Developer digs in to keep planning consent for £500m tower

After already suffering a decade of development blight in the town centre because of the on-off-on-off-again aborted Westfield scheme, now a key site off Wellesley Road is about to be turned into a hole in the ground for an indefinite period, as a developer clings on to the planning permission for the tallest building ever proposed for this borough.

One Lansdowne: a landmark development, if it ever actually happens

Guildhouse Rosepride first revealed designs for a £350million, 55-storey skyscraper on Lansdowne Road as long ago as 2011.

Those plans included a 217-bedroom four-star-hotel, 397 residential apartments, and all the extra add-ons that will be familiar to those who have heard the hubristic ambitions of property speculators before: a café and a coffee shop, office space, a brasserie and a restaurant, and a gym and a health club.

With all those floors to fill, it was almost as if the developers had run out of ideas of what to use the space for.

A decade ago, David Hudson, the CEO of Guildhouse Rosepride, was telling anyone gullible enough to listen, “The proposals for One Lansdowne Road will complement the existing regeneration strategy for the Croydon town centre, working with the other schemes that are already underway, to transform the town.” Ahhh. Happy days.

Guildhouse Rosepride continued to issue a series of impressive-sounding announcements as they made no real progress with the project, such as in 2015 when they named China Building Technique Group Company as the primary contractor for the scheme, “to provide design and consultancy in engineering and construction for the half a billion pound new development, part of a massive regeneration scheme that aims to upgrade Croydon”.

In 2016, the future was bright… developer David Hudson (centre) at MIPIM in 2016 with the council’s Colm Lacey (left) and Jo Negrini

Get that? “Upgrade”. Nice. That must be one up from “transform”.

A year later, Hudson was handed the microphone to address an audience at MIPIM, the world’s biggest annual get-together of property speculators, where he wowed an audience gathered together by Develop Croydon with his vision for a “tech hub” in Croydon (remember when that was all the rage?).

Sitting alongside Hudson that day was Jo Negrini, at the time the borough’s development chief, and her colleague, Colm Lacey. Whatever happened to them?

It was 2017 when Hudson and his company came back with much-revised plans and were granted planning permission by developer-friendly Croydon Council for an even bigger scheme. It is that planning permission which Hudson and his company are so keen to preserve.

Now called One Lansdowne, the approved project comprises two sky-high towers, one of 68 storeys and 228 metres tall, the other a “mere” 41 storeys high. In 2017, the project was priced at £500million.

Some of the more fanciful parts of the initial designs, including a glass-bottomed swimming pool suspended hundreds of feet in the air between the two towers, had already been abandoned.

Work was supposed to begin in 2018. But it soon emerged that the developers did not have the funds to press ahead with the development. And this week, one senior Croydon councillor has dismissed the property speculators’ pie-in-the-sky proposals: “It will never happen.”

In 2016,  these were the big, multi-million-pound schemes proposed for ‘ambitious’ Croydon’s ‘Growth Zone’. Five years on, few have materialised as originally promised

Even the developers have admitted that the reason they are going ahead with demolition work at 1-5 Lansdowne Road and at Voyager House, at 30-32 Wellesley Road, is to fulfil a legal requirement in order to retain the valuable planning permission for the site.

This week Hudson was quoted as saying, “We have to [start work] before [the planning approval] expires and we plan on doing that.”

Planning approval was set to expire in November 2020, but because of coronavirus, the government has extended all approvals until April 2021.

Hudson said that they would be making significant changes to their permitted scheme, to reflect the changes in the property market, with the collapse of high street retail and the post-covid drop in demand for office space.

In 2015, Hudson (right) demonstrated that he knew where Lansdowne Road is when announcing that a Chinese firm would build their tower

“Who knows what the market is going to be like?” Hudson said. “Particularly with regards to office space.”

As well as 794 flats, the 2017-approved mixed-use plans for the skyscrapers included 300,000 sqm of office space. “It is very likely that we will reduce the office content,” Hudson said.

“We will have to wait and see how the world settles down after covid but I think there are bound to be changes. Employers are likely to reduce their requirements.”

Hudson claimed that “there is still a lot of interest in the scheme”, but like other developers, he expressed frustration over delays in his company’s dealings with the planning department at the cash-strapped, covid-hit council.

Other developments around the town centre have been modified significantly and different planning permissions sought – or apparently abandoned altogether, as in the case of the £1.4billion proposed retail, residential and office redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre and Centrale.

Other much-altered projects include the Menta Tower at East Croydon, which was originally to have been a 55-storey skyscraper, but is under development on the same site as two 25-floor residential blocks, with 338 flats.

Croydon’s tallest building currently is at 101 George Street and Saffron Square, which are both 44 floors; George Street is 135.6 metres tall, Saffron Square 134 metres. The “50p Building” – 1, Croydon, to give it its formal title, opposite East Croydon Station – had been Croydon’s tallest building until 2009, at 82 metres.

The likely scaling down of ambitions for One Lansdowne are likely to be squirm-making for the developers, who in November 2017 released this promotional video with inflated claims, calling the proposed building the “most iconic” in Croydon, and saying it is just 15 minutes from Gatwick Airport – an essential detail for all those sheikhs, Russian oligarchs and Chinese billionaires whose money they were seeking to attract at conferences such as MIPIM.

As far as Labour councillor Sean Fitzsimons is concerned, One Lansdowne “will never happen”.

“Guildhouse have been promising a tall building on this Croydon site since 2010,” Fitzsimons, the chair of the council’s scrutiny committee, tweeted this week.

“Menta proposed a similar building of 55 storeys at East Croydon in 2009. Ten years later they are building two lots of 25-storey towers on the same site, with the same number of flats.

“Finances for skyscrapers don’t stack up for anything above 30 floors unless it’s modular.

“Skyscrapers have a very long build period before money comes in sales. Up to five years if using traditional concrete frames. So financial borrowing costs are prohibitive unless profit margins are high, which they are not in Croydon.”

Which is a long way from the “ambitious for Croydon” cobblers that Fitzsimons and his mates on the council such as Tony Newman and Paul Scott have been spouting for the past six years… Heyho.

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4 Responses to Developer digs in to keep planning consent for £500m tower

  1. M Leigh says:

    It’s disgraceful that any council would even contemplate giving planning permission to such an eyesore. Having Saffron Square as a blot on the landscape is bad enough. Fingers crossed plans for this tasteless folly will be completely thrown out of the window! As a mecca for Modernist architecture fans, Croydon needs more architectural gems – not this tacky, second-rate, high rise bling!

    • moyagordon says:

      As tall buildings go I think Saffron Square is quite stylish, with its quirky shape and the use of coloured glass and it doesn’t seem excessively high in its location. Just saying, like.

      • davidmogo says:

        I have to agree moyagordan, I am a fan of the saffron square architecture. Always a hot debate between my mother and myself. She really doesn’t like it!   I’m guessing it’s like Marmite.

  2. Lewis White says:

    I want to see all the other new tall buildings fully occupied before anything else big goes ahead.

    If it is to lie dormant for a decade, it could be laid down to become a space for wildflowers and insects to give Croydon something worthwhile. I hope it does not get tarmacked over as a car park–which would of course— need a new planning permission.

    It will be interesting to see what the developer does as a “material start” before the last grains of sand in the hourglass runs into the bottom half of the Planning approval container.

    Looking at the artist photo impression, the applied squiggle shapes are markedly different from the stick-on violin shape I saw some years ago, or the stylised top bit of a prow of a Venetian gondola shown in the 2015 photo .

    I wonder if they are a rapid escape chute for residents in case of fire ?

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