On 31st July 2008, Croydon’s Planning Committee was undecided on an application for one of the largest residential development applications made for the Upper Norwood/Crystal Palace Triangle conservation area. Public objectors, jubilant that the application had been refused, were outraged when controversial further voting resulted in a ‘hung’ decision referring the application for future consideration.
Incrementally larger applications
This further application is the third submitted by St Aidans Developments. The first was for a modest 3-storey building, with a shop fronting onto Westow Street and two 3-bedroom flats above. Croydon approved this application in 2005. The developers did not to proceed with this design but submitted a second application in 2006 for a 4-storey building with retail frontage and a mix of 29 flats. Croydon’s Conservation Area Advisory Panel objected to this second application but it was approved by the planning committee. St Aidans have submitted a third application, increasing further the number of flats by 25% to 36, the majority being 1-bedroom units.
Applicant claims support
The Conservation Area Panel objected to this third proposal calling it “monolithic”, whilst St Aidans spokesman, Mr Bateman, claimed to the planning committee that the “previous scheme was supported by the independent conservation report and the committee liked the scheme”.
Mr Bateman confirmed the Victory Place scheme was the “driver for the Portland Road enterprise”, a development of residential, retail and business centre planned for Portland Road, South Norwood and that “they both work hand-in-hand”. The two schemes are worked up together so that affordable housing requirement is passed to the Portland Road site. Cllr Paul Scott declared a “personal prejudicial interest” in the Portland Road application and withdrew. Although the developer made clear that the two schemes are linked, inexplicably Cllr Scott did not declare similar interest in the Victory Place application and later proposed and voted that the application should be approved.
Committee members raised concerns over the bulk and massing, pedestrian safety, amenity space, traffic movements and lack of family accommodation. Chairman, Cllr Chris Wright, although supporting the application, said, “I do hope that the [drawing of the] fascia is not completely accurate”. Cllr Perry said, “I really dislike this scheme … where the applicants got it so right in Portland Road, they’ve got it so wrong in Victory Place. This one dominates the host site” and that it was, “…something you would find on a university campus not in a Conservation Area”. Local Cllr George Filbey expressed concern at the increase in the number of flats and considered it “over-development” for the area. Cllr Hopley supported these concerns and added “we do have a need in the borough for 3-bedroom accommodation for families”. Cllr Cakebread said, “I don’t like the residential mix – I think it’s far too many 1-bedroom flats”.
Despite the lack of lifts for the disabled and elderly, Cllr Maggie Mansell supported the scheme saying it was, “better for couples, for single people, for maybe elderly people” and that, “it was not a good area for children”.
Cllr Scott questioned the massing of the scheme compared with the previous application. Warren Pierson, Principal Planning Officer said, “massing is similar, certain elements set back. Nothing to warrant any concern”. Mr Pierson also confirmed that, “it will be one of the larger buildings in Westow Street”.
Chair Cllr Wright asked for qualification from Simon Albrecht, Head of the Central Planning Team, if he could “make any comments regarding English Heritage”. Mr Albrecht confirmed that it was, “a development in a Conservation Area” and that, “they are not normally referred to English Heritage”.
The Triangle, a designated Conservation Area, contains historic buildings and any proposals that involve demolition and development must be referred to English Heritage, who have confirmed to the CPCA that they have not been consulted on any of the three Victory Place applications.
Local councillor speaks out
Speaking from the floor, local councillor (Upper Norwood Ward) and former Mayor, Pat Ryan, said: “This development does nothing to enhance the Conservation Area but will positively detract from it. NCCAAP committee have been totally ignored and the development will add to parking and traffic difficulties in the Triangle. If this was Chelsea, Canterbury or Richmond it certainly would not be allowed”.
A motion proposed by Cllr Scott and seconded by the Chair to ‘approve’ the application was rejected 5 votes to 4 with 1 abstention. However, a second motion to ‘refuse’ the application was divided four votes to four with two abstentions. The Chair used his casting vote, ensuring the motion to refuse the application was lost. This led to confusion amongst the committee and the Chair had to seek advice from the legal officer who made clear that a second vote could not be conducted. It was agreed that the application should be deferred to a later committee meeting. Cllr Scott, who voted in favour of the application, was anxious that “to be fair to the developer...” the application was, “..brought back as soon as possible”.
Committee urged to visit site
Planning applications should be judged individually on their merits, however, councillors in favour of the latest Victory Place application repeatedly referred to the previously approved applications.
A spokesman for the Crystal Palace Community Association stated that appropriate new retail and other development opportunities in the Triangle were welcome but this application failed to empathise in any way with its location and would not benefit the Conservation Area nor provide a balanced mix of housing.
The CPCA and local councillors, George Filbey and Pat Ryan, urged the planning committee to conduct a site visit to see for themselves the detrimental impact that such a development would have on the Triangle.
Don Bianco, CPCA Chair of planning said, “The machinations of the Planning Committee in their consideration of this application was farcical and beyond comprehension. We saw how the process could be managed, to drive through a scheme of low-quality, low-investment volume housebuilding that has little merit in the historic village context of Crystal Palace and little support from the community. Clearly we have members of the Committee who are not aligned with the people they are supposed to represent”.
Note: Victory Place Planning Application No. 08/01755/P
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