Brick by Brick’s South Norwood library on the market for retail

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Fancy renting a public building? One less-than-careful owner. Going cheap-ish. Only a slight pong from leaking sewage and a risk of falling bricks… EXCLUSIVE by BARRATT HOLMES, housing correspondent

All pimped out: South Norwood’s long-delayed library building represents another Brick by Brick fail

Croydon Council has placed its new-ish, Brick by Brick-built library building opposite Norwood Junction station on the market to be rented out as a commercial space.

The building – Pimp House – is currently under a safety notice from the council, having been declared a “dangerous structure” after brickwork fell from the upper floors during storms earlier this year, causing considerable damage to a car parked on the road below.

Stiles Harold Williams, one of Croydon’s biggest estate agents, is now marketing Pimp House’s ground floor space as “prime retail unit to let”.

The move represents something of a reprieve for the existing, “brutalist” South Norwood Library building just a short walk away, which the council’s previous Labour administration had intended to vacate and re-purpose.

Supporters of the local “save our library” campaign told Inside Croydon today that they were unaware of any decision over the future of their cherished building, nor its supposed replacement. Coincidentally, the (not-so) old library building, which opened in 1968, is featured in the latest edition of The Modernist magazine.

Celebrated: the (not-so_ old South Norwood Library in the latest edition of The Modernist magazine

But the abandonment of the new library is just the latest in a series of failures by Brick by Brick, the council-owned housing company.

None of the residents in the flats above what was intended to be a library have been advised of this potentially significant change of use.

The development of what had been a plot of waste ground opposite the busy railway station was plagued with problems from the moment the project was handed to the blundering hands of Brick by Brick.

Among the company’s first projects from its formation in 2015, the Pimp House build was never properly completed, and by late 2020, when the council’s finances had collapsed, they could not afford the estimated £1million cost of fitting out the purpose-built library space.

There also remained serious issues with leaking sewage piping on the site.

Having bought the site for £500,000 in 2013, Croydon Council sold it to Brick by Brick for just £1. All the profits from the development, the public were told by the council’s leaders, would be returned to the council to pay for council homes and services.

Off-loaded: how the SWH estate agents’ website is marketing the library space for rent

Trouble was, no one factored in the serial incompetence at Brick by Brick.

What Brick by Brick decided to call “Pump House” (because of its non-existent associations with the pumping station off Surrey Street, miles away in Croydon town centre), came with 14 one- and two-bed flats perched on top of the library.

There was to be no social housing.

The 14 flats, all available for sale with Help to Buy, were priced at a cool £295,000 upwards. That would suggest total market value of a little more than £4million. Trouble is, the construction costs were at least £3.8million.

Even today, there is uncertainty over whether Brick by Brick ever managed to sell all 14 flats, despite hefty government subsidies for buyers.

And now any “development benefit” from the project, of providing a new public utility in the form of a library, has been abandoned.

‘Coming soon’: pictures on the estate agents’ website show the intended library’s interior, with the Brick by Brick signs still on its windows

The building’s fate as a library was in fact sealed in late 2020 when the council went bust, though it has taken 18 months for Town Hall officials to get around to unloading the surplus to requirements building.

The particulars on the estate agents’ website state, “Pump House forms part of new development of 14 energy efficient one- and two-bedroom flats and ground floor Retail/Leisure.

“The energy-saving building has green roofs, PV panels and double-glazed windows to keep its efficiency.

“The unit is in shell condition ready for a tenants fit out. There is water, drainage and three-phase electricity connected.”

The space is described as being 2,658 sqft, for which the landlords – which will be Croydon Council – are seeking £60,000 in rent per year.

There is a major snag in seeking potential takers for the space for retail, as the SHW blurb reveals: “Adjacent to Aldi…”. Which could rule out any other supermarket chain from taking an interest in the site, and thus restrict the number of potential tenants.

