City Hall has ruled that a developers’ scheme to demolish a previously thriving East Croydon pub and turn the site into (yet another) block of flats does not meet local planning regulations. But Croydon’s own planning department looks ready to cave-in to the demands of the developers.
The Greater London Authority published its report on the proposals for the site of the Glamorgan pub on Cherry Orchard Road earlier this month. The scheme for an 11-storey block of 36 flays, with a small area for a “pub” on the ground floor, had been submitted last year by Butlers Walsall Ltd and their architects Buckmaster Batcup.
Residents keen to save the Glamorgan, backed by their Labour ward councillors, had previously won ACV status – Asset of Community Value – which offers some protection from redevelopment and should effectively give local groups first refusal to purchase the property.
The GLA report says that the proposal from the building’s present owners would need to provide “justification of a loss of existing public house and new provision would be adequate to fulfil its social role”, that the site is “not suitable for tall buildings, so evidence needed to support proposed size”.
The GLA also said that the proposals needed a “character and heritage statement, a fire statement and clarifications on inclusive design needed”.
And there remains serious question marks over the amount of affordable housing to be provided by the proposed scheme.
The developers think that by proposing a limited amount of ground floor space for use as a pub, they would get round Croydon Council’s pub protection policy.
And they could be right. A council planning officer has written to the Addiscombe West councillors to say, “As the pub use would not be lost, there is no ‘in principle’ objection to its replacement with a new building containing a pub.
“However, the proposed replacement needs to be fully assessed to ensure that it would be viable and that the proposal does not result in an unviable reduction in pub floorspace or amenities.”
Plans for other closed pubs in the borough, which offered meagre, tokenistic replacement pub space, have been refused on the grounds that tiny pub could not operate as a viable business.
With The Glamorgan, the developers’ cunning plan appears to have found a huge loophole in council’s pub protection policy.
According to the planner’s letter to the councillors, “In policy terms, the pub protection policy only requires marketing to be undertaking [sic] if the pub use is proposed to be lost. As the pub is not proposed to be lost, it is not applicable for this application.
“In addition, as the pub use is proposed to be replaced as part of the proposal, there is no requirement for the landowner to bring the pub back into a fit and habitable state.”
So while the GLA ruling will pause the developers for a while, the council’s planning department’s judgement – on a policy of their own devising – could be a huge set-back for The Glamorgan and other pubs in the borough under threat of redevelopment.
“It is disappointing that planning policy doesn’t allow the council to compel the owner of The Glamorgan public house to bring it back into a fit and habitable state,” said Sean Fitzsimons, part of the council’s Labour administration which has had nearly seven years to put together a coherent policy in this area.
Fitzsimons accuses the developers of deliberately neglecting the building, allowing it to deteriorate since it closed – making it less easy for a residents group to be able to afford the repairs bill on top of the purchase price.
Fitzsimons said in an announcement to residents this week, “Reading the GLA paper, it is clear that the developers, Butler Walsall Ltd, need to provide much more information or a much improved public house proposal to meet the requirements of both the GLA and Croydon Council.”
Fitzsimons said, “As local councillors we are also concerned about the proposed height of this development. This is out of context for this part of Cross Road and Cherry Orchard Road, where the prevailing height of buildings is two storeys. As local councillors we are not opposed to tall buildings per se, but this site is too far from the town centre for a 11-storey block, as the adjoining buidings are only two-storey in height.”
The reality, of course, is that The Glamorgan is in an area alongside the railway tracks which already has several multi-storey residential tower blocks. And as Fitzsimons is fond of lecturing residents in the borough who express concern when suburban semis are demolished to make way for blocks of flats in their neighbourhoods, there is a housing crisis…
Given the recent ruling from Whitehall, which gave a green light to a 17-storey tower in Purley, where existing buildings are much more modest, Fitzsimons and his colleagues objection on height grounds looks less than robust.
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