A charity is threatening legal action against the council if they try to sell-off their ‘village hall’ without providing replacement facilities. Our south of the borough correspondent, PEARL LEE, reports
As Croydon Council tries to crawl from the wreckage created when Brick by Brick crashed the Town Hall’s finances, they are quickly discovering that implementing their recovery plan will be far from straightforward, if the situation in Coulsdon is anything to go by.
A community leader has this week suggested that it is “unlikely those responsible have thought through properly” plans to flog off council-owned sites in Coulsdon.
Three council-owned sites around Coulsdon town centre – the Lion Green Road car park, the CALAT Centre on Malcolm Road and the community centre on Barrie Close – have been subject to five years of dither and uncertainty. Their redevelopment by Brick by Brick was supposed to be interdependent.
But the entanglement of the sites proved to be well beyond those in charge of the bungling loss-making developers.
In an “asset disposal” plan agreed last week, the council wants Brick by Brick to cash-in on the soon-to-be-finished flats on Lion Green Road while they intend to flog off the two other development sites to help plug the gaping hole in the council’s budgets.
In many respects, the lengthy delays and failure to deliver on the three Coulsdon sites provides a case study of how the Brick by Brick clusterfuck brought down the council.
For a start, Brick by Brick are almost two years late in completing the Lion Green Road flats. After some resident consultation, planning applications for five “stunning” (their choice of word, not ours) blocks of flats on Lion Green Road were submitted in 2017.
The 157 flats would mostly go for private sale. Estimated sale value to Brick by Brick, and therefore the council, around £30million.
While all that was going on, the community was promised a new centre where the CALAT building now stands, together with a shiny new health centre, while on Barrie Close, off the Chipstead Valley Road, there was to be another 33 money-spinning flats. The interlinked projects saw Brick by Brick and their architect mates even win awards from the Architects Journal for “Master Plan of the Year”. We kid you not.
But that was back in 2018.
To this day, all the people of Coulsdon have got is the award-winning “plan”, while the Council Tax-payers of Croydon have been picking up the architects’ and consultants’ bills.
The whole inter-woven project was supposed to have been completed by May 2020.
Come February 2021, and the Lion Green Road flats have still not been finished. There’s not been any construction work done on the CALAT or community centre sites at all. In the past week, Brick by Brick have erased all mention of the Barrie Close project from their website.
“It’s bonkers,” according to one angry Coulsdon resident.
“They must have spent tens, if not hundreds of thousands in consultancy and design work with Pitman Tozer architects, all of which is down the drain.”
The inter-connected schemes quickly ran into difficulties, not least because the NHS proved less-than-interested in funding any running costs of a new health centre, citing “other priorities” in the area. Without an alternative site into which to decant the 30-plus groups who regularly make good use of the community centre, the whole project stalled. Not for the first time, the brains behind Brick by Brick were stumped.
Now, after the council published its asset disposal plan last week, which named Barrie Close and Malcolm Road as sites for sale to other developers, the various community groups which use the 1930s-built community centre are promising to “fight tooth and nail any attempt to deprive Coulsdon of its community hub, including through the courts if that proves necessary”.
In normal times, the centre functions as Coulsdon’s village hall. It is a vibrant centre which plays host to approximately 60,000 individual user visits each year, as well as providing 3,500 separate classes, meetings, events, parties and performances per annum.
The community centre is a financially successful social enterprise and registered charity, which returns a healthy annual surplus that is reinvested in the facilities for the benefit of its users and the wider community. It has been home for the past 50 years to Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, as well as providing a place of worship for three churches, plus a pre-school which in more normal times operates on five days a week for a large number of local children.
The council papers last week referred to the joint planning permission across the two sites. The CALAT building and Barrie Close were linked, “… so both assets need to be sold together to allow relocation of Community Centre”.
But after five years of being “messed around” by Brick by Brick over the redevelopment, Coulsdon locals are wary of what deals the cash-strapped council might be forced into making.
In a letter to centre users sent at the weekend, the association’s chair, Richard Lloyd, wrote, “You may have seen in the local news that Croydon Council, having run its finances into the ground (£1.5billion debt) through mismanagement has now started to wind up Brick by Brick – its loss-making, arms-length development company.
“The £2.5million scheme to refurbish and extend the ex-CALAT site in Malcolm Road, to provide a new home for Coulsdon Community Centre, therefore appears defunct – although no one has communicated that to us officially yet.
“The latest news is that the council is suggesting that both our current site, and the Malcolm Road site, will be put up for sale for development. Please don’t panic!
“We have more than five years remaining on our current legally binding lease contract, under which the council has an obligation to provide like-for-like replacement of facilities, should it seek to terminate the lease early.
“Given that the council seems to recognise this obligation, but is now saying they intend to dispose of both the CALAT and the existing Coulsdon Community Centre sites, it will be interesting to see what their proposals are, to provide an adequate like-for-like replacement in the area, enjoying all the space and amenities the centre and its users currently benefit from.
“We’re working with our local councillors to try to get clarification on the council’s intentions.
“We think it’s unlikely those responsible have thought this through properly.
“We will, of course, fight tooth and nail any attempt to deprive Coulsdon of its community hub, including through the courts if that proves necessary.”
As a source close to Lloyd told Inside Croydon today, “As they’re selling off the old CALAT Centre on Malcolm Road that was originally intended to be the new home for the centre, they, and we, have got nowhere to go.
“They’ve messed about with us for five years, negotiating a move that as a plan started to smell rotten two years ago. We held back on development and repairs of the existing building because we were going to be demolished in just a few months’ time, with dates which just kept sliding further and further away.
“We’re in no damn mood for more idiocy and being penalised for somebody else’s mismanagement.”
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