This could, indeed, turn into a hard sell. The estate agents fail to mention anything about the dangerous state of the building’s brick work above…

Read more: Croydon v Croydon: Brick by Brick building declared a ‘danger’
Read more: BxB-built library which has never opened is now to be closed
Read more: Brick by Brick will be pimping for Croydon at MIPIM junket
Read more: Council sells off public green space to Brick by Brick for just £1
Read more: Council set to take £100m hit as it winds down Brick by Brick

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
This entry was posted in Alison Butler, Brick by Brick, Business, Croydon Council, Libraries, Paul Scott, Property, South Norwood, Stiles Harold Williams and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Brick by Brick’s South Norwood library on the market for retail

  1. Angus Hewlett says:

    I suspect the “Pump House” name may be a reference not to Surrey Street, but to the Atmospheric Railway which at one time ran from Norwood Junction (then Jolly-Sailor) towards London Bridge.

    Given the longevity and mechanical robustness of said railway (or rather, the lack of both), perhaps an appropriate metaphor for a BxB project.

    • Nice idea, Angus (especially the metaphorical link), though sadly not the case.

      Pretentious Phelps, Lacey’s No2 (in all senses) at Brick by Brick, gave the Surrey Street Pump House explanation in one of her many self-serving interviews with the architecture press.

  2. Dave Stevens says:

    Interesting! I hope for South Norwood’s sake it is rented out to someone. The street needs it.

  3. derekthrower says:

    The unravelling of Brick by Brick seems to be speeding up as this type of new house build market starts to crash due to it’s high costs and poor standards. Desperation is setting in to try and find some sort of income stream from this poor quality stock, but lets hope the Council has capitalised this debt machine with a deep pool of cash because you can smell the cash it is burning in the council coffers. How long can it go on before further contagion into council finances occur and they have seemed to missed the boat in finding a one off buyer for the complete stock.

    • John Weiss says:

      Get your facts right, Derek. Nothing wrong with the quality of the brick-by-brick product – in fact problem is they chucked too much money at it without good reason – including employing very expensive architects.

      • I used to think Einstürzende Neubauten was a post-punk German group whose name translates as Collapsing New Buildings. Turns out it was Brick by Brick’s design philosophy.

        It’s you who should “get your facts right” John, old chap.

        You can start by reading about Pimp House and everything else that this Midas-touch-in-reverse shitshow has jerry-built but been unable to flog.

        After that, look up the Fairfield Halls refurb disaster.

      • derekthrower says:

        Please visit their developments at the end of Church Street, Heathfield Gardens and the tower block by the flyover and tell me this is good quality product. Pump House is already suffering structural issues and these all offer terrible pieces of over-development and are over priced for what you are getting. That is the normal reason for items not being sold.

  4. Susan Mortimer says:

    This is a fucking disgrace.

  5. Ken Rousell says:

    Why arnt the serious fraud squad involved in this billion pound scandel I can only imagine how much of council tax payer money has gone missing a very calculated fraud on a vast scale

    • The reason, Ken, will be a lack of evidence.

      If you have any evidence of fraud, then we suggest you come forward and present it to the police as a matter of some urgency.

    • Kevin Croucher says:

      Sadly, gross incompetence is not a crime. There ought to be some way of making sure that anyone involved with BxB never works in the public sector or stands for office again.

  6. There is a building in Long Lane, that looks empty. I guess it is one theirs, the same brown blocks with balconies as most of the BxB builds. I wonder why they employed architects, they just plonked the same design down on any of their sites.

  7. Lewis White says:

    Kevin’s comment above could well be an award winning poem (probably a “concrete” poem)

    Brick by Brick builds
    boring, brown-brick
    balconied blocks —
    building brownfields
    but breaking Borough —
    – bankrupt- broke- bust

    I have to say that I like some of these same B by B balconied brown brickwork blocks, as brick ages and mellows, unlike that cheapskate material of choice for some desperately awful developments– white-painted cement rendered blockwork.

    The latter looks pristine for a year or two, then goes grubby and stained. Carbuncles in Addiscombe–the Old White Horse pub site–and in London Road Briad Green near Croydon Univesrity Hospital — a white- rendered disaster with cracked glass windows and multi-coloured panels — and too many other places, show why in the vast majority of UK settings, other than 2 storey suburban houses, that white render should be banned.

    Brick is beautiful– so the phrase used to go — if designed wisely.

  8. Gavin Palmer says:

    Claims for was it £790,000 of snagging work should be made against those architects professional liability insurance. At least insurers have funds and a shot across the bows of reckless developments by architects.

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