Council to pick up £69.2m costs of failed Fairfield Halls refurb

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Town Hall correspondent, KEN LEE, on the latest council bail-out for Brick by Brick over the bungled and unfinished refurbishment of the borough’s major arts centre

The Fairfield Halls: hoping to reopen after lockdown, but in what sort of state following the BxB refurb?

Croydon’s cash-strapped council is to step in and pick up another £69.2million-worth of costs associated with the bungled and unfinished refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, according to a report going to next Monday’s Town Hall cabinet meeting.

And yet more consultants are having to be hired by the council to check on the work of Brick by Brick and its contractors, to decide quite how bad a job they managed to make of the prestigious south London arts venue and “to make the centre operational”.

By transferring the multi-million-pound cost over-runs from the Brick by Brick balance sheet, council officials hope to staunch their losses and make the house-builder a more attractive proposition to a potential buyer.

The council has loaned loss-making Brick by Brick £200million since it formed the company in 2015, and not a penny has ever been repaid – a significant factor in the council going bust last year. Continue reading

Posted in Ashcroft Theatre, Brick by Brick, Chris Buss, Croydon Council, Fairfield Halls, The Wreck, Urban Splash | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

MyT offers easy accounting software for Croydon firms

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Purley Pool remains shut despite £1m grant to council

Making a splash: some of the socially distanced Purley Pool protesters yesterday

Croydon Council has received nearly £1million of government covid cash from a fund to ensure local sports and leisure facilities can reopen safely after the coronavirus lockdown – but the authority has done nothing to open the doors of Purley Leisure Centre, which have been firmly locked shut since March 2020.

The Save Purley Pool Campaign, backed by local schools, business and sports clubs, staged a protest outside the council-owned facility yesterday. Continue reading

Posted in Croydon Council, Purley, Purley Pool, Sport, Swimming | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Volunteer for free course to become Mental Health first aider

Residents are being encouraged to become mental health first aiders and develop the skills and confidence to support others across their community.

This is Mental Health Awareness Week, where the theme is nature and the benefits it can play in improving mental health.

The week is a timely reminder of the problems millions have experienced because of the coronavirus pandemic. Official figures show that 1-in-5 adults have experienced symptoms of depression between January and March 2021.

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Sign-up for the 2021 Shirley Jumble Trail, June 6

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DEMOC wastes little time in starting campaign for mayor

Our local residents’ associations correspondent, SANDRA STEAD, on the latest moves over the borough-wide referendum

Jamie Audsley: very keen on a directly-elected mayor, and seeking the Labour candidacy

Just when Croydon’s residents might have thought it was safe to approach their letterboxes once again now that the elections are over, so the borough’s leafleting cult has been out and about armed with their latest glossy pamphlets.

This time, the messaging being imposed on long-suffering residents is about the borough-wide referendum, due to take place in October.

There’s been barely a pause for breath since the end of the latest political campaign last week, with DEMOC, the Democratically Elected Mayor of Croydon group, anxious that they have a mere five months in which to get their message across: that having a directly-elected mayor is a bit less shit than the current “strong” leader model that runs the council.

DEMOC is launching its campaign towards the referendum this Wednesday, May 12, at 8pm with a Zoom meeting which can be signed up for by clicking on this link to Eventbrite.

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Posted in 2021 Mayor Referendum, Chris Philp MP, Community associations, Croydon Council, Jamie Audsley | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lambeth’s Labour council leader in shock resignation

Jack Hopkins won a leadership challenge a month ago, but stepped down today just as his council agreed to pay out a share of £1m damages and costs to black groups who won a human rights High Court case 

Jack Hopkins, the leader of Labour-run Lambeth Council only since February 2019, has quit.

Gone: Jack Hopkins was leader of Lambeth Council for two years

The Oval ward councillor made the announcement via social media at lunchtime today, his comments even prompting some speculation over his future as a councillor.

No reason for Hopkins’ resignation as leader of the Brixton Town Hall Labour group was given, either in his Twitter thread nor in a formal announcement on the council website.

