CROYDON COMMENTARY: Brick by Brick have been patting themselves on the back, but their high-staffing levels, low-experience levels and expensive schemes ought to be deeply concerning, according to SEBASTIAN TILLINGER
Alarm bells should be ringing all over Croydon Council about Brick by Brick.
The council-funded housebuilder is working in a financial bubble.
Common Ground, their in-house architectural practice advising on development, employs 10 architectural staff. Why is Common Ground not designing out the whole project rather than just doing limited feasibilities? I doubt there is a developer anywhere else in Britain with a 10-strong internal architectural practice advising on development decisions.
Can Croydon Council be so stupidly naive to have signed off this model?
Looking at the experience of the 10 Common Ground staff, I can see very little direct experience of realising construction projects. Did Tony Newman sit in on their interviews?
However, I note in the last couple of days, Brick by Brick has removed the headcount of architectural staff from its website – even they must realise this is now completely excessive this appears.
An example is the Brick by Brick proposals for The Green at Wontford Road and Roffey Close in Kenley, which is soon to go before planning.
If you were to offer this site with this number of units to 10 private property developers, they would not touch it with a barge pole. Why? The extreme level variation across the site would make the proposal financially and technically unfeasible.
The cost of coming out of the ground is going to be extremely high – enormous concrete retaining walls, very complex foundations and a huge amount of removed spoil. These are costs you might consider taking on, but only if you were going five times higher.
To get the upper building block aligned for street-level access, Brick by Brick are creating garage spaces that are the height of a two-storey building. The garages will have huge voids above before the first residential building begins. It’s bonkers, wasteful and not financially viable.
It even looks daft in the elevations – you see a garage door and then a massive expanse of facade until you get to the first-floor window. These really are student errors.
The viability study by Common Ground, which Chloe Phelps runs, should have spotted this and shelved the idea of developing this site. They didn’t because they don’t have development experience. They also appear to believe that there is an unlimited supply of money – delivered up to them from the council, and which Council Tax-payers will be paying for years to come.
What is Colm Lacey, the chief executive of Brick by Brick, doing?
Does he have any pivotal decision making role in all this?
And then Brick by Brick employ an architect who’s only known for building straw bale houses to work up the designs. Perhaps this is in some way intended as some kind of sick, architectural irony, as the scheme would concrete over some precious and rare chalk grassland.
Jo Negrini, the council chief exec, and council leader Tony Newman’s ham-fisted, hands-off approach to managing the spending of council money is called into question again.
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Most building firms like flat ground to build on, but perhaps they ought to get Wates to do the sloping Wontford Road site? Wates seem to have been specialists at steeply sloping sites having built estates at Park Hill, Forestdale and Coulsdon Woods as well as some housing on steep slopes at Upper Norwood. Those were years ago and Wates moved their HQ from London Road, Norbury to Leatherhead ages ago too, but they are still around and currently back in Croydon at the Rees House site (Morland Rd) and building Coombe Wood School (opposite Lloyd Park) !
Good point, but it’s all about money. If you are prepared to sink money into the ground you can build what you like. But I don’t want my Council Tax being spent on student architect feasibility studies. The council should set a level playing field (excuse the pun) and get Brick by Brick to tender against a Wates and two other developers. Then let’s see who delivers value for Croydon.
A very brief check on the site shows non-viability on a number of fronts.
Nice little job….