Our housing correspondent, BARRATT HOLMES, on the latest turn of the revolving door between the council and commercial firms it hires
Colm Lacey, the man who single-handedly probably did more to bankrupt Croydon Council than anyone, has landed himself a new job – with one of the swanky north London architects firms he’d lavished huge amounts of public money on when he was in charge of Brick by Brick.
Lacey, the sometime council official who was made managing director of Brick by Brick by Jo “Negreedy” Negrini in 2016, was allowed to work out his notice at the loss-making builders who under his leadership borrowed £200million from the council but, by October 2020, had failed to repay a penny of their loans or pay off any interest. Brick by Brick was cited in the council’s Section 114 notice as a principal cause of the council being unable to balance its budget.
Brick by Brick may yet go down in the annals of the British property business as the only housing company to fail to make a profit even after it bought some sites to develop for as little as £1 each.
And Lacey might still have to answer questions in the fraud review that is looking into how Brick by Brick turned the £30million refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls into a £67million fiasco.
Unconcerned by this crash-and-burn CV, Coffey Associates, a small-ish architects firm based in Clerkenwell, announced last week that they are prepared to pay Lacey to lead their “public housing and urban research function” as a senior consultant, for three days a week.
Lacey’s appointment is the latest example of the revolving door that operates between senior local authority officials and some of the companies who benefit from juicy civic contracts when they are in charge.
In December, Inside Croydon reported how Negrini, the former council CEO who walked away with a £440,000 pay-out, had landed a juicy “consultancy” of her own from Arup, one of the firms she used to pay when running the council.
None of which, of course, is necessarily illegal in any way. It’s just a too-close, cosy relationship between public and private sectors that has more than a whiff about it.
According to a typically arslikhan hagiography published by the ever-fawning Architects Journal over the weekend, when Lacey was squandering millions of pounds of public cash, there were “a clutch of Coffey Architects’ designs” delivered for Brick by Brick.
In fact, the “clutch” was… two.
Coffey’s very similar-looking, box-like designs have appeared on the site of some former garages at Warbank Crescent in New Addington, while council tenants in prefabs on Oxford Road, Upper Norwood, were evicted to make way for nine private houses to be built there.
At Warbank Crescent, according to the Coffey Associates website, in their designing of the homes, the architects invented something they call a “wall”.
“A deep ‘wall’ to the front creates a threshold between inside and outside,” they say.
“This ‘wall’ also practically provides storage cupboards, seats and planters, creating a inviting, tidy area at the front of the homes.” Who’d have thunk it, eh? Sheer bloody genius.
Phil Coffey, the company founder, said of Lacey in a statement on his firm’s website, “I have known Colm for over 10 years and long admired his commitment to responsible housing development and considered urbanism.”
Try not to laugh too much as you read this garbage: “Colm’s long-standing development expertise and positivity perfectly match our own desire to design and deliver high-quality housing and regeneration schemes across the UK. We are absolutely delighted to add his experience and knowledge to our team.”
For his part, the shameless Lacey is supposed to have said, “I’m very much looking forward to working with Coffey as they expand their work programme in multiple areas.
“As a client I really enjoyed working with Phil and the team and was impressed with the thoroughness of their approach and quality of their output. I’m particularly excited about leading the work of the team on public housing and urban research/development at a time when cities are adapting to seismic shifts in land use patterns and urban economics.”
Lacey joins Coffey Associates just as they move to new offices in King’s Cross, which will include a coffee shop. Perhaps it will be behind the counter there that they will discover where Lacey’s true abilities lie: in doing the washing up. Just don’t leave him in charge of the till…
Read more: Lacey to be removed from board of mismanaged Brick by Brick
Read more:Brick by Brick has paid nothing to council
Read more: ‘An accountant could have foreseen this more than a year ago’
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at email@example.com
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- Inside Croydon: 3.3million page views in 2021. Seen by 1.6million unique visitors in that 12-month period