CROYDON IN CRISIS: The council this week set light to a ‘bonfire of the vanities’, abandoning planning applications on 477 homes around the borough in development proposals by their failed house builders.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon Council has dumped the last remaining building schemes proposed by Brick by Brick, with the withdrawal of planning applications for 23 sites, all of which had been recommended to be granted permission two years ago.
A total of 477 housing units across the two dozen sites had their planning applications formally withdrawn this week.
It is the ultimate bonfire of the vanities for the likes of Jo Negrini and Colm Lacey, the former council officials who oversaw the house-building disaster, and of local Labour politicians Alison Butler and Paul Scott, who schemed and bullied the project through, enabling the funnelling of hundreds of millions of pounds of public money into the ill-managed and unchecked Brick by Brick.
In the end, it all led to the bankrupting of the borough, and to Labour’s loss of control of the council at last month’s local elections.
From its formation in 2015, Brick by Brick received around £200million in loans from Croydon Council, but never made a profit and never repaid a penny of its loans or interest to the council before the Town Hall was forced to issue its Section 114 notice 18 months ago. Following the council’s financial collapse in 2020, Brick by Brick is being wound down as a business, existing projects being completed and what’s left of its expensively acquired assets sold off, mostly at a loss.
The abandonment of these final 23 development projects will cost Brick by Brick at least £30million in lost capital value, according to a conservative estimate by an experienced property consultant.
Millions more of public money will also have been wasted by the company when it worked up the schemes and commissioned architects, while the council will have incurred significant costs in handling the applications through its planning department.
The cancellation of these 477 properties – many of which will have been intended for private sale – follows Inside Croydon’s report earlier this week that more than 200 Brick by Brick homes are standing unoccupied, despite having been finished months, even years, ago.
The withdrawal of the planning applications for the 23 further sites has been done on the quiet. Neither the council nor its failed house-builders, Brick by Brick, have made any public statement on the move, as one-by-one the schemes listed on Croydon’s planning portal were quietly updated to “Status: Application withdrawn”.
The schemes include some of the most controversial and contentious proposals submitted by Brick by Brick.
Almost without exception, they were all being imposed on communities despite strong opposition from existing residents concerned about over-intensification and other issues, including the destruction of open space and the threat to endangered wildlife habitats.
Among the schemes withdrawn this week, some had been granted planning permission in 2020, in the middle of the covid lockdown and in the final days of Negrini’s time as the council’s chief executive – as if there was a concerted attempt to push the schemes through before anyone pulled the plug while her and Lacey’s little housing “empire” was collapsing around them.
When Brick by Brick brought forward its last wave of two dozen schemes in early 2020, with what was described at the time as “some desperate-looking urgency”, residents suspected that the covid emergency was being used to avoid anything resembling proper scrutiny.
In one quasi-consultation, residents in Bramley Hill were told bluntly: “We acknowledge that development is not always popular with local people, however, with an ongoing housing crisis and the need for more homes of all tenures across the borough, it is essential.”
They’ve all turned out to be profoundly unbuilt and extremely costly.
Phelps and her boss, the incompetent BxB CEO Lacey, had used public loans to pay top-dollar to some of London’s most fashionable firms of architects for them to draft the plans for what they described as “challenging sites”.
The architects engaged included Hayhurst, Gort Scott, Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, Mary Duggan Architects, Archio, Denizen Works, RUFFarchitects and Threefold Architects, as well as Pitman Tozer, Stitch Architects and Mae, firms who were responsible for Brick by Brick’s first wave of buildings.
Among the sites withdrawn from the planning process this week was Brick by Brick’s plan to build on open space and grass verges close to the entrance to the Hutchinson’s Bank nature reserve in New Addington.
Despite the site being adjacent to a Special Site of Scientific Interest and the home to at least three endangered species of butterfly, plus badgers and bats, the planning application submitted by Brick by Brick had official statements which claimed that there was no wildlife habitat on the site.
The Hutchinson’s Bank site was one of eight in New Addington granted planning permission but which have now all been dropped.
Other controversial schemes that are now abandoned include a block of nine flats to have been built on “amenity space” – green space – on Covington Way in Norbury,
And the massive intensification of in-fill sites in and around Albury Court and Bramley Hill in Waddon, where Brick by Brick wanted to concrete over small patches of public green space and squeeze eight new buildings on seven plots in between existing housing, have also been dropped.
The axing of this last tranche of Brick by Brick schemes only came to light thanks to some dogged and persistent research work by members of local residents’ associations.
The abandonments signal an admission by the current directors of Brick by Brick – who were appointed after the council’s financial collapse to conduct the winding down of the business – that they cannot find any established developers willing to buy the sites, even with planning permission, to carry out the schemes profitably.
Today, one resident who has been following the whole unhappy saga from the start told Inside Croydon, “The whole premise of Brick by Brick was based on conceit and arrogance that Lacey and Negrini shared with Paul Scott and Alison Butler – that these development novices could somehow successfully develop high-cost, difficult in-fill sites, on parcels of council-owned land in often awkward spots, sometimes close to existing buildings, sites which expert and professional developers would not touch with a barge pole.
“The reason that real developers wouldn’t even look at such sites is because they know enough to realise that there would be little, if no return on building there.
“This was the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ with Brick by Brick, and for five years those who called out the Labour council over the folly of their position were mocked, dismissed, or worse by the council and Negrini’s mates among London’s architects or pals at the MIPIM property speculators’ booze-up.
“This week’s abandonment of the two dozen schemes proves that Negrini and Lacey, Scott and Butler really were wrong all along, and their little ego trip will have cost Croydon close to £100million.”
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