Kenley developer seeking an up-lift, but not in accessibility

EXCLUSIVE: Our Town Hall correspondent, KEN LEE,  has discovered a not-for-profit developer whose only aim, it appears from documents submitted to the planning department, is to benefit society – thought to be the first such case in Croydon since records began

Steps this way: developers have had a quick change of mind about the provision of a lift in their Kenley flats

Croydon Council’s planning department received a planning application in May 2020 from a company called Trinity Square Developments, seeking permission to demolish a bungalow at the bottom of Kenley Lane and replace it with a four-storey block of flats. Nine flats, as usual, to get around the rules about new developments of 10 or more units having to include affordable housing.

The original planning application offered no lift in the block for future residents, making flats on three of its floors inaccessible to potential residents who might be older, infirm or disabled.

Then, in January this year, Trinity Square had a change of mind and they amended their planning application and its accompanying drawings to include a lift, making all four storeys – including their three-bedroom flat on the top floor – fully accessible to future residents.

It did the trick. Nicola Townsend, Croydon Council’s head planner, wrote to Trinity Square on August 16 this year with the glad tidings that permission had been granted for their building, with its lift.  The development was to be called The Sycamores. Which is nice.

But Trinity Square must have had a change of mind, and quickly, too. On Monday, September 6, just 21 days after having been granted planning permission for their nine flats, with a lift, the developers submitted a fully-prepared set of papers for a “NMA”, a Non-Material Amendment.

As the name, “non-material”, suggests, NMAs are ordinarily just minor adjustments and tweaks to permitted plans. In this case, Trinity Square wanted to go ahead with the scheme, but without the lift that they had so carefully added to their paperwork a few months before.

Now some more cynically disposed individuals might suspect that the developers, or the council planners,  or perhaps both, were in some way trying to game the system here. Get the scheme passed through the planning committee, with a block of flats providing the accessible homes that are required, and then switch things round immediately afterwards and hope nobody notices.

Kenley blockage: four storeys and nine flats passed the planning committee, but with a scheme that included a lift

It is always worth reviewing NMAs for any contentious developments.

The Sycamores proposal is certainly contentious. The council has granted permission to cram a four-storey block of nine flats on to an awkward, tiny plot that sits between Kenley Railway Station and an electricity sub-station.

The purpose of the NMA is to remove the lift from the approved designs. Removing the lift would reduce the build costs (resulting in higher profits) and allows a few rooms to be enlarged (resulting in higher profits).

The developer states that including the lift makes the proposal unviable. The residents moving into these wonderful new apartments would face steepling maintenance charges, all because of the lift, Trinity Square’s NMA application claims.

To justify the removal of the lift the developer provides the project cost analysis with and without the lift.

Lifts should need little explanation. The Greater London Authority requires 90 per cent of new homes to be built to accessible and adaptable standards (known as building regulations M4 category 2*). With a lift, The Sycamores would meet that requirement. Without a lift, it would not.

Lifts obviously provide step-free access to the upper floors, an important consideration for the elderly, infirm, disabled or families with young children – whether they live in the flats or are simply visiting.

Removing The Sycamores’ lift would mean that a three-bedroom flat (known as “family accommodation”) located on the fourth floor would be accessible only via six flights of stairs. This would be very far from a “good design”. Normally the council is concerned to make sure that at least one family-sized flat in a block is either on the ground floor or has step-free access (that is, a lift is available to the upper floors).

The developers’  new application provides an analysis of who their likely customers will be, and even what these prospective buyers will be thinking.

“With the anticipated target market being commuters and couples with a focus on cost effectiveness, a passenger lift would not be a requirement of potential, purchasers nor would one be expected,” their consultant’s report states, apparently overlooking the expectations of the GLA.

As far as they are concerned, “There is no discernible advantage to leaseholders in having access to a passenger lift within the development.” Apart from the advantage of not having to traipse up and down as many as six flights of stairs.

The financial analysis of the two options, provided by the developer, can be summarised as follows:

With the lift, the profit and loss sheet shows a project loss of £35,000
Without the lift the profit and loss sheet shows a project profit of £241,000

So, with or without the lift, the project is broadly break even. It appears that this developer intends to provide this block of flats as a service to Kenley. Which is nice.

