Some might see it as a disconnect at the Town Hall, where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Others might characterise it as just another example of blatant civic hypocrisy.
Last summer, when the headlines were all about the climate emergency, Greta Thunberg and cherishing the environment, the Mayor of Croydon rolled up at Hutchinson’s Bank for the formal opening ceremony of the Brilliant Butterflies ecology scheme.
Hutchinson’s Bank is Green Belt land, a wooded area registered as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Site of Nature Conservation Importance. It is reckoned that it is home for at least 40 species of butterfly, possibly as many as 59. One of them is the very rare small blue.
Using National Lottery money and support from the Natural History Museum, the London Wildlife Trust has put together a project to enhance, improve and protect the rare chalkland habitat for the butterflies and the other flora and fauna.
Invited along to mark the start of the scheme last summer Councillor Humayun Kabir, the borough’s mayor, duly obliged as the honoured guest for the occasion.
Yet back in their offices in central Croydon that very week, staff at the council’s wholly-owned, loss-making house-builder, Brick by Brick, were working on detailed plans to build a four-storey block of flats almost exactly on the spot where Kabir and Brilliant Butterflies staged their project launch at Hutchinson’s Bank.
This project, for a particularly unprepossessing block of 11 flats and six car parking spaces (so much for the climate emergency!) is one of 24 schemes which Brick by Brick have submitted for planning permission in the past month – blithely ignoring the covid-19 emergency and any constraints that might create in the consultation and planning process. It is, as one New Addington resident told Inside Croydon today, “as if they just don’t give a shit”.
A disconnect? Hypocrisy? Or just unadulterated contempt?
The planning application – which can be viewed here – consists of the usual page after page of reports and drawings. The merits of the case will ultimately be decided by the professional planners at Croydon Council, or by a committee of councillors.
As Brick by Brick is owned and funded by Croydon Council, there can be little doubt about the outcome of the planning process, whatever the merits or lack of them for this scheme. Croydon Council has never refused planning permission for a single application from Brick by Brick.
In among the planning documents it details, quite accurately, that the site, on Fairchildres Avenue at the corner of Corbett Close, close to the primary school, has its southern boundary with metropolitan Green Belt to the south and an archaeological priority area to the west. The site, they say, includes 29 individual trees, most of them mature, and another group of trees, too dense to number.
Building the flats will see many of those trees felled. Also for the axe will be some scrub and shrubs, including hawthorn bushes, which are renowned as preferred habitat and food sources for many butterflies, including the small blue.
The planning documents submitted on behalf of Brick by Brick include a 73-page biodiversity survey about the site. The contractors hired by Brick by Brick for this report visited the site in December – which is not usually known as a time when wildlife is at its most abundant or active.
But even then they managed to find evidence of badgers living on the site (builders are never supposed to disturb badger setts), dormouse habitat, foxes, deer and lots of bats, many of them living in the trees which would need to be cut down to make way for the 11 flats.
They also report that the immediate area is home to slow worms and adders, common lizards, as well as nightingales (which are considered to be Red List endangered), house sparrow (also on the Red List and a national priority species), and dunnock (Red List), “as well as potentially song thrush”. All of which would lose habitat as a consequence of this building scheme.
Brick by Brick’s planning application describes the site that they want to build on as nothing more than “highways verge”.
The biodiversity survey that they commissioned, having listed the flora and fauna on the site in December, manages to reach the conclusion that, with the addition of a couple of bird boxes here and a few bat boxes there, “no significant adverse effects on biodiversity are predicted… and the scheme should proceed lawfully in terms of biodiversity legislation and policy”.
So that’s all right then.
Residents are less convinced. Pupils at Fairchildes Primary have been drawing up posters to protest – not that they have any chance of doing so during the lockdown, and the New Addington Residents’ Association have pointed out that, actually, there are many other, more suitable sites even within their neighbourhood for a four-storey block of flats.
“New Addington Residents’ Association 100 per cent agrees this site should be stopped,” they said.
“There are plenty of spaces in New Addington where homes can be built without demolishing wildlife. Why can’t BxB work with all to identify suitable and sustainable sites instead?
“More pressingly, why are they continuing to force planning during the covid-19 crisis? How are New Addington residents supposed to efficiently engage?”
It’s a good question, though one to which there appears to be an obvious answer: with the company under extreme financial pressure, “engagement” with the public is something they really are not interested in at all.
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