Croydon’s Labour-led council just isn’t listening


By - Thursday 12th April, 2018

Why Brick by Brick is a bad idea for everyone in Croydon


Residents protest Croydon Council's Brick by Brick development company

Concerned residents from across Croydon protest about the council’s Brick by Brick development company.
Photo by Brick by Brick Action, used with permission.

Labour councillors recently demonstrated their indifference to the residents in the council’s own estates, who are worried that the council has declared war on their community.

On Monday 26th March 2018, a group of concerned residents marched on Croydon Town Hall and staged a friendly but determined protest outside it. These protestors, mostly apolitical but including a number of lifelong members of the Labour Party, simply want the council to listen to the community before charging in to concrete over their green spaces, remove their parking and take all of the light from their flats or houses.

The council organisation in question is Brick by Brick (BXB for short). This is an apparently ‘totally independent’ company, which in reality is 100% owned by Croydon Council. It plans to build developments up and down the borough, many as ‘in-fill’ on existing small council estates.

Most residents accept that more development is needed, but want their quality of life protected

The problem is that it has failed miserably to convince communities that this is a good thing. Most residents accept that more development is needed, but they want the quality of life for all residents to be protected when development takes place, instead of the council just cramming as many flats as it can into each square inch of green space.

The mechanics of BXB have also caused outrage. To enable development, the council has borrowed money and lent it to BXB, which has used it to buy land from… the council. It will then develop the sites, some for (expensive) private sale, some as shared ownership, and a few for discounted rent. The majority will be for private sale and are not social or council housing.

And none of the properties is to be proper ‘council housing’, with all of the benefits to its tenants that that brings. Instead the developer will sell the developed units on to a council-owned charity, which will rent them on.

The government has capped what councils can borrow, and Croydon isn’t far from that cap

Why, you might ask, does the council need this tortuous process to build its ‘social’ housing? Why doesn’t it just build council houses?

The Labour Party line is that it can’t; the government has capped what councils can borrow and Croydon is only a year or so of development away from the cap. What the council doesn’t mention is that the government has repeatedly said that if a council wants to build, that cap can be lifted provided that it is in an area of high demand (which we are). And they haven’t tried very hard to get that cap lifted, because it is, of course, not the real reason that BXB exists.

The evidence is clear. More council houses have been built nationally in the eight years of Conservative-led governments since 2010 than in the whole thirteen years of Labour governments from 1997 to 2010. It’s not the Conservatives that don’t want to build council houses, it’s Labour.

The Conservatives stand ready to work with Labour on this matter

The fact is that the person who was MP for Croydon Central until June 2017, Gavin Barwell, was the minister for housing, and the MP for Croydon South, Chris Philp, is the PPS for the Secretary of State responsible for housing! They’re pretty well connected to help Croydon Council to build more council houses. We Conservatives have always stood ready to work with Labour to get the cap raised for Croydon (which the government has consistently said that it is willing to do), but the truth isn that Labour is not serious about doing that. The government has recently raised the borrowing cap by over £1 billion. Where is Labour Croydon in the queue to take advantage of this? Nowhere to be seen.

The reason? Right to buy. If the council builds housing as council houses, after a period of time those properties can be bought by their tenants, if they wish to do so. And Labour absolutely hates right to buy. So much better to keep the tenants permanently dependent for their discounted rent on a generous, wise and all-knowing council.

Is it an odd concept for the state to build a house only for its resident to later acquire the right to buy it? Perhaps. But it’s certainly no odder than building shared-ownership properties, which the council is wading into via Brick by Brick. There, from the outset, tenants can progressively buy their way into the property.

We should be building more council houses

I believe that the best social housing is council housing and that, as a council, we should push ahead with building more council houses. But wherever we do it, we need to take the community with us. We need to respect the rights of existing residents to a decent quality of life, while also enabling their children to aspire to own a home of their own.

It’s possible, if you build the right sort of developments in the right places. We don’t have to accept every planned development, whatever the cost in terms of quality of life. We need far more family homes in the mix and fewer pokey flats, which will mainly be bought by incoming commuters. And we absolutely must not build the slums of the future in our rush to hit housing unit targets.

Croydon Labour says that it wants to build homes, yet it has chosen a tortuous way to do it for ideological reasons. To avoid giving its tenants future rights, it has chosen instead to build flats for sale which are way out of the reach of most people. In order to (apparently) build homes for the people, it has chosen to become a rapacious property developer and trample on the rights of neighbours. We think that it has its priorities all wrong, and if you agree with us then you have the chance to make your voice heard in the local elections on Thursday 3rd May.

Tim Pollard

Tim Pollard

Tim has lived in Sanderstead for twenty years and has been working hard for local residents since his first election as a Councillor there in 2002. Tim is the Leader of the Conservative Councillors on Croydon Council. The Croydon Conservative manifesto for the 2018 election can be found at http://croydonconservatives.com/manifesto/.

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  • RSDavies

    Cllr Pollard offers a fascinating perspective, but while he is critical of the current council administrations approach and achievements, he fails to identify exactly where in Croydon the 1,000′s of much needed council houses (not flats) will be built. My reading of the Planning Master Plan it is largely a continuation of the plans set out prior to the 2014 election and shaped by the Conservatives, that precludes the quantity of development needed to meet demand. The Master Plan has support of the majority of Croydon and it was evident that they majority might like to see more affordable homes, including council housing, they don’t want the developments in the backyards.
    If there is a functioning community in Croydon that is willing to work towards to common good and put aside individual interests, then that community needs to explore why more housing is needed; what are the consequences of not having enough affordable housing; and then work out very rapidly what will address the need.
    To date I have not seen any indication that any such sense of community exists.