Hopkins’ announcement came on the same day that more than 30 black activists – from Nation of Islam and the Rastafari movement – successfully sued Lambeth and the Metropolitan Police in the High Court for breaches of their human rights. The Council and the Met accepted liability and agreed to pay damages and legal costs of approaching £1million to the claimants. Continue reading

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Veteran Palace boss Hodgson heading towards his final game

It seems a foregone conclusion: after nearly four years of steady, mid-table safety, and 162 games in charge, Roy Hodgson’s last match as manager at Crystal Palace will come on the final day of the season at Liverpool, one of the many clubs he has managed in a 46-year career.

Rock steady: Roy Hodgson is Palace’s longest-serving manager this century

Hodgson is 73. He is the longest continuously serving Palace manager this century. Not since the days of Steve Coppell and Alan Smith has a Palace manager survived the demands and misfortunes of club management at Selhurst Park for so long. Hodgson has brought stability.

The former England boss had already retired once when he got the call in September 2017 to save his childhood club from the latest nosedive towards relegation. As recently as January this year, he was saying publicly that he would like, and accept, the offer of a contract extension.

No such new deal has been forthcoming. Continue reading

Posted in Crystal Palace FC, Football, Roy Hodgson, Sport, Steve Parish, Wilfried Zaha | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Mayor Khan takes the stage to launch city’s tourist drive

Sadiq Khan used his formal signing-in ceremony for his second term as London Mayor this morning to reveal his cunning plan to revive the capital’s economy post-covid: tourism.

Signing on: Sadiq Khan at the Globe this morning to start his second term as Mayor

Mayor Khan announced a £6million advertising campaign to encourage tourists back to the city – though notably there were only a few City Hall flunkies and a handful of media at the Globe Theatre on the South Bank, and no hordes of adoring supporters, because of continuing restrictions due to coronavirus.

The ad campaign is to be aimed at the rest of Britain, encouraging visitors to the tourist sights in central London and for them to take “staycations” – also reflecting the continuing uncertainties and health concerns surrounding international travel.

Mayor Khan’s “Let’s Do London” ad campaign will promote events from the delayed Euro 2020 football tournament to a David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy. City Hall is promising “the biggest domestic tourism campaign the capital has ever seen” to help London’s economy get back on its feet as covid restrictions are eased.

Khan was signed in as London Mayor following what even the Evening Boris today described as “a comprehensive victory over Tory rival Shaun Bailey” in last Thursday’s London elections. The elections had been delayed by 12 months because of the covid-19 pandemic, so that after five years in office, Khan’s second term will be only three years. Continue reading

Posted in Art, London-wide issues, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, Theatre | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Detective who used racist terms in computer games is sacked

Croydon-based detective Neil Buckmaster has been dismissed from the Metropolitan Police and placed on a blacklist following a disciplinary hearing last week that found he had used racially offensive terms while playing computer games, which he even uploaded on to YouTube.

The hearing lasted four days and concluded on Friday.

In a statement, The Met said, “The hearing found that the conduct of Detective Sergeant Neil Buckmaster, attached to the South Area Command Unit, breached the standards of professional behaviour in respect of ‘equality and diversity’, and ‘authority, respect and courtesy’.” Continue reading

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Brigade blames cigarette stub for Tavistock Road fire

A carelessly discarded, unextinguished cigarette is the likely cause of a fire in Tavistock Road, central Croydon, on Friday.

Firefighters using breathing apparatus rescued a man from a third-floor flat. The man was taken to hospital by the London Ambulance Service. No one else was hurt.

The London Fire Brigade’s investigators believe the fire was accidental and caused by the unsafe disposal of smoking materials. Continue reading

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Garratt doubles victory margin as he takes City Hall seat

NOT-SO-SPECIAL ELECTION SPECIAL: Labour has slipped back in the London Assembly voting, with its worst result in Croydon and Sutton for 13 years. By WALTER CRONXITE, political editor

Arse!: Neil ‘Father Ted’ Garratt is the first Sutton-based Assembly Member

Neil “Father Jack” Garratt was named on Saturday as Croydon and Sutton’s London Assembly Member – only the third Assembly Member to represent this super-constituency of more than 430,000 voters in the 21-year history of the GLA, and all of them have been Tories.

