Criticised as being an over-development that ‘will give an overall appearance of cramped, overcrowded, poor-quality dwellings’, the latest council-backed scheme could even risk future coronavirus outbreaks.
Housing correspondent BARRATT HOLMES reports
The deaths of residents from covid-19 when living in social housing in an area where Brick by Brick wants to build another 58 flats should be taken into consideration by tonight’s planning committee meeting, according to Waddon ward councillor Andrew Pelling.
Labour’s Pelling is joined by Croydon South’s Conservative MP, Chris Philp, and dozens of residents in lodging strenuous objections to the latest ill-conceived overdevelopment scheme from the council-owned, loss-making development firm, which nonetheless is being presented to the planning committee tonight with a recommendation to grant permission.
Brick by Brick wants to squeeze in eight buildings next to a conservation area, concreting over green spaces, a kids’ playground and garages sited between existing social housing blocks around Albury Court, off Bramley Hill in South Croydon.
The proposals look remarkably similar to previous half-cock Brick by Brick projects near Kingsdown Avenue in Purley and on the Auckland Rise estate in Upper Norwood, where existing residents – who never wanted to lose their green spaces in the first place – have had their lives made a misery for more than three years by badly-managed developments and poor standards of workmanship, and where the building work is still not yet complete.
“Given Brick by Brick’s increasingly poor reputation for project management and delivery, the planning committee really should be deferring any schemes until the developers can provide proof that they are competent,” a Katharine Street source said today.
The concreting cult that is in charge of the cash-strapped council appears undaunted by Brick by Brick’s feeble track record, as they have put two of the company’s proposals on the agenda for tonight’s meeting. The second Brick by Brick scheme is for an equally ugly block of eight flats to be built adjacent to the gardens of existing private houses off Selsdon Road.
And for good measure, tonight’s committee is also recommended to green-light a four-storey block of 17 flats in overdevelopment hot-spot Higher Drive, Purley – submitted by Macar, the same profit-hungry development firm which has a director working for them who just happens to be married to a senior member of the council planning department.
Of course, no members of the public can attend or speak at tonight’s planning meeting, which is being staged “virtually”, away from the Town Hall because of covid-19.
It is thought that Pelling’s objection may be the first to submit that the impact of coronavirus, and the need for distancing and open space, needs to be factored into the planning process.
Pelling has written to the clerk of the committee, stating that the Croydon Local Plan, “does not yet benefit from revision to take account of covid-19 and relevant density.
Housing density, Pelling states, “can impact on health”.
He writes that, “Two residents have passed away on one staircase here from the illness and another vulnerable resident has also passed away.”
Pelling also suggests that not enough of the multi-storey blocks of flats are accessible for the disabled or those with mobility issues, as most lack lifts, as is a legal requirement for new-builds under the London Plan.
Another Labour councillor for Waddon, Joy Prince, is actually a member of the planning committee. But there’s an expectation she may be “unavoidably absent” this evening, thus avoiding the implicit – and illegal – political whipping of the Labour majority on the committee to push this latest BxB scheme through.
Since Brick by Brick was formed in 2015, not a single planning application from the council-owned company has been refused by the planning authority – the council.
The area near Albury Court, and along Bramley Hill south towards Purley on Pampisford Road, has already seen widescale “flat-ifcation”, with what was a tree-lined road of large residential homes transformed by block after block of mainly privately developed flats. Earlier this month, permission was granted for four houses to be demolished and replaced by no fewer than 66 flats.
Now – using public money borrowed from the council on what is publicly-owned land – Brick by Brick wants to get a slice of the lucrative action themselves: 41 of the homes proposed around Albury Court are intended for private sale or shared ownership.
Only 17 are earmarked for “affordable rent”. So much for the council’s specious justification that they have to push such schemes through to resolve the “housing crisis”.
With the public still forced to watch planning meetings remotely, MP Philp’s detailed objections include “inadequate opportunity for resident consultation”.
The MP has written to the council saying, “This is a very large development proposal and one which would normally attract much discussion between local residents. Clearly such discussions cannot currently take place and the application, with its 100 documents, should be deferred until the public health social distancing measures have been lifted and proper public scrutiny can take place.”
In his written objections, Philp has detailed several breaches of the Croydon Local Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework. He cites one paragraph from the Local Plan which the borough’s planning department drafted but has since forgotten: “The Council will support proposals for development that ensure that: a, The amenity of the occupiers of adjoining buildings are protected”.
The NPPF has several paragraphs which apply in this case, too.
Such as para 122: “Planning Policy and decisions should support development that makes efficient use of land that, taking into account … (d) the desirability of maintaining an area’s prevailing character and setting (including residential gardens)”.
And then there’s clause 127 (c): “Planning policies and decisions should ensure that developments … are sympathetic to local character and history, including the surrounding built environment and landscape setting”.
Philp, who has a business background in development, describes the scheme as “a significant overdevelopment” and criticises the “failure to respect the adjacent conservation area of The Waldrons”.
He also raises concerns about the “loss of open green spaces and amenity areas”, and “the impact of such a large development upon local infrastructure, eg. school places, GPs, drainage”.
Even the planning officer’s report states that, “It is fair to say that these spaces provide an open and pleasant outlook for existing residents living relatively close by.”
But the council planning officials want to wave the scheme through, with the by-now-familiar justification that the green space is somehow “surplus to requirements”.
The council planners, taking their lead from cabinet member Paul Scott, having failed to register all the borough’s open spaces, now use their own failure against the residents of the borough. The planners’ report states, “It is significant that the site has not been designated or recognised as an open space in the development plan.”
Even the Croydon Conservation Area Panel, which has an interest in the neighbouring Waldrons area, has lodged objections to the Brick by Brick scheme, describing it as “an over-development of the site and will give an overall appearance of cramped, overcrowded, poor-quality dwellings”.
They say, “Development… adjacent to a conservation area should be complementary to the existing properties and not compete with them. The mews houses in Site A have hardly any back gardens and are built far too close to the boundaries of the houses in The Waldrons.
“The mews houses need to be restricted in height to no more than two stories and have proper family-sized gardens. The same arguments apply even more to the taller corner block in Part A. The proposed metal roofs to the mews houses are of course totally out of character for the conservation area.”
The council’s response to the views of the conservation experts? “Officers are of the view that … public benefits would outweigh the harm caused to the Conservation Area and are satisfied that the approach adopted by the applicant in terms of design, heritage and townscape is sound and can be supported.”
So that’s alright then.
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