The council is looking to re-set its Place Review Panel – now to be renamed the Design Review Panel – and is inviting applications from architecture and design experts to sign up for two or three days’ work each year, when they will pontificate on the merits, or otherwise, of the latest applications received by the planning department at Fisher’s Folly.
Croydon’s Place Review Panel was established in 2016, at a time of “Peak Negrini” at the council, when its then chief exec, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, was applying her “no expense spared” approach to her mission of making friends and influencing people among London’s architecture set, and using hundreds of thousands of council cash to do so.
Back in November 2016, the council said that its PRP “will ensure that Croydon’s increasing popularity as a development location will continue to be shaped by its commitment to delivering quality design and placemaking throughout all aspects of the built environment including public realm, infrastructure and buildings”.
Negrini’s panel idea was enthusiastically backed by Alison Butler, then the cabinet member for housing, and Paul Scott, the council’s planning chief, and an architect. Oh, and Butler’s husband.
“The panel’s expertise will elevate the quality of new developments across the borough,” Scott said at the time. “I’m looking forward to the highest quality architecture and urban design coming to committee.”
Butler and Scott were part of the cabal in the Labour council’s leadership that pushed through the Brick by Brick housing development company, which did so little to ease the housing crisis in the borough, despite receiving £200million in council loans.
Brick by Brick never made a penny profit, and has come to be regarded as one of the principle causes for the council, under Negrini, Butler and Scott, going bust in 2020.
Not that many, if any at all, of Brick by Brick’s designs were ever put up for scrutiny by Negrini’s Place Review Panel.
It was established early on that Brick by Brick, with its in-house architecture team, would skip the need for review by the panel of experts.
Developers were expected to pay £5,000 (including VAT) per scheme for the privilege of getting a seal of approval from the PRP.
And Westfield, when they were still conning the council and the public into thinking that they were serious about their plans for a £1.4billion shopping supermall in the town centre, made it clear that they wouldn’t bother having the Panel run the rule over their designs, either.
Developers were given a veto so that, if they did submit their plans to the panel but didn’t like what judgement the experts came up with, they could refuse the council permission to publish it. So the Croydon public was usually denied sight of the panel’s no-doubt erudite pontifications.
Members of the panel were placed under strict orders not to speak to the press and told that their deliberations are “strictly confidential”. And the council’s press office refused to answer any questions about how many schemes, or which developments, were reviewed by the Place Review Panel.
The list of panellists back in the first flush of the Croydon PRP included celebrity fashionista Wayne Hemingway, plus many of the great and not-so-good of the London architecture set.
On that list was journo Hugh Pearman, the editor of the RIBA Journal, in a blatant effort by the council to ensure that Croydon would get uncritical write-ups in the trade press.
Also on the list was David Bickle, a design director at the V&A. A couple of years later, and hey presto, an as-yet unbuilt Brick by Brick block in South Norwood, Pimp House – now 14 flats over a library that’s too costly for the council to run – was featuring in an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert! What a coincidence!
A number of others on the panel were from firms that would, over the next few years, be taken on to carry out work for Brick by Brick or Croydon Council projects. Which is nice.
Now the council, under Conservative control and led by part-time Mayor Jason Perry, is looking to re-boot the whole panel.
They even use much the same language of when the panel was launched by Negrini under Labour: such as Scott’s aspiration that the panel will “elevate” the standards of design.
They say that they have “opened applications for new members of its multidisciplinary Design Review Panel, offering expert guidance on significant planning, public space, regeneration and development projects in the borough”.
A council press release issued this afternoon states, “The Design Review Panel provides independent advice and carries out reviews on all major development proposals in Croydon.
“The panel is self-funding, with the cost met by developers,” they were quick to add – so those five-grand fees must have been rolling in.
The council is seeking “24 high-calibre panellists”.
A member of the original Place Review Panel told Inside Croydon today that they and their colleagues had been “an excellent panel for getting good architecture for Croydon”.
They had been, they said, “Good architects, from good firms, doing good work.
“It’s important that the planners get outside advice from a team of experts.”
Today, the council said that its new panel will build “on the council’s award-winning approach to planning and placemaking”. Award-winning!
The council said that it is “looking for candidates with expertise in planning, landscape architecture, urban design, architecture, conservation, engineering, place-making, viability, sustainability and culture.
“The council also welcomes applications from a diverse range of candidates to reflect Croydon’s varied communities and needs.”
And part-time Mayor Perry, who knows a thing or two about plastic guttering and double-glazing, said, “This is a busy time for planning and development in Croydon, as we continue to kickstart regeneration and transform the town centre and many of our central districts. We want to help all our local town centres to thrive, making important improvements and upgrades, while preserving their unique local character.
“Our Design Review Panel is central to this work, objectively assessing key development proposals and projects – making sure we are bringing the right opportunities to Croydon.
Applications are open until October 28, via Proactis, where full details on requirements and role specification can also be found.
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