Our overdevelopment correspondent BARRATT HOLMES on how the council’s loss-making home-builders are receiving criticism from an unlikely source
Steve Reed, the Labour MP for Croydon North, has joined the growing number of voices critical of the council-owned, loss-making developer Brick by Brick.
And in doing so, Reed has openly questioned the blatant conflict of interest in the council’s planning system over Brick by Brick schemes.
Antagonism from existing communities who have had Brick by Brick schemes imposed upon them has seen the company’s sales office in George Street subject to a weekly picket, while hundreds of residents have joined forces in New Addington to object to schemes there.
People living around College Green in Upper Norwood fear that the demolition of a total of 48 garages to build on five plots will shatter their tight-knit community, while also threatening the children’s playground through the over-development of building a tower block between two existing residential blocks.
Brick by Brick was supposed to hold a first public consultation meeting for College Green residents on Saturday. But while other council-backed activities appear to continue normally through the coronavirus pandemic emergency, the council-owned company opted to cancel the meeting, and is instead receiving feedback online only.
With the release of its architects’ drawings of the tower block, the immediate reaction from residents has not been favourable. “If you’re going to design a new tower block, don’t take the exceptionally ugly ones already there as inspiration,” one resident said.
“Don’t create a new eyesore. Send it back to the drawing board.”
But it will be the reaction of Labour shadow minister Reed which may carry more weight, especially among his party colleagues at the Labour-run council, as he posted a series of tweets.
“Hearing from concerned residents in College Green about the council’s plans to build a tower block next to the local park and expensive private houses that will directly overshadow people’s gardens – this needs a rethink,” Reed wrote.
“This is a huge borough. Croydon North is one of the most densely populated constituencies in the country. Why squeeze more and more people in there when there are much bigger brownfield sites in far less densely populated parts of the borough.”
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Reed then added a comment which reflects very badly on the clique of councillors in charge of planning and development in Croydon.
“I’m also not convinced that a fully independent developer would get permission to do what BxB gets away with,” Reed wrote.
“Affected residents are asking for reassurance the decision-making process is neutral and their objections will be taken into account, that’s not unreasonable.”
With Brick by Brick being wholly owned by the local planning authority, the council, the conflict of interest has been blatant since the company was established in 2015.
But the matter is even closer to home than that: the council cabinet member for housing is Alison Butler, the council’s deputy leader, while the cabinet member for planning and the de facto chair of the planning committee which decides on all applications is Paul Scott.
Butler and Scott are husband and wife.
And in line with Inside Croydon reports that Scott has briefed his Labour colleagues on the planning committee that, “If one fails, they all fail”, in relation to Brick by Brick applications – effectively whipping the Labour majority on the planning committee, which goes against planning law – not a single Brick by Brick planning application has not been given approval by Scott and the committee.
Which may be why Reed is asking for assurances about the neutrality of the planning process.
Labour councillors in Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood ward are also understood to be pressing the council to delay all applications related to College Green until a proper face-to-face consultation with residents can be held – and with coronavirus taking hold, that could be many months away.
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