‘I think the council was right to give Brick by Brick a try’

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Not everyone thinks that the council-owned house-builder is doing a bad job. Here DAVID WHITE puts the case in favour of Brick by Brick

The housing crisis is getting worse because of Tory government policies, not because of anything done (or not done) by the Labour-run council in Croydon.

The government is not allowing councils to build social rented housing in anything like the quantities that are needed. Also, the right-to-buy policy is depleting the existing stock of council housing.

There are more than 600 families in emergency accommodation in Croydon. Tonight, more than 1,000 children will go to bed in emergency accommodation.

Faced with this situation, Croydon’s Labour council had two basic choices – either just accept the situation or try something novel like Brick by Brick. There can be a debate about the way Brick by Brick has been implemented, but I think the council was right to give it a try. If, by the time of the next local elections, 500 units a year are coming on stream, and at least half of them are genuinely affordable, I suggest it will be regarded as a success.

If not…well then might be the time to be critical.

The council has also been taking whatever other steps it can to meet the most pressing need – for social rented accommodation. This has included buying properties in the open market.

Brick by Brick has a town centre marketing suite for private housing. But it is building no council homes

So far as planning decisions in the private sector are concerned, we have to bear in mind that the Mayor of London and the Government have both said that many more housing units need to be built to meet Greater London’s expanding population.

Croydon’s Local Plan, like other London boroughs, provides for intensification of development. The challenge is for this to be done without spoiling the character of particular areas and also providing the necessary schools, hospitals and other amenities required. All of the intensification can’t happen in the north and centre of the borough; the south needs to take a share.

It’s natural to be concerned if, say, a house near you is to be turned into several flats. I’ve experienced this in the area of Croydon where I live. However, if done sensitively the new development can fit into the existing environment.

Personally, I think more needs to be done by government to build up the economies of the regions of the UK, so there is less pressure on housing in London and the south-east. Other European countries are far less centralised than we are. This would alleviate the position, but there would still be a need to ensure an adequate supply of housing to meet the local need.

  • David White, pictured right, is a former GLC councillor and until recently was the long-serving secretary of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party

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11 Responses to ‘I think the council was right to give Brick by Brick a try’

  1. It’s important that Mr White does not confuse social housing with the so called “affordable housing”, where incomes of well over £30,000 pa are required. Brick by Brick has provided NONE of the former, which most people on the waiting list actually need and has a target of 50% of the latter but so far there is more evidence of intentions rather than provision. Ok, central government policy is the root cause of cash strapped local authorities not meeting public need in many areas, but presenting the smoke and mirrors of Brick by a Brick as a success story is not the answer.

  2. Many years ago I was in close contact with families who lived in Heathfield Gardens. Bringing up a family in a flat, especially a high rise, is probably not the first choice but they at least had the opportunity to use outside space with the lovely green at the front of the buildings.
    I recently spoke to a climate change protester who remarked that living in the city means that often children will spend all their time walking on concrete and how hard it must be to feel a connection with nature if you seldom even walk on grass.
    Like you I think it was right to try a concept such as BXB, but blimey how badly it has been executed.
    If we wait until the next local elections before speaking out, how much damage will have been done?
    How much drastically under-priced land will have been developed on only to be sold to the highest bidder?
    How many homes such as the “bargain” one beds in South Norwood at a mere £450k will have been bought by locals (to live in not to let out at extortionate rents)?

    How many of those already in social housing will we have to set up school based initiatives for when we have children who are obese or just not receiving adequate exercise (remember the school playing fields being sold off)?

    BXB do not seem to have any forward thinking, not even to the next elections.

    Yes we need more housing and most definitely the infrastructure to support it. But a responsible council needs to do that in a way that is not going to be detrimental to our town. It’s easy to see the protest against Brick by Brick as a political game. I’m sure David would not be surprised at how many usual Labour supporters are against the working practice of them.

    One final word. A wise housing developer whether it is owned privately or by the community might try and discover what, if anything, is happening with the shopping centre.

  3. whitgiftavenue says:

    Always good to hear views on housing from someone who knows the borough as well as David.

    However, I’m still no clearer as to whether the most frequent criticisms of Brick by Brick are justified. Why do they have a hands off policy towards developments in the South of the borough, whilst buildings are being shoehorned into any available plot in the North? Has any firm commitment been given regarding the percentage of affordable homes to be provided? And with 1,000 children in emergency accommodation, how many of these new homes will be proper family homes, available at social rents?

    A few straight answers to questions such as these would do wonders for Brick by Bricks sagging reputation .

  4. Cathy de Veras says:

    1. P Scott whips Croydon councillors to approve BXB applications at planning committees, which is ILLEGAL
    2. None of their proposed projects are on budget or on time
    3. None of their proposed prices are affordable, or for social rent
    4. Building small “family” homes for £500k+ on land that used to be for children to play on or residents garages, sold by the council for a pound per plot, is immoral and obscene.
    5. Disabled people are still having to wait in temporary accommodation for BXB to build enough accessible homes, or to compel private developers to.

