This post was first published by Croydon Advertiser on 27/10/2018.
‘These new homes are good for Croydon’ – Boss of controversial developer speaks out
Do council-owned developer Brick by Brick’s planning applications get approved too easily? Here’s what its boss has to say.
The first two Brick by Brick developments are soon set to be completed, so Local Democracy Reporter Tara O’Connor spoke to the company’s chief executive Colm Lacey about winning planning permission, listening to residents – and not cutting corners.
The Croydon Council-owned developer has had about 40 planning applications approved in the past two years.
But it has come under fire from residents living near planned sites as some think the plans are getting through too easily.
Mr Lacey insists Brick by Brick’s focus on affordable housing and offering homes to Croydon residents first is good news for the area.
He said: “About two and a half years ago the council was delivering council housing through traditional means – getting grants in from people like the GLA.
“They were delivering new council homes on council estates, maybe 20 to 30 units per year. Outside of that, they were selling plots of land to developers.
“None of their practices were delivering the number of homes that the council needed – they weren’t getting as much from developers as they wanted.”
Although the sole shareholder of Brick by Brick is Croydon Council, the company is a separate entity.
It is currently based at Bernard Weatherill House, but the team of 18 are set to move out of the council offices in the coming months.
The council sells land as well as lends money to Brick by Brick, which then applies to the council for planning permission to build on it.
Profits from the sale and rent of affordable homes will come back to the council as “un-ringfenced” cash which can be used by the council how it chooses.
Brick by Brick has faced criticism from some Croydon residents who believe there is a conflict of interest given that the council is the company’s sole shareholder and the authority which has to give or deny planning permission.
So, how does Brick by Brick work?
So far the company has racked up about 40 planning consents and building work has started on half of these developments.
“Basically, we should be the developer that the council has always wanted to work with,” said Mr Lacey.
“There is a need for new affordable homes in Croydon but in providing this you are always going to create change and not everybody is happy about change.
“One of the challenges is working with residents and making clear that there are going to be new homes for Croydon residents.”
Sites that Brick by Brick is building on include council-owned garages.
“The garages are used for people to store stuff but we believe that they have a better usage as homes,” said the chief executive.
“We understand this is going to be annoying for some people.
“We believe that they could be used as a great benefit to the community and we do, of course, work locally with public consultation sessions. We actually change our schemes quite a lot from the feedback.
“Typically they are small and a lot of the comments we get from people are that they are too dense.
“The idea is you live here, you know all about it, give us the knowledge.
“But sometimes people are saying ‘we don’t want anything to do with it at all’ so it’s not an easy process.”
Who will live in the developments?
All private and shared ownership homes will be offered to Croydon residents for two months before they are put out to the general public.
Mr Lacey added: “I do think people’s mindsets change when they see the developments completed.”
Homes in developments in Auckland Rise and Ravensdale Gardens, both in Upper Norwood, are set to go on offer in December.
Mr Lacey expects people to start moving into the first Brick by Brick sites in February.
Why are all of Brick by Brick’s applications approved by the council?
“Of course, we would never submit something that we knew wouldn’t get accepted,” said Mr Lacey.
“We don’t cut corners through the planning process, we have a long discussion with the planners about what is and isn’t acceptable.
“We deliberately use different architects because we like the fact they all bring something different.
“We standardise a lot of things like bathrooms’ windows but we don’t standardise the outside of the building.
“We are very design focused, which is different from a normal developer.”