Town centre’s skyscrapers are ‘kind of psychological pollution’

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Our report that US build-to-rent developer Graystar, who is behind the building of two pairs of tall towers at East Croydon, has now acquired another town centre site has caused concern for reader LEWIS WHITE 

Something about these tall towers worries me.


It is the resemblance to a picture of brand new blocks in a Scottish council housing scheme from the 1960s… shiny new blocks set against a summer sky.

Yet the picture was not a promotional one – it was in a book about children’s play written by one of Britain’s best-known landscape architects, Marjory Allen, Lady Allen of Hurtwood.

The foreground of the picture was of desolate wasteground. Behind, like some awful dystopian vision, the photo was filled from left to right with around 10 enormous blocks, part-built, resembling skeletons. The blocks seemed to merge with each other.

The caption below was brief “A kind of psychological pollution. New housing, Glasgow”.

Elsewhere in her book, Lady Allen mentions the likly human toll for those living in these huge and tall developments, which were social experiments. Most have failed, except where rich people live in them.

Lady Allen must have been a woman of immense determination allied with diplomacy, a mid-20th Century example of the pioneering women who set up so many charities and campaigns that have improved our world.

Many of those Glasgow blocks have been demolished now – they were going to knock down one of the blocks as part of the opening ceremony when the city hosted the Commonwealth Games nearly 10 years ago, until the organisers thought better of it because of the public outcry about the tacky tastelessness of the entire stunt.

How many years do we give these new Croydon tower blocks? Most have just small flats – less homes, and more human storage areas.

They might last 20 years in good condition, then there might be another 20 years in decline, and maybe another 20 years before demolition.

The notion that people might actually buy any of these properties fills me with dread: can you imagine having to pay for new windows at 40 storeys above ground? Or the costs of new lifts?

Thankfully, given the state of Croydon’s finances, there seems little possibility that a desperate council might buy any of them to house people in them.

Read more: George Street’s wind tunnel is causing dangerous problems
Read more: 90mph winds send pedestrians and bricks flying in Croydon

  • Coulsdon resident Lewis White spent his career as a landscape architect, working for local authorities elsewhere in south London.

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10 Responses to Town centre’s skyscrapers are ‘kind of psychological pollution’

  1. Dan Maertens says:

    Great observation – and very depressing!

  2. Sarah Bird says:

    Frightening observation and I agree depressing . All the more reason why the planning department ,together with all departments at the council need a complete over haul. All the evidence is that tower blocks are unpopular .Grenfell alone ought to be a large flag

  3. Sally says:

    But we have a Director of Planning and Sustainable Regeneration to stop unsuitable developments? Oh – it’s Heather Cheesbrough. Perhaps her new job title should be Director of Human Storage.

  4. Annabel Smith says:

    Agreed those twin towers of Croydon are a menacing and ugly sight.

    They also create wind problems.

    There can’t be many tower blocks untouched by the “tragedy of the commons” that roughly translates as people dis respecting the communal areas. I’m guessing towers full of rich people last longer because they can afford a 24hour concierge &security surveillance.

  5. Well said, Mr White. Over the years Croydon Council suggested that these luxury properties were to attract young professionals into the town, taking trains to work in London each day. I would love to know whether this aim has succeeded, or whether the young professionals are now bringing up children in the towers. I suspect that the flats are smaller than we were led to expect, and the young professionals, and their children, have moved on. The latest plans remind me more of university accommodation than homes, or of the multiple occupation units which semi-detached and terraced houses are converted into on 1960s housing estates. These are not “homes” as we know them.

    • Jason Ian Murray says:

      I’m a young professional living in Ten Degrees.

      I likely would not have stayed in Croydon if the development didn’t exist.

      At first glance, Croydon seemed impoverished and desolate; there weren’t many eateries or pubs and local entertainment options were limited compared to other areas we looked at.

      Croydon almost seemed forgotten about by business and local authorities.

      After having lived in the tower for a little over a year and developed a love of Croydon, my partner and I (both software engineers) have now put an offer on a 3 bedroom house near the Treehouse within which we intend to raise children.

      I can tell you that the flats have around 95% occupancy and the residents are in the majority young professionals (mostly tech workers, marketing, recruitment). There are some families, too, and lots of pets.

      There is barely a moment when Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Getir, Hello Fresh et al are not occupying the foyer or lift space. It certainly seems good for the local economy.

      In my opinion, the council tax is also extortionately high (considering the relatively small flats) so occupants are directly contributing to Croydon, too.

      I understand concerns about the skyline but I really think this is the wrong fight to pick when considering issues facing Croydon.

  6. Come to Croydon and live in one of our fawlty towers. On a clear day you can see the Purley Way retail sheds and traffic jams, just beyond the deserted shopping centre

  7. Norman Cooper says:

    I wonder has anyone actually been inside the building and visited before making a view or read the planning application. It is true, externally they look dark and imposing, the colour scheme has not worked, it needs more bright sun to show off and they are far too tall. Of course if you are lucky enough to live in a traditional house with a garden and of only one or two storeys the idea of living in such a tall block is probably horryfying. If you visit though and I have , you will find they are over 80% let (they are rent only not for sale), many occupants are students in Croydon or London Universities , there are three roof gardens (not everyone wants a garden ) a gym , dance studio, TV room and facilities to use a large dining area if you want a large group of friends and family for dinner (you do your own washing up) you can even borrow an iron from reception and of course plenty of work areas for the modern worker who works from home.

    However if our population is growing then we are limited in the choices we have to acccomodate people, we could build on green belt, we could build more new towns, we could replace traditional homes in our leafier streets of Sanderstead, Shirley etc with small blocks of flats or we could leave people to live in existing cramped accommodation. In Croydon and many other towns it has been decided to build near to existing shopping centres and traffic hubs, its not perfect and brings its own problems but with good design and provision of more public spaces nearby (such as Ruskin Square), investment in our local Parks (Parkhill is only a short walk away) it could work. This particular development provides a new publically accessible area on the station side and provides part of a new pedestrian link between George Street and Barclay road.

    It does of course need the council to have power to force developers to build on land in certain areas eg St Georges Walk, Whitgift Centre and on brownfield sites. . If these had been built then the need for such tall buildings and pressure to build in our leafier areas would be reduced.

    • Thanks for the sales spiel, Norm. What’s your commission? £1,000? That’s barely 1/3 of one month’s rent in Ten Degrees. Be interested to see your evidence for the number of students who are paying those sort of rents…
      Two years on, when is the Manhattan-style bar finally going to open?
      Or when will the developers address the wind tunnel created along George Street?
      And on your visit, did you manage to count how many fire escape staircases are provided?

  8. Michael Popejoy says:

    I note with interest the recent comments of Lewis White about pollution of Croydon Skyline around East Croydon and the effects of high winds! I was at a Council meeting last week in which I brought up this matter due to a new proposed development of a 28 storey skyscraper around the NLA Tower !

    Not only wind problems in this area but also subsidence problems as well. Croydon College was shut down for weeks last year as the College was flooded in the basement to a depth of 7 feet due to the main water pipe cracking due to these tall buildings!

    Also there will be problems of light, and we are getting like Hong Kong, at ground level there is no light ! How long do the people of Croydon have to suffer at the hands of greedy developers?

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