Even Labour councillors are turning on Brick by Brick plans

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

The BxB block proposed for Theobald Road has ‘all the kerb appeal of a Stasi prison block’

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.

The small pocket of green space at Theobald Road that Brick by Brick wants to build on

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.

Labour councillor Robert Canning: has seen through BxB’s sneaky tricks

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.

The Theobald Road site is currently a small green buffer from the usually busy Roman Way dual carriageway

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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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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15 Responses to Even Labour councillors are turning on Brick by Brick plans

  1. Julian Leonard says:

    Trick by Trick

  2. I’d like to thank Councillor Robert Canning for standing up for the residents in Waddon Ward on this one (Theobald Rd). If all the Croydon Councillors did the same when it comes to Brick by Brick’s land grabs, the ambition to “concrete over Croydon” would flounder.
    The trees on the Theobald Road land are actually 5 ash trees and one lovely red maple. The site is only a tiny parcel of land, the length of just two of adjacent terraced cottages in any direction, so the proposal to build 10 flats is monstrous. Excavations and pile driving would be less than ten feet away from 153 year old cottages.
    135 local residents petitioned Brick by Brick in a two week period. Not one local person was in favour. Brick by Brick’s response was to deny all the comments made and, frankly, to lie about people being in favour, the state of the trees and to falsely claim it was a fly tip area. The photos clearly show this is far from being anything like a “brownfield site”.
    These 4 storeys would look like a cross between a block house and a guard tower. Pedestrian access from the flyover involves walking through a dark car park to the zebra crossing as there is no pavement there. The block will only offer 10 SINGLE BEDROOM flats! That’s all there is ‘space’ despite going up to twice the height of the very nearby houses. Who, then are these intended for and how will it help the housing waiting list?
    Whoever came up with this proposal should join the dole queue but given a set up that has wasted £27 million of public funds, this won’t happen.
    I hope the stand made will give heart to residents in other blighted and threatened green spaces, and, even stir some proper action from those who currently give supine support to the discredited system that supports a discredited outfit.

    As you gave your support in doing the right thing, so we support you in this Councillor Canning.

  3. In that case we’d probably be out for him with our pitchforks and burning torches!

  4. George Wright says:

    And who mocked up that top photo showing a pavement where there isn’t one or even room for one?

    • That’ll be “award-winning” Croydon in-house architects Common Grind

      • May I submit an addendum errata here? The Brick by Brick proposal is even more inept and irrelevant than I gave them credit for. It is only for EIGHT single bedroomed flats and NOT TEN! Juxtapose that with the destruction to the environment and risk to surrounding houses. It’s not rocket science.

  5. ralph parkinson says:

    The problem is a proper private developer would not touch a site like this for many obvious reasons.

    But BxB aren’t concerned about commercial viability; they’re operating in a vacuum funded by the public purse.

    You only have to look at the staff on their website- they’re more representative of a housing charity – but in this case a housing charity with unlimited revenue.

    We are we putting up for this ??

  6. The naivety of the Brick by Brick building strategy is simply staggering.

    In October 2015, a new nationally described space standard came into force, setting out detailed guidance on the minimum size of new homes. Under the new standard, a new one bedroom, one person flat would have to be a minimum of 37m², and 50m² if 2 people are expected to live there.

    The Brick by Brick plans do not show the actual size of the apartments they intend to build but I suspect that they are less than 50m² each. Therefore not big enough for couples so these will have to be one-person bedsit/studios! At best you can only legally house 8 single people here.

    The site can contain 4 x two-storey terraced cottages, albeit with slightly smaller gardens that are similar to the existing properties in Theobald Road. As they would actually look similar to what is currently here they will fit in nicely with its surroundings. I suspect that you would get very little in the way of objection from the neighbourhood for this. Surely housing 4 families in the same space and not building 8 single bedsits be a better use of this space?

    The current Brick by Brick proposal is also an incongruous, modern design that is intrusive, out of character and out of scale with the adjacent two-storey Victorian terraces. It would be twice their height, causing light and privacy loss.

    The foundation work and pile driving required for a 4-story build would almost certainly disturb the 150-year old foundations of the nearby 2 storey terraced cottages.

    The site’s footprint is simply too small for a quality four-storey block for 8 single housing units. If Brick By Brick think a 4 storey 8 bedsit building is more economic to build than 4 two-storey two-bed terraced cottages, they are mistaken.

    From a purely logistical point of view it a very difficult site to build on because of its access. There is insufficient space for building material delivery or construction work. Has Brick By Brick not even noticed that there is a zebra crossing between two dangerous blind bends right in front of the proposed site?

    There is no large vehicle turning facility in Theobald or the surrounding roads. Factory Lane is constantly used by heavy vehicle from the industrial units nearby. Even the Veolia refuse trucks often have to reverse back down Theobald Road as badly parked cars near the gates of Wandle Park and Theobald Road can make turning impossible.

    As already mentioned by Robert Canning, the loss of the trees and the grass area is not acceptable and contradicts Croydon Council’s £10 million funding bid to the GLA (“Re-imagining Croydon” 2018) to install a green wall and noise screen along the Roman Way flyover. Did Croydon actually succeed in getting this funding from the GLA? [https://getinvolved.croydon.gov.uk/UploadedFiles/31151629102018.pdf]

    Something else to bear in mind is that some of the new flats would be at least level with and less than 50 yards from the raised flyover, with its high traffic and pollution levels. When complete the building will be just a few feet away from its neighbouring properties with residents on the 3rd and 4th floors having very poor views and unable to open windows for noise and air pollution.

