Residents hold ‘productive’ talks over Purley Tower scheme

“A very productive discussion” has been had in talks between residents’ associations and developers over the re-submission of plans for a multi-million-pound scheme by the local baptist church at Purley Cross.

Architects’ drawings illustrate how the proposed tower would dwarf suburban Purley’s other buildings

But while widespread agreement appears to have been reached between the site owners and their developers and the objectors, one significant area of dispute is the height of the 17-storey tower in the proposals.

What Croydon South Tory MP Chris Philp misleadingly called “the Purley Skyscraper” was granted planning permission by the council in December 2016.

The original scheme proposed building 220 flats and community facilities on a site which has been left derelict for decades. But that is now facing a second public inquiry after James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Local Government, Communities and Housing, was forced into a U-turn and had his decision to block the scheme overturned in court earlier this year.

That appointment with the planning inspector is unlikely to be held any sooner than October. To avoid some of the bitterness and recriminations witnessed at previous planning hearings, representatives of some of the seven residents’ associations which objected to the project met the Purley Baptist Church and developers Thornsett in early June to discuss the situation.

According to one RA which had members at the meeting, “A very productive discussion was held and further information has now been returned to the planning inspectorate by the applicant (Thornsett/Nexus/Baptist Church), Croydon Council and the residents’ associations.”

They said that it was agreed “by all parties to keep the next public inquiry as short as possible”. The previous inquiry, held in January 2018, lasted two weeks. A note agreed by all parties has been sent to the new planning inspector, “setting out the matters still in dispute, and the matters now agreed”.

A map of the Purley Baptist Church’s town centre scheme, as submitted with the original planning application

Those matters in dispute include the impact of the proposals “on the character and appearance of the area” and “The height of the tower, together with overshadowing to Purley District Centre and wind tunnel effect to surrounding streets”.

For many locals, the idea of a 17-storey block towering over the busy roundabout at the junction with the A23 is unacceptable.

Other areas of remaining dispute include, “Consistency with Development Plan policies; Impact on heritage assets; Vehicular access/exit to and from Russell Hill Road on the island site; Air Quality”.

But the meeting does appear to have had widespread agreement on the need for the 200-plus flats, and that “the two highly sustainable location sites… are suited to a residential-led mixed use development”.

HADRA, the Hartley and District Residents’ Association, also notes on its website that “the principle of development on the island site for the church, community facilities, retail space and residential development is supported by all three parties”.

“It is also agreed that the redevelopment of the long-term vacant, highly prominent island site in Purley is long overdue. The principle of development for housing on the ‘South Site’ is agreed by all parties. No issues are raised in relation to the proposed design and layout of the South Site.”

The sticking point remains the 17 storeys of the tower, which is one storey taller than is permitted under the Croydon Local Plan, and which had the design of its penthouse apartment strongly criticised. The developers, however, need to go high on the site to be able to build as many units for sale as possible, to help to pay for the development.

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2 Responses to Residents hold ‘productive’ talks over Purley Tower scheme

  1. What a ridiculous amount of fuss about something of so little significance. The site is just a piece of land in the middle of a continuously busy gyratory system. It could never be made beautiful.
    What could redeem it is the highest possible signature building, something notable of real architectural innovation and daring, something colourful and visible, something that would put Purley on the map and help regenerate the dreary collection of shops just north of it which are the grandiosely named Purley Business District.
    The only interesting thing that has happened in the area within living memory is the development by Tesco and, oh yes, I once saw a fox crossing the A23 near the Church.
    Now I will go into hiding while the good citizens of lovely, flourishing, quirky, attractive central Purley respond. I may even have to emigrate.

  2. Lewis White says:

    I am totally in favour of the architectural quality of the design, which features attractive brickwork, excellent detailing, and good-quality fine concrete expressed framing to the main block, which will all weather well, totally avoiding the problem evident around the borough with “rendering” and “timber cladding” surfaces– which look grubby after just a few years.

    The architects have taken trouble, in my opinion, to step down the height of the blocks along Banstead Road and Brighton Road to the Coulsdon side, to meet the lower buildings adjoining the redevelopment area . This is architectural “good manners” and should be applauded.

    The sticking point , in my opinion, is not so much the height of the main blcok, it is far more about the weird cage-like design of the top.

    A close inspection of the design will show a “top” comprising of tall vertical fins, topped witha horizontal bar, forming a portal rather like a thinner version of Stone henge. The strong vertical emphasis makes the tower look far, far higher than it really is.

    It looks to me like a cage– a hamster or old-style circus animal cage. And a ludicrously tall cage.

    Inside the cage lurks a penthouse, probably containing lift rooms and water tanks, plus some penthouse flats. Plus– a “landscape in the sky feature”–some pine trees in a narrow bed around the perimeter, with the trees glimpsed between the gaps in the portal frame, like exhibits or prisoners. An architectural or landscape design “bright idea”, which no doubt will have been marketed as “taking the trees from the ground into the sky!”

    The idea started off, as shown in most of the original artist impressions,with something much more abundant– big, bright green, egg-shaped trees. I saw some photos in the background documentation showing a real Italian Renaissance tower topped with trees. Fine, perhaps, for Italy, but not likely to survive the English winter winds. These big green eggs would have either blown away and landed in the street below, or lost branches in the wind.

    No doubt, some one in the landscape design team did a reality check to find out what types of trees could survive in the UK climate at such a height, with high winds focused between the portals.

    The submitted drawings for the Public Inquiry showed pine trees, much more realistic, and probably about the only trees able to survive drying, cold winds in the Purley winter. If they survive, they would probably end up as giant bonsai trees, wind pruned. No guarantees can be given–it might be a total flop. They might end up as gaunt pine skeletons.

    They will look rather dark and rather non-abundant in terms of greenery. Which is a far cry in design terms from the big blobby bright green trees of the proposals. Misleading too, which in my view is wrong, as the public really depend on the accuracy and honesty of such architect drawings.

    I had the good fortune to be able to speak at the public inquiry and 15 minutes to present my views to the Inspector. I mentioned to him that the simple fact is that the block is not really a very tall block. It is the design of the top that makes it look much taller than it is. It looks industrial and harsh, not elegant. Very unlike other portal frames at the top of real tower blocks blocks such as Lunar House in Croydon, which are not backed by dark-glazed penthouse floors, but show up against the sky like an aerofoil.

    In my considered view, as someone who thinks constantly about landscape and architecture, and the scale of what looks right or wrong, the truth in this case is simple and blindingly obvious– for goodness sake, can the developer and architect please just get rid of the penthouse top floor and the ugly cage-like portal frame on top, and the prisoner trees?. Set them free, plant them in the ground, or indeed, have green roofs on the many lower blocks in the development, where trees and green roofs would be welcome, and have a nice, smaller parapet to the feature tall block. It will then look far smaller and lower. I think it would not look “in your face” or demand attention, or dominate the surrounding streets. It would be quite acceptable to look at.

    Yes, and just two normal storeys lower than the current building. Surely that would be viable in terms of developed units?

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