Planning officials warn of coronavirus risks of co-living towers

College Tower (the silver-coloured blocks) will include 817 ‘co-living’ rooms. Oblivious to the health risks of the covid-19 era, Croydon Council granted planning permission in February

A south London council has raised the alarm about the deadly health risks inherent from high-density tower blocks offering “co-living” accommodation, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing.

The concerns aired in Wandsworth over a 263-room development in Battersea come just weeks after Croydon Council’s planners blithely waved through plans for a co-living tower four times the size, to be built on a site next to Croydon College.

Indeed, the co-living arrangements which have been granted approval in Croydon are reminiscent of student accommodation, or a hostel. Residents – or inmates – will have some private living space but share other amenities with their neighbours – the kind of arrangement which would make social distancing virtually impossible and which scientists have been warning against to avoid the spread of covid-19.

In Croydon, Tide Construction was granted planning permission in February for the world’s tallest modular building, in two towers of 34 and 49 storeys. The site at East Croydon is adjacent to another tall modular block, also built by Tide, at 101 George Street, whose 38- and 44-storey black towers are approaching completion.

These two Tide developments will add 1,483 housing units across the road from the already busy East Croydon Station. Last night, Croydon Council gave approval for another 421 new flats squeezed in between Fairfield Halls and the railway line, bringing the total of new homes into this tight area to nearly 2,000.

The almost complete 101 George Street is one of three developments at East Croydon which will build nearly 2,000 new homes

Tide’s College Tower will include 120 conventional flats plus 817 co-living rooms, equipped with kitchenettes and en suite bathrooms, but which will share other kitchen facilities, lounge space and gym facilities.

Each co-living room offers dedicated living space of less than 29sqm, some as little as 20sqm.

When Labour politician Tom Copley, recently appointed as Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for housing in London, delivered a report on permitted development, office-to-residential conversions last year, he described the micro-flats offered there as “the slums of the future”.

Others have been more succinct, calling tiny permitted development flats “fuck hutches”.

On paper, the co-living apartments which have been approved by Croydon’s Labour-run council appear little better. The legal minimum space requirement for a one-person, one-bedroom flat, according to the Royal Institute of British Architects, is supposed to be 36sqm. The Greater London Authority has indicated that co-living rooms should be at least 20sqm.

Just a few miles up the River Wandle, though, and planning officials in Wandsworth have said that a 263-room co-living development on Chatfield Road, SW11, “falls short” of accommodation standards. In this Battersea scheme, some rooms will be as small as 16sqm.

The proposal was due to be considered at a Wandsworth planning meeting last night. The council planning staff’s report said: “It is considered that the standard of accommodation within this scheme falls short given the recognised contribution that a good standard of accommodation to live in gives to the health and wellbeing of individuals.

“This is more acute at the current time given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic globally and the forced requirement for many to work and live in the same space, all day and every day.”

It said this was a “relevant material planning consideration” weighing against the proposal.

Oddly, this completely bypassed Croydon’s planning “team” ahead of this borough’s planning committee waving through the College Tower project unanimously.

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3 Responses to Planning officials warn of coronavirus risks of co-living towers

  1. Lewis White says:

    Towers this tall are an experiment with peoples’ lives and minds. These are very reminiscent of the tower blocks built on the outskirts of Glasgow in the 1960s, though the highest there were 28 and 31 storeys.

    Although the Croydon ones are not stuck out on the edge of the town, so will avoid some of the issues of poor transport and isolation that made the Glasgow blocks fail, one wonders if the lifts and building services will work properly, and how many people would escape in a fire?.

    I am in favour of converting Croydon office blocks to residential if the quality of build and space is good, and new build of similar heights as the Nestle Tower, but these ultra-high blocks are on a totally different scale.

    Who is going to live in these very high blocks? Service workers in post-Brexit, post-Corona Britain? People imported from China, where living like this is accepted, in order to house the ex-rural migrants into the huge cities ?

    I am rather worried that Croydon is going to replace its “Mini Manhattan” with Whitgift Wuhan.

    I think that there should be a moratorium on any more megastructures in Croydon of this scale.
    With so many blocks in one area, if they fail, Croydon could be famous–or infamous– on an equally large scale.

  2. davidmogo says:

    Funny how Croydon Council put a ‘stop’ to all new HMO conversions in the Borough (via an article 4 directive that ends permitted development of houses to small HMOs up to 6 people) on 28th January….. then in February granted planning permissiom for a Mega 817 room HMO!

    You couldn’t make it up.

  3. Adrian Winchester says:

    Apart from any Covid-19 concerns, I’d like to know who – if anyone – will be responsible for keeping the shared kitchen/lounge/etc facilities clean, tidy and maintained.

    Considering the location and the name College Tower, is it clear that these rooms are NOT intended to be student accommodation? If about 10% of the students at Croydon College need accommodation, and could be persuaded to live there, they would fill nearly all the rooms.

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