Council rejects private school’s planning scheme for Heathfield

Rooms with a view: these are the views from Heathfield House’s terraces which would be fenced off from the public if Cressy College gets its way with its cheap lease from the council

A planning application from a private education business to make extensive alterations to Heathfield House, a listed building owned by Croydon Council, has been refused.

As Inside Croydon reported in June, Cressey College has been renting the building from the council since the first covid lockdown in 2020, initially on a temporary basis.

But as they seek to extend their tenancy with a longer lease, they wanted to make a number of adaptations to the grand, Italianate villa on the top of Gravel Hill, including erecting a nine-foot security fence that would have blocked access to the gardens that have been enjoyed by the Croydon public for decades.

As well as concerns over the building works proposed, there were also questions raised over whether Cressey, part of the Horizon Care and Education Group (a company with a £31million annual turnover), had been given preferential treatment over the lease proposal, and accusations that the council’s commercial property officials had made little, if any, effort to put out a competitive tender for the lease for Heathfield House.

Uncertain future: Cressy College might yet submit a revised planning application for Heathfield House

Sources suggested that Cressey, which charges local authorities up to £81,000 per year per pupil for educating children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, were to be given a generous rent-free period under their lease for Heathfield House, and then pay the council just £5,000 per year in rent.

With the new school terms just a fortnight away, that cushty deal must now be under threat.

This week Nicola Townsend, Croydon Council’s planning department’s “head of development management” notified Cressey’s agents that their planning application for Heathfield House had been refused, citing inappropriate development in the Green Belt and insufficient benefit to outweigh harm to heritage assets.

Did Cressey approach its planning application to Croydon Council thinking that it would go through on the nod because the local planning authority – the council – are also their landlords?

It would certainly seem that way, judging from this passage in Townsend’s letter: “The scheme does not comply with [Croydon planning] guidance and no pre-application discussions were entered into… The local planning authority’s suggested improvements were not adopted by the applicant,” the council chief noted, sniffily.

In her letter, Townsend wrote, “The proposed development would constitute inappropriate development in the Green Belt causing harm to the openness and visual amenities of the
Green Belt.

“No very special circumstances exist to clearly outweigh the harm by reason of inappropriateness and other identified harm. As such, the proposal is contrary to the provisions of Policy G2 of the London Plan 2021, Policies SP7 and DM26 of the Croydon Local Plan 2018 and the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework 2021.”

And secondly, Townsend wrote, “The proposed development by reason of its siting, scale and appearance would result in less than substantial harm to the setting of the Listed Building, known as Heathfield House as such the proposed development fails to meet the statutory test set out in Sections 66 and 72 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.

“The proposed development fails to deliver sufficient public benefits that outweigh the harm to heritage assets contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework. The proposed development is thereby contrary to Croydon Local Plan 2018 policies DM15, DM18 and DM38 and London Plan 2021 policies SD1, D9 and HC1.”

The scheme had drawn objections from hundreds of residents, as well as from Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones.

But the initial refusal of planning permission doesn’t stop Cressey trying again.

“The council is ready to enter into discussions with the applicants to assist in the preparation of a new planning application via the council’s pre-application process,” Townsend wrote.

Perhaps while Cressey consider their options, MP Jones or local councillors can use the time to get to the bottom of quite why a large private education business has been offered such preferential terms on a very long lease for a piece of the borough’s public heritage.

Read more: MP joins objectors as Heathfield House plans get called in
Read more: Alderman criticises handing Heathfield to profit-making school

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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
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1 Response to Council rejects private school’s planning scheme for Heathfield

  1. Lewis White says:

    A refusal is good news, as the existing proposals were very poor, but I had no problem with the idea of bringing a fitting educational use in to provide a real purpose for this unusual villa, once a Victorian very-rich-person’s house, which has been languishing as a council training centre..

    Not sure about the finance- with the educational client bringing in up to to £81k per client, one would imagine that they could afford to pay the council a reasonable rent.

    I would also suggest that the council got in a valuer/ developer to look at the scope for redeveloping the adjacent buildings (assuming the council owns them) that include a big coach-house. These could be sold off to a developer and made into bijou dwellings.

    I hate to say it, but the adjacent gardens are a sad mess. They have a wistful air of dereliction. There is walled garden –inside, a large unmown lawn and more memorial benches that I have seen in one area. Now delapidated. Unsafe even.

    Time to either invest or sell off, I think. A really good look needs to be taken at subdiving the landscape into the areas that could be kept open to the public (that includes the wonderful woodlands and gardens near the house), and areas that could be redeveloped for prestige housing.

    Maybe there are leases and tenants for the existing buildings.

    The biggest tragedy would be that a unique building –a rich person’s villa in its landscaped setting–should dwindle away, remain empty, fall to bits, suffer terminal vandalism, or get torched. That would take a year, no more, if a proper and viabke use is not found.

    I think that it needs a decent landscape design for the area round the house, and an acceptance by the public that they will have to have reduced access to some of these areas. It is not an easy design challenge, but should be possible.

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