Brick by Brick is locked in another legal dispute with one of its building contractors, this time over unfinished works at Auckland Rise in Upper Norwood.
Croydon Council’s wholly-owned, loss-making developer is building seven blocks on what were open spaces and garages positioned between Auckland Rise’s 1960s-built, architect-designed social housing flats. The new blocks, between three and four storeys tall, are supposed to provide 29 two-bedroom and 28-one bed flats.
Some of the new-build blocks come very close to the existing homes, much to the distress of long-standing residents.
Work on this flagship Brick by Brick development, which was supposed to show how the housing crisis could be resolved by utilising council-owned property on often small “in-fill” sites, started in December 2017. It was supposed to be all completed within 18 months.
Now residents fear that they could face a fourth Christmas with their once attractive estate still operating as a building site.
According to correspondence from contractors Quinn London Limited sent last month to the long-suffering residents, and which has been seen by Inside Croydon, the builders are in dispute with Brick by Brick and unable to answer any questions about when the work there might be finished.
This is not the first time that the rookie developers at Brick by Brick have managed to fall out with the experienced contractors they have hired.
Mott Macdonald, the global civil engineering firm, walked out of the Fairfield Halls refurbishment midway through that project.
And earlier this year, as exclusively revealed by Inside Croydon, Vinci Construction was in urgent talks with BxB in a dispute over £9million in payments for the work that they conducted in Croydon between 2017 and late 2019.
There have been other anecdotal accounts of individual site managers, assigned by Brick by Brick, who have left their projects around the borough abruptly and unannounced.
Now, sources in the building industry are suggesting that the council-owned company is finding it increasingly difficult to find established building firms that will undertake work for them.
There is also disquiet that not all Brick by Brick’s developments are complying fully with the conditions that were laid down when the scheme was submitted for planning permission. With Brick by Brick’s owners, Croydon Council, also being in charge of planning enforcement in the borough, the suggestion is that BxB builds are being given an easy ride and not being forced to deliver on some of the important environmental commitments that are listed on the planning portal.
Brick by Brick was the brainchild of the council’s now ex-CEO, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini. It was formed by Croydon Council in 2015, and using £260million borrowed from the Labour-run local authority they were supposed to deliver new homes and some profits, which were to go towards the running of the council’s services.
By the end of 2019, Brick by Brick had managed to deliver just three one-bed council flats and no profits to its sole shareholder, Croydon Council. Meanwhile, this year the cash-strapped council has borrowed a further £36million in order to buy up flats which Brick by Brick has been unable to sell as “shared ownership” homes.
Auckland Rise was one of the first schemes Brick by Brick put forward to the local planning authority – their owners, Croydon Council – seeking planning permission.
Residents report that there has been little activity from the handful of workmen remaining on the site for months now – including in recent weeks when coronavirus lockdown restrictions have been lifted. Visits to the site show that there remains a considerable amount of landscaping work to be completed.
“Where the site office is now used to be a pleasant grass area before the development started,” one resident said.
“It has been in this state since the beginning of the year. The new blocks of flats remain mostly unoccupied. What is supposed to be a community garden area is unfinished, although some sporadic work has been going on for months.
“In January or February, the original play area was demolished, but the new area has been fenced off since then. New trees and shrubs that were planted have subsequently died because they were not watered.
“There’s a public right of way, but the footpath has been closed, forcing pedestrians to walk in the road.
“The original site manager left over a year ago. He thought the whole development was a joke and difficult to deliver. Since he went, I do not know anyone working there.”
In January this year, after Christmas on the estate had been disrupted by unannounced building works, the three Labour councillors for Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood ward demanded apologies and compensation for the manner in which existing residents had been treated.
Of the 57 homes being built on Auckland Rise on public land and using public finance, 38 are intended for private sale. The other 19 were intended for unaffordable “affordable” shared ownership, but Brick by Brick has made a balls-up of that, too…
What should be of further concern, given Brick by Brick’s questionable record, is that the council planners continue to grant permission to their schemes. Last week, a multi-site infill scheme at Bramley Hill – using public green spaces and garages, very similar to Auckland Rise – was granted planning permission, with no questions raised by councillors on the committee about Brick by Brick’s lack of capability or competence to deliver such a complicated project.
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