The millionaire owner of an eyesore office block has unveiled grand ambitions to turn the rundown building in to a ‘high quality’ residential development.
In February last year Sajid Bashir, who paid just £300,000 in 2015 at auction for the 1960s office block Ambassador House opposite Thornton Heath station, was given approval to convert six floors of the empty building in to 66 one and two bedroom units.
Now Mr Bashir’s Redwing Property Ltd wants to create more apartments in space designated for ‘community use’ which would bring the total number of flats to 87.
The application also confirms that for two years the empty building was leased by Redwing Property Ltd to a company called Kirkstall Properties Ltd which used a legal loophole to avoid paying over half a million pounds in business rates to Croydon Council.
The application submitted on behalf of Mr Bashir’s Redwing it says he is keen to increase the numbers of flats because he only has a 66 year lease on the building.
However, he is forging ahead with the plans which are contrary to Croydon’s Local Plan and with concerns raised by planners about elements of the scheme.
Network Rail holds the freehold for the site and a condition on the lease prohibits Mr Bashir, who is CEO of upmarket estate agents Copperstones Ltd, from carving up the building for sale as individual properties and it also means rented units can only be offered on a short-term tenancy agreements.
The scheme includes providing planning benefits offering larger family units, and affordable housing and improving the facade and public realm with art.
The design statement prepared by architects CZWG Limited who are also behind the Croydon mega-tower says: “Red Wing Property Holdings Ltd have grand ambitions for this project and want to see it turned into a high-quality residential development, one that is worthy to be the gateway building for visitors and locals arriving via the railway station.”
Redwing put in the full planning application despite pre application discussions with council planners which had concluded that there were fundamental policy objective conflicts in the proposed scheme, with regard to the loss of community use, affordable housing provision, and provision of family accommodation.
The community use included in Croydon’s Local Plan, is for floors four and seven as these had previously been used for training and educational purposes.
The planning application also provides a timeline which shows Kirkstall had a lease on the building from 18 May 2018 to February 3 2020.
In May 2019, a Chronicle investigations uncovered that Mr Bashir’s company Red Wing head leaseholder of the empty building was not liable for the business rates after using a legitimate rates mitigation scheme to avoid paying non domestic rates.
It had used the real estate management company based in Manchester called Kirkstall Properties Ltd, which went in to liquidation, and was liable for the rates on Ambassador House.
The nine storey office block had a market rateable value of £581,250 with annual business rates of £292,000 due.
Under permitted development rights Mr Bashir was given permission in February 2021 for 48 one bed and 18 two bed units with anticipated occupancy for 150 people by converting the second, third, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth floors and includes parking and cycle storage.
The latest application says that it is: “entirely unrealistic and unviable” for the fourth and seventh floors to re-provide community use floorspace and Redwing has no additional plans aside from the planning application process to consult with the community.
Adding: “ Similarly, the re-cladding of the facade is bound by many constraints, again some too technical to adequately advise the local community, so that they could make suggestions that might have a meaningful impact.”
In addition the Redwings plans provide private amenity space, communal amenity space and children’s play areas with a roof top terrace.
The office block which was once a busy business hub sat empty for years with the only occupants in recent times apart from pigeons an arts collective who briefly squatted the building in 2019.
The public realm was updated with planters and murals as part of a council regeneration project which received substantial funding from Timberland which used the project to promote its Nature Needs Heroes project.
The application says: “Ambassador House forecourt is perhaps the most generous public realm in terms of area, but it currently represents an urban wasteland and a major wasted opportunity. The lack of activity from the commercial units, either from being closed or the wrong use type, coupled with low quality materials and poor detailing create the impression of an unloved space.
“There is very little greenery and the space is quite windswept. There have been recent local initiatives to enhance this space but they cannot overcome the underlying issues which make this space unappealing.”
The document also says that one of Ambassador House’s biggest failings is in its public realm forecourt and that the types of commercial units are therefore ”critical to its success”.
The other commercial units; a gym, a beauty parlour and furniture wholesaler coupled with the unoccupied building above create ‘very little natural surveillance’ to deter anti-social behaviour. They also give ‘very little back’ in terms of enlivening the public realm and it’s ‘no surprise’ to see graffiti has already afflicted the boarded-up shop front, says the application,It also points ou
t complications that large swathes of the public realm are within Croydon Council and the main building roof is subject to further lease agreements for the installation of various telecoms antenna equipment.
It also states that none of the existing commercial ground floor units are under the direct ownership of the applicant with a complex mix of leases and sub-leases.