A development scheme at Purley Cross that will provide more than 200 homes, some retail space and a significant amount of public infrastructure was finally given the go-ahead by Whitehall today, after a six-year planning saga that has involved two public inquiries and a High Court challenge.
What the local Tory MP mischievously and inaccurately described as a “skyscraper” as he tried to get it blocked was given the green-light in an announcement this afternoon from the office of Robert Jenrick, the Conservative government’s controversial Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
In a 98-page document that includes HM Planning Inspector’s report, it was ruled that the 17-storey Purley tower “would change the character of the town…” but that “… it would not unacceptably dominate it or the surrounding residential area to the extent that any material harm is caused”.
The decision represents a deeply embarrassing U-turn for Jenrick’s colleague, Croydon South MP Chris Philp, potentially undermining the planning-dominated campaign he has been fronting for a democratically-elected mayor for Croydon.
Today’s decision follows a planning inspector’s public inquiry which was held at the Town Hall in December. For a second time, the government inspector has approved the plans.
The original scheme proposed building 220 flats and community facilities on a site which has been left derelict for decades. The second public inquiry was held after James Brokenshire, one of Jenrick’s predecessors, had his decision to block the scheme overturned in court last year.
The multi-million-pound scheme, being proposed on behalf of the Purley Baptist Church, with buildings on both sides of a busy road, was first granted planning permission by Croydon Council in 2016.
A grouping of residents’ associations in the south of the borough mounted fierce opposition to the scheme, on the grounds that it might “change the character” of Purley town centre. There remains further opportunities to appeal against this latest decision, though it may be that many of the RAs’ areas of concern have by now been addressed.
In a letter from Jenrick’s office to the developers, it said, “The Secretary of State has carefully considered the findings of the Inspector on the character of the area… and then the effect of the development on this. No party at the Inquiry disputed the massing, siting or overall design quality of the proposal for the South site in particular…
“The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that there would be no harm caused to the character or the appearance of the area through the South site redevelopment as proposed.
“In respect of the Island site… the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that there is no dispute as to the benefits of bringing back retail and residential activity to an important part of Purley’s centre, and to the public open space and public realm improvements proposed.
“He agrees with the Inspector that there is no evidence that these aspects breach any development plan policy or national guidance.
“With regard to the tower element of the proposal… the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that there is policy support through allocation for the potential for a new landmark of up to a maximum of 16 storeys at the Island site location.
“The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that whilst the tower would be a prominent feature of Purley and would change the character of the town, it would not unacceptably dominate it or the surrounding residential area to the extent that any material harm is caused, and further that the proposed scheme would positively transform the area with a building of high architectural and material quality.
“Therefore, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s overall conclusion… that the height of the tower element on the island site is in conformity with, and is led by, adopted development management policies for the district centre of Purley.
“He further agrees that the whole scheme would be of a high quality of design and materials. The development would be beneficial in terms of character and appearance and would greatly enhance the public realm in Purley District Centre, as well as regenerating a long term disused site.”
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