    David, if you think they get a bad rap, you must be senile or a Tory. Have a word with yourself!

  5. derekthrower says:

    The central conceit of Brick by Brick is that a council owned developer acting as a private developer will create surplus externalities that lead to more social housing being developed and remaining in existence than if left to traditional methods of council building exposed to right to buy legislation. This conceit had a brief shelf life before Brexit cast it’s shadow over the London Housing Market and the sure fired bet of ever increasing housing land costs forcing property prices on an ever upward curve are now far less certain. Property prices are falling making private development far more riskier. Rather than asking is this now an appropriate model for development by a public body and show some caution this Local Authority has decided to increase development and expose the Council to bad debts if a rapid downturn in the Housing market takes place. There is a housing crisis in London. Brick by Brick never had the capacity to solve it by itself and now with its poor record of successful development may make a bad situation worse. No mention has been made of other good work done by the Council of returning empty properties into social housing in the article by David White. A single Council working alone can never solve the housing market problems. It seems now one agency of the local authority will have a lot of empty properties to choose from thanks to the actions of an outsourced one.

  6. Miserable weather all day. Just blame the Tories for that too.

  7. Nicholas Panes says:

    Mr White misses the point entirely regarding development South of the Borough.

    In many cases the proposals by developers fly in the face of valid planning objections concerning privacy/overlooking and in terms of changing the character of the neighbourhood. That is why developers such as Aventier, who set up their office in the Borough of Bromley and then only had a 50% planning success rate in that Borough moved their attention to Croydon, where they had almost 100% success.

    Brick by Brick have themselves achieved 100% success with their planning applications, but have not applied to build a single Council House to replace those lost to “right to buy”.

    They are not achieving the affordable home objectives, their timetables for development, or any sales objectives so far published. These planning successes arise because Croydon’s planning department have allowed the wish to intensify the borough to override normal and legally valid objections.

    If private developers and Brick by Brick were held to account under existing planning law then perhaps they would be less despised than they currently are all over the Borough of Croydon. A Council that is borrowing enormous sums to develop private property for sale should not even exist – meanwhile they are wholly conflicted in applying objective planning standards to their in-house company.

  8. I’ve read the comments so far with interest. I’m certainly not saying the Brick by Brick model is ideal. A number of the risks and drawbacks referred to are valid. What we really need is Jeremy Corbyn’s policy of building a million homes in the UK in five years, half of which will be council and housing association homes at affordable rents.

    But all the time we have a Tory Government which makes it almost impossible for councils to build social rented homes we have to do more than just sit on the sidelines. In this situation Brick by Brick’s scheme is better than nothing. The social rented homes forming part of this will come along, though they’re not in the first tranche of completions.

  9. Thing is, Dave, if you’d been writing your Commentary in 2014, it would have sounded like a reasonable argument.
    But we’re five years into the Brick by Brick debacle, and the whole thing is falling apart at the seams, to the detriment of the Croydon public, while being at our expense.
    The facts are that BxB is doing very little, if anything, to put roofs over the heads of the borough’s homeless. In eight years, our Labour Council is building ZERO homes for social rent – council homes. Other London councils, such as Haringey since losing the shackles of its previous Blairite administration, have managed to find solutions to the Thatcherite housing policies. But not Croydon.
    The points made by Cathy, Nicholas and others, above, are entirely accurate and you cannot just ignore them.
    In Croydon, before BxB, we had CCURV, another publicly funded effort to rub shoulders with the development big boys which flopped, costing the Council Tax-payer hundreds of millions of pounds. But the council executives have shiny new offices…
    BxB is based on models used before in Lambeth and Newham – under Negrini and Lacey – which have also failed to deliver.
    So what we have is a pinkish Labour council which in five years has failed to build a single council home, is borrowing £300m of public money to build 1,000 homes of which more than half (71% of this year’s units, according to BxB’s own figures) will go for private sale, and which has probably acted unlawfully in flogging off public property on the cheap.
    It is doing nothing to resolve the housing crisis. If anything, by failing to meet the need for housing for social rent, it is just fuelling the housing bubble in south London.
    And all to satisfy the ego and ambitions of a couple of very well-paid council executives.
    Trebles all-round.

  10. Tricia Thomas says:

    Maybe we need this in Lambeth. The social housing bidding system is broken. There are plenty of so called affordable housing projects but not social housing. Therefore families like mine are waiting for years for scraps. I recently saw a article speaking about councils are worried about future funding for council services. If they get housing right. I’m sure there would be less stress on services regarding peoples wellbeing and mental health stress. I’m by no means saying housing is the be all and end all of peoples life problems. However it would go a long way to help.

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