Brick by Brick, the council’s loss-making in-house house-builder, has suffered yet more setbacks after the council “discovered” that two sites it wanted to concrete over were either too close to high-voltage electricity pylons, or had real live trees growing there.
In fact, two parcels of land which the council included in its latest set of sites for BxB’s development “pipeline” – Foxearth Spinney next to Littleheath Woods, and some green space on Croham Valley Road – are both protected by long-standing covenants which prevent them being built upon.
This was something that the council’s slap-dash legal department either didn’t know, or almost certainly failed to check.
The covenants are legally binding documents which the council signed up to when acquiring the land, and which were held by the Town Hall legal department. The chances are that the council will have gone ahead and built on these sites, despite the covenants, had not Helen Pollard, a councillor for Selsdon and Addington Village, asked some awkward questions.
Inside Croydon understands that other green spaces included in the council’s latest “sell-off” of land to Brick by Brick, announced earlier this year, may also be subject to restrictive covenants, and which are being researched by worried residents who fear losing their local green. the council’s opposition Conservative councillors.
That any of these sites were ever included in the council’s development plans also exposes the promises to protect the borough’s green spaces made by the Labour council’s husband and wife double act – Alison “Lying Cow” Butler and the splenetic Paul Scott – for the tissue of lies that they clearly are.
It says much about the cant and hypocrisy of the Town Hall administration under leader Tony “Soprano” Newman that at the council meeting in July that pushed through his paper-thin proposals to deal with the climate emergency, the Labour-run council also voted down a motion intended to protect the borough’s greens spaces, such as at Foxearth Spinney and Croham Valley Road.
For both Foxearth Spinney and the green space next to 124, Croham Valley Road, Brick by Brick gave other excuses for dropping them from its development plans, without mentioning the council’s legal obligations under the covenants.
The land on Croham Valley Road was a gift to the council in 1935 from the Central Electricity Board, with provisos written into the transfer agreement including one which states, quite clearly, the site should be “kept as open space, free from buildings of all kinds”.
Now, the geniuses behind Brick by Brick have told Councillor Pollard that the reason they have abandoned plans to build on land which they are legally not allowed to build on is that, “Extra High Voltage cables routed in the vicinity of the site meaning that there would be insufficient space to build new homes with these constraints”.
Pollard said, “It is slightly baffling that they even considered this site in the first place given the pylon which is clearly visible.” Well: it would only be baffling if the developers at Brick by Brick knew what they are doing…
Brick by Brick made no mention of the covenant when dropping the Croham Valley Road site.
“It is worrying that they appear to ignore the covenant on the land as this implies that they might build on other land which has a covenant,” Pollard said, “but it is good that this green space has been saved. Residents can continue to enjoy this green space for years to come.”
The legal constraints on Foxearth Spinney date back even earlier that Croham Valley Road, to 1933 when the Costain family handed over the land to what was then the Coulsdon and Purley Urban District Council.
This information was not volunteered to Pollard, as an elected representative of the residents of her ward and the borough. The councillor had to submit a Freedom of Information request to the council officials, asking for the deeds to the land and any covenants.
The covenants for the spinney – a small plot of land between suburban houses with more than a dozen mature trees – are quite clear and unambiguous, even for the dolts who are supposed to be running the council.
- No part of the said land nor any building thereon shall be used as a public house or beer house or for the sale or consumption of any intoxicating liquor.
- The Council shall forthwith erect and for ever after maintain at its own expense good and sufficient division of party fences on the sides of the land hereby conveyed marked with a “T” within the boundary on the said plan.
- The Council shall not make bricks or work the clay on the said land or dig excavate or remove the clay or soils except in so far as it may be necessary for the purpose of erecting buildings and making roads sewers and drains on the said land.
- No building whatsoever shall be erected on the said land except a Summer house Pavilion or Shelter.
- The land shall be maintained by the Council in a good and clean condition and the Council shall preserve the spinney included therein.
Well, apparently not clear enough for staff at Croydon Council and Brick by Brick.
This week, Pollard received notification from the council that they had abandoned plans for Brick by Brick to build 18 properties on the relatively small site at Foxearth Spinney.
“There are a significant number of Category A trees on the site which suggest that it would not be suitable for new housing,” was the official reason given, though you might have expected the council to realise that there would be trees on a piece of land called a “spinney”, but hey-ho…
Once again, though, the council refused to acknowledge the legal requirements of the covenants. This may just be to save face, because someone clearly had failed to do a proper check before including this site in those being handed over to Brick by Brick.
But a recent written answer to a council question (again, posed by Pollard) from Simon Hall, the Labour council’s finance chief, may give cause for continuing concern.
This was a moment reminiscent of Michael Gove failing to say “Yes” when asked by a television interviewer whether Boris Johnson’s Tory government would obey the law.
When asked, “Will the council commit to complying with the covenants in the conveyancing documents?”, Hall failed to give a simple, straightforward “Yes” as his response.
Referring to “potential restrictive covenants”, Halls wrote, that the handover process “will also involve detailed due diligence including the review of title deeds to identify all land matters which would also include any covenants that need to be considered as part of this initial work”. Though this seems to be something which was not done before the two sites in the south of the borough were announced as being in Brick by Brick’s “development pipeline”.
Hall continued: “Once completed Brick by Brick will be in a position to understand all physical constraints and legal impediments to determine its viability to enable the scheme to proceed to the next stage resulting in an application to seek planning consent.
“The council review all title reports including seeking relevant legal advice for all its sites based on the specific merits and outcomes of any scheme and before any decision is made.”
Which, as Foxearth Spinney and Croham Valley Road demonstrate, is clearly not the case.
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