Garratt takes over from “Silent” Steve O’Connell, who has retired from public office (not that anyone would notice).

Garratt did not waste much time after the vote declaration held at Olympia from posting a self-regarding tweet once it was confirmed that the Sutton councillor had attracted 75,246 votes – 18,271 more than Labour candidate Patsy Cummings.

That margin of victory is more than double the number of votes that separated Tory and Labour candidates in 2012, and nearly 8,000 more than the victory margin in 2016, when Marina Ahmad was Labour’s candidate. Continue reading

Posted in 2021 London elections, London Assembly, London-wide issues, Marina Ahmad, Mayor of London, Neil Garratt, Patsy Cummings, Sadiq Khan, Shaun Bailey, South Norwood, Sutton Council | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Vote swings to Tories could see Labour lose 15 council seats

NOT-SO-SPECIAL ELECTION SPECIAL: The toxic legacy of Tony Newman and his cabal at the Town Hall could see the ex-leader’s former party wiped out if this week’s by-election results are repeated in 2022.
By WALTER CRONXITE, political editor

Narrowed margin: Labour’s Kola Agboola at the result declaration held at Olympia. He won in New Addington North by just 229 votes

If Croydon Conservatives manage to repeat this week’s performance in Labour-held wards at next year’s borough-wide local elections, they could win an extra 15 council seats, and control of the Town Hall for the first time since 2014.

It would also give the Conservatives the kind of majority at the Town Hall that hasn’t been seen in Croydon for 35 years.

The outcome of the five ward by-elections staged in Croydon on Thursday saw no immediate changes for the borough’s political duopoly.

But the results, revealed over the course of an election count staged yesterday at Olympia in west London, will put further pressure on Hamida Ali, the Labour leader of Croydon’s bankrupt council.

The election results should be very concerning for Ali and whoever it is advising her, as they came barely 24 hours after the publication of a damning report over the neglect, incompetence and lack of respect shown by her council to residents over at least a four-year period.

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Posted in Alisa Flemming, Andrew Pelling, Croydon Council, Hamida Ali, Jade Appleton, Joy Prince, Kenley, Kola Agboola, Louis Carserides, New Addington North, Ola Kolade, Park Hill and Whitgift, South Norwood, Tony Newman, Waddon, Woodside | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Full results of council by-elections held in five wards

NOT-SO-SPECIAL ELECTION SPECIAL: Here’s the full results of Thursday’s council by-elections in Kenley, Park Hill and Whitgift ward, New Addington North, South Norwood and Woodside

Gone, but not forgotten: Tony Newman

The results of five council by-elections held on Thursday were announced yesterday, as a Croydon council election count was held for the first time ever outside the borough – with council staff conducting the count at Olympia, in parallel to the London Mayor and Assembly counts.

The by-elections were called following the resignations of five councillors, three Labour and two Conservative.

They included Tony Newman, the discredited former leader of the council, and Simon Hall, Newman’s cabinet member for finances, who both stood down a year early after also being suspended by the Labour Party over their parts in the financial collapse of the council. Continue reading

Posted in Kenley, New Addington, New Addington North, Park Hill and Whitgift, South Norwood, Tony Newman, Woodside | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Khan wins second term as Tories claim Pyrrhic success

Sadiq Khan will serve a second term as Mayor of London, after beating Conservative rival Shaun Bailey “quite comfortably”, according to the capital’s leading political pundit.

Three more years: Sadiq Khan remains as London Mayor

The London Mayoral election result was declared late on Saturday night, with Khan requiring the second-round, second preferences to register 55.2 per cent of the popular vote, leaving London Tories claiming some kind of Pyrrhic victory simply because Bailey did better than most people expected, and Conservative HQ feared.

On a weekend of impressive and encouraging results for the Green Party, Sian Berry was third, ahead of LibDem Luisa Porritt. Porritt was a late-replacement candidate for the Liberal Democrats, drafted in last year when Siobhan Benita withdrew from the covid-extended campaign.

