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
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.
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.
“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”.
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.
- Click here for the listing of the sites Brick by Brick is bringing forward for the planning process even though the public is unable to consult because of the covid-19 lockdown
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