief that we can now use that expertise to solve the housing crisis, and save the Green Belt from overdevelopment.
“Instead,” they said, “we’re planning a form of under-development.”
The Purley tower, proposed on a long-derelict site in the local town centre, had planning permission from Croydon’s Labour-run council, and was approved as part of a multi-used complex including 220 homes. An inquiry by the government-appointed planning inspector also approved the plans, even though, at 17 storeys, the tower was one storey higher than is allowed for under the Croydon Local Plan.
But Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for the area, backed by some 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.
Then, last year, Javid’s replacement as communities minister, James Brokenshire, rejected the Purley scheme. Faced with a High Court challenge, Brokenshire has since backed off that position, prompting a need for a renewed planning inspector inquiry.
Scott’s new vision, however, offers a way around that. Or, at least, under it.
Mindful that the developers need to build at least 220 homes for private sale to make enough profit to pay for the rest of the scheme, Scott has recommended that the tower should be radically reduced in height, by as many as 13 floors.
By digging down under the site, and under the A23 and Purley gyratory, Scott’s suggestion could see another 100 apartments in the development, more than making up for the homes lost in the tower scheme.
London-based architects firms have spent the past two decades working up schemes that underpin Victorian and Edwardian houses in built-up areas of the capital, providing additional accommodation in basement and deeper floors for their wealthy clientele. This scheme from Scott, who himself works for a architects firm based in the city centre, would be a larger scale version of that kind of work.
“The problem originally was the tall storeys,” said the Katharine Street source.
“This way, that ‘skyscraper’ objection no longer holds.
“The real brilliance is that Paul seems to have discovered a possible way to solve the housing crisis, and to save the Green Belt.
“Paul has said before at planning meetings that providing rooms in the Queen’s Hotel in Crystal Palace with no windows and no daylight is like the conditions some passengers pay top prices to enjoy on luxury cruise ships. This would be much the same.”
If this scheme is accepted, similar projects could be rolled out across London, where overdevelopment has become a big issue in several boroughs.
“We’d call the underground homes ‘Scott’s Subterranean Chalets’,” the source suggested.
MP Philp, who is organising a Town Hall demonstration against the council’s planning policies, was not immediately available for comment.
But one member of a residents’ association, who would only be quoted on condition that they were not named, said, “Without seeing more detailed plans for this scheme, it’s hard to know what the snags might be.
“But Scott should know well enough from what’s happened with Brick by Brick: when in a hole, stop digging.”
Details of the revised, underground developments could be revealed at the Town Hall as soon as today, April 1.
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