Is Brick by Brick’s Theobald Road ‘Stasi prison’ now kaput?

Pressure is growing on the council’s house-builders to drop their ugly plans for a site in Waddon, after a second tree quality survey completely contradicted an earlier report. By BELLE MARSH, our prisons correspondent

Cell Block H: the BxB block proposed for Theobald Road

Brick by Brick, the council’s wholly-owned, loss-making house-builder, is under increasing pressure to withdraw its planning application to build on a small pocket of green space at the end of Theobald Road in Waddon.

Brick by Brick wants to take the axe to six mature and healthy trees, so that they can be replaced by an ugly and overbearing block of flats. Designed by BxB’s “award-winning” in-house architects Common Ground, the block has been described as “having all the kerb appeal of a Stasi prison block”.

The call to withdraw the planning application follows the findings of a new tree quality assessment. This was commissioned following the intervention of Waddon ward councillor Robert Canning, who exposed serious shortcomings in the application as even Labour councillors turn on Brick by Brick plans.

Canning was particularly critical of what he saw as flawed assumptions in the arboricultural impact assessment that had been prepared by a consultant paid for by Brick by Brick. Canning’s challenge forced Brick by Brick into undertaking a new survey of the quality of the Theobald Road trees.

Nothing much wrong with these: the highly rated trees at Theobald Road

This was completed by a different consultant using the same British Standard that was applied in the first survey. This awards an A rating to a tree deemed to be of high quality, a B rating to a tree of moderate quality and a C rating to a tree of low quality.

First time round, each of the six trees that Brick by Brick wanted to remove was given the low tree quality rating of C.

The new survey of the trees rated them as A, B, B, B, B, C.

A Katharine Street source who has seen the report said today, “When something like this happens, people rightly ask what on earth is going on? Confidence in the system is brought in to question.”

This tree quality re-evaluation is hugely embarrassing for Brick by Brick and it is difficult to see how such a large upward revaluation in the quality of these trees can be ignored or dismissed, even by Croydon’s developer-friendly planning officers.

One experienced local authority planning official who has seen the Theobald Road proposals, and knows the Croydon planning team’s reputation very well, told Inside Croydon: “The Brick by Brick proposals for the tiny patch of grass at the end of Theobald Road is ridiculously ugly and a clear instance of overdevelopment.

“I sent the drawings round my planner friends and they were all horrified.

“I was stunned when I realised the site had as many as eight flats planned. I think that’s crazy, even for Brick by Brick. And removing mature trees in the middle of a climate emergency, in an area with poor air quality – how do they think they can get away with that?

I’d love to know the Croydon tree officer comments. They should be on file – but my guess is that the planning teamwon’t be keen for them to be seen too widely.

Canny: Labour councillor Robert Canning has much support from residents in Waddon

“They will do all that they can to just wave it through.”

That vast difference between Brick by Brick’s paid-for tree assessment and the second survey raises important questions around how many other flawed environmental assessments accompany the current tranche of applications. In this instance, it only came to light because of one Labour councillor’s expertise and willingness to stand up for the residents he represents.

A Theobald Road resident contacted Inside Croydon to say: “Thank goodness Councillor Canning was prepared to stand up for us and to rubbish Brick by Brick’s dodgy tree dossier.

“These trees were never low quality. I’m sure Brick by Brick knew this. They just hoped nobody would notice or challenge them.”

There is nothing to indicate whether Canning’s concern about the prison-block appearance of the Theobald Road development is holding any sway with Croydon’s planning officials as the application waits to be determined.

Inside Croydon understands that the “Stasi prison block” comparison caused consternation among the delicate sensibilities of those working in the architecture department of Brick by Brick’s office on George Street, while Paul Scott, the de facto chair of the planning committee, was said to be “absolutely furious”.

Seen worse: a former Stasi prison in Erfurt

Following our previous report, it has been pointed out to Inside Croydon by our loyal reader that comparing the proposed development at Theobald Road to a Stasi prison block was grossly inaccurate and unfair. Stasi prisons were, in fact, much nicer to look at.

We are happy to put the record straight.

