Saffron Square: A Positive Development for Croydon

By - Tuesday 3rd September, 2013

Tom Lickley argues that the vibrancy and quality Berkeley’s new development will bring to Croydon is intrinsic to the regeneration of the town centre

Saffron Square, the new residential development which has risen next to West Croydon station, and is set to rise further with the addition of a 45 story tower, has attracted some thorny comments upon social media. Various figures are critical of its architecture, or are slightly resentful of the demographic the developers, Berkeley Homes, are trying to attract. My argument is that not only is a development like Saffron Square needed in Croydon – but it is essential if we want to move forwards as a town.

Firstly, a confession for those reading who have yet to read some of my other articles, or know little of my background. Having studied development over the past year as part of a Masters degree, and having taken a work placement at a major property developer (not the one this article focuses upon), I have appreciated both the academic theory and the business needs behind a development of this type. I too share some concerns about affordable housing, as I expressed in my previous article on the conversion of the former Nestle HQ - not least because I am coming to the age where house buying is becoming a serious topic for me.

Berkeley is a publicly listed company – so not only do they need to make a profit, but they also need to provide a dividend to shareholders

So, what makes Saffron Square so valuable to Croydon? It would be remiss not to mention the Westfield/Hammerson development; a project such as that needs those with a disposable income in the locality – not just to spend money on clothes at the weekend, but also to provide Croydon with an evening economy. The trend within retail developments at present is to provide much more than just shops – restaurants and leisure are vital in an age where online shopping almost eliminates the need to physically shop for goods. Wander around Croydon on Sunday-Wednesday evenings, and the streets will be almost entirely empty. Not an image the council, or we as citizens, would like to project. Whether it be Croydon or elsewhere, a dark, empty street at night is not a pleasant place to be. So how about a major residential development, feeding people who have the capabilities to spend into the town centre, creating demand for restaurants, for more leisure facilities?

By looking at previous developments by Berkeley, and the promotional material distributed by the housing developer, one can be assured that Saffron Square will be a stunning landmark for Croydon. The tower itself will add to the growing skyline of Croydon, and the development itself replaces land which had lain empty for many years. Not only this, but Saffron Square extends the town centre towards the north of Croydon somewhat. The prices are high – but you are buying quality. The services, views and build of the development will justify the prices, when one considers what a ‘normal’ price for a house in Greater London is.

Mark Prisk visits Saffron Square during construction. Photo by Department for Communities and Local Government. Image used under Creative Commons License.

Affordable housing: a major topic throughout the country. A major topic for Croydon in particular, with the town projected to grow to a population of 400,000 by 2031. These figures tend to be at the low end of estimates – so the figure could be considerably higher. With the current population estimated at 364,800, this means Croydon will need to provide houses for an extra 35,000 people in the next twenty years or so. With house prices also continuing to rise, there clearly needs to be provision in Croydon for housing to be affordable and available to all.

A quick look at the Saffron Square website demonstrates high prices – but also high quality residential units in a town centre location. One must look at the developer’s perspective behind this; land values within a town centre are high – next to a mainline train station perhaps even higher. Berkeley Homes has developed Saffron Square not only to provide Croydon with a new, good quality residential option, but also to make a profit. Berkeley is a publicly listed company – so not only do they need to make a profit, but they also need to provide a dividend to shareholders; they cannot therefore build a development where making a profit is an uncertainty.

It is the most expensive apartments – the three bedroom units – which make or break whether a development provides a profit

For many developers within residential property, it is the most expensive apartments – the three bedroom units – which make or break whether a development provides a profit. Of course, if more of the development was given over to affordable housing, this would mean the prices of the three bedroom units would be higher – pushing them out of reach for the vast majority. Saffron Square, through shared ownership with affordable homes provider, Affinity Sutton (who has interests all over the borough) will be selling thirty-six one or two bedroom units through affordable housing schemes – meaning the development is not out of reach for all.

