6 November – editorial changes re-headings plus comments by Andrew Kennedy
The Council has had a meeting with the Whitgift site owner and developer and discussed changes to the existing planning permission, which will involve the retention of more of the existing buildings.
The details are not yet public. If a major re-design is underway then it is important that the following issues that that have previously been raised should be considered:
Indiscriminate Demolition & Active Frontages
The proposed regeneration of more existing buildings may be welcome, depending on whether or not they include the office tower blocks. If they include the preservation of older buildings then this will be welcome.
The case against indiscriminate demolition and for active frontages was put by Andrew Kennedy to the CPO Planning Inquiry in 2014. He cited as examples 5 George St and the Grant’s building.
‘No. 5 George Street, Entrance to Allders Mall. Under a previous order the façade was retained and the building and roof demolished behind. Subsequent years of neglect since the front of the building was closed off with mirror glass have got it to the state where it is now no longer considered worth preserving. The original roof was removed and an industrial style roof imposed which is not only out of character with the saved façade but also extended over the neighbouring building which is of a completely different building style. The result is a dead and decaying façade that may not be recoverable. Where what was something that was deemed worth saving is now considered only fit for demolition.’
‘The former Grants Building, High Street, Croydon. Example of over powering roof line due to original roof being demolished right up to the front of the building. Also blank walls behind window openings that has resulted in a dead facade. The councils own CAAMP statement (adopted 9th January 2014) recognises the loss of original roof lines but this has not been enshrined in any new conditions that would make a difference in the future. The CPO and the CAAMP do not give sufficient guidance and do not stipulate anything that would prevent the same happening again. It does not mention that roof slopes must be preserved as well as facades retained. The steel structure behind the façade does not follow the original floor levels and the windows have been blanked off. This has only paid lip service to the saving of the façade and has been done to make the construction of the inner building simpler rather than to retain a recognisable use for the window openings.’
‘A feature that is essential for a successful retained façade is what use the first few feet of the building is put too. The floor levels, the window openings must be consistent with the existing building. Sometimes this will means restoring the original use of the building but with new floors behind, At other times more imaginative solutions can be found but using the original room heights (or multiples thereof). Once windows are opened up to let light through and to show signs of life behind then the building façade has a fighting chance of succeeding. Installing mirror glass to hide what is going on behind will inevitably lead to deterioration of the asset and to a deteriorating street scene.’
I pointed out at the Inquiry that the Council’s Opportunity Planning Framework (OAPF) for the Town Centre stated that North End ‘houses a mix of heritage assets which play an important role in defining the area’s character’, and endorsed the concept of active facades for conserved heritage frontages, as argued for in his evidence by Andrew.
Heritage Assets – not to be left to Reserved Matters
I drew the Inquiry Inspector’s attention to the statement in the Council’s Sustainability Review consultation about its past failure to protect the heritage built environment. ‘If the Council has admitted its own past failings then its heritage planning policies are flawed. Therefore CLP’s heritage statement is built on wobbly foundations. What is of particular concern is that given the way in which details are dealt with as reserve matters so that the Planning Committee will not be considering a detailed application, then any detailed changes to the treatment of the heritage buildings may not reflect any new requirements.’
‘Once demolished there can be no going back and a weak regulatory system makes a nonsense of the idea of a locally listed asset.’
It is to be hoped that any changed planning application will provide full detail of any further steps to preserve heritage buildings and not be left as reserve matters.
District Energy System – Provision of by the CLP
A new application will give an opportunity to try and ensure that the Council’s long-term aim for a district energy system is implemented. I pointed out at the CPO Inquiry that the OAPF discussed the need to connect to and help deliver a Croydon Opportunity Area wide district energy system where feasible. I pointed out that while the Plan envisaged the first phase would be in Mid- and East Croydon, the CLP redevelopment of the Retail Core should have enabled not just the provision of a Combined Heat and Power facility in the new development and connectivity to a plant for the whole OA, but should have been used to deliver that plant.
CLP proposed to provide a CHP system with a total capacity of 2,450 kilowatts, but did not mention the connectivity to a future district energy network, although that was covered by a planning approval condition. I suggested that the Council should discuss with the developer providing for a much larger facility to meet the needs of the whole Opportunity Area or at least that part west of Wellesley Rd, with the developer being able to re-coup its extra investment through the sale of power to others connected to the system
Questions I asked at the time may still be valid given the other developments that have taken place in the Town Centre.
- What is the total kilowatt capacity projected for the power needs of the whole Opportunity Area?
- What is the total kilowatt capacity for the power needs of the Opportunity area west of Wellesley Rd?
- What is the projected cost of constructing the CLP facility?
- What is the estimated cost of constructing a facility that could meet the needs of the whole Opportunity Area?
- What is the estimated cost of constructing a facility that could meet the needs of the Opportunity area west of Wellesley Rd?
Electrical Energy – Additional Sub Station required
At the time of the CPO Inquiry the OAPF stated:
‘There is a lack of resilience in the local supply network, which requires the provision of a third, strategic sub-station in the town centre.’ ‘Without this provision development of several key sites becomes problematic and electricity supply becomes a major constraint on further new homes, offices and shops.’ I put the following questions to the Inspector:
- Has agreement been reached on the provision of a third sub-station with the appropriate energy supplier and will it be located in the Retail Core or elsewhere in the OA?