Other Brick by Brick applications, for similarly flawed schemes in other Labour-held wards, have received little if any support from their councillors towards planning objections.

New Addington is in the front line of Brick by Brick’s blitz on the borough, which includes an attempt to build right next to a wildlife sanctuary that is home to three species of endangered butterflies, plus protected bats and badgers.

Labour’s four councillors in the New Addington North and New Addington South wards are cabinet members Simon Hall and Oliver Lewis, plus Louisa Woodley who chairs the health and wellbeing board on a cabinet member’s allowance, and the deputy cabinet member Felicity Flynn.

Between them they receive special responsibility allowances worth a hefty £113,000 a year courtesy of council leader Tony Newman.

Not one of them has used their councillors’ referral powers as part of the planning process to comment on or object to a single Brick by Brick planning application.

Residents suspect that they dare not speak against Brick by Brick’s unpopular plans because doing so would upset Newman and put their lucrative allowances in jeopardy. And losing Newman’s patronage – and their allowances – would be far worse than even doing time in a Stasi prison.

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
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7 Responses to Is Brick by Brick’s Theobald Road ‘Stasi prison’ now kaput?

  1. Chris Massey says:

    Well done Mr Canning! First round to common sense. This shows that BxB appears to be marking its own homework.

    Perhaps we can now have an independent survey to show how the footings and foundations needed for a four-storey block just a few feet away from the old railway cottages will (ahem) not cause damage to these properties?

  2. harrybrown637 says:

    Oh dear, looks like that one was shot down in flames.

    I`ve seen a copy of the council tree blokes comments on the planning file (shh) and the objection to the travesty err development was emphatic.

  3. sebastian tillinger says:

    Everyone shouldn’t fret so much over this project. When it’s shelved, BxB can just add the money it has wasted on these proposals to Croydon’s £1.5bn+ debt. It’s a drop in the ocean.

    • The scary thought remains Sebastian that Brick by Brick exercise a Svengali-like influence (“look into my eyes, just into my eyes, don’t look anywhere else” – apologies to Little Britain) over the so-called Planning Committee, whereby their every wish is granted. So, we locals can’t relax yet when it comes to protecting our trees.

  4. Lewis White says:

    The photo of the trees in the article above clearly shows a wonderful and heathy-looking grouping of trees right beside the street corner, and which is also within a few metres of the raised flyover section of Roman Way, as shown in the picture of the proposed building in the other image. The trees look like an oasis in a tarmac street scape. To remove them shudl be unthinkable.

    It would also be informative if an expert could also be found who could calculate the leaf surface area, and the amount of air filtration the trees carry out, the weight of grit and dust they remove, the amount of C02 they remove, the amount of water vapour they breathe out (again, improving air quality in a dry area of Croydon) and the cooling effect of the trees in the face of the heat of vehicle emissions and engines on the flyover section. All of the trees would seem to be sacrificed to build the proposed block.

    It is very good that the second tree expert surveyed the condition of the trees and rated them as shown– A B B B B and C. It is indeed very odd if all the trees were graded C , by the previous tree inspector.

    I do not doubt the need for new housing locally, but we desperately need to treasure and protect the trees we have, particularly in very polluted roadside locations around Roman Way, nearby Purley Way and alongside the main Croydon Flyover. Green infrastructure is good for the health of residents. Lungs, and heart are linked, and damaged by pollution,as is obvious. Early lung damage will shorten a child’s adult life.

    A buzz word or term in Planning and Environmental protection over the last few years is “Green Infrastructure”. It recognises the essential role of trees and green space in the world’s urban and rural environments. This group of trees is exactly part of Croydon’s Green Infrastructure, and a very important part of it as well, as we particularly need the greening in highly urbanised places like this, where major roads chuck out pollutants across neighbouring residential areas.. The removal of this group of trees would also set a local planning precedent, which would weaken the ability of planners to turn down similar proposals in future. Hence the retention of these trees is vital.

  5. Chris Massey says:

    You are right Mr Wright! This is just a minor annoyance for BxB. It may slow down their plans for the 4 floor Stazi block on the corner of Theobald Road but not stop it.
    I have a feeling that they will still press on so I’m gearing up for round two.

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