The public consultation for the latest Croydon Council pipe dream, the “Fair Field Masterplan”, closes today.
Extraordinarily, even by Croydon’s standards for bungling, this latest masterplan has managed to antagonise the centrepiece upon which many of the proposals depend: the Fairfield Halls themselves.
Under chief exec Jon Rouse, Croydon Council embarked on a £450 million “partnership” with developers Laings that took a speculative punt with large tracts of publicly owned land and buildings which began after the collapse of the property boom. And while – with the exception of the £145 million new council HQ building – the recession has provided a rude awakening for many of the developers’ wet-dreams, Taberner House’s planners have continued to churn out “masterplans”, though perhaps more in hope than expectation.
This latest, at 135 pages long, is full of the usual mix of councilspeak, tosh and guff: “huge potential”; “positive change”; “significant capacity for thousands of new homes, businesses, community facilities”; “a radically transformed public realm with new squares, streets and green spaces”. It promises “improvements to Wellesley Road and Park Lane [that] will unlock pedestrian movement by transforming the dual carriageway into a high quality urban space”. Seriously.
There is the unmistakable whiff of Croydon Council bullshit when you read that the “…masterplans provide a clear vision that will generate shared enthusiasm and confidence but, more importantly, they are all about delivery.” Seriously.
In fact, this masterplan is predominantly about some new lights, a few paving slabs, trees planted in an underground car park (yeah), and a corner of the area handed over for the building of yet more “luxury apartments”, including blocks of up to 21 storeys. All this within sight of the under-occupied Altitude 25.
The Fair Field Masterplan concerns itself with the island of real estate that lies south of East Croydon Station and George Street, wedged between the railway lines and the urban motorway that is Park Lane, south to Barclay Road.
Cut off from the rest of the town centre by the six-lane highway and underpass (even the council concedes the area is “an isolated quarter surrounded by barriers”), it includes an obligatory multi-storey car park, plus the Magistrates’ Court, Croydon College and the Fairfield Halls, the latter the council document refers to as “two of central Croydon’s most important institutions”.
Despite the apparent importance of the Halls and the College, the plans include a large swathe of flats built right next to the arts venue – but so close to the theatre service bays that it could prove to be impractical to use the backstage access point because of the noise and nuisance it would create for the 50-year-old venue’s new neighbours.
There is to be a £27 million refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls over the next three years. Under this masterplan there is a scheme to build a studio theatre (to be run in competition to the Warehouse, or through the connivance of pulling council funding from the long-established theatre alongside East Croydon Station?) which some believe to be impractical to use and which would prove to be a long-term financial burden on the Fairfield Halls.
The council schemes consist mainly of trying to make the “public realm” in this area less of a forbidding muggers’ paradise, jazzed up a little with new paving schemes and by planting a few trees.
Most of the proposals are to be funded through the council, Transport for London or the Urban Regeneration Vehicle – yep, the £450 million “vision”, or nightmare, that Rouse has developed with Laings – and from Section 106s, the agreements under which private developers agree to provide certain public amenities in return from getting planning permission.
Interesting, then, that the outside architects hired by our council for the Fair Field scheme is a firm called Make – exactly the same firm that has been hired by private developer, Menta, to draw up plans for the massive tower block and other developments on Cherry Orchard Road. Coincidence, or cosy?
The Menta Tower scheme from Make relied heavily on the “vision” of a £20 million bridge across the railway tracks forming a new entrance to East Croydon Station, offering access to the station for Addiscombe and a much-needed link from the development on the “wrong side of the tracks” to central Croydon.
Under a Section 106 agreement, Menta was supposed to pay £2 million towards the cost of the bridge and allow the bridge to exit on to the public area at the foot of its 55-storey tower. Oddly, despite having gained planning permission, the Menta £2 million has not been paid and it seems that the bridge cannot now be completed on Menta’s site.
It can only be hoped that any Section 106 agreements drawn up by our council for the Fair Field area will be much more legally secure for the public interest than that which was signed with Menta.
After all, as the Fair Field Masterplan notes, “change on the scale required needs clear leadership, a shared vision, a collaborative approach and a focus on delivery”. Or just the sort of thing that has been so singularly lacking under Mike Fisher as leader of the council, working with Rouse as his CEO, and all done in the thrall of the big developers.
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- Westfield swoops in early with planning application for Croydon (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon’s future centres on a £65m lease decision (standard.co.uk)