Is Wontford Road Green the worst BxB housing scheme yet?

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Even with their very large, in-house team of  architects, council-owned builders Brick by Brick are still creating planning applications that completely fail to comply with the council’s own Local Plan, says GEOFF JAMES

Brick by Brick wants to concrete over this open green space at Wontford Road

Brick by Brick’s planning application to build on the public green space at the junction of Roffey Close and Wontford Road fails on almost every level – and yet still it was submitted.

Here is why it fails:

The site is an area of open green space. Our national planning policies (National Planning Policy Framework, para 97) stop all development on open green land unless the developer can produce evidence that the open green land is no longer required, or that a new and equivalent community facility has been made available nearby.

In the case of Wontford Green, Brick by Brick have provided these flimsy arguments that fail any challenge:

  • That they are leaving 28 per cent of the green space as “open”. There’s no planning rules that say “just 28 per cent” is OK. Besides, the national planning policy framework fails to mention that a significantly lesser area can be accepted as “equivalent”.
  • They suggest that the residents can use the Higher Drive Recreation Ground. Yet this is simply too far to walk to, and involves steep hills and steps. Besides, NPPF requires a “new” facility of equal or higher quality, not a redirection to a remote existing facility.
  • Brick by Brick suggest that their proposal includes a children’s play area. During the consultation the BxB representatives made a very big thing about the local residents wanting a children’s play area and that they would provide it. The thing is, no one appears able to identify who these residents were who expressed a wish for a dedicated children’s play area, and certainly none who would trade in the public open space for it. Anyway, if the residents had wanted a children’s play area then this could be provided from other budgets without building on The Green itself.

Once you step past the fact that BxB thinks it can build on this cherished open green land, you can then assess the proposal to find that it is totally incompatible with the Croydon Local Plan.

It is worth stating, for the record, that Brick by Brick is wholly-owned by Croydon Council, and they have borrowed £260million (at least) of public money from the council to fund their operations. Croydon Council, the owners of Brick by Brick, are also the local planning authority.

Bearing in mind that Brick by Brick have had three pre-planning meetings with senior members of the council’s planning department for the Wontford Road Green site, it is almost impossible to believe that a single application can be quite so bad, and so blatantly fails to follow the clear written advice provided as a result of the pre-application meetings.

Any other professional or experienced commercial housing developer would not have wasted their money in assembling the application, or would be too embarrassed to submit it.

For example: Brick by Brick has used the area of the whole green to calculate the density of the development as 210 habitable rooms per hectare. They then argue that 210 is only slightly higher than the target “maximum” of 200 set by Mayor of London.

What Brick by Brick neglects to mention is that the 200 maximum depends on context and it only applies to locations in an area with good public transport and easy access to shops and other amenities. For an area like Wontford Road, the Mayor of London actually suggests 150 habitable rooms per hectare is more appropriate.

Using the Brick by Brick figures, therefore, the Wontford Road Green application is already 40 per cent over-intensified.

However, they have also made an error in their calculation, one so simple that you are forced to think that it is deliberate.

If you look at the drawing (right), there are parts of the green to the north and south that are not part of the development site. The reports included in the application make the same observation. If you take these areas away and consider the density of the actual “development site”, you get a whopping 340 habitable rooms per hectare. This is a density seen only in town centres and cannot be justified for an area with such limited facilities as Wontford Road.

It also means that the application proposes a density of housing that is more than double that allowed for under the planning rules.

Because of the poor design, the block of flats presents as four storeys but it will appear as five to Wontford Road. There is nothing like it in the area. The front wall is positioned far too close to the pavement (within 2.8metres) and there are balconies at eye level that are only 90cm from the pavement. From the pavement, you could literally reach across and grab the railings of the balconies.

The building is far forward of the building line and dominates the street and adjacent properties. The Croydon Local Plan is clear about the need to set tall buildings a long way back from the road, and the need to step back the upper storeys, and step down the sides to reduce how much they dominate. This application ignores all that.

The Green sits between Wontford Road and Roffey Close. Brick by Brick shows that the parking stress on Roffey Close is already at 141 per cent. Other roads in the area are already highly stressed and another BxB development is in the pipeline just up the road.

It is clear that if this development goes ahead then it will be wall-to-wall cars in the local area. There is no consideration for cumulative impact on parking.

The above are just the main issues, but there are many more. So you have to wonder why Brick by Brick have submitted the application.

There can only be three possible reasons:

  1. Incompetence on the part of Brick by Brick.
  2. Gaming the planning system – BxB knows the application is defective but they hope the planning officers (and local residents) fail to notice the major flaws and they get to build it anyway.
  3. BxB know that they must submit “something”. Then they hope that Paul Scott (the de facto chair of the council planning committee) and his chums will pull it through the planning process to grant the application regardless, whatever its faults. Not a single Brick by Brick application has been refused planning permission.

You can form your own view. Whatever you decide, it is our tax-payers’ money that is being wasted here. It will be informative to see how this unfolds.

Read more about Wontford Road Green:

Geoff James is a Kenley resident

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4 Responses to Is Wontford Road Green the worst BxB housing scheme yet?

  1. sebastian tillinger says:

    This application must trigger a rethink of BxB development strategy at Croydon’s Town Hall before more public money is squandered.

    It’s lazy designs on trumped up feasibility studies by inexperienced practitioners.

    It really is the Emperor’s New Clothes. Newman and Negrini clearly don’t care about the colossal debt they are lumbering on this borough.

    Mr James’ piece above is succinct and covers all the issues. The questions he raises are fundamental and should have been addressed at the early feasibility stage. And just what is the Place Review Panel doing? The problem is, BxB, Common Ground and the Place Review Panel are all in a big club that’s bankrolled by Croydon’s hard-working Council Tax-payers.

    Jo Negrini is a professional planner and should be embarrassed this lazy, financially extravagant type of development is happening on her patch. But hey, does Negrini really care about anything in this Borough? She’ll have one eye on her next career move with a glowing reference from Tony-no-clue.

  2. Colin Cooper says:

    You have to ask, how do you recognize a bad development idea? The answer being it has the name Brick by Brick(ing It) in the header!

  3. harrybrown637 says:

    Oh Brick by Brick – they can submit any old rubbish and it will get whistled through by the planning committee.

    Raises the point why they have to pay any architects at all – especially the ones who can’t apparently design.

    Wish I had pals who could get the odd planning application through for me, especially ones with really low greenery.

  4. Colin Cooper says:

    In reference to your actual headline, surely it’s difficult to tell when ALL of their efforts and proposals to date are so appalling?!

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