Last night, Croydon Council's Strategic Planning Committee considered major planning applications for three key sites in the town centre:
- the Stanhope/Schroders scheme for the land to west of East Croydon station, a mixed use scheme incorporating buildings of between 4 and 20 storeys;
- a 17-storey building on the site of the former Essex House on George Street; and
- the Menta scheme for the land to the east of East Croydon station along Cherry Orchard Road, a mixed use scheme incorporating a 53-storey tower.
I haven't had a single constituent contact me objecting to either of the first two schemes and it was great to see the Committee approve them. The Stanhope/Schroders site in particular has lain empty for years and gives a very poor impression of the town when visitors arrive at East Croydon station.
The Menta scheme, however, is much more controversial. Cherry Orchard Road is certainly in need of regeneration but that does not mean that the Council should accept anything that is proposed. Although some residents thought the scheme a price worth paying to get investment into the area, a clear majority objected to the height of the main tower on this particular location right next to two-storey residential housing. When you saw the architect's illustration of the view from Oval Road if the development was built, or heard from officers that at 4pm in late March the main tower will cast a shadow 880 metres long, you can understand why. It is my job to represent the people I was elected to serve so I submitted an objection, as did Steve O'Connell our local London Assembly member and Sean Fitzsimmons, Mark Watson and Patricia Hay-Justice, the three Labour councillors for Addiscombe.
I am therefore obviously disappointed that my Conservative colleagues on the Committee voted to approve the application. The key argument was that the proposed location for the tower is within - though right on the edge of - the area that the then Labour administration designated as suitable for tall buildings. We argued that this policy didn't mean that very tall buildings should be approved anywhere within this area, that good town planning entails have the tallest buildings in the middle of the town centre and a gradual phasing down to the edge of the town centre and surrounding two storey residential housing. Officers specifically rejected this argument citing precedents - Altitude 25 next to the Croydon Park Hotel and Ryland House in Old Town - which are of course among the most unpopular buildings in the borough. They had clearly advised my colleagues that if they rejected the application, their decision would be over-turned on appeal.
The only silver lining was that, when summing up, Cllr Osland, the Chairman of the Committee, recognised the detrimental impact on the immediate locality, though he believed that this was overriden by the wider benefit to Croydon, and said that the Council must do all it could to mitigate it. In my remarks to the Committee, I gave one example of what they could do. One of the conditions the Committee attached to the planning permission is that the developer must contribute nearly £2 million to improve local health facilities, green spaces, public realm, East Croydon station etc. Local residents must be given a say in exactly how this money is spent. If officers were to divert it into the town centre, that really would be to add insult to injury. I will be pursuing this matter.
I will also try to persuade my colleagues to amend planning policy so that there is a presumption that the tallest buildings go right in the centre of town, otherwise we are going to have more Menta's, Altitude 25's etc.
And of course we will now wait to see whether the developer will actually build the scheme or, as some suspect, sell the site now it has planning permission and bank a profit.