Croydon Tories have appealed to a government minister to hold an urgent inquiry into the running of Brick by Brick, the council’s in-house house-builders.
The call was made public at last night’s meeting of the full council by Tim Pollard, the leader of the Town Hall’s opposition Conservative group, and Lynne Hale, their housing spokesperson.
It comes following mounting concerns about the nature of the loss-making firm, which is wholly owned by Croydon Council and which has managed to build just three council flats in five years.
Despite receiving more than £260million in loans from the council, Brick by Brick is now unable to sell properties under shared ownership schemes because, as was exclusively revealed by Inside Croydon, no one at the company bothered to get registered as an approved supplier, as is routinely required by the major mortgage firms and lenders.
Last night, responding to Hale’s question in the Town Hall chamber about Brick by Brick’s failures over share ownership homes, Alison “Lying Cow” Butler, the council deputy leader and cabinet member responsible for housing, claimed that the builders “weren’t required to register for anything”. Which is at odds to the company’s own emails to dozens of disappointed home-seekers.
And Butler unapologetically claimed that Brick by Brick “… is delivering homes and is delivering profits to the council and continue to be on target”.
Brick by Brick’s latest annual business report was meant to be included in the agenda for next Tuesday’s council scrutiny committee, which was published yesterday. It has, so far, been withheld. Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader will draw their own conclusions as to why.
Confronted with Butler and council leader Tony Newman’s refusal to accept any responsibility for, or need to improve, Brick by Brick’s apparent incompetence and mismanagement, Croydon’s Conservatives have called in the Whitehall big guns.
Tim Pollard and Hale have signed jointly a letter to Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, which laid out the widespread concerns about Brick by Brick. Jenrick, a rising star in the Conservative Party, might have a small understanding of the issues faced by Croydon: in 2014, before he was handed the apparently more attractive seat of Newark, he was considered the front-runner for selection for the Tory safe seat of Croydon South.
In his absence, local Tories selected Chris Philp to be their parliamentary candidate, and with MP Philp now the Minister for London in Boris Johnson’s government, the call for a public inquiry is unlikely to be falling on deaf ears.
Pollard and Hale’s letter, under the heading “Brick by Brick Croydon Ltd”, said, “We are writing to request that you urgently investigate the activities of the above Company.
“It was established in 2015 by the Labour-controlled Croydon Council with the aim of delivering affordable homes for Croydon residents. However, it has since then received some £260million of public money and has delivered just three one-bedroom flats for social rent.
“Sales of its other properties on the private market – with some three-bed homes priced at £600,000 – are best described as sluggish so there is little hope of seeing much profit being returned to the council in the near future.
“In addition to this, last week it was revealed that Brick by Brick failed to register to sell shared ownership properties meaning that dozens of potential clients have been left completely in the lurch as their mortgage providers wouldn’t lend money on Brick by Brick properties.
“If this wasn’t bad enough, the council has also been selling off large council-owned pieces of green space amenity land for very low sums and then building on them. One such site, sold to Brick by Brick for £1, is now hosting 34 homes. Serious questions are being raised about the impact on the environment and the well-being of local residents following the loss of these grassy areas and how this can possibly be seen as good value for Croydon Council Tax-payers.
“We would also like to draw to your attention that Croydon recently received a grant from the GLA to help buy up to 116 homes from Brick by Brick, this same company which it has leant [sic] huge sums of public money to already, and for which the profits are returned to the council. Thus, this GLA money will end up in the council’s Revenue Account.
“Finally, you should be aware that despite the Brick by Brick homes being placed within the HRA, and the net funding requirement for these homes being funded through HRA borrowing, the council advises that none will benefit from the Right to Buy.
“In the circumstances. on behalf of Croydon Council Tax-payers, we would appreciate you having a close look at this matter.”
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