Don’t take your eyes off the plans for Westfield now that Boxpark is here

By - Thursday 1st December, 2016

The council must make sure that watertight commitments are agreed with the Croydon Partnership prior to ground being broken

The Planning Committee will have a difficult task when it comes to considering the report on the revised application by Hammerson/Westfield’s Croydon Limited Partnership (CLP). The rules governing the role of people who have submitted comments will severely curtail their being able to address the committee and comment on the way the officers report their objections, and other comments. The committee may therefore wish to hold an informal meeting to discuss concerns with objectors prior to the formal meeting on the application. Alternatively, the Scrutiny Committee may wish to hold a special meeting for the same purpose.

One of those issues will be the extent to which the retained buildings and facades are treated.

‘I agree entirely that it is imperative for the environmental well-being of the area that the detailed design of the Scheme does not repeat errors that have been perpetrated in the past, particularly around the treatment of retained buildings and facades.

So said (with my italics for emphasis) the Inspector of the Whitgift Centre CPO Inquiry in his report commenting on the concerns expressed to him by Andrew Kennedy especially in relation to the treatment of the former Allders store frontage.

With hundreds of pages and issues spreading across 45 documents, trying to comment on the revised planning application on the centre has been a daunting exercise, especially as there was only a three week period. This was not helped by problems with downloading some of the documents.

Because the council does not publish the details of submissions, there is no way of knowing what concerns have been raised

Only 15 people, including myself, felt able to submit their views. There are a much larger number of statutory consultee submissions. Since the CPO was granted following the public inquiry, there have been no grounds to oppose the scheme as a whole. Because the council does not publish the details of submissions, there is no way of knowing what concerns have been raised.

Because of the problem of not being able to download some documents, I have had to re-submit a number of questions I raised in the previous consultation of the Environmental Impact Assessment Scoping Study last year, because I have no way of knowing whether they have been sufficiently answered.

Impact on the town centre

Taking into account comments by the CPO Inquiry Inspector, I have posed a question as to whether the revised scheme opens up the debate again about the impact on the town centre. I have suggested that the report to the Planning Committee should include an up-to-date assessment on how the proposed changes to the scheme will impact on the town centre, especially on infrastructure, and especially given the proposed increase in the number of residential units.

Affordable housing

CLP is offering the council a guarantee that they will only charge 80% discounted rent against private market levels for the proposed ‘affordable’ housing units to be provided. This leaves room for the council to try and negotiate a larger discount. They also propose prioritisation of ‘affordable housing’ lettings to the council’s housing waiting list.

I have suggested that this needs to be looked at carefully by the officers informing the Planning Committee of assessments of the number of bedroom sizes proposed against the bedroom size needs of those on the housing waiting list; of the number on the list with children who would wish to be offered a flat given the shortage of nearby play space; and of their ability to afford the discounted rent levels (showing bands of 20%, 30%, 40% and 50%).

Without such analysis, it will be difficult for the committee to decide whether the proposed housing provision and ‘affordable rent’ element will meet the council’s aspirations.

The provision of student residential accommodation has several advantages

The Croydon Limited Partnership also proposes a covenant that the non-discounted private rental units will be let for a period of no fewer than 15 years. It is clear that the 15 year period is linked to funding, and CLP suggests that there will be no change in tenure to sale afterwards. The Planning Committee may wish to add a condition that a covenant to ensure that the units remain available for renting is watertight and approved prior to a start of construction. It may also wish to have a similar covenant for the discounted rented units.

There is also a suggestion that there is potential for student residential accommodation or hotel use. The provision of student residential accommodation has several advantages, including providing an alternative to family housing units in tower blocks which are not the best environments for children to grow up in; decreasing the pressure on traditional residential homes being let to students thereby losing family homes with gardens which are more suitable to children to grow up in; providing potential users of the late evening economy in the town centre with less problems relating to conflicts over noise; and a workforce for the restaurant and bar businesses across the whole town centre.

Housing Numbers

The application refers to the 10,000 new homes target for the Croydon Opportunity Area. The report to the Planning Committee should include an appendix showing the total number of residential units which have had planning permission granted in the OA; been completed; are under construction; and are are awaiting construction works to start.

If the target of 10,000 has already been met, then there should be a discussion about whether additional units above 10,000 are needed in the COA under current approved policies. A discussion is also required about the additional infrastructure implications of having more units that the COA plan provides for.

CLP refers to the proposed increase in the 10,000 target to 10,650 units in the Local Plan Partial Review For Submission. This figure is not relevant to the consideration of the contribution the proposed units will make to achieving or overachieving on the current policy target of 10,000. The submission has yet to be approved by the council’s cabinet following the public consultation, and be approved by the Planning Inspector at the inquiry that will take place about it.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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