PAUL LUSHION, our environment correspondent, on how members of the council’s ruling group are now criticising Brick by Brick’s latest attempts to concrete over the borough’s green spaces
Croydon Council’s already shaky green credentials are under more pressure following environmental concerns raised by a respected Labour councillor over one of the latest block of Brick by Brick planning applications.
Robert Canning, one of Waddon’s councillors, is known among the residents he represents for standing up against dodgy developers. Having helped Labour win the ward from the Tories in 2014, Canning now has a well-earned reputation for speaking truth to power – so much so that he no longer features among Tony Newman’s select few on the expenses gravy train.
And now he has delivered a damning verdict on a particularly ugly-looking block of flats, described as “having all the kerb appeal of a Stasi prison block”, that Brick by Brick want to impose on his ward.
“Canny” Canning’s comments were sent to Croydon Council planning officers as part of his formal objection to Brick by Brick’s planning application. They were also forwarded on to some of his concerned residents living in the close-knit community around Theobald Road: more than 100 locals signed a petition against the proposed development.
Brick by Brick is owned and funded by Croydon Council. Despite the coronavirus lockdown, which has put a halt to anything recognisable as a public consultation, while reducing the planning committee process to little better than a farce, they have both pushed on relentlessly with a second wave of developments, comprising two dozen schemes around the borough to provide 374 new homes.
Brick by Brick’s crass disregard for Croydon’s natural environment has already seen dozens of residents raise concerns over plans to build blocks of flats right next to a butterfly sanctuary in New Addington and to build on a piece of rare chalk grassland in Purley.
It is fair to say that Waddon ward is not blessed with some of the environmental riches that other parts of the borough enjoy, but Brick by Brick doesn’t let that worry them, as their Theobald Road project calls for the destruction of what greenery the ward does possess, with endangered ash trees for the chop.
Ash trees are already under threat from ash dieback, a deadly fungal disease that originated in Asia and arrived in Britain in 2012. Cases of ash dieback have been reported in Croydon since 2016, with the Woodland Trust suggesting that 95 per cent of ash trees in the UK could be lost to this disease.
Given this threat, you might think that Croydon would want to do everything possible to protect the ash trees that it has left. But that’s not Brick by Brick’s thinking, based on the Arboricultural Impact Assessment the company commissioned from a consultant and submitted as part of its planning application.
It won’t come as a surprise to learn that the consultant’s assessment of the ash trees at Theobald Road was that they “should be designated as trees of low quality”. Brick by Brick wants them axed, and their hired consultant has delivered a report that will be put before a gullible and unquestioning planning committee to help to ensure that that is exactly what happens.
The dubious justification given by the consultant is that it seems “highly probable” that these healthy trees will, at some point in the future, become infected with ash dieback and could die, sometime in the next 20 years.
This was, of course, exactly what Brick by Brick wanted to hear. A better tree quality rating would have made their removal much more difficult to explain away. It is a ploy that is being rolled out across a number of Brick by Brick planning applications that have come forward on green spaces or close to precious environmental features.
With Theobald Road, Brick by Brick have conveniently overlooked the consultant’s numerous caveats, inserted to protect their own professional backside, including a degree of subjectivity when categorising trees despite relevant guidance, that the guidance makes no recommendations as to which trees should be retained or removed, and that the crux of the matter comes down to the benefits or dis-benefits of the proposed development.
Canning hasn’t fallen for the “he-who-pays-the-piper-calls-the-tune” findings in the arboricultural assessment. His objection to the loss of six mature and healthy ash trees at the Theobald Road site states: “The arboricultural impact assessment submitted as part of the application appears to have started from a position of trying to aid the developer by coming up with an excuse to remove these trees.
“It perversely infers that these trees can be cut down now because they may die in the next 20 years from ash dieback. On the contrary, this actually makes the case that it is essential that these endangered trees, which are currently healthy, be retained to preserve the gene pool of ash trees in the borough as well as help provide much needed green infrastructure, visual amenity, screening from traffic and air quality benefits given that the site is next to the busy A236 Roman Way flyover.
“It is also worth emphasising that policy DM10.8 of the Croydon Local Plan states that existing trees should be retained unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ and, in my view, the loss of these six healthy ash trees does not meet this criteria and is not an ecological price worth paying for just eight one-bedroom flats – especially for a council that has declared a climate and ecological emergency.”
A Katharine Street source has told Inside Croydon that Canning’s concerns about the potential loss of the Theobald Road ash trees is also shared by the council’s own trees and woodlands officials. Whether this carries any weight with planning officials, or members of the planning committee, remains to be seen, as the application is currently awaiting a decision.
Our source said: “The logic used in the arboricultural assessment and embraced by Brick by Brick is flawed.
“It’s like saying that an elderly person shouldn’t be given a hip replacement because, based on their age, they’ll probably die soon anyway. This planning application really shouldn’t be granted while the in situ ash trees are still healthy.”
Canning has also objected to the Theobald Road application on three further grounds.
These include a sub-standard development, the plans not being in keeping with the character of the local area (particularly the overbearing impact of the four-storey block on the neighbouring Victorian cottages) and the disruption that would be caused to local residents during the construction phase.
Canning described the proposed block of flats as a “hideous design and materials that make it look like a prison”.
Based on the artist’s impression of what this development would look like if it goes ahead, it is difficult not to agree with him. Others who have seen the design, which is by Brick by Brick’s own, in-house team of architects, Common Ground, are even more scathing.
“You’d be embarrassed to live in something that hideous if you lived in the old eastern bloc, in Ceausescu’s Romania or Honecker’s East Germany,” one unimpressed neighbour told Inside Croydon.
“It has all the kerb appeal of a Stasi prison block – is it intended to house ex-offenders or something?”
Since Brick by Brick was founded in 2015, Croydon Council’s planning committee has never refused planning permission for a single application from its wholly-owned building company – regardless of the merits, or lack of them, of any a particular scheme.
Only time will tell whether Croydon’s planners see the wood from the trees in this flawed application and give Brick by Brick what it deserves – the wooden spoon.
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