Set-back for MP Philp as Purley tower gets green light

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.

Purley Baptist Church’s development might finally get built after a six-year planning saga

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.

Robert Jenrick: the ‘final’ decision on Purley

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…

Architects’ drawings of the proposed new buildings on the ‘Island site’, including what will now most likely be a 16-storey tower

“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.

Awks: Croydon South MP Chris Philp

“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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12 Responses to Set-back for MP Philp as Purley tower gets green light

  1. Great. The new tower in Purley will give the unlovely roundabout that masquerades as the centre of the suburb a wonderful new focus and perhaps help begin the rejuvenation of the immediately neighbouring area. All the objections to the the original proposal were really nothing more or less than a severe outbreak of corrosive Nimbyism combined with a knee jerk reaction to anything emerging from the party in power. I don’t approve of the majority of recent planning decisions around Croydon. Most seem to fly in the face of any sense or logic but this one makes a lot of sense and should look superb.

    • james Quantrill says:

      If as you seem to be saying ‘planning have made mistakes in Central Croydon’ where nearly every development is yet another Tower block, why do you approve the same for Purley. This development will stand out like some ‘phallic symbol’ in honour of a near dictatorship which is Croydon Council today.

      Why must very development site be crammed with flats.

      Yes, people want homes but they don’t want to live like rats!

      Is in no wonder as soon as families can afford to they desert the borough. In my area Planning recently approved twelve 2 and 3 bedroomed flats on a site that once had a medium sized bungalow. There is not enough space in the road for the families and their car as it is, this development will bring nothing but disharmony.

      I bet the leaders of our council don’t live on the 12th floor of a Tower Block or an over crowded street.

      And before you jump to conclusions, I was a paid-up member of labour in Lambeth for many years until Ted Knight and his mob took control, say no more!

      • I am still a paid up member, as I have been since 1955, but still think the lot who are running the Council, Newman’s cronies, are a totally useless and misguided bunch. A simple question: if not a smart, elegant tower in the midst of the ever unlovely Purley roundabout, what else? Shops on that site, marooned and isolated by traffic, just never make it. No good for a park…or even a monument. Read what Lewis White has written: the tower could, literally, make Purley great again (apologies).

  2. Sebastian Tillinger says:

    Let’s not forget this development complies with the Croydon Local Plan not because it is particularly right for Purley or indeed because it contributes to the streetscape and wider area, it is because Cllr Paul Scott made it his personal mission to change the Croydon Plan to facilitate it.

    This is yet another example of Cllr Scott meddling with planning policy to get his personal preferences through whilst Tony Newman turns a blind eye. It’s not just happened in Purley, it’s happening all over the borough and residents have had enough of Scott and Newman and they look forward to the opportunity to clearly demonstrate this at the polls (and before).

    Scott’s unqualified meddling and the continual forcing through of personal planning agendas against the wishes of residents is unhealthy for Croydon and alienates the majority of the borough’s residents. I’ve given up calling Scott to account as he is clearly fixated and cannot be reasoned with; it Newman who must now answer for this catalogue of planning blunders.

  3. Douglas Merrick says:

    Utterly disgraceful, yet again millions of pounds has held sway over common sense, we no longer live in a Democracy but in a time when money is the only influence that matters to faceless bureaucrats who do not live anywhere near or will ever be impacted by this monstrosity!

    • Christine Webb says:

      I am open-mouthed at the stupidity of this decision on several counts, including air pollution for residents, increase in traffic density and movement. I think the current housing minister has been in the news recently.

  4. Lewis White says:

    During lockdown, many of us have put on weight. A well-known, non-dieting way of looking slimmer is to put on a shirt or probably more common, a jumper with vertical stripes, not horizontal hoops.

    The Purley Tower, unlike me, is not too bulky, but as a result of the vertical stripe effect, it actually looks much higher than the proposed 17 , or even the Minister-prescribed 16, because of the height and exaggerated vertical emphasis of the over-large goalpost or portal structure on top.

    This, with a height equivalent to two and a half storeys, and with the incredibly strong vertical emphasis of the structural members, actually demands our attention, and — to my view, looks very stark and hard. With the imprisoned trees– it also looks like a cage. What ever it is, the portal structure constantly pulls our eye to itself, at the top, and makes us think– “wow, that is very high up”. It therefore creates a false impression that the building is really tall, which it really is not.

    This feature was probably intended to look light and airy, like an aerofoil, or crown, which is an architectural element commonly used to finish off a very tall building.

    Such features are used successfully, in my view, in certain Croydon towers–notably Lunar House in Wellesley Road, and in the very tall tower of the nearby Saffron Central Square. These structures really work, and look graceful, and elegant, against a blue sky with white clouds, or dramatic against a dark sky. Also, these crowns are not out of proportion with their wearers.

    The difference between these crowns and the Purley Tower’s top structure, in my view, is that the Purley tower features a bulky penthouse top, which looms like a sinister presence, behind the starkly rigid portal crown structure. The penthouse blots out any view of the sky or clouds. I also think that the trees framed by the portals look imprisoned, behind bars- like caged circus animals in travelling vans…. or like butterflies pinned in a Victorian collector’s wall case. Sad, and unnatural.

    I really wish that I had asked the architect at the public enquiry as to whether his original design featured the penthouse structure, or indeed, the vertical goalpost top. At the previous public inquiry he had shown a picture of a Renaissance tower in Luca, Italy, which has trees growing on the roof– they looked rounded and well-spaced , as trees should. There was no perimeter portal feature. My query then was technical- whether storm winds in Purley might be too high for such trees to survive. And— would the goalpost portal feature actually increase wind-speeds, to the detriment of the proposed trees ?

