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Croydon unveils blueprint for a new kind of council housing


NEWS FEATURE: Using its own private development company, the south London borough is set to build architect-designed housing on council-owned sites, writes Richard Waite

Plans for hundreds of new homes in Croydon, to be delivered by the council’s new private development company, Brick by Brick, will be submitted for planning over the next two weeks. 

The schemes, earmarked for Croydon Council-owned infill sites across the south London borough, have been designed by Stitch, Coffey Architects, Mikhail Riches, Mae Architects, vPPR, HTA and Pitman Tozer. 

Planning applications for the homes are being lodged in four separate batches: the first phase, for 111 units on nine plots, was submitted this week; while a second set of schemes for 162 homes on 11 sites will follow in early December. Half of these homes will be designated ‘affordable’. A further two batches will be lodged later next month and early next year.

Brick by Brick, an innovative ‘independent commercial venture’ from the council – its sole shareholder – intends to deliver 1,000 homes as part of this £270 million Smaller Site Programme. Subject to planning consent, the first schemes will start on site this coming spring, with the earliest completion expected in summer 2018.

Batch 1 (9 sites, 111 units)

Croydon batch 1

Croydon batch 1

  1. Stitch, Northbrook
  2. Coffey Architects, Uvedale Crescent
  3. Coffey Architects, King Henrys Drive
  4. Coffey Architects, Oxford Road
  5. Coffey Architects, Chertsey Road Garages
  6. Mikhail Riches, Hermitage
  7. Stitch, Regina Road
  8. Mae Architects, Kingsdown Avenue
  9. Stitch, Malton House

Batch 2 (11 sites, 162 units)

Croydon batch 2

Croydon batch 2

  1. VPPR, Drovers Road
  2. HTA, Academy Gardens
  3. Coffey Architects, Warbank Terrace
  4. vPPR, Coldharbour
  5. Pitman Tozer, Homefield House
  6. Stitch, Marston Way
  7. vPPR, Thornloe
  8. HTA, Tollgate
  9. HTA, Ravensdale
  10. Coffey Architects, Eagle Hill
  11. Pitman Tozer, Cheriton House


©ninasologubenko colmlacey 010716 05

©ninasologubenko colmlacey 010716 05

Source: ninasologubenko

Colm Lacey, managing director of Brick by Brick and director of development at Croydon Council

With our Smaller Site Programme we set out with a very clear vision: to create properly designed new homes of all tenures that will be of value to the borough. 

That value takes many forms, from new affordable housing and community facilities, to street and landscape improvements. And, of course, development profit. The council, as sole shareholder, would expect nothing less of a commercial entity and going concern. 

Our land portfolio on this part of the programme predominantly consists of infill sites in the district centres of Croydon. Many are not the type of site that attracts much attention from traditional developers. They are too small, too low value, too difficult. This presents a challenge often seen in outer London: how do you, responsibly, respectfully, densify the suburbs? Arguably, this is the single most important question this city needs to answer if people are to be housed at scale. 

The nature of Brick by Brick, a private company established by the council to deliver commercial activity, allows for an uncommonly transparent form of development. We purchase our land from the council, borrow our development finance from the council and seek planning consent from the council. A single financial appraisal is common to all three processes. 

This unbroken financial gestation is crucial in ensuring that no value leaks from the system. There is no unscrupulous trader overcharging for land, no greedy lender overcharging for debt, no fat-cat developer creaming in super-profit. Such is the commercial efficiency of this model, we think we can realise 50 per cent affordable housing across our smaller sites programme, even in areas of low value. 

Not that this has been easy thus far, and we don’t underestimate the scale of the delivery task ahead. We have no ‘one size fits all’ viability rule, no margin line below which the board simply won’t go. Each site, no matter how small or constrained, needs to be looked at in intricate detail to help it realise its true potential. Options need to be tested. Residents need to be consulted. We expect our architects to help us do this, a role that is more iterative and collaborative, and possibly more time-consuming, than a more traditional development commission, but with a very similar fee profile.

I suppose this is to be expected. If, by necessity, the role of local authorities in the development process is moving towards the more commercial end of the spectrum, so must the nature of the relationship between architects and the public sector change. For me, this must represent a collaboration to maximise the public value of development . To date, we at Brick by Brick have been supported by a wonderful stable of architecture practices whose talent and flexibility imbues every scheme. Long may it continue.


Readers' comments (2)

  • MacKenzie Architects

    We looked at this model a few years ago, and fell foul of the "anti-corruption" rules whereby the land had to be transparently offered on the open market (after we had done all the work, of course).
    Well done if they have managed to resolve that conundrum.

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  • 'That conundrum' - free market forces - has surely been responsible for a lot of the inter-related housing and social problems that afflict society these days, to our cost.

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