The LibDems lost their £10,000 election deposit, too, as Porritt garnered less than 5 per cent of the vote. Continue reading

Posted in 2021 London elections, Ken Livingstone, London-wide issues, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, Shaun Bailey, Sian Berry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

You’re caught in a trap: Barwell’s election advice to Labour

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Recriminations over Thursday’s elections, in particular Labour’s loss of the Hartlepool parliamentary seat, will continue for some days yet as other results, including the London Assembly and council by-elections, trickle in. Here, former Tory MP GAVIN BARWELL, pictured, says that the British voting system could see the Conservatives in power at Westminster for years to come

Many Labour MPs put all the blame for their 2019 defeat on Jeremy Corbyn. He was certainly a big factor but this narrative obscures the huge underlying challenges Labour faces. It is in a tougher situation today than the mid-1980s.

Blown up: support for Boris Johnson, and his giant inflatable in Hartlepool, is exaggerated by the voting system

On paper that might sound excessive: Labour got 32.1 per cent of the vote in 2019 compared with 27.6 per cent in 1983, and in the latter the Liberal/SDP Alliance came close to overtaking it for second place in terms of vote share.

But that potential alignment fizzled out because under our first-past-the-post system the Alliance couldn’t convert vote share into seats.

In the last few years, two seismic realignments of British politics have taken place. Continue reading

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Regina Road residents look at legal action for compensation

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Pressure is mounting on the council’s leadership for a firm response to the highly critical housing report published yesterday.
By STEVEN DOWNES

There have been renewed calls for the resignation of Hamida Ali as leader of Croydon Council, following the hugely critical independent investigators’ report into the shocking living conditions inflicted on council tenants in South Norwood.

Ali managed to deliver another car crash broadcast interview on ITV’s News At Ten last night, in which Fransoy Hewitt, the Regina Road resident who featured in the original television news report in March, said after reading the consultants’ report, “You can’t just treat people like that and do that to another human being and expect to get away with it.” Continue reading

Posted in Alison Butler, Croydon Council, Hamida Ali, Housing, South Norwood | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Making a Splash: big bailouts behind Brick by Brick’s buyers

STEVEN DOWNES reports on the colourful character behind the business which is set to buy up Croydon’s loss-making house-building company

Character: Tom Bloxham, the man behind Urban Splash

The company tipped to take failed housing company Brick by Brick off Croydon Council’s hands has broken loan covenants and needed multi-million-pound bail-outs of its own in the past to enable it to continue trading.

And since the Grenfell Tower tragedy four years ago, a number of developments by Manchester-based Urban Splash have been reported as having used flammable cladding which failed to comply with building safety regulations – hardly reassuring from a company that was established by a bloke whose previous job was selling fire extinguishers door-to-door.

Urban Splash was co-founded in 1993 by Tom Bloxham, a colourful character and Labour-supporting “celebrity” entrepreneur of the kind you might expect to see on Dragon’s Den. Bloxham is so celebrated, he even has his own portrait in the National Portrait Gallery – posed with loads of breeze blocks, arranged, of course, brick by brick.

A former pupil of Tiffin School in Kingston, Bloxham has been based in Manchester since going to read politics and history at the university there. From running a poster shop and being a fire extinguisher salesman, in his mid-20s Bloxham partnered with an architect, Jonathan Falkingham, to form Urban Splash, with a focus on “regeneration”, converting Manchester’s ample supply of disused industrial buildings for residential use. Continue reading

Posted in Brick by Brick, Business, Chris Buss, Colm Lacey, Croydon Council, Jo Negrini, Tom Bloxham | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Croydon in crisis: Investigation into housing scandal finds systemic failure and incompetence in council

Independent consultants confirm that housing officials treated tenants with ‘a lack of respect’, and even lied to the local MP over repairs to damp and mouldy flats in South Norwood. By STEVEN DOWNES

A “relatively routine” building failure, a water leak, was allowed to go unrepaired for four years, according to a damning investigation into the appalling housing conditions endured by council tenants in South Norwood.

Kept under wraps: the council withheld the damning report for a month

Independent consultants found that Croydon Council and repair contractors, Axis, had failed “to deliver even basic ‘core’ housing services effectively… potentially symptomatic of poor performance across the council’s housing service”.

Among their key findings, Ark Consultancy said that there was “a poor operating culture with a lack of care and respect for tenants”, that there are senior managers at the council “who do not appear to know what is going on”, and “a lack of capacity and competence” in the council’s housing department.

They also highlighted how, when the tenants’ elected representatives intervened on their behalf, council officials even lied to an MP over whether the leak had been repaired.

Croydon’s Labour-run council commissioned the urgent report following the ITV News broadcast in March of the conditions in the residential block on Regina Road. One housing specialist described the condition of the South Norwood flats as the worst they had ever seen. Continue reading

Posted in Croydon Council, Croydon North, Hamida Ali, Housing, South Norwood, Steve Reed MP | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Going to the lowest, only bidder: council finds buyer for BxB

EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES

Croydon Council could have to pay at least another £40million in order to sell off Brick by Brick, the Labour-controlled local authority’s failed housing developer which bankrupted the Town Hall.

Going cheap: the sale of Brick by Brick won’t end the council’s spending on the failed project

And the multi-million-pound spending on the failed brainchild of Jo Negrini, the council’s ex-CEO, and discredited ex-leader Tony Newman won’t end there, either.

Trade magazine Property Week has reported that Croydon has found a buyer for Brick by Brick: the Manchester-based property group Urban Splash.

The deal is going through the final stages of due diligence, and is set to be rubber-stamped at the council cabinet meeting on May 17.

Property Week reports, “The deal would wipe out almost all of the council’s debt related to Brick by Brick.” Which, if confirmed, would be a minor miracle. But to use an overworked cliché, the devil is in the detail. Continue reading

Posted in Brick by Brick, Business, Chris Buss, Colm Lacey, Croydon Council, Fairfield Halls, Housing, Jo Negrini, Urban Splash | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Unique opportunity in heart of Croydon: Boswell Mews

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Only 10% of council housing repair jobs ever get checked

The new cabinet member for finance says he is ‘worried’ by dodgy data provided to justify a four-year extension to the multi-million-pound deal with the council’s repairs contractor. By STEVEN DOWNES

The contractor at the centre of the national scandal over the “worst flats in Britain” had their multi-million-pound contract extended by Croydon Council just weeks before ITV News exposed the terrible squalor endured by tenants in the neglected and badly maintained blocks on Regina Road.

Axis have been the council’s contractors for seven years, and have been doing such a bang-up job, they’ve just landed a four-year extension

Under the terms of the deal, fewer than 1-in-10 of repair jobs get independently checked by council officials, Inside Croydon can reveal.

Housing repairs contractor Axis (Europe) were handed a four-year extension earlier this year – after council papers showed that they met or exceeded every performance benchmark.

Yet council tenants in Shirley and Waddon, as well as those featured in the TV news broadcast in South Norwood, have told Inside Croydon that they have had to wait weeks, sometimes months, for even basic repairs on their homes to be carried out. And even then, the works may fail to last, maybe of questionable quality or require repeat visits. Continue reading

Posted in Alison Butler, Callton Young, Croydon Council, Housing, South Norwood | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Emergency? What emergency? Council helpline’s crossed lines

Residents have contacted Inside Croydon concerned that they might lose their democratic rights in today’s elections because the council’s “emergency” helpline to arrange proxy votes in health emergencies was not working properly.

The helpline for ’emergency’ voting closes at 5pm

Voters who suffer a medical emergency today and are therefore unable to visit their polling station in person – particularly in cases where someone has to self-isolate for covid-19, for example – should be able to arrange for someone to act as their proxy through a call to the council’s democratic services department before 5pm today.

But when one mother called the council helpline number on her daughter’s polling card this morning, the staff member at the council contact centre didn’t know anything about the proxy voting arrangements.

The loyal reader told Inside Croydon: “We tried this morning to register an emergency proxy vote for our daughter who was told yesterday to self-isolate because of covid. Continue reading

Posted in 2021 London elections, Croydon Council | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Council housing staff summoned to urgent briefing with CEO

The wait could almost be over: the report into how council flats in South Norwood fell into such squalid and appalling conditions is expected to be released tomorrow.

It has been six weeks since the conditions in this council block in South Norwood shocked the nation

All members of the council’s housