The government decision to give a green light to the £20.25million redevelopment of a long-derelict site at Purley Cross, with more than 200 homes and including a controversial tower block, has left the local MP feeling “gutted”, while a local business group has said that the ruling is “really good news”.
“Let’s get it built,” Simon Cripps, the chief executive of the Purley BID business improvement district, told Inside Croydon today.
A five-year-long planning saga appeared to have reached a conclusion last night after the Conservative government’s Secretary of State for housing and local government, Robert Jenrick, issued a letter accepting the report of the government planning inspector.
Predictably, locals and their residents’ associations have expressed their horror at the prospect of the Purley Tower, describing it as the “Croydonisation” of their district centre. The tower will be at least twice as tall as the next biggest building in Purley.
“Another Croydon Council eyesore being thrust upon the residents of this area,” was typical of many of the reactions.
Some noted that the government planning inspector has recommended that the tower should be only 16 storeys tall, and not the 17 storeys which was originally proposed, in order to make it fully compliant with the council’s own Local Plan.
“The developers and Purley Baptist Church might have been saved four years of angst, public inquiries and massive costs had Croydon’s planning department, and the then chair of the planning committee, Paul Scott, had insisted on a 16-storey tower when they granted planning permission in 2016,” said one source.
“It would have made the whole scheme much more difficult to challenge. Instead, Scott and the planning department as usual went along with the developers’ wishes once again, rather than upholding their own Local Plan.
“Four years later, we are all no further forward.”
Scott himself has publicly claimed that dealing with the delays and inquiries over the scheme has cost Croydon Council £100,000.
Since 2015, the proposals – which the developers prefer to be known as Mosaic Place – has been managed by Thornsett Group for the land-owners, Purley Baptist Church, together with planning consultancy Nexus.
Nexus director Rob Pearson said today, “Mosaic Place has been a long time in the making.
“We are delighted that Purley Baptist Church will now be able to look forward to a bright future with a purpose-built church and facilities to support their growing congregation and outreach activities.
“Both they and Thornsett Group have worked extremely hard to come up with a landmark scheme in Mosaic Place, which we are confident will revitalise Purley and create spin-off prosperity for the rest of the district centre.”
The proposed scheme, as granted planning permission in 2016, comprised 220 homes, a retail unit and a new church with community facilities, though that may now change as a consequence of the planning inspector’s comments, as well as broader economic and viability considerations.
Philp, who was elected as MP for Croydon South in 2015, has lobbied against Mosaic Place throughout his entire career in Parliament.
Today he tweeted, “Gutted that, after fighting this off for nearly four years, the planning inspector has recommended Purley Skyscraper for approval – because it complies with the Council’s Local Plan.
“Last time, Sec of State tried overruling the inspector but was stopped by the courts.”
Philp has got himself caught in a political dilemma over the Purley development, since he has spent much time in the past couple of years criticising local council planning decisions policy and – in-line with his Tory government’s policy – calling for developments on brownfield sites to be prioritised. Brownfield site developments just like Mosaic Place.
“At least a directly-elected mayor would write a better Local Plan that does not allow skyscrapers in suburban areas,” Philp added a while later.
Philp’s comments drew criticism from Sean Fitzsimons, a senior Labour councillor, who accused him of “misleading the public again”.
Fitzsimons wrote, “The decision to approve the application is taken by the Conservative Secretary of State, which he did yesterday. He said it had no concerns about impact on character or heritage of Purley, nor on surrounding areas.
“A public inquiry was held by the independent planning inspector, who heard all the objectors and recommended approval to the Secretary of State, who ignored this independent advice and refused permission. This was withdrawn after threat of a legal challenge (sounds familiar!).”
Fitzsimons highlighted Philp’s spin and stated, “This is not what happened.”
Fitzsimons said, “James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State, ignored the planning inspector recommendations and refused the planning application.”
It has long been suggested that Brokenshire “called in” the planning decision after energetic lobbying by his fellow Conservative, Philp.
As Fitzsimons laid out on social media, “When challenged in the courts… [Brokenshire] conceded that he failed to ‘give adequate reasons for his conclusions’ when overturning the recommendations of the independent planning inspectorate following a full public inquiry in January 2018.”
And with a final twist of the knife to “gutted” Philp, Fitzsimons quoted back at him a line from yesterday’s letter from Jenrick, Brokenshire’s successor as housing minister: “Your Tory colleague says ‘it will positively transform the area’.”
That’s certainly the view of local businesses, who through the Purley BID had supported the Mosaic Place proposals.
Purley BID’s Cripps, while making the point that the proposed tower is not a skyscraper, said today, “It’s really good news that this matter has been concluded and we can now move on.
“We agree that the tower (not skyscraper) should be challenged and strongly challenged it has been all the way, on all aspects. This means the development proposal is one of the most robust in the borough.
“No one ‘wants’ a tower in Purley. However, parts of this area have been derelict for around 40 years and we all agree needs to be developed. This development ultimately will bring new life and prosperity into the area, so let’s get it built.”
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