- When will it be built and what disruption to pavements and roads will be caused to ensure that it is linked in with the underground grid across the OA?
- Will there be a link of the improved energy grid with the proposed CLP CHP plant in the event that CLP is able to sell energy to into the grid?
Water supplies – Impact Study required as a condition
Given the Thames Water prediction since
2014 of a water shortage in London and the South East my suggestion at the Inquiry that there be a planning condition requiring the submission and approval of impact studies on existing water supplies should be part of the on-going negotiations with the developer.
Retail and Leisure Provision
The nature of consumer retail leisure and retail activity has changed dramatically since 2014. At that time the Council had simply accepted the developer’s case for the proposed retail and leisure provision without taking a wider view about what is needed in the area and the wider Town Centre. I cited at the Inquiry the following examples of potential provision:
- Different meeting and event venues of sizes for which there is a demand because existing facilities like Fairfield Halls and the Conference Centre either are too large or too expensive.
- A new small independent theatre premises to replace the Warehouse Theatre.
- A museum and arts centre facility.
- High-speed broadband infrastructure to service all retail, leisure and residential units, and the provision of public broadband information kiosks for use by people in the Retail Core to allow them to find out more about the wider Town Centre.
Independent Shops – once a feature of Croydon town centre
I argued at the Inquiry that one of the attractions of Croydon was the variety of small shops. ‘The scheme should be judged on the extent to which it helps to sustain this. The danger is that the increase in rental and rateable values by the new scheme will filter into the wider Town Centre encouraging landlords to put up rents leading to the closure of many small businesses.’
The retail and leisure issues are compounded by the retail and leisure offer in the St George’s redevelopment which is being progressed, but for which there was no indication of development at the time pf the Inquiry.
The Revision in 2016
When the developer submitted its revised application in 2016 there were several potential negative features:
- The increase in the number of storeys for the proposed residential tower blocks which could cause problems in terms of the heritage assets and the visual amenity of the people who already, or will live in the new schemes such as Saffron Square and Delta Point.
- The absence of the previously proposed roof garden community space for residents.
Challenges of a new application now being considered in 2019/2020
In terms of amendments now being considered over three years later, the new application will need to be accompanied by a new Environmental Impact Assessment and other special studies, especially in view of the Council’s commitment to a carbon free Croydon. There will also need to be an assessment of the following concerns raised at the time:
- the significant increase in massing of the 2016 scheme and how this will be modified in a revised scheme.
- the impacts of any changing in massing on heritage assets e.g. the Almshouses and St. Michaels and All Angels Church, and in relation to the Central Croydon Conservation Area.
- the creation of a high quality public realm on Wellesley Road.
- the creation of a vibrant urban block lined with active frontages incorporating residential at upper floor.
In relation to the public realm on Wellesley Rd there should be significant tree planting and small green spaces to soften the building environment and help combat air pollution.
As the Planners commented in 2017 at the time: ‘the design approach requires further work to demonstrate’ ‘an appropriately balanced and informed relationship between the retail and residential aspirations of the proposal and the wider aims and aspirations for the Opportunity Area and Croydon as a Metropolitan Centre.’
When the Planning Committee considered the revised plans in November 2017 I urged the members to support a much more imaginative approach which could include:
(1) spreading the new homes across the top of the centre in accordance with the historic “Living Over the Shop” element of the Town Centre’s streets, and produce a lower roof height enabling the proposed towers to be dispensed with.
(2) creating an extensive public green space on the roof, identified as a top priority by members of the public in the Nudge Factory survey, and which could be looked after by community gardeners.
(3) providing a major public performance, art and meeting place and fountain.
(4) providing a major leisure facility such as a swimming pool and dance studio, as suggested to Westfield in 2012, and which would attract more people instead of a cinema which will compete with the existing Vue.
(5) returning the former Allders building into a premier department store.
(6) reducing conflict between pedestrians and car park traffic on Wellesley Rd, by reconfiguring the car parks and increasing drop-off (and pick up space for cars, taxis and self-driving vehicles) along Wellesley Rd.
(7) contributing to employing local people and paying them the London Living Wage.
University Campus and Students
South Bank University is still looking for a campus and that 1,000 students are expected to be in Croydon to study from next September. As I have suggested in my comment in the blog posting
Campus facilities could be provided in the new Centre.
Some of these issues may still be relevant in the discussion
on a revised application and in assessing the merits
and negative aspects of that application.
Comments by Andrew Kennedy
District Energy Scheme: Is there an example from around the world of good practice where a district heating system has been introduced in similar circumstances?
Revised plans 2019/20:
Amend (6): reducing conflict between pedestrians and car park traffic on Wellesley Rd, by reconfiguring the car parks and increasing drop-off (and pick up space for cars, taxis and self-driving vehicles) for the disabled along Wellesley Rd. Consider bringing back into use the existing peripheral car parks at Sydenham Road and at the Croydon Flyover and build new ones on the periphery, then pedestrianise the town centre.