    My considered feeling about the Purley Tower is that the 17 storey proposal is not too high. But that the verticality and height of the portal top make it look far taller than that. My feeling remains that — if the bulky and tall penthouse were reduced or eliminated, and above all (no pun intended) the goalpost structure were removed, the tower would actually LOOK much lower, and less dominant. It is not the height nor bulk of the overall building , but the dominant cage-like top, that spoils it.

    I hope that the Council Planning team will now sit down with the architect, the developer, the Baptist Church, and indeed, the Croydon Design Panel–and the local resident associations– and review the design of the tower, and come up with a softer, lighter, friendlier design for the top.
    Reference has been made to the high quality of the materials and design in general. I agree- the building and the landscaping are excellent, in my view, apart from the tower top.

    Before lockdown, I was in the Elephant and Castle, and saw a tall-ish block with a fringe of trees planted around the top of the building. It was in fact, modernist Architect Erno Goldfinger’s “Alexander Fleming House” now renamed Metro Central Heights.

    The trees are at the 12th floor level (not a lot lower than the Purley Tower height) and actually act as fringe around the penthouse floor. The latter is white and shining, not too tall, and not masked by a goalpost frame. The trees look happy, enjoying the sunshine. They are not caged in an angular concrete portal. Unlike Purley. They are free-range trees! Not battery hens.

    In any design, there are design ideas and design options, and – sometimes, designers have ideas that are celebrated as “iconic” or “innovative” -and held on to, even if there are adverse results in other ways.

    I think that this portal/ goalpost/ crown feature is such an icon, which is wrong for this tower. It might even be fine if it were smaller, but my preference would be for removal, and a reduced height penthouse floor. The colour of that floor is also important. It should not dominate in bulk or tone.

    I would love to see two or three revised design options for the redesign of the top of the tower. To merely take out a storey would not actually make the tower any less dominant—the crown’s the thing. I do hope that the decision makers realise that.

    • Sebastian Tillinger says:

      The two storey expression you refer to is a sort of mannered device many architects employ to make their buildings appear more vertical and less squat/lumpish. It’s a bit of a cliche all over London and some would say a bit lazy. Without this at Purley, the building would look even more incongruous.

      This building is political point-making first (out-of control Cllr Scott) and architecture second. That’s how it will be judged.

      We’ll all be able to judge it’s real merit at some point in the future – before that, Scott and Newman will also have been judged and hopefully despatched from office.

  5. james Quantrill says:

    will the planning committee not stop until they have the whole borough looking like central Croydon, ie one massive vertical block of bird cages; or as many describe the Tower Blocks “rat runs in the sky.
    Central Croydon has far too many Tower Blocks already, meny standing empty, why must Planning blight Purley as well ! Will these people never be satisfied until the whole area is one massive piggery.

  6. Dave Scott says:

    Obviously something needs ot be built there – the site is an eyesore. However 16 storeys, that is just too much. And who would want to live on a roundabout in a cooped up flat in the middle of summer. I expect the sales blurb will have some happy smiley faces sitting round a table sharing a coffee looking out over some trees etc. In reality it will be noisy and smelly. But never let reality or common sense get in the way of ‘we know best, so shut up you little insignificant pleb’ planning committee.

  7. Philip Hickman says:

    Whilst I hardly think that a 16 storey building is in keeping with the Purley environment, my bigger issue is with the infrastructure and facilities in Purley to cope with this further development of over 209 residential dwellings. Purley has been blighted with the introduction of so many apartment blocks at the expense of existing traditional family houses insomuch that schools, doctors, transport etc cannot cope to say nothing of the pressure on the utilities which were not designed for the density we are now seeing

    However, my overriding concern is on the road network around Purley Cross which desperately needs upgrading before the proposed development is allowed to begin. I thought one of the main objections to the original plan that was passed by our derisory Planning Committee was voiced by TFL who argued that with the limited on site parking proposed coupled with the other developments in Purley, this upgrade must be a prerequisite – obviously not any more! Heaven knows what the chaos will be during the many months of construction.

    I would love serious thought to be given to a possible one-way system which could embrace the High Street, Brighton Road and the Baptist site allowing regeneration of the town which is currently (even pre-Corona) disappearing rapidly.

    Of course, the site needs developing but skyscrapers surely should be confined to City / large town centres not Purley where the next highest structure cannot be more than 6 storeys Get the infrastructure right first then consider what is appropriate

  8. Lewis White says:

    Regarding the highway infrastructure, the key problem of traffic congestion at Purley Cross, and on the Brighton and Eastbourne Roads, is obviously that two big main roads meet. I have always felt that the current convoluted design with the roundabout between Tescos and the actually works quite well, but –that the rush hour queues on the Godstone/ Eastbourne road could be reduced by opening up the pinch point at the railway bridge under the Brighton line, next to the long derelict “My Old China” restaurant. This would open up the adjacent railway arch, which would probably entail knocking down at least some of the the shops and workshops on the few hundred metres long section between there and the petrol station on the Godstone Road.

    Road junction improvement schemes often shift the bottlenecks up the road, but I would support an intelligent look at revising the road layout, properly modelled, to see any scope for improvements.

    Of course, a reduction in road traffic is the best way forward.

    With regard to the proposed tower, I don’t argue with the idea of having a single tower on this island site, but think that its architecturally simple tower form is not only spoiled by the over-large cage-like top, but also by the so-called “campanile” — a lumpish side-accretion on the North side. It is very unlike most campaniles which are elegant free standing belltowers like that at St Mark Venice.

    In the case of the Purley tower, the side-addition looks like a bloated parasite latched on to the body of a fish or animal. It compromises the simplicity, narrowness and elegance of the tower.

    That is a great shame.

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