A little local disappointment

The first non-music, non-opera post since I revamped the blog. My blog isn’t the only thing to undergo a facelift, though hopefully my blog’s is for the better compared to this alternative example.

As I trundle up to Norwood Junction of a morning, and back of an evening, my bus takes me up Portland Road. You may know Portland Road, a once-bustling local high street which is now fallen on distinctly hard times. That gives it an immediate heritage interest: there are small traces of its busy commercial past to be found in a series of façades which look, at casual glance, scrappy and irregular. That’s local history. Recently, one of those façades has changed.

At 69 Portland Road, hitherto painted in a rather curious two-tone blue, there is an archway through to a rear yard – a long-standing woodyard, apparently. Or rather, there was. Of relatively little importance, many would think, in the grand scheme of things. I disagree entirely. Viewed on Google Streetview (on a rather grey day but not yet updated to reflect the change), the building looked like this:

Google Streetview: 69 Portland Road before conversion

Google Streetview: 69 Portland Road before conversion

The arched entrance, clearly visible, is evidently attuned to the yard entrance to the building’s left, with the just-discernible traces of a ‘United Dairies’ painted sign on the brickwork. The same view is now:

69 Portland Road, after conversion [Mark Tyson, photo]

69 Portland Road, after conversion [Mark Tyson, photo]

Quite apart from the insanity of leaving the building painted blue and installing a red shutter, the effect of the change is to rob the high street of one small detail that contributes to a historical liveliness, even amidst its evident grime and decay. Elsewhere, Croydon Council seems content to stand idly by whilst mean, nasty, clumsy little shopfronts have been bolted onto other early Nineteenth Century buildings. No planning consent was sought until after the damage was done and a complaint was made. The result was a requirement to submit a retrospective planning application which went through with no Member involvement, as far as I can see, despite 27 comments of objection. As John Hickman confirms on his earlier blog, and to whom I’m indebted for bringing it to my notice, behind that nasty shutter the arch has been demolished.

Sadly, in a salutary lesson in how easy it is to let the details pass you by as you go about your daily business, I noticed the change too late to lodge my own objection. Portland Road has to rank, by some considerable margin, as the most decrepit, ill-treated and depressingly uncared-for commercial road that I have lived nearby (in a London residency taking in Turnpike Lane, Deptford High Street, the Old Kent Road at Peckham, Shadwell, and Bow Road – so with some significant competition). It’s a shame because it has undoubted saving graces, which are the background details that – in a small, hard-to-hear voice – nonetheless proclaim a proud past of commerce and light industry: the flint and brick buildings grouped around an old chapel building on the corner of Coventry Road; Elizabeth Cottage set back down its rough driveway; and the remnants of the Croydon Canal traceable in the surrounding street line, amongst them. And yes, that trace of a dairy sign is part of it.

More care needs to be taken here: generally, and specifically in relation to the underlying fabric of the built heritage of the area. On a more general point, it didn’t seem to me that much goes before the Planning Committee for a Borough of this size, which leaves me wondering whether too much is being determined by officer delegation.

Update 25 November 2014

Less an update than a correction and expansion, really. I gather, actually from properly reading the rather convoluted Planning Portal site and some tabs with documents that I had missed, that the decision was to refuse planning permission, made on 7 November. No immediate indication of what happens next, other than that the interesting architectural detail, the arch, remains demolished. The quite extensive commentary on why it was refused (under officer delegation, even though referred to Committee by one of the ward councillors) is here. Quite satisfying, including notes of the various other attempts over the years (in the planning history section) to make clumsy amendments to the building that were also rejected. This application was retrospective, prompted by planning enforcement action. We await next steps…

(On a separate note, the decision notes that a three-bedroom flat in 74sqm is satisfactory and complies with guidance. Sounds a bit tight to me!)

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