    The wishes of existing neighbours are that this land should be used for further tree planting and made into a small copse with public seating. Failing that, and if housing needs to be built, then similar 2 storeys, two-bed terraced houses are built, resembling the existing cottages in Theobald Road would be acceptable. Not only would the 2 bedroom terraced cottages be able to house more people but it would maintain the ambience of the neighbourhood.

    The overwhelming feeling from the neighbourhood is that they are not NIMBYS and fully understand the need for new housing. If we have to lose the green space at the end of Theobald Road then building 4 x 2 storey terraced family homes that fit in with the current architecture will be a better option. It will also house more people, be less intrusive, be more economic and logistically easier than the current 8 x bedsits Brick by Brick proposal.

    It is frustrating that Brick By Brick ignores any suggestions, comments or views of the neighbourhood. That they appear to pay lip service to any consultation process and pressing on with astonishing hubris.

    I am truly staggered that they just get away with it time after time.
    • We know that the council will grant planning permission
    • We know the Ash trees will be removed
    • We know Brick By Brick will attempt to pass this during the Covid 19 crisis
    • We know that we will lose the green space.

    Building four cottages would not be so detrimental to the environment, it will not be an eyesore and the neighbours will I’m sure be not so resistant to this build.

    Come on Brick by Brick, start using some commonsense. At the very least consider the overwhelming voice and opinions of the people whose lives you are going to disrupt.

  7. Lewis White says:

    This area of Croydon needs all the trees and grass it can get, as the tarmac Sahara of the Roman Way Flyover has no trees to catch the grit and dust, noise, and exhaust gases, of the tens of thousands of vehicles passing along it every day. The local residents are dumped on, by all this pollution.

    Croydon needs to cherish such green areas along its main roads, and add more greening, and distance people from pollution, not build yet more buildings in any green gaps along them.

    I despair about the long-term health of people who have to live in the even bigger new blocks alongside the main Croydion Flyover. The flats are so close to the road that it is almost possible for a car passenger to read the labels on items stored on the tiny balconies. The residents are breathing in seriously polluted air.

    I mentioned the essential wrongness of allowing redevelopment alongside the flyover years ago when the Urban Development PIan was being drawn up. In the consultatuion, I said that we need large trees, not large blocks of flats, on the vacant lots aong it.

    I am glad that the local Councillor Canning has called out this crass proposal, and the weasel-worded arboricultural assessment. No tree is perfect. And, as he infers, there is so much more to trees than their shape. A wonky tree will filter out as much dust and pollution as a straight tree– it’s all down to the surface area of the leaves. I must go down there as my lockdown exercise, and look at them. Trees come in all shapes and sizes, just like people. We don’t go round culling people because they might get a life-threatening disease at some time in future!

    Ash trees will vary in terms of response to Ash-die back disease. These particular ash trees might never suffer at all ! Plant a few trees of other species if there is space now. Or, if the existing trees die, replace them with another species. it’s that simple. But keep the open space, and look after the trees. Don’t fell them.

    Yes, we need new homes for existing and new Croydon residents to live in, but a green space like this needs to be kept, not built on. Apart from being lumpish, and out of scale with adjacent buildings, this block is intrinsically wrong, for the health of the new residents who will live there, and for the health of the local residents, and their environment. I really hope that all the councillors on the Planning Committee do the right thing, and reject this proposal.

    • Absolutely agree with you Lewis and am happy to chip in towards Silver birch, hazel, rowan or anything medium and even walk the 200 yards or so with my fork and spade to help in planting – once out of lockdown.

  8. harry brown says:

    Not a great place to build on – white elephant development.

    1. Would anyone who can afford a private flat actually pay to live next to 4 lanes of 24 hour traffic and a haven of ASB in the car park under the flyover?
    2. If the flats are all social housing, then well done Brick by Brick for creating a highly polluted ghetto of social housing.
    3. Idea about using the site as a local parklet sounds good, come on Croydon parks department, get planting new trees and flowers and make an improvement to reduce air pollution.

  9. sebastian tillinger says:

    Would Colm Lacey and Jo Negrini (a former Dream Team from Lambeth and Newham councils) like to join an online public debate regarding their proposals on Theobald Road?

    I’ve got a letter from Tony Newman that’s about to go into my shredder informing me that my Council Tax has gone up this year. Why am I paying more while Lacey squanders it on what can only be described as a Brick-by-Brick-Shit-House on Theobald Road?

    There is not one part of this development that stacks up and Lazy Lacey knows it.

  10. Lewis White says:

    A 24 hour stay on the platform of a cherry-picker, parked on the road outside, and extended up to the same level as the windows of the new flats, which coincides nicely with the flyover deck , would allow decision makers a true appreciation of the relentless traffic, and arising pollution and dust that will be breathed in by the residents of the proposed block. After lockdown, traffic will resume.

    This block is a desperate example of town cramming, not Town Planning. Lewisham council are masters of plonking big buildings down by busy main roads. Croydon needs to learn the lessons that bad developments of that kind deliver. The trouble with bad development is that it tends to last forever. This building is a health killer, as well as a destroyer of precious greening.

    We are not so in need of new housing that the Council is justified in promoting developments that sentence people to living this close to a major road, a decison which will damage their lungs, and shorten their lives, as well as condemning them to the day to day reality of grime, noise by day and night, and the futility of opening a window to admit fresh air, because there won’t be any..

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