All yuppie apartments and no family homes – a risk for central Croydon?

By - Friday 6th March, 2015

As private sector rental booms in Croydon, Sean Creighton takes a look at Criterion Capital’s housing projects

Photo by Alvin Shivmangal, used with permission.

‘If councils no longer play a significant role as housing providers, they surely have a duty of care to ensure rogue landlords do not exploit the market’. (Property Week magazine, 26th September 2014.)

The significance of Croydon Council as a housing provider has of course declined steeply, and the growth of the private rented sector can be seen nowhere more clearly than in Croydon town centre. Hoardings have now been erected around Delta Point, the former British Telecom building at 32 Wellesley Road. It’s part of the preparation by its owner Criterion Capital to convert it into approximately 350 one and two bedroom apartments with new cladding following its purchase for £5million.

In Norbury, meanwhile, Criterion is planning to convert the former Age Concern UK HQ building, Astral House, into approximately 49 residential one and two bed apartments and is seeking permission to add an additional floor. This application is being considered by the council planning officers.

Families shouldn’t be housed in multistorey flats – the borough needs homes of different sizes

The investment in private sector rented apartments is growing apace in Croydon through the conversion of empty office blocks. This is allowed under national planning permitted development rules. While the council’s Article 4 Determination exempts the town centre from this ruling so that all future proposals will have to seek planning permission, it still applies elsewhere, posing a threat to potential office jobs in district centres like Norbury where conversions are still permitted without lengthy processes of application.

There’s a strong case that families should not be housed in multistorey blocks, and an emerging danger of over provision of one and two bedroom apartments in Croydon. The council’s planning policy seeks to ensure that a choice of homes of different sizes is available in the borough, and goes further, actually setting a target that 60% of all new homes outside of the Croydon Opportunity Area should have three or more bedrooms, to accommodate larger families.

Local planners find it difficult to keep family-sized homes from being converted into smaller dwellings

So when Norbury’s Astral House development recently failed to meet this 60% target, this became one of the grounds for objections to it by the Norbury Residents’ Associations. They  are also concerned about the way council planners find it difficult to prevent the conversion of family-sized houses with gardens into flats, thereby removing them permanently from local stocks of suitable family accommodation.

Criterion Capital is an interesting company. It is proud of its support for a number of charities both in the UK and overseas. In 2005 a company called Golfrate purchased the Trocadero, in Central London, and the St Nicholas Shopping Centre in Sutton. Both are now part of Criterion Capital’s portfolio. While Golfrate does not seem to have been busy in Croydon in terms of planning applications, it does now own or manage a lot of property in the borough: following its applications to develop 19 High Street, South Norwood, in 2005 and 75-77 Whitehorse Road in 2007, these locations are no longer on the council’s planning register. Golfrate lost its appeal on the development of 417-421 Brighton Road in 2007.

Then in 2012 the council refused it permission to replace the Selhurst Arms pub with houses on the grounds that their siting and the massing of buildings would leave the site over-developed and create a cramped and overcrowded layout to the detriment of adjoining property. Last year it was given approval to turn the pub  into a retail store and flats.

Criterion Capital is in favour of raising standards in the private rental sector

In the light of Croydon Council’s consultation on bringing in a selective landlord licensing scheme, it is both interesting and encouraging to note that Asif Aziz, Criterion Capital’s CEO, is firmly in favour of action against rogue landlords. According to a press release issued by the company on 16th October 2014: ‘Additional proposals for local authorities to adopt (and enforce) licensing schemes are also to be encouraged in terms of raising standards across the sector as a whole and in ensuring the private rental sector comes of age as an asset class.’

The boom in private rental sector activity is no panacea for the economic, political and social issues posed by London’s runaway housing market. As long, however, as the sector exists, it needs to be responsibly managed.

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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  • John Gass

    I too worry about the skew in new housing provision and the impact it might have on Croydon in general. Specifically, that we might end up with a destabilising excess of young singles and couples who reside in Croydon but spend no time or money here. We need a diversified population and that requires a diversified provision of homes.

    I’ve wondered whether there are any studies or guidelines which address the issue of maximum sustainable population density – something in the form of N people per hectare of land. If this exists somewhere, I think it could help ensure that the borough’s housing provides homes appropriate for our diverse population and that we retain sufficient neighbourhood open spaces and can be confident that the local infrastructure, including schools, GPs etc., could cope with demand.

  • Stephen Giles

    In Croydon there seems to be an obsession with creating family dwellings in the centre area – quite unlike any other town or city I have visited!

    • John Gass

      Dwellings, yes, but family dwellings? How are you defining a family dwelling? What defining features do they have? What separates them from ‘executive apartments’?

      • Stephen Giles

        It would be interesting to see a study on this first, then perhaps one might might be in a position to make a more informed guess.