Why the Tories voted against College Green/Fairfield Halls development

The Tory members of the Planning Committee on Thursday are to be congratulated for voting against the  College Green/Fairfield Halls development planning application.

This is the text of what Helen Pollard, Councillor for Fairfield Ward and Shadow Cabinet Member for Culture Leisure and Sport said during the discussion.

Note: sub-titles are editorial additions.

Broad Welcome

‘I would like to start by saying that I am pleased we finally have a planning application for the first phase of the Fairfield redevelopment even though it is seven months after the closure of Fairfield Halls.   I have great concerns about the redevelopment of Fairfield Halls given that this application his being submitted so late in the day.  I hope it is still able to open in 2018 so that residents can once again enjoy top quality events in this world class venue.  I also hope that the acoustics of the Concert Hall are not adversely affected and that community groups who want to use Fairfield Halls won’t be priced out by a commercial operator who only wants to make a profit.

I’ll now move on to the detail of the application.

Indaequacy of Proposed Homes

I accept that there is a need to build homes in Croydon, particularly in this area which  is so close to good transport links, however I think a high price is being paid to squeeze in so many homes.  By which I mean that, in places this development is so dense it will materially affect the daily lives of residents.

In a throwaway comment at 3.3 the report says that despite daylight and sunlight conditions being below the recommended standards the overall level of amenity for future occupiers would be acceptable.

But is it acceptable that 36% of habitable rooms will have less than the recommended amount of daylight?

Sunlight Problems

Is it acceptable that instead of half the amenity area for phase 1A receiving 2 hours of sunlight on the benchmark day of 21st March, only 14% will get two hours sunlight?

Is it acceptable that the courtyards for blocks 4 and 5 will receive no sunlight on 21st March and in block 6, only 36% of the area will get the minimum of 2 hours?  Below the recommended 50%?  It is hard to imagine any plants surviving in these courtyards, so they could potentially become concrete no-go areas.

I worry that the flats on lower levels and the communal areas will be dark and gloomy which is not a great outlook for residents.  Their experience of living in these flats will be adversely affected by the poor design and density of development.

Other Concerns

Other things that concern me about this development are:

  • Firstly:  The lack of family housing.  6% rather than the recommended 20%.  This will really affect the feel of the place, with fewer children.  It could become a dormitory for city workers, rather than a vibrant community.
  • Secondly: Separation distance between blocks B and D are only 15-16 metres.  Once again, a dark and gloomy prospect for residents
  • Third:  The lack of onsite play space for children.  Ignoring recommended levels
  • Fourth:  The excessive use of concrete in the design.  Croydon has a reputation for being a concrete jungle because of the prevalence of 60s brutalist architecture and the use of bare concrete.  We should be making every effort to steer clear of this approach, especially as the applicant is actually the council.  The proposed design will date and look tatty very quickly.
  • Fifth:  The loss of 37 of the 50 trees on the site.  I hope these are replaced
  • Sixth:  A two thirds reduction in the number of parking spaces.  This will have far reaching implications for people who used to use the car park and also for residents.
  • Seventh: The fact that the council is ignoring GLA advice about the bridge link.
  • Eighth: The lack of comment from the Police’s ‘designing out crime’ officer

Problems of local parks

Finally, I would like to mention the local parks.  The report refers to the fact that residents can use local parks at Park Hill and Queen’s Gardens.  There has been no investment in Park Hill Park despite money being set aside for doing this.  Will there be some s106 / CIL money from this development to upgrade the facilities at Park Hill Park and Queen’s Gardens to cope with this increased usage?

Notwithstanding the comments, I am happy to see that something is finally happening to move this development forward.  I support the overall idea of this application, but I have some major misgivings about the impact of this dense development on future residents.’

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Croydon’s Continuing Crisis

That is the title of the small pamphlet I published about background economic and social facts about Croydon. Aspects of the crisis continue.

  • The rise in homelessness

The large rise in homelessness in the Borough emphases one aspect of the crisis which is becoming worse.

http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/the-shocking-number-of-families-with-children-who-have-fallen-into-homelessness/story-30149725-detail/story.html

  • Low Incomes

A key question that needs to be answered is what is the estimated number of Croydon families in the same income/savings crisis as 1:4 across Britain?

