It’s get-out-of-jail-free for the residents of Theobald Road, as the council-owned developer pulls its plans for an ugly block of flats, without any public explanation. Prisons correspondent, BELLE MARSH, reports
Brick by Brick has withdrawn its planning application to build an ugly four-storey block of flats on a patch of green open space in Theobald Road. It is thought to be the first time in five years that the council-owned developers have failed to get planning consent from the company’s owners – Croydon Council.
The withdrawal is a double-whammy for Brick by Brick: the ugly building, described as “having all the kerb appeal of a Stasi prison block”, had been designed by BxB’s own in-house architects, Common Ground.
Back in March, when Brick by Brick ignored the fact that London was in lockdown in the middle of a global pandemic and pushed through its planning application for Theobald Road and two dozen other sites with little or no consultation with Croydon residents, they were still pushing the party line so often used by Paul Scott, the concrete-loving Labour councillor in charge of the borough’s planning system.
Then, Brick by Brick told residents who might have the temerity to complain, “We acknowledge that development is not always popular with local people, however, with an ongoing housing crisis and the need for more homes of all tenures across the borough, it is essential.”
Barely six months later, the eight flats in Waddon don’t appear to be quite so essential any longer, with the application placed in the council planning department’s junk folder this week, without either the council nor the company offering any explanation.
That sound you may hear coming from just the other side of Roman Way is Waddon residents whistling the theme tune from The Great Escape.
Had Brick by Brick’s application gone ahead, it would have seen them concreting over a piece of open green space, with the loss of six mature and healthy trees.
The writing was on the wall – the cell wall – for the council’s wholly-owned and loss-making house-builder after Labour councillor Robert Canning exposed serious shortcomings in the planning application.
As well as the prison-like appearance of the block, Canning was especially critical of the flawed assumptions in the original tree report that had been prepared for Brick by Brick by its paid consultant. Canning’s challenge saw Brick by Brick forced to commission a new survey of the Theobald Road trees.
This second survey contradicted the findings of the earlier assessment, and rated five of the six trees on this site at a much higher quality.
Earlier this week, according to documentation published on the council’s website planning pages, Brick by Brick has officially withdrawn this deeply flawed and unpopular application.
A Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon: “Developers often choose to withdraw an application when they’re told by planning officers that there’s little or no prospect of their application being approved.
“It’s seen as more dignified than getting a refusal – a bit like resigning before you get sacked.
“There were so many things wrong with this proposal. What we’ve seen here reinforces the widely held view that Brick by Brick are amateurs and out of their depth. No private developer would ever submit an application as flawed as this one and expect to receive planning permission.”
And while it may be the first BxB application not to be granted planning permission, the withdrawal of the Theobald Road scheme does mean that Croydon’s planning department and planning committee have still never actually refused permission for any Brick by Brick scheme.
Nor is there anything to stop Brick by Brick returning in the future with a revised proposal for the council-owned Theobald Road site, although it is difficult to see how they could do this as long as the six mature trees are left untouched.
But residents were relishing the moment nonetheless: “I really do feel like we’ve pulled off the great escape,” one told Inside Croydon.
“Massive thanks to Councillor Canning for challenging Brick by Brick’s dodgy plans and standing up for us after they casually fobbed off residents’ concerns.
“Whoever thought that it was a good idea to cut down six lovely trees on a small green space and build something four stories high that looks like a prison cell block should be locked up themselves. What on earth were they thinking?
“I’d like to know how much money Brick by Brick has wasted on this fiasco.”
How much this embarrassing episode has cost Brick by Brick, or ultimately the Croydon Council Tax-payer, is not known. Without doubt, money could have been saved had Brick by Brick heeded the feedback given by residents and ward councillors at its public consultation drop-in event in January.
Meanwhile, Brick by Brick is saying nothing about this embarrassing climbdown. There is nothing on its website or social media to say that it has withdrawn this planning application – let alone anything that provides any form of explanation for its withdrawal.
Colm Lacey, the former council exec promoted beyond his capabilities to become BxB’s managing director, failed to respond to Inside Croydon’s invitation to comment on the withdrawal of the Theobald Road application.
Nor did Lacey answer Inside Croydon’s question about why, after presiding over multi-million-pound clusterfucks since he took charge of Brick by Brick, he has not yet resigned.
“I suspect that the withdrawal of the Theobald Road scheme is the last thing that Brick by Brick will want people to know about,” the Katharine Street source said.
“Aside from drawing attention to their failure, they won’t want this setback to spur on other objectors to other schemes, particularly Hutchinson’s Bank in New Addington where Brick by Brick’s environmental credentials have also been torn to shreds.”
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