A Town Hall planning meeting this week is seeking to cover-up the council-owned developer’s role, with residents saying that they were misled over the intention to exclude completely any social housing for rent. Our housing correspondent, BARRATT HOLMES, reports
Profit-hungry property developers are at it again, pushing through three developments all on one street in the borough, trying to pass them off as separate projects to avoid the legal requirement of having to provide any “affordable” homes, and all done with the connivance and support of Croydon’s Labour-run council’s planning department.
Nowhere in the council’s paperwork for the meeting does it mention the name of the developers who are trying to get around the law and avoid having to provide affordable housing.
Why would the council’s planning department go to such lengths to protect the identity of a developer?
Because the developer who wants to build 15 flats in three blocks on Bedwardine Road in Upper Norwood is Brick by Brick, the council-owned housing developers.
Planning laws state that any housing development of more than nine units must include some “affordable” housing (albeit unaffordable for most Londoners). Private developers hate this rule because it eats into their profit margins. Some have taken to buying up separate houses in suburban streets and turning each of them in turn into flats, but never more than nine at a time… with no affordable housing ever provided, and the council’s planning department doing nothing to stop them.
Yet now the council’s own in-house house-builders, Brick by Brick, are up to the same trick, with the planning department conspiring with them and doing what it can to disguise their involvement.
The land being used for each of these blocks proposed for Bedwardine Road in Crystal Palace was council-owned land, which has often been sold to Brick by Brick at well-below its true market value.
The money being used for the developments is public cash, lent to Brick by Brick by the council.
The homes to be built will all be “luxury executive apartments”, for sale on the private market.
Locals are furious about the manner in which the (Labour) council has handled the Bedwardine Road developments, trying to push it through to the planning committee this week when none of their (Labour) ward councillors are available to speak on their behalf over the objections to the scheme.
Some see it as another example of the (Blairite) council conducting social cleansing in this part of the borough, with high-end housing going on the private market, unaffordable to most families in the area.
Not so far away, in the same ward, Brick by Brick has built a row of terraced houses, all for private sale for £600,000 each, well out of the reach of locals, and more expensive than similar-sized properties on the private market in the area.
- Since taking control of Croydon Town Hall in 2014, Tony Newman’s Blairite administration has built ZERO council homes in the borough.
- According to Brick by Brick’s own business plan, 71 per cent of all the new housing units it completes in 2019 will be for private sale.
- According to Brick by Brick’s chief executive, the former council employee Colm Lacey, under his leadership, the developer will fail to achieve the council-set target of delivering 50 per cent affordable homes.
The Bedwardine Road sites in SE19 are part of those failures.
More than 80 residents have objected to the plans, highlighting overdevelopment and contravening of Croydon’s own local plans, the failure to respect the two nearby conservation areas, and the lack of parking provision and traffic congestion.
They also suspect the planning department is trying to push the application through at short notice and when opposition will be limited.
Their suspicions were aroused at consultation meetings held 12 months ago, when Brick by Brick was less than transparent about the number of social housing units were to be included in the schemes. Some residents claim that they have been misled, even lied to.
“We have now heard that the planning application will be heard in committee on Thursday August 29 when most of the residents concerned will still be away on holiday and none of the local councillors will be available to represent us,” one resident told hyperlocal website News From Crystal Palace.
“We feel strongly that the lack of representation for our concerns is undemocratic and that the nine days’ notice given for the meeting in the summer holiday period was insufficient.
“We are not against building flats on our road and recognise that there is a need for more housing in Croydon, but we feel we have been misled from the beginning – we were told that these flats would provide some social housing, and that at no point have our concerns been listened to, despite our many and valid objections.”
The applications are for permission to demolish garages and storage sheds to build one three-storey block with three flats (adjoining 91, Bedwardine Road), to demolish garages and storage sheds to build a three-storey block for six flats (53, Bedwardine Road), and demolish garages and storage sheds and erection of a three-storey building to provide six flats (21 Bedwardine Road).
Or 15 flats in total, enough usually to require the developer to include one, perhaps even two, “affordable” homes.
But the council’s planning staff note in their report to the committee, “Three separate planning application have been submitted… These are standalone planning applications which should be considered as such, although there are noted to be planning considerations which will need to be cumulatively assessed such as the proposals impacts upon parking.”
The application has been called in to the planning committee because of objections raised by Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood councillor Stephen Mann. He is understood to be on holiday, and unable to attend on Thursday.
Bedwardine Road is close to two conservation areas, which are supposed to carry additional planning protections: the Harold Road Conservation Area and the Upper Norwood Triangle Conservation Area. Among the representations is a list of short-comings compiled by the North Croydon Conservation Area Advisory Panel:
- The proposed in-fill development should not dominate its setting and this proposal would be visually dominant.
- The loss of gap between buildings would result in the loss of the effective division between building styles.
- The design is overly fussy.
- The loss of parking could result in greater pressure on street parking.
- The proposal should be considered against the other two applications to fully consider the cumulative impact on the overall street scene.
Those living in adjacent buildings are particularly concerned about several aspects of the poor design of the Brick by Brick proposals, and although many of the points were raised at last year’s consultations, they feel that their views have been ignored.
They say that the flats “are out of proportion to the surrounding buildings”, with an “overbearing nature… not in keeping with the conservation areas”.
They said, it “directly conflicts with the Upper Norwood Triangle / Harold Road Conservation Area appraisal and management plans”.
There also remain serious concerns that the new buildings “will be overlooking into existing residents’ habitable rooms and private amenity spaces”, with a loss of light for existing homes, and failing to meet Building Research Establishment guidelines.
The design, residents say, “is incongruous with the existing streetscape of Bedwardine Road and visually at odds to the surrounding buildings within the two highlighted conservation areas”.
The council’s planning officers claim in the report to the committee that the loss of light for neighbouring buildings would only affect what they call “secondary windows”, and that the scheme meets BRE guidance. The members of the planning committee will be expected to take their word for that, as no evidence from an independent source is offered to support these claims.
The MP for Croydon North, Steve Reed OBE, a former vice-chair of the Blair-supporting Progress group, has remained silent on this latest Brick by Brick private housing development.
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