Brick by Brick may choose to ignore coronavirus dangers to its workers and the public as it rushes to complete work on over-running projects, but meanwhile they appear to be using the emergency as an excuse to avoid proper consultation, as BARRATT HOLMES reports
Residents in the north of the borough are increasingly angry that they are being denied a proper opportunity to air their views in Brick by Brick’s controversial plans to build a tower block next to a local park.
The project, comprising four sites around College Green next to Westow Park in Upper Norwood, was supposed to have a public consultation meeting last month. But this was cancelled by the council-owned loss-making house-builders at late notice because, they said, of the need for social distancing during the pandemic crisis.
Instead, Brick by Brick announced yesterday that they would be conducting an online “webinar” tonight, giving residents’ barely 24 hours’ notice, and demanding that any questions for the developers should be submitted in advance.
One concerned resident told Inside Croydon, “We’ve seen this before, both locally and with other projects around the borough. It amounts to nothing more than lip-service ‘consultation’, where they do absolutely the bare minimum to fulfil their legal requirements.
“It is absolutely disgusting that they should try to use a global pandemic to push through their plans without proper consultation. They should wait until after the lockdown and hold a proper public meeting.”
Residents believe that on this occasion, Brick by Brick may be doing less than the legal minimum in respect of consultation, with the short-notice webinar and control of the kind of questions that might be raised clearly limiting the public’s opportunity to participate.
According to Brick by Brick’s architects’ website yesterday, for tonight’s one-hour session (starting at 6pm), “Any questions can be submitted in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will endeavour to answer these during the course of the session. There will also be the opportunity for participants to ask additional questions of the project team at the event.”
Visitors to Brick by Brick’s Commonplace website will find some interesting alterations to the initial plans as presented at first-phase consultations last year.
The original plans have already been criticised by the Labour MP for the area, Steve Reed, who has questioned the increasing intensification of his constituency.
Now, the 13-storey tower block which Brick by Brick wanted to shoe-horn in between two existing blocks of flats, overshadowing the children’s play space between them, has been reduced to 11 storeys, “following your initial feedback… to bring the proposed building more in-line with the existing towers”.
You might have expected skilled and experienced architects and town planners to have given such a fundamental issue some consideration in the first instance. Our local resident said, “It looks like they are just pushing to see what they can get away with.”
BxB adds: “The building has also been repositioned towards the boundary of Westow Park and a new double-height community/café space has been introduced to create a better interface with Westow Park.” Just what every neighbourhood needs: a better interface.
The café is suspected as being a sop to residents’ complaints. “This new space provides an opportunity to broaden the leisure offer of Westow Park or to host community events and meetings,” the housebuilders’ blurb states. “The landscaped external spill-out space ‘invites’ Westow Park into the site, providing a flexible area which could be used for outdoor events or seating.”
Notably, only four of the 40 one- and two-bed flats proposed in the block would be fully wheelchair accessible. The “building is expected to provide a mixture of private sale, shared ownership and affordable rent homes”. Previous Brick by Brick schemes in the area has provided no social housing at all, as the company seeks to maximise its sales income in this area.
On the other three College Green sub-sites, Brick by Brick makes much of how under-used the existing council-owned garages have been. “The reason the garages are empty is because the council has not been renewing the leases or refusing to issue new leases,” said the resident.
“If the garages are in a ‘poor state of repair’, as Brick by Brick says, it is because the council has failed to maintain them.”
Those living in existing College Green homes are concerned about the extreme over-crowding building on the site of the garages will cause.
On what Brick by Brick calls “Site B”, they note, “Existing homes and gardens are situated to the east, west and south of the site.”
In place of 20 garages, Brick by Brick is proposing to build five three-bedroom houses, all for private sale. The site is so cramped Brick by Brick is unable to provide each new home even with its own bin store, and instead, “Two small communal bin stores will be provided, with collection from the site entrance.”
It’s a similar story for “Site C”, where they want to squeeze in four three-bedroom houses. None would be social housing, or even unaffordable “affordable” housing, but all for private sale.
Having not considered the privacy of existing residents in their original plans, Brick by Brick now say, “Following your initial feedback, windows facing existing homes on College Green will have obscured windows and decorative brickwork to minimise overlooking and privacy concerns.”
Residents’ concerns are hardly allayed, though. “How is anyone supposed to be able to judge based on the materials and drawings they have provided so far? The site drawings all make the houses look like cramped, little boxes, as if they’ve been drawn by someone straight out of architects’ school with their brand new Rotring technical pen.
“They all look just… ugly.”
And again, the site is so restricted, the individual houses don’t have space for individual bin stores.
And what about Site D?
There, they’ve abandoned using that piece of valuable bit of real estate. The mantra of “there’s a housing crisis” has been forgotten (until it next suits their purpose), and instead they intend to turn 11 garages into 16 … car parking spaces.
So much for Brick by Brick’s pretence of environmental sustainability.
Or of consultation.
- Read the first part of this report here: Brick by Brick set to break the covid-19 lockdown next week
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