Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on the half-truths and blank maps that came with the latest batch of 60 sites being handed over for development
After flogging off public green spaces and kids’ playgrounds for the in-house house-builder to build homes, most of which are going for private sale, now Croydon’s Labour council is waging a war on residents’ garages.
The council cabinet on Monday night rubber-stamped the sale of another 60 sites for Brick by Brick to continue in its policy of borrowing public money to buy public land to be transformed, eventually and predominantly, into private housing.
Nothing in the council report to cabinet on Monday allowed for the building of any new council homes. Since Labour took control of the Town Hall in 2014, it has managed to build no new council homes at all.
Brick by Brick’s slow progress with the sites it has already been allocated, and the possibly unlawful, under-value sales of many of those sites, has though seen the council tweak its approach this time round, which suggests some growing anxiety in Fisher’s Folly over their previous, below-market-value sales previously.
We provide a list of all the sites in the council’s “pipeline” below.
The 60 sites will provide more than 500 housing units. The breakdown of how many might be “affordable” homes could be just 40 per cent – well below the council’s original target of 50 per cent of Brick by Brick homes being “affordable”.
Of the 60 sites, 26 are in New Addington. There are eight in Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood ward, eight are in Selsdon and Addington Village and seven are in Shirley South.
Just two sites are in Woodside, which is the ward represented by council leader Tony Newman and the de facto chair of planning, Paul Scott. None of the sites are in Bensham Manor, the ward represented by Alison Butler, Scott’s partner and the cabinet member responsible for housing.
And of the 60 sites, 37 are currently used for garages, while a 38th is a residents’ car park.
Many of the garages will be used by residents for their vehicles or for storage, and will be rented from the council. Based on the council’s previous practice, they will in due course be given notice to vacate the garage and to make alternative arrangements for their property or vehicles.
That’s likely to mean more on-street parking of cars, which means that the residents will be hit by a double whammy, as the council is gearing up to start charging up to £300 per year for parking permits.
Residents who have seen their garages handed over to Brick by Brick in the past have also reported grave concerns about the methods and safety measures used by their demolition contractors. With many of the garages built in the middle of the last century, asbestos will have been used in the construction, and many residents complained about the complete absence of proper containment practices used by Brick by Brick’s contractors.
If Brick by Brick doesn’t get to build on a resident’s garage, they will probably end up concreting over their green space, though the plans unveiled on Monday have led some to question whether all the proposals are realistic.
One worried Waddon resident contacted Inside Croydon to say: “The Duppas Hill Terrace plan for 44 units is too many. Where will they all go? This many properties can only be built if much of the grass grounds around the existing flats is built on. This won’t go down well with my neighbours.”
There is good reason for some doubt about where Brick by Brick intends to build these new homes. The report submitted to the council on Monday night was so amateurish as to be almost laughable, with maps provided having no label to identify which site they referred to, and with no surveyors’ red lines to mark the boundary of the land being sold for development.
Many of the charts simply offered a big red asterisk, and an annotation: “* denotes approximate location of site”.
Most of the maps even lacked road names, turning the process into a massive, borough-wide guessing game.
“It would be laughable if this was not a serious matter, affecting dozens of families’ homes and lives,” a Katharine Street source said.
“Here we have Croydon Council flogging off public land worth millions of pounds, and they can’t even show with any certainty where the boundaries of the plots being sold are. It’s amateur hour. There’s no way that any responsible councillors should have voted this through with this degree of detail missing.
“It’s thorough-going incompetence by council officials, as they rush through another bargain basement sale.”
And, as many have come to expect with this council and this benighted Brick by Brick project, senior councillors were wheeled out to tell lies about the scheme.
“Brick by Brick is already delivering hundreds of new and affordable homes right across the borough,” was the big fat lie attributed to Councillor Butler in the council’s pre-prepared press release on Monday night.
For “hundreds”, a more truthful figure for the number of homes Brick by Brick has “delivered” would be “a couple of dozen”.
The council statement maintained the myth of the “target that 50 per cent of the homes are affordable”. In 2019, not even 30 per cent of Brick by Brick’s completed units will be affordable.
Even Scott has begun revising down the affordable target figure lately, talking about 45 per cent of Brick by Brick homes being affordable.
In a piece of studied, careful imprecision, the council’s own report to cabinet suggested that with these small pipeline sites, at least 60 per cent will be going for private sale, just to be able to turn a profit.
The council’s passing acquaintance with the truth continued in its attempt to re-write history: “In the absence of government funding, the council-owned developer was set up by the council in 2016…”. Companies House records prove that Brick by Brick was set up in 2015.
Much of the propaganda spouted by Butler, Scott and Colm Lacey, the jumped-up council official who is now referred to as Brick by Brick’s managing director, has revolved around the development company’s ability to develop small sites which would otherwise be ignored by commercial developers.
There’s a good reason why commercial developers bypass such small sites: they are just not viable commercially. The evidence of the council’s choice of land with these pipeline sites seems to suggest that it is coming close to the end of its supply, as admitted in the Monday’s press statement: “The 60 new plots are across the borough and range from infill sites to land next to council tower blocks, with most of these suitable for fewer than 10 homes.”
The council statement sought to provide reassurance for those who discover that they are about to have a block of flats built at the end of their garden, or on their garage.
“All developments will be subject to Brick by Brick carrying out public consultation…”, this from the council that puts the “con” into “consultation” “… and schemes gaining planning permission.”
Not a single Brick by Brick application has been denied permission with Scott in the chair of the planning committee.
And then there was another little porkie, too: “As with previous sites sold to Brick by Brick, the council will get the best possible price based on valuation factors such as the planning consent and the target of making sure that affordable homes make up half of those built.” We added the italics.
Croydon Council’s “best possible price” sales previously included, notoriously, six sites going for £1 each, or another site, with planning permission for 157 homes, going for £1.5million – perhaps only one-fifth of its true market value.
Even with such vast secret subsidies, Brick by Brick’s financial model is beginning to creak: “All profits are reinvested in council services and financing more homes,” the council press release stated.
The notion that Brick by Brick might generate profits is beginning to seem a tad delusional.
Like the company’s annual business report earlier in the year, which blamed its financial woes on “Brexit uncertainty” as Brick by Brick asked the council for a further £78million in loans, even the council execs’ report to cabinet on Monday night was less pessimistic about future prospects.
Brick by Brick reported losses in its first two trading years, and it has so far refused to reveal how many of the houses for private sale that it has built have so far been sold – despite the best efforts of the marketing team ensconced in the luxury of the “sales suite” on George Street.
The report to cabinet painted a gloomy picture. “With the housing market currently seeing a flattening out of house prices and build costs increasing, the delivery of affordable housing through private development is being tested and the viability of schemes is demonstrating a generally lower level of affordable housing being brought forward. However, the demand for housing, and especially affordable housing, is increasing within borough [sic].”
According to the council report, 75 per cent of the sites included within the latest tranche “are likely to generate nine homes or less per site”.
The council report states: “Disposing of these sites to [Brick by Brick] therefore has the advantage of delivering a greater number of affordable units overall (due to the aspiration to deliver 50 per cent affordable) with the aim of achieving up to 40 per cent of these as affordable rented units making housing options more obtainable for Croydon residents.
“But as this form of housing is the least cost-effective to develop this will inevitably impact the capital value of any land sold.”
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