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Croydon creates first in-house architects department in years

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The London Borough of Croydon has created an in-house architecture practice to design housing schemes across the borough

The move bucks the trend of recent decades, which has seen councils ridding themselves of architects departments. Croydon said its new unit will assist a newly formed development company established by the council to deliver new housing on 80 sites it owns.

Colm Lacey, director of development at Croydon Council, told the AJ: ‘Council funding may demand that the company is a commercial success, but our placemaking ambitions insist that it leads by example and creates beautiful, sustainable and socially conscious developments.

‘To deliver this very practical task, we need the right kind of resources to call on throughout the development process.’

Chloe Phelps, shortlisted in January for the AJ Emerging Woman Architect of the Year award, will move to head up the unit from her current role helping to lead the placemaking team within the council’s spatial planning service. Her team will directly design some projects while leading stables of private practices on others in a ‘collegiate approach’.

Sarah Morris, president of the Society for Public Architecture, Construction, Engineering and Surveying described the move as ‘unusual’.

She said: ‘The norm is that, once in-house architects services have gone, they don’t come back. To try to convince councillors to build up an in-house team is very hard in the current economic climate.’

Former RIBA president Owen Luder welcomed the news but said the council needed to guarantee the independence of the new unit. ‘Inevitably the pressure will be on to give the “right” answers,’ he said.

London planning expert Brian Waters, principal at Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership, said the move could help the council become a better client when procuring external architects. He said: ‘They [in-house architects] had become very inefficient and were eating the lunches of consultant architects.’

But Lacey said the new unit would ‘stay much, much smaller and focus on one key task – providing well-designed, high-quality, cost-efficient housing for local people’.

Read Colm Lacey’s full explanation about why the council has developed an in-house architectural team here.

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