Next week we are publishing some startling evidence of the skies above Kenley airfield that show that climate change is affecting the migratory patterns of pigs.


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5 Responses to Kenley developer seeking an up-lift, but not in accessibility

  1. Projected profit of £241,000? Ha ha ha.
    That’s complete bullshit- I know, I’m in the same business.
    The problem in Croydon is not that planning officers turn a blind eye to these things. It’s worse. They routinely miss these things – in some parts of the world it’s known as malpractice.

  2. Surely they costed the project before submitting planning application?

    My understanding is that developers work on a basic plan of thirds. One third the land, one third the build and the final third profit. I don’t know if they have to allow for additional payments in Croydon,

    Most of the costings that developers submit to councils are found on investigation ( by the more responsible councils, so I suppose that excludes Croydon ) to be prepared to an agenda, and are not based on reality.

  3. Eve Tullett says:

    Most buyers are likely to be commuters and couples? Why would a couple want a three bedroom flat if they’re so focused on value for money? Absolute nonsense, and as usual these flats will be rented to people who have no choice but to accept they’ll be traipsing up and down six flights of stairs with their kids on a daily basis.

  4. A previous IC article (‘How Croydon’s planners have been giving a lift to developers’) demonstrates how Ms Cheesbrough’s planning officers, all of whom of course have ‘the highest personal integrity and professionalism’, have been recommending approval of similar schemes, without a lift, for years.
    https://insidecroydon.com/2020/03/11/how-croydons-planners-have-been-giving-a-lift-to-developers/

    Since 2016 (at least) the adopted development has required that 100% of new dwellings are at least M4(2) with 10% of them being M4(3). Since 2017 (at least) Croydon’s planners have regularly ignored that requirement and in doing so have failed to comply with the authority’s public sector equality duty.

    With regard to the developers claim regarding viability, according to the London Housing SPG (2016) “… Research indicates that the provision of lifts does not necessarily have a significant impact on viability and does not necessarily lead to a significant increase in service charges….” (2.3.9).

    Also, at the meeting on 1 July 2021 and with regard to a similar application (56 West Hill), Richard Freeman told the Planning Committee “… as the committee would know we are paying I think it’s probably fair to say more attention to accessibility based around the new London Plan and the fact that that’s got quite stringent standards in it and the fact that this is clearly is a key issue to the local committee and for local residents. Whereas in the past maybe…we would approve schemes like this which don’t have lifts in it, we wouldn’t do that now or we would need a very cogent or clear justification as to why we should approve a scheme without a lift. …”.

    Be interesting to see, just how much attention Ms Townsend gives to any the above this time around.

  5. Digging a little deeper, I see that the Officer Report to Committee (8.25) explained that “…Guidance 3.48A of the London Housing SPG (2016) requires step free access, i.e. a lift where a dwelling is accessed above or below the entrance storey and require boroughs to seek to ensure that dwellings accessed above or below the entrance storey in buildings of four storeys or less have step-free access”.

    Paragraph 8.27 goes on to say that “… The applicant … amended the proposals to incorporate a lift. …”. The Committee were ‘sold’ a policy compliant development, at least with regard to having a lift that would provide step free access to all floors,

    I now note however, that Condition 9 attached to the original permission (20/02074/FUL) reads ” All of the residential units at ground floor level within the development hereby approved shall be constructed and fitted out to comply with the Building Regulations 2010 (as amended) optional requirement M4(2) ‘accessible and adaptable’. …”

    As explained under Policy D7 of the London Plan 2021, “… M4(2) and M4(3) dwellings should be secured via planning condition …”. Paragraph 3.7.8 goes on to say that planning conditions should specify the number of dwellings which must comply with M4(2) or M4(3) standards.

    So in this case, only the 1-bedroom flat on the ground floor is specified in Condition 9 and even this would only have to be built to meet the lower, M4(2) requirements. There would therefore be no ‘planning’ need for the lift, and that’s (the only reason) why its omission could be deemed to be a ‘non-material amendment’.

    Because of the wording of the Condition, the dwellings on the upper floors would NOT in fact have to meet the requirements of M4(2) or M(3). The Committee were ‘conned’.

    Such appears to be real level of ‘personal integrity and professionalism’ of the officer(s) involved.

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