KEN LEE, Town Hall reporter, on the latest council consultation which seeks to provide a chimera of public input for the planning department’s latest wheeze in an area where Michael Buble, Wilf Zaha and Status Quo’s Francis Rossi have all had homes
Another day, another vacuous-looking and deliberately opaque consultation survey arrives from Croydon Council.
This one is unusual since it has been raised by the council’s planning department and focuses on what amounts to a community of private homes in Purley, where some houses are being sold for over £4million.
Even three-bed flats on the Webb Estate sell for more than £1million.
Development of the estate, named after the landowner and developer, began in 1888 with construction on Banstead Road and Foxley Lane, before being extended into Upper Woodcote Village at the turn of the 19th Century.
According to the sumptuous website run by the residents’ association (they are so posh, they call themselves a “society”): “The Webb Estate is unique in the Croydon area because it was designed and built to one man’s vision.
“William Webb wanted to create a Garden Village in the suburbs, for people who worked in the City. For 30 years Webb set about creating a village in which buildings, gardens and the roads were carefully and distinctively designed to a high physical and aesthetic standard.”
“Unique in the Croydon area” indeed. High standards being the exact opposite of what Croydon Council’s planning department usually stands for.
After Webb bought the 260-acre Foxley estate, he planted trees, flowers and hedgerows that were allowed to mature before homes were built and offered for sale. The coming of trams to Purley in 1901 spurred him to make a start on construction and the first dwelling to be completed was Upper Woodcote House, which he took as his own home. Webb was also involved in the building of St Mark’s Church, Purley.
Cottages were studded around a village green in the south-west corner, originally for Webb’s workmen but they were soon snapped up by commuters, in an early example of gentrification and the pricing out of the housing market of the working classes.
The outer roads of the estate were mostly built up with semi-detached properties. Most of the inner roads were laid out from 1907 and the plots were developed between 1912 and 1920.
Webb planted Rose Walk with 6,000 rose bushes, South Border with herbaceous plants and Silver Lane with a double row of silver birch and a host of bulbs and wildflowers.
The estate when completed comprised around 230 houses, of varying architectural merit (loads of mock Tudorbethan), but all in an incomparable setting.
Conservation area status for Upper Woodcote Village (which surrounds the village green) was granted by Croydon Council in 1973 and extended to cover the rest of the estate a decade later. There is a blanket tree preservation order and no subdivision of plots is allowed.
The estate’s residents are still bound by a list of arcane, Edwardian-sounding rules drawn up by Webb, including:
- No clothes, except children’s garments, shall be hung out to dry unless hidden by a hedge or other suitable enclosure
- No use of a lawn mower within nine inches of a tree stem, as the nut on the side of the machine is certain to tear the bark off
- No purchaser should be seen emerging from their abode wearing shorts
However, estate resident Ron Noades, the former chairman of Crystal Palace football club, openly defied the rules, saying , “Our washing has been hung outside for 20 years.” And Noades was regularly seen out and about wearing shorts, usually when off to play a round of golf at one of the courses he owned.
After Noades died in 2013, his Webb Estate home – complete with a Palace Eagle in tiles on the bottom of his swimming pool – was bought by an even bigger star of Selhurst Park, Wilf Zaha. The house is rumoured to have been used as a location for the Footballers’ Wives television series.
Other well-known residents have included Status Quo’s Francis Rossi and Sir Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s press secretary during her time in Downing Street, who died earlier this year.
In 2011, it was reported that Michael Buble brought a £3million house on the estate.
Television presenter Laura Hamilton lived there, too, with her husband re-vamping the Lord Roberts on the Green (named after a Boer War general) into a village store, post office and café, even getting an alcohol licence for the place, which Webb, as a teetotaller, would never have allowed.
The Webb Estate Society was formed by residents around 40 years ago, and they say, “In addition to conservation area planning requirements, the Estate’s character is protected by a series of restrictive covenants which are owned by Webb Estate Limited.”
Webb Estate Ltd is a company owned by residents of the estate, which acquired the freeholds to the roads from the Webb family in 1999. “This company continues the work of the Webb Estate Society in preserving the character of the estate,” they say.
And with soaring housing prices generally, the residents have much that they will want to preserve.
When estate agents start their spiel for homes on the Webb Estate, the location is invariably mis-described as “Purley, Surrey“.
The “C” word – Croydon – is barely ever mentioned.
One eight-bedroomed mansion currently on the market is described: “A spectacular home seamlessly blending elegant style with modern sophistication. Extending to over 8,000sqft of sumptuous accommodation, this beautiful home also stands on wonderful parklike grounds of just over two acres.” You get the drift.
So it doesn’t take much to imagine the likely reaction to the announcement slipped out late last week from the propaganda bunker at Fisher’s Folly.
“Croydon Council is inviting residents to take part in a survey and help shape a Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan for the Webb Estate and Upper Woodcote Village in Purley,” bureaucrats at one of the worst-run local authorities in the country said.
There’s even an acronym for the exercise: CAAMP – Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan.
The council consultation has a web page which tells us that Nicolette Durham, a “lead conservation officer”, and Selin Karsan, “senior conservation officer”, are “listening”.
Trouble is, as many who have had the misfortune of dealing with the planning department will know too well, while they may well “listen”, they rarely pay attention or take any notice.
“A conservation area exists to conserve and manage the character or appearance of an area of special architectural or historic interest,” the council press release says.
“This CAAMP will assess how best to maintain the estate and the village, taking into account residents’ views and ideas.”
The CAAMP “is now being reviewed and updated by the Conservation Team – Spatial Planning who will research the historic development of the estate, undertake a character assessment, and produce a management plan for the area”.
And they also say that the CAAMP “will also set out principles for managing the Conservation Area in the future and guidelines for alterations and new development”.
Nowhere on the press release or on the council’s survey page is there provided an easy link to this important document. It’s almost as if the council planners don’t want the public, and the Webb Estate residents, to see quite what they have got in mind…
But in the spirit of investigative journalism (we did a Google search; Pilger would be so impressed) we found a 50-page document on the council’s website which dates from 2007 (the introduction refers to the South Norwood conservation area; council officials cutting and pasting material over, and not managing to proof the report before publication).
The document could be of use, and as a service to our readers, we are doing what Croydon Council has failed to do (again) and making it available here.
It might be helpful. It lists some of the covenants – legal restrictions – that apply on the Webb Estate. The sort of thing that Croydon’s planners routinely ignore.
The Webb Estate Society will no doubt be keeping a very well-resourced check on what their council comes up with in terms of “guidelines for alterations and new development” in a conservation area… After all, it’s unlikely that Francis Rossi will be the only Webb Estate resident who wants to maintain the status quo.
- And in case you wanted to participate in the council’s planning survey, you can find it by clicking here
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