CROYDON IN CRISIS: Earlier this month council figures offered to let residents have the publicly-owned community space at Warbank Crescent – provided they coughed up £180,000 to Brick by Brick.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Never let it be said that council leader Hamida Ali doesn’t have the best interests of the people she serves at heart.
Take, for example, a meeting that she has scheduled for this afternoon with the much-stressed residents of Warbank Crescent in New Addington.
Due to begin at 5pm, expected to attend are Sarah Jones, the Labour MP for Croydon Central, plus council cabinet member for homes, Patricia Hay-Justice, and high-ranking council officials Sarah Hayward, Saheed Ullah and Sharon Murphy.
But yesterday, just before 7pm, Councillor Ali was writing to all involved suggesting that the meeting should be brought forward by an hour. “I’m conscious… that we agreed a 5pm start tomorrow – and then realised very late that residents might want to watch the England match tomorrow evening which also starts at 5pm.”
How thoughtful of the council leader!
Now all she has to fix for the meeting is to replace the seating that had been organised by residents in the community space for the purpose, and which council officers and builders, accompanied by the police, yesterday removed, damaged or destroyed ahead of starting development works on behalf of Brick by Brick.
Ali’s shocked response to the use of police in support of council officers against residents in New Addington yesterday is another sign that the council leader might be in power at the Town Hall, but she and her Labour colleagues are certainly not in charge of what’s going on in Fisher’s Folly. Nor in Brick by Brick’s £1million offices on George Street.
Today’s meeting was agreed a fortnight ago, after a previous discussion over the long-contested fate of a community space which the council-owned developers want to turn into a three-bay car park for electric vehicles.
It was then that a £180,000 “buy-back” figure for the community space was suggested, a figure seemingly plucked out of the air by council officials to “compensate” Brick by Brick for the cost of installing cabling and electric charge points – something which has never actually been done.
As has been typical of so many of the badly brokered land deals between the council and their in-house, loss-making developers Brick by Brick, the ownership of this site remains contested.
There is serious doubt about whether the Warbank Crescent community space was ever the council’s to dispose of anyway.
In an email from MP Jones’s office, sent earlier this month and seen by Inside Croydon, the New Addington residents were told, “139 Warbank tenancy agreement – as you might know the tenancy agreements for those downstairs in the block explicitly say the garden is theirs.
“With that in mind I am requesting a copy of the tenancy agreement for 139 so we can see if the communal area is described in it.
“As I think this gives us clear indication that Brick by Brick and the council can’t take away the land.”
Perhaps just as extraordinary is that the saga of Warbank Crescent has been going on since 2016, when residents were assured then by their ward councillor, Louisa Woodley, that the community space would never be used for development.
Brick by Brick’s Warbank Crescent scheme is typical of much of their work: squeezing 36 one- and two-bedroom flats and maisonettes (only 20 of which are for affordable rent) into space between existing homes, regardless of the interests of existing residents, many of whom are council tenants. Construction there is still not complete, even though BxB and their contractors have been on the site for most of the last five years.
Councillor Woodley was present againn at the meeting held at the community space in Warbank Crescent earlier this month, although she turned up – as she often does – late.
That latest meeting, on June 15, was held under difficult circumstances. Builders working on the neighbouring Brick by Brick site were asked by a councillor to stop work so that the meeting could take place. The builders continued with their noisy power tools, making it almost impossible for the MP, council leader and other attendees to hear what one another were saying.
Over the noise of machinery, Hamida Ali told the meeting that she had intervened with building contractors Buxton to delay their expected start date on site at the community space. Yesterday’s fraught interventions showed that that appeal had been ignored.
While Jones informed the meeting that part of the work to create the electrical charging points had already been done, her aide said that she had spoken to the site foreman who admitted that the preparatory work had not in fact been done.
The Brick by Brick car ports have had implications not only for the community space, but also for the residents’ bin storage, too, and for access by the council’s waste contractors. Any reconfiguration of the BxB plans, the meeting was told, would take time and cost money – with the MP mentioning the £180,000 figure. This,apparently, is a bit of a bargain. Brick by Brick had originally suggested £250,000.
Residents at that meeting were increasingly angry, despite offers that the council would look at other options to make a new communal space, and an admission of sorts that the situation had been of the council’s own making.
When Jones and the councillors were asked who had signed off on the arrangement to hand the community space to Brick by Brick, no one was able to provide an answer.
It might be interesting if questions around the accountability of Brick by Brick and their contractors are asked again at today’s meeting. Because the loss-making builders certainly don’t appear to take any notice of the council leader.
In her email to Warbank Crescent residents last night, Hamida Ali wrote, “I made sure that we agreed with Brick by Brick by Friday of last week that the community square wouldn’t be affected until after we had our meeting tomorrow.
“So I was shocked to hear from Sarah [Jones] this morning that Buxton had arrived to start their work, accompanied by the police.
“I raised this immediately with one of Brick by Brick’s directors who explained that the contractors didn’t receive the instruction from Brick by Brick in time – and that they would instruct Buxton again to stand down…”.
“Given everything that residents have experienced, this was neither our intention let alone our understanding of what would happen – for which I can only apologise.”
In power, but not in control…
Read more: Homes England called in to check Brick by Brick sale value
Read more: Brick by Brick to get second £10m loan to avoid going bust
Read more: New Addington residents call for halt on Brick by Brick plans
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