EXCLUSIVE: Under pressure over rising housing targets, has Paul Scott found his get-out-of-jail-free card alongside the A23? KEN LEE reports
Having spent the past five years excusing the overdevelopment of neighbourhoods throughout the borough by claiming that there are no more brownfield sites available to develop, Paul Scott chose to make a rare visit into Croydon South on Thursday to attend a poorly publicised ward meeting to unveil startling plans to build 12,000 homes along the Purley Way.
Scott, the bombastic de facto chair of the council planning committee, appears to have decided to turn to the industrial estates beside the heavily polluted six-lane A23 urban motorway to rescue his troubled housing targets. Controversially, Scott has decided to allow the building of four times as many homes along the Purley Way corridor as he had laid out in his Local Plan when it was published barely 18 months ago.
Croydon’s home-building target was set then at 33,000 units by 2036. But national government “guidance” (that is, numbers plucked out of the air by Whitehall mandarins to grab a headline or two and pretend that the government is actually doing something), which have been passed on by the Mayor of London, have hiked that target in Croydon to 46,000 in less than 20 years.
That means that the local authority is expected to deliver or enable one additional home in the borough for every three which already exist in Croydon. Croydon is going to get bigger by 33 per cent in two decades, and without one square inch of additional land.
With Croydon’s Conservatives urging residents to come to the next full meeting of the council at the Town Hall on July 15, effectively to oppose their own government’s housing target, the Purley Way’s grey and often grim low-rise retail outlets and light industrial parks have become, in Scott’s eyes, the magic rabbit he can pull out of the hat.
Whether that will calm the anger stirred up by local Tories among multiple residents’ associations in the south of the borough, who have endured five years of overdevelopment in their leafy suburban streets and threats to their parks and green spaces, remains to be seen.
One RA official told Inside Croydon this morning, “Scott’s told us and many others that planning permissions have to be granted to build flats on the sites of what used to be family houses, because there’s nowhere else to build.
“Now, he’s saying that that was not the case.”
Scott tested this new thinking at a sparsely attended Waddon resident’s forum meeting on Thursday evening, details from which have emerged from social media feeds of attending councillors and their responses to questions from anxious residents.
The 12,000 homes Scott proposes are mainly to the north of the John Lewis At Home store. With 16,000 homes to be built in central Croydon, the Purley Way builds – most to be provided by private developers – would leave the Labour-run council “only” 17,000 short of the new target.
Scott told the Waddon Forum that he is using a £311,000 grant from the Mayor of London to pay for a report looking at how the homes can be delivered on land from the Imperial Way industrial estate, the former Wyevale garden centre, and bits of land around the Wing Yip Chinese superstore, but mostly on the long stretch from John Lewis to Ikea on the western side of the Purley Way.
Scott promised the meeting that public transport, GP surgeries and schools for the 25,000 new residents anticipated would be funded by developers.
The newish owners of the retail estates on the Purley Way look likely to make a pretty penny from the uplift in the value of their land, from being just for the depressed retail sector to now include retail, small business units and housing, and lots of it. That would certainly mean plenty of cash available from such profits to pay for public amenities.
A press release last month from the council propaganda department in the context of another review of the council’s Local Plan, sneaked in the news that the GLA would pay for a report on delivering new homes on Purley Way while keeping the retail stores there too.
The council announced that it “will look at protecting the commercial future of the area, while providing units for smaller businesses, community facilities and homes in an improved environment”. In other words, lots of flats stacked on top of shops.
Adopting the sort of phrasing only a council apparatchik might use, Scott is supposed to have told Thursday’s meeting, “As a council we’re looking to be innovative when it comes to the delivery of the growth and homes needed in the borough. That’s why receiving funding from the GLA to look into and set a vision for the Purley Way is such good news.”
Inside Croydon cannot be certain, but it is suggested that this is the first recorded instance since Eve dangled the apple in front of Adam that the words “vision” and “Purley Way” have appeared in the same sentence.
It does seem that the Purley Way scheme is not so much “innovative”, but just “huge”. Any resulting reduction in the number of low-cost, out-of-town retail outlets there, just at a time when Westfield, much assisted by the local council, might be moving into the town centre can only be mere coincidence, obviously.
One of the tweeters from Thursday’s meeting was Waddon councillor Andrew Pelling. Although he and his Waddon ward colleagues Joy Prince and Robert Canning are part of the Labour group on the council, it appears that the 12,000 new homes, mostly in their ward, came as a complete surprise.
Pelling refers to the figures being four times the previous target of 2,866 units in the current Local Plan, the council’s planning Bible for land use and development.
The “wider Waddon area” would see many of the 12,000 homes built in the neighbouring Broad Green ward, north of Sainsbury’s Purley Way. That ward is represented by Stuart Collins, the deputy leader of the council, and economy and jobs cabinet member Manju Shahul-Hameed.
It seems that they, too, may have been kept out of the loop about the quadrupling of new homes in their area. If so, it will be just the latest demonstration of contempt for some of their most senior colleagues by Scott, his wife, Alison Butler, who just happens to be the cabinet member for housing, and their family friend, council leader Tony Newman.
At Thursday’s meeting, it seems that Scott was challenged on whether it was appropriate to build any new housing next to the Purley Way, where emissions pollution levels are regularly in breach of legal levels, and with the prospect of it getting worse.
Sutton Council, which borders the area for development advocated by Scott, has already made it clear that it wants to send all HGV traffic on its way to the nearby Beddington Lane incinerator and industrial estate via the Purley Way.
Croydon’s contract for the incinerator demands that operators Viridor should dispose of radioactive waste there, a local feature which will challenge even the most silver-tongued south London estate agent to turn into a positive sales point. Under Sutton’s plans, such glow-in-the-dark waste would need to be trucked past the new flats.
The initial Sutton Council diversion plan was seen off by Waddon’s Labour councillors, Beddington North’s independent councillors and Croydon Council. But Sutton say they intend to come back again later in the year with a proper public consultation on plans to block HGV traffic from what some people call “Beddington Village” (to the delight of those south London estate agents).
Scott told Thursday’s meeting that developers would fund anti-pollution measures like new public transport and trees. Scott saw electric cars reducing future pollution and suggested that buildings close to Purley Way might be sealed off from the outside, like the hermetically sealed Harris Academy Purley Way (planning permission for which was granted by a committee chaired by… Paul Scott).
Scepticism about the flat-building proposals, borne out of experience of dealing with Transport for London’s Fiveways junction scheme and developer-friendly Scott’s own track record in these matters, drew adverse comment from Austen Cooper, from the Croydon Cycling Campaign, who wants to see a decent “residents’, shoppers’ and workers’ transport choice”.
Cooper also wants to tap developers “to contribute to high quality segregated cycle lanes” that would link to promised cycle lanes at the re-configured Fiveways junction.
Cooper makes some valid points.
Bus services on Purley Way are poor, and were recently reduced by TfL, despite local opposition seeking to keep the 289 and 455 routes stopping outside Argos and the (now council-owned) Colonnades. The tram, however, moves large numbers of public transport users to and from Purley Way.
Not for the first time, the difference between Scott’s promises and what is ultimately delivered will be up for close scrutiny, though this time from councillors on both sides of the council chamber.
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