A local political blog recently suggested the Council is not doing enough to provide housing for “ordinary hard-working people” (I’m not quite sure what that is supposed to imply) in the town centre. My argument is, Croydon should be excited to attract young professionals, those with a disposable income, to the town centre (and those purchasing a home in Saffron Square will have certainly worked hard to earn an apartment). Why? Those who are young and with disposable income are likely to drive demand for greater cultural facilities, niche businesses and improved nightlife – something which the whole town can benefit from.

The town fundamentally needs affordable and social housing – this is without doubt. However, it has to be questioned as to why this needs to be in the town centre. With land values high, both developers and the council need to maximise profits – this will then present the council with the opportunity to spend money elsewhere in the borough. Arguably, Croydon Council is taking a long term view – create a high profit, to improve the borough as a whole in the long term and meet the needs of those who require social and affordable housing, which will only increase in the future. The only other option is to sell the land short now, and create affordable housing on land with the potential to generate far higher profits – a short term solution to a long term problem.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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  • Mario Creatura

    Tom – a phenomenally astute piece.

    Attracting young professionals with a disposable income into the borough is absolutely critical for our long-term survival. You’re right to suggest that they will ‘drive demand for greater cultural facilities, niche businesses and improved nightlife,’ and that can only be a good thing for the brand and the experience of the wider borough.

    A recent trip to Shoreditch demonstrated to me everything that Croydon town centre could be. A relatively young crowd peacefully enjoying the grassroots fruit of a town intent on providing the entertainment and cultural experiences that residents craved. People traveled from across London to take part (including me). If projects like Saffron Square, Tech City and the South End Food Festival brought even a fraction of that audience to the town then Croydon could have a very bright future indeed.

    Interestingly when I toured the site last year, the sales manager told me that many of the flats were being sold to not just young professionals, but senior consultants from some of the more prestigious city firms including London hospitals. Saffron Square is attracting the talented and successful, both young and mature, into our suburb. This isn’t just an invasion of young hipsters. Once these people settle, and if their experience is positive, then they’ll improve the reputation of the town through their extensive networks.

    This is a long-term dream, but one that’s not now impossible to think will exist in reality.

  • Anne Giles

    Excellent article.

  • George Harfleet

    OMG! What a monstrosity. Yuppy Towers!
    Ho hum … onwards and upwards.

  • David White

    I suspect a lot of these apartments will be bought by overseas investors and used as pieds-a-terre or left empty for much of the time. This will do nothing to revitalise Croydon or deal with the housing crisis.

    • Tom Lickley

      Certainly there will be a level of foreign investment, and the development will most likely be used as pieds-a-terre during the retail development construction. However, I do not believe ‘a lot’ of these apartments will be bought by overseas investors – there are significantly more attractive places within Greater London to live closer to the centre of the city.

      Croydon needs to embrace temporary living rather than repel – there is a great opportunity to make Croydon investable here. As mentioned, the development has the potential to stimulate regeneration by creating demand for leisure, restaurants etc. – give reasons for foreign investors, or renters, reasons to stay in the town and invest further.

      This all adds into the long term vision for Croydon and its housing needs. I don’t think it will deal with the housing crisis – but it will provide an example for other developers to follow which will help more in the long run than low quality, stack ‘em and rack ‘em developments in the town centre, uninspiring and not conducive to wider regeneration or investment.

      What do you believe is the alternative to revitalising Croydon?

  • nmakwana

    Good article and I largely agree with your views on this. However, what will stop Saffron Square becoming another Altitude25? I ask this as a genuine question. Presumably Berkeley Homes have studied what went wrong there and learned from it.

    • Tom Lickley

      Thanks – I think with Berkeley behind it, the marketing scope will be much greater than Altitude 25 – with Berkeley having a responsibility to shareholders to maintain great quality housing, and housing that will sell, I’m sure they will have done thorough market research beforehand.

      It may also help that the economy is now starting to grow again, whereas the recession was in full force, and house prices in their 2009 dip, when Altitude 25 was completed.