CROYDON IN CRISIS: Fancy renting a public building? One less-than-careful owner. Going cheap-ish. Only a slight pong from leaking sewage and a risk of falling bricks… EXCLUSIVE by BARRATT HOLMES, housing correspondent
Croydon Council has placed its new-ish, Brick by Brick-built library building opposite Norwood Junction station on the market to be rented out as a commercial space.
The building – Pimp House – is currently under a safety notice from the council, having been declared a “dangerous structure” after brickwork fell from the upper floors during storms earlier this year, causing considerable damage to a car parked on the road below.
Stiles Harold Williams, one of Croydon’s biggest estate agents, is now marketing Pimp House’s ground floor space as “prime retail unit to let”.
The move represents something of a reprieve for the existing, “brutalist” South Norwood Library building, which the council’s previous Labour administration had intended to vacate and re-purpose.
Supporters of the local “save our library” campaign told Inside Croydon today that they were unaware of any decision over the future of their cherished building, nor its supposed replacement. Coincidentally, the (not-so) old library building, which opened in 1968, is featured in the latest edition of The Modernist magazine.
But the abandonment of the new library is just the latest in a series of failures by Brick by Brick, the council-owned housing company.
None of the residents in the flats above what was intended to be a library have been advised of this potentially significant change of use.
The development of what had been a plot of waste ground opposite the busy railway station was plagued with problems from the moment the project was handed to the blundering hands of Brick by Brick.
Among the company’s first projects from its formation in 2015, the Pimp House build was never properly completed, and by late 2020, when the council’s finances had collapsed, they could not afford the estimated £1million cost of fitting out the purpose-built library space.
There also remained serious issues with leaking sewage piping on the site.
Having bought the site for £500,000 in 2013, Croydon Council sold it to Brick by Brick for just £1. All the profits from the development, the public were told by the council’s leaders, would be returned to the council to pay for council homes and services.
Trouble was, no one factored in the serial incompetence at Brick by Brick.
What Brick by Brick decided to call “Pump House” (because of its non-existent associations with the pumping station off Surrey Street, miles away in Croydon town centre), came with 14 one- and two-bed flats perched on top of the library.
There was to be no social housing.
The 14 flats, all available for sale with Help to Buy, were priced at a cool £295,000 upwards. That would suggest total market value of a little more than £4million. Trouble is, the construction costs were at least £3.8million.
Even today, there is uncertainty over whether Brick by Brick ever managed to sell all 14 flats, despite hefty government subsidies for buyers.
And now any “development benefit” from the project, of providing a new public utility in the form of a library, has been abandoned.
The building’s fate as a library was in fact sealed in late 2020 when the council went bust, though it has taken 18 months for Town Hall officials to get around to unloading the surplus to requirements building.
The particulars on the estate agents’ website state, “Pump House forms part of new development of 14 energy efficient one- and two-bedroom flats and ground floor Retail/Leisure.
“The energy-saving building has green roofs, PV panels and double-glazed windows to keep its efficiency.
“The unit is in shell condition ready for a tenants fit out. There is water, drainage and three-phase electricity connected.”
The space is described as being 2,658 sqft, for which the landlords – which will be Croydon Council – are seeking £60,000 in rent per year.
There is a major snag in seeking potential takers for the space for retail, as the SHW blurb reveals: “Adjacent to Aldi…”. Which could rule out any other supermarket chain from taking an interest in the site, and thus restrict the number of potential tenants.
This could, indeed, turn into a hard sell. The estate agents fail to mention anything about the dangerous state of the building’s brick work above…
Read more: Croydon v Croydon: Brick by Brick building declared a ‘danger’
Read more: BxB-built library which has never opened is now to be closed
Read more: Brick by Brick will be pimping for Croydon at MIPIM junket
Read more: Council sells off public green space to Brick by Brick for just £1
Read more: Council set to take £100m hit as it winds down Brick by Brick