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/one-in-four-british-families-have-just-95-in-savings-a3470946.html

  • Business Rates Threat

The Council believes that business rates will be going up an average 19% under the Government re-evaluation.

http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/business-rates-in-croydon-to-skyrocket-by-19-per-cent/story-30156406-detail/story.html

This could lead to many small businesses closing.

  • Too much emphasis on the Town Centre?

Peter Davis reflects on the past and future of Croydon:

https://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics-society/voice-south

  • Badly Run High St Businesses

This is not all bad news because there are many small businesses, especially shops, cafes, take-aways etc, that are not well run, have low food hygiene ratings .

http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/the-18-croydon-businesses-named-and-shamed-for-the-worst-food-hygiene-ratings-in-2016/story-30139682-detail/story.html

Others have had to be chased to have waste contracts rather than leaving their rubbish as fly-tips in the street, or like shisha cafes are in breach of the law when they allow smoking inside their premises, about which the Council is doing nothing.

The latest examples of problems

  • South Norwood:

http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/south-norwood-takeaway-slammed-for-dirty-fridges-and-poor-personal-hygiene/story-30154333-detail/story.html

  • Poundland

http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/food-hygiene-officers-coming-across-infestations-of-cockroaches-and-mice-on-a-monthly-basis/story-30152595-detail/story.html

  • KFC

http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/thornton-heath-man-vows-never-to-eat-fast-food-again-after-child-s-tooth-found-inside-a-kfc-chip/story-30151491-detail/story.html

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Croydon Events & News at 25 February

Monday 27 February 6.30pm. Croydon Council

Access to agenda via

https://secure.croydon.gov.uk/akscroydon/users/public/admin/kabmenu.pl

At last there is a full set of minutes relating to Question Time – see

cou20170227_02_01_minutes-1

Tuesday 28 February 6.30pm. Streets, Environment and Homes Scrutiny Sub-Committee 

Questioning of Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment (Stuart King); felling street trees; highway vehicle crossover policy. Access to agenda via

https://secure.croydon.gov.uk/akscroydon/users/public/admin/kabmenu.pl

Wednesday 8 March. Croydon Local Plan Inquiry

Local Plan Public Hearing will commence on 16 May. The Conservative Councillors Group has organised a meeting on 8 March for representatives of Resident Associations to find out more email jason.perry@croydon.gov.uk

Sunday 12 March. 2.30pm. Tuesday 14, Thursday 16 – Saturday 18 March. 7.30pm. Eugene  Onegin

Whitgift School Opera performance

Tickets: £8, Concessions £4

http://www.whitgift.co.uk/events.aspx?SubCatID=219

Monday 13 March. 5pm. Tech City and Schools

Tech City invites invite anyone interested in any of the following areas to attend:

  • Children’s education (primary, secondary and college/6th form education)
  • Supporting teachers deliver STEM skills
  • Apprenticeships, Internships and Recruitment
  • Delivering STEM events or workshops for the wider borough

The event will be an opportunity to meet the Croydon Tech City team, and connect with local school teachers and representatives from TC’s various edtech partners (including Code Club, Apps For Good, BBC Microbit and STEMNET).

To register to attend the event, please go here to sign up.

Tuesday 14 March. 7pm, Croydon Communities Consortium

St. Michael and All Angels with St. James Church Hall
Poplar Walk

To help organisers please register attendance at

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/open-public-meeting-central-croydon-tickets-32238989686

Croydon History & Culture

  • 145-151 London Rd

Kake’s latest posting continues the story of 145-151 London Rd:

http://london-road-croydon.org/history/0151-praise-house-part-4.html

  • The Pethericks

With the exhibition about the artistic and musical talent of the Petherick family see  my article at

https://thecroydoncitizen.com/history/talented-pethericks-family-album

  • Croydon’s Cultural Innovators

See Tom Black’s review at

https://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/croydons-cultural-innovators

  • Celebrate the Summer of Love

Andrew Dickinson advocates celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love.

https://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/2017-croydons-summer-love

  • What Happened in Norbury?

I have published an introductory chronology to Norbury’s history.

TechCity Developments

https://thecroydoncitizen.com/economics-business/the-innovators-part-one

https://thecroydoncitizen.com/croydon-tech-city/future-tech-city-launch-2017-event-croydons-teachers-parents-technologists

Brick by Brick

With the Cabinet approving the business plan for its development compnay Brick on Brock on 20 February, details of one of the housing schemes in Sanderstead has been publicised.

http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/plans-to-build-up-to-22-flats-on-car-park-close-to-sanderstead-station/story-30152012-detail/story.html

More Sales by Hammerson

Hammerson is planning to sell more than £400m worth of property as it gets ready to for the construction work on Whitgift and Brent Cross, a sum about the same as its profit drop as £124m reduction in value of its sites.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/02/20/hammerson-plans-property-sales-developments-heat

http://www.building.co.uk/news/hammerson-sees-drop-in-property-values/5086332.article

https://www.ft.com/content/387a0768-3e4d-3344-9b29-1e645ea0ef1f

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/hammerson-profits-tumble-retail-sites-125300851.html

Steve Reed on Yemen

Croydon North MP Steve Reed is telling constituents expressing concern about the use of British weapons in Yemen that:

‘It is clear that the situation in Yemen is a humanitarian disaster to which not enough attention has been paid and deserves far more focus from the international community with the UN currently estimating that 14 million people are at risk of hunger, and that the country is on the brink of famine.

We have been since December 2015 calling for the Government to suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia while the mounting evidence about potential war crimes using British-made weapons is fully and independently investigated.

This came to particular prominence during the Opposition Day debate called we called on the 26th October where I voted for our motion that stated:

‘That this House supports efforts to bring about a cessation of hostilities and provide humanitarian relief in Yemen, and notes that the country is now on the brink of famine; condemns the reported bombings of civilian areas that have exacerbated this crisis; believes that a full independent UN-led investigation must be established into alleged violations of international humanitarian law in the conflict in Yemen; and calls on the Government to suspend its support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces in Yemen until it has been determined whether they have been responsible for any such violations.’

Unfortunately the Government has continued to reject our calls for a halt to British arms sales to Saudi Arabia. We will however continue to raise this with the Government at every opportunity and urge further action on this crisis.’

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Save Our Fairfield Concerns re-refurbishment plans

Rob Callender, the former technical manager of Fairfield Halls, with over 9 years operational experience at the venue, spoke on behalf of Andy Hylton & the Save Our Fairfield campaign at the Planning Committee on Thursday night. This is what he said. (Note: sub-headings are editorial)

Refurbishment Method Problems

‘We fully SUPPORT the much needed refurbishment of Fairfield Halls. We do NOT support the METHOD chosen for this, lack of operator involvement in formulation of these plans, poor public engagement, the treatment of the former Fairfield staff & venue users, nor the detail of the designs as they stand.

Notwithstanding the scope of this meeting, we seek clarification from the applicant on inconsistencies in agenda report 7.1: Specifically items 7.129 (oppose), 7.133 & 7.134 (support) – – are these being taken forward or have they been removed as has been suggested by Cllr Godfrey, including tonight on Twitter?

We also note inaccurate statements in the Design & Access document – such as Ashcroft Theatre (4.7). It does NOT, or at least did not in all my 9 years service, use such a curtain/partition as claimed.

It is essential that details in the plans are accurate.

As well as loss of real green space on College Green and lack of affordable homes, we object primarily to certain aspects of the Fairfield Halls designs – the main reason being the potential negative effect on future operations and the risks posed to the viability of the business as a result.

Block 7 Problems

  • The proposed new College Building (Block 7), to be built in very close proximity to the rear of Fairfield Halls and over the service yard, will restrict daylight into the Ashcroft Theatre dressing rooms (the bit closest to College Green) and will impact on privacy in these rooms also by overlooking.
  • The presence of Block 7 built over the top of the Fairfield service yard will increase running costs for the venue due to the requirement for ventilation and daytime lighting.
  • Block 7, narrowed access ramp and proposed get-in structural changes (with or without the truck lifts) will actually make operations in the yard LESS flexible and MORE AWKWARD to manage.
  • Swept path diagrams show how trucks could technically manoeuvre without problems, but this requires the cab to be removed from parked trucks and requires a completely clear yard, restricting artist/staff parking to only 4 spaces (compared to 17 now).
  • It will make manoeuvres take LONGER which will cause problems for tight schedules – where time is money.
  • As well as trucks, various smaller vans also often require to unload at same time, then park.
  • The plans suggest that these vehicles will then need to park in the underground car park – but such vans would not FIT through the entrance due to current height restrictions!
  • The Service Yard Management Plan also suggests a yard ‘Marshall’ will be required, adding a further human resource need on the operator.
  • The (possibly removed?) truck lift option would have added running cost and breakdown risk if it were to be installed. A structural ramp would’ve been cheaper with no running cost. (the reason given for not pursuing the ramp idea is BOGUS, as only the Studio would be affected – which will mainly be blacked out anyway. Dressing rooms and offices would not be affected by a ramp. Construction of Block 7 prevents future ramp construction.)

Inadequate Car Parking

  • Car Parking: we object to the extent in reduction of car parking to just 349 public spaces. On a single busy December night we’ve had a sold out schools shows in the Concert Hall, a busy Panto in the theatre, a kids show in the Studio and an Xmas party in the Arnhem. Plus smaller events in one or more function rooms. That is a potential capacity of over 3000. With more to be added with a new function room and the art gallery.
  • Even assuming the families attending these events are all happy ‘two adult/two child’ family units arriving in a single car, that is still 750 cars potentially.
  • For artist parking, note an average orchestra would use up ALL the 29 staff/artist spaces alone.
  • The parking assessment suggests a change in audience demographic may reduce car park demand – which can only mean a move AWAY from family orientated audiences (are they presumed not to wish to attend live entertainment such as panto anymore?) These reasons will cause damage to the credibility & popularity of the venue amongst artists and customers alike, thus a risk to it’s viability. If the venue were to fail following an expensive refurbishment – that would be a very poor result for Croydon. Therefore we object to all aspects which may affect the future operational viability of the venue, and request that they are improved, with the assistance from those with hands on operational experience, and indeed the future operator.
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Regrets & powerlessness over College Green/Fairfield Halls approval

 ‘Reflecting on last night I feel sad that Labour have caved

in so completely on their original good intentions to build

affordable housing for families, college scheme has 15% affordable,

6% for families, all in ‘pre-cast’ concrete, no attempt to create

a community space.’

This is the sad reflection of Kate Vennell (former Fairfield Croydon charity Chair) on the Planning Committee decision last night to approve the Council’s College Green/Fairfield Halls application.

‘Well meaning good people (Councillors) don’t seem to have the tools to respond to officers arguments about ‘advice on saleability’. I feel funding Fairfield is being used as the trojan horse to push over the qualms they must feel. It is clear there are much bigger agendas, which will include council’s desperate funding challenges and a market which is driving the wrong results for the community. We need to follow the money. And at some point good Labour councillors need to assert their personal redlines.’

Her  comments were in response to those posted by Andrew Kennedy on Historic Croydon Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/historiccroydon/permalink/752490938240923

Kate adds:

‘With every new project that crops up, take the risk of doing something for humanity”. Civic Space, St George’s Walk, Surrey Street, College Green, George Street, Segas House, Croydon College, Taberner House. Westfield. Don’t let the developers dictate. Insist upon alternative designs and put it to the popular vote. Too often we are being presented with one solution a fait accomplis that at best we can tinker with. I’m sure this will garner comments.’

The night before she was not allowed to complete her statement to the Committee.

Powerlesness

Janice Green has agreed with Andrew’s comments adding ‘but I feel a bit powerless. My heart sinks every time I see a new development totally lacking in imagination and without any nod to humanity at all. Last week I went through Lewisham and Catford by train and was shocked by the ugliness of the new developments there. I want Fairfield Halls to be a beautiful, inspirational statement. I also hope that the Queen’s Gardens development progresses beyond Gehry’s starting point of “faceless blocks”.

Save Our Fairfield’s Views

Reservations about the details of the scheme were provided to Councillors by Andy Hylton of the Save Our Fairfield Campaign and by Andrew. Andy has issued the following press statement:

‘Following Planning Approval for ‘Fairfield Halls and College Green’ – 23/2/2017 the £30million planning application for Fairfield Halls and College Green has been approved with a vote of 6/4. The application received 381 objections from residents, but the committee allowed only five minutes to those who wished to make a statement of objection. Former technical manager of the Fairfield Halls, Rob Callender spoke on behalf of ‘Save Our Fairfield’ campaign, highlighting our concerns with the current plans. The time limit was strictly enforced, and sadly Kate Vennell, of the Fairfield Arts Board, was not allowed to complete her statement. Considering the scale of the investment and the experience of the speakers, the arrogance we have faced from Croydon Council throughout the entire process, and undermines the credibility of the project. We have always supported the investment, but we do not support the council’s methods, the treatment of the former Fairfield staff or the implementation of the plans as they stand. If the venue were to fail following an expensive refurbishment that would be a very poor result for Croydon, and we object to all aspects which may affect the future operational viability of the venue. There are inaccurate statements in the Design & Access document and an inconsistency between public statements and the actual approved plans. For example, the truck-lift is still in the plans, although Councillor Godfrey has previously stated this was removed after advice from the Theatres Trust Advisory Review, allegedly saving £4million for the project. It is also unclear whether Ashcroft stage extension and fly tower improvements are being taken forward or have been removed from the designs, as previous press releases and councillor statements have stated. There needs to be more clarity in respect of what is being planned. Our main objections were:

  • Encroachment of the new Croydon College on the rear of Fairfield Halls, affecting daylight into the Ashcroft Theatre dressing rooms and impacting on privacy in these rooms.
  • Access to yard and ‘Get-In’ plans will make operations LESS flexible and more awkward to manage. This will make the venue less attractive to large productions and affect viability.
  • Lack of parking, will reduce the viability of the venue. The parking assessment suggests a ‘move away’ from family orientated audiences and from attracting audiences, who are unable to use public transport. Kate Vennell, former Chair of Fairfield Trust, agrees. “These risk the commercial viability of the Fairfield Halls. They need maximum ticket sales from high audiences and great shows. Everything absolutely optimised for the large, complex Fairfield to run without any public subsidy.”

It is vital that Croydon Council introduce an operator into the design process at the earliest opportunity. When plans are being developed in the absence of an operator, mistakes mean rework, increasing the cost to the operator. Art venues play a significant role in community, having a major impact on people’s lives. It is now time that the Council engaged with the community and listened to their concerns. There needs to be a strong cultural offer throughout the works. This promise is still to be delivered. We care about the Fairfield and want this project to succeed. The Council must listen and connect with those who have the inside working knowledge of the Fairfield, so that the project delivers the thriving cultural centre that has been promised for 2018.’

Andrew Kennedy’s Design Reservations

Andrew brought drew the following two points to the attention of the Planning Committee.

‘1) The design for Station Link North as presented does not seem to be fully defined. There seems to be doubt as to whether the planning application covers sufficient area to be fully resolved in a manner that befits this important gateway to College Green and the Fairfield Halls. This gateway has the potential to be a very impressive walk and cycle way in the manner of the “High Line” in New York welcoming people to the Fairfield Halls when arriving at East Croydon. Evidence Document 203537_92.pdf. Ownership ground Floor Level. The end of College Road slopes down to the basement car park. The College Green platform however is on a level with the top of College Road which gives rise to the opportunity to have an elevated walk and cycle way. The elevation and the area required to realise Station Link North does not seem to be fully described in the landscape drawings. A very narrow red outline is shown on some drawings indicating that only a thin band of land, a footway perhaps has been included in the application. And the ownership ground Floor Level shows that the top of College Road is not owned by the Council. What I am suggesting is that Station Link North would benefit from a treatment similar to the “High Line “ in New York and also that which I understand is being developed in Peckham called “The Coal Line”. This would make an impressive approach to the Fairfield Halls from East Croydon Station. I am suggesting that if additional permissions need to be obtained then everything should be done so that this gateway can reach its potential. New York – “High Line” (image reversed for purposes of illustration) I believe they are doing something similar for The Peckham Coal Line.

2) Play space does not take into consideration the needs of College students. In fact neither the Officers report nor the planning document Fairfield Pay Space Strategy Section 5.2 make any mention of the word “student” at all. This is an omission. The students will want to use College Green for “play” as well as the resident children and College Green is already somewhat of a skateboard park with the wider youth of the borough. Documents concerned. – Fairfield Play Space Strategy (Doc 203537_13.pdf) Design and Access Statement 5.2 (Doc 203537_58.pdf) Officer’s report section on Children’s Play. Paragraphs 7.56 to 7.61 The Officer’s Report – section on Children’s Play highlights a shortfall of play space for Block Three and mentions the possibility for “organised games” on College green Play Space Strategy mentions a 30 x 20 metre zone for ball games but this does NOT appear on the drawings in the Design and Access Statement. College green is used now by students of the college and by skateboarders from all over town. The Strategy document goes on to mention the basketball and tennis courts at Park Hill Recreation ground which are already well used by all comers from the borough but the provision of a new multi-use court on College Green would provide a different opportunity, they could be used for minor competitions and would provide a spectacle within the larger context of the spectacle of Fairfield Halls. Indeed natural tiered seating could be provided for spectators using the palette of materials already listed. The Play Space Strategy goes on to cite Queen’s Gardens as being an existing opportunity but Queens gardens is NOT a designated play space. As the report says it consists of “well maintained ornamental gardens”. The main function of Queen’s Gardens is as a formal leisure garden used by grown-ups and town centre visitors. It should not be called upon to be either a back-up play space or even the primary play space for blocks of flats on Fairfield or in fact for that matter at Taberner House. Its use is primarily for such things as wedding photographs in front of the Registry Office and as formal gardens, a lunch spot for office workers and visitors to the town, not as a mainstay for the residential flats. It also has possibilities as a performance and cultural space which according to the Mid Croydon Masterplan should be given as much priority as play because of its position in the cultural quarter. In conclusion, the Play Strategy mentions that an “organised play” area 30 x 20 metres is being considered but this does NOT appear on the Design and Access Statement.

My suggestion is that a multi-purpose sports court be provided in a similar manor to the pictures shown. This would be of use to both College Students and to the older children of the residential blocks and could be used for organised play. An official play area on College Green would complete the Play Space requirement. Pictorial examples are shown below. Consideration might also be given to a sandpit for a beach volley ball court.’

The Council’s view 

http://news.croydon.gov.uk/plans-for-fairfield-and-college-green-cultural-quarter-approved

 

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Is Croydon’s Brick by Brick Business Plan robust enough?

On Monday 20 February Croydon’s Cabinet will approve the business plan for its Brick by Brick (Bxb) development company.

The report explains that BxB will help deliver new homes in Croydon by ensuring ‘that development activity, whilst remaining robustly commercial, more directly benefits local communities.’ It will ‘create much needed new homes of a variety of tenures and priority will be given to local residents through the sales and/or letting process for both private and affordable homes.’

By ‘delivering a number of sites simultaneously’ it ‘allows for commercial efficiencies which have the effect of increasing the overall quantum of affordable housing in the programme – for example, BXB are delivering 50% affordable housing within their smaller residential site programme, far greater than the amount usually achieved on such sites.’

c28 smaller sites have been submitted to Planning, with the potential to deliver 539 units, and  c18 sites are currently at pre-planning stage with the potential to deliver 626 units and c45,000 sq ft of new community facilities. It also is responsible for the College Green development, the planning application for which I being considered by the Planning Committee on 23 February (see previous posting).

The officers’ report can be read here

brick-by-brick

Robert Ward, an engineer and project manager, who organises Croydon Debating Club and writes for Croydon Citizen, has emailed Councillors expressing concerns about the Business Plan.

  • ‘There is no projection of sales, revenue and returns to the shareholder? Timing is important. An estimate of project returns from tranches of projects is not sufficient.
  • The debt and interest payment forecasts are only for 12 months. This then stops with sunk costs of approaching £300,000,000 and debt in excess of £200,000,000, which is still climbing steeply. What is the (at least quarterly) forecast for debt and interest beyond that time?
  • Eight ‘key aims’ is far too many. To help decision making there need to be no more than three key aims.
  • There is no mention of constraints. For example, what is the limit to borrowing or how would it be determined? How many projects is too many?
  • There is no Board level responsibility for corporate risk management. As the text states, this is a complex programme, with a significant level of inherent risk. It is claimed corporate risk is addressed through its governance processes yet this is not specified as a role for the Board (Item 4.5). None of the senior roles have been assigned this responsibility.
  • The house price projections are in my view optimistic but we can argue all day about future house prices, what’s important is that the plan is robust against a lower house price/higher cost/delayed projects scenario. I suggest a one year delay and 0% growth in house price case is tested.
  • There are no performance indicators. How will the company, the council (and the public) monitor project delivery (in my opinion this should be quarterly)?’

Robert comments: ‘Property development is not a risk-free business, yet Brick by Brick as an entity is exposed to low risk. The risk is carried by the people of Croydon. Brick by Brick gets a valuable asset (prime building land) which then gets more valuable (through planning permission). If value is then squandered we will see reduced dividends, higher debt and debt interest payments resulting in either higher council tax payments or reduced services. And by then these prime assets will be gone.’

He asks that the Cabinet consider these concerns before approving the business plan.

 

 

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College Green/Fairfield Halls at Croydon Planning Committee on Thursday 23 February

Croydon Council’s  Planning Committee is being asked to approve the plans for the redevelopment of the College Green/Fairfield Halls area at its meeting on Thursday 23 February starting at 6.30pm at the Town Hall.

The officers’ report can be read here:

college-green-development

Is the Committee really independent?

Getting any changes to this application will be impossible, despite the Planning Committee’s quasi-judicial role independent of the wishes of the Council as applicant.

The report addresses this issue stating:

‘The Applicant being LB Croydon has no bearing on how the LPA considers planning merits and/or engages.  There is therefore no conflict of interest with the LPA operating independent from the applicant (as it does in any other circumstance.

Furthermore, in this particular instance, the LPA has employed an independent planning consultant to act as case officer (working closely alongside the Head of Development Management) to help ensure that no conflicts of interest arise.’

Consequences of rejection

However if the Planning Committee were to reject the application it would cause a major political crisis for the Labour leadership and its executive authority, not just because of its commitment to the flawed plans, but because it might jeopardise its development company Brick by Brick and risk losing the Coast to Capital grant towards the refurbishment of the Halls.

The Committee  cannot be expected because it has a track record of failure to protect the existing built environment against ambitious developments which have little architectural merit.

Changes of adjournment

The Conservatives are unlikely to propose an adjournment to enable the newly established Place Review Panel to consider and comment on the plans because:

  • two Conservative Councillors have submitted their support for the scheme.
  • Since with its track record of rarely agreeing to reject officers’ recommendations it is likely to accept that the officers suggestion that the Panel will be able to review and comment on emerging detailed proposals and applications for approval even though these are not matters which can be considered by the Planning Committee.

Arguments against approval

(1)    Its only providing 15% ‘affordable’ housing.

(2)     The loss of the architectural uniqueness and familiarity of the College building-  even though Historic England and the Secretary of State have refused to Grade II list it.

(3)   The waste of the £ms invested in the College building in recent years.

(4)    The squeezing of the open space and the failure to apply Garden City principles.

(5)    Thames Water’s view that the existing waste water infrastructure is unable to accommodate the needs of the application.

(6)    A design panel’s reservations including the unimaginative proposals for College Green.

Save Our Fairfield comment

Andy Hylton of the Save Our Fairfield campaign has emailed the following comments.

‘As you know, we campaigned for a phased development, to save over 150 jobs and to keep the Fairfield accessible for community groups and schools. Sadly, our concerns were ignored by Croydon Council. The Council’s forced closure put the charity into a difficult position. Without regular business or income they were forced into administration. This could have been avoided.

Since July 2016 we have seen little progress at the Fairfield. A wooden fence was erected around the entire site and the once vibrant venue fell silent. Christmas passed without the traditional Panto at Fairfield Halls and many diverse audiences, community groups, school children and vulnerable people have been denied access to this valued amenity.

Our campaign group will not sit in silence. We are theatre technicians, artists, musicians, architectural advisers, solicitors and patrons. We have the experience and knowledge to support this development from an operational perspective, technical and from the customer’s point of view.

The national advisory body for theatre, the Theatres Trust, agreed with our concerns when we advised against the costly ‘Truck Lift’ plans for the rear access due to logistical difficulties and maintenance costs. The Council have now scrapped this plan, saving £4 million of public money which could be spent on supporting the Arts and Culture for young people in the Borough. Just like the Theatres Trust, we also believe that “current and future generations should have access to good quality theatre buildings where they can be inspired by, and enjoy, live theatre.”

Croydon has an estimated population of 381,000 with 84,000 young people under the age of 15, the largest number of any other borough. Since the closure of Fairfield Halls, these young people now have neither a proper arts venue nor a strong, interim arts offering. Our young people deserve better than this. Six-months without this is already too long and two-years is completely unacceptable. If Croydon were a city it would be the sixth largest in the UK. A town the size of Croydon deserves a strong arts programmes of events, unified and under one banner.

Fairfield has the potential to be a centre of excellence for Music, Theatre and the Arts and we have always welcomed the investment in the building. In order for the venue to reach its potential the plans need to be right, especially for the incoming operators needs. We must ensure the venue’s viability for the next fifty years and beyond. We will be watching over the works until the Fairfield Halls are reopened and we will be submitting our concerns about the current plans to the Planning Committee.

This is a public meeting and all are welcome to attend, no tickets are necessary. There will also be a live webcast of the meeting which can be found through the Croydon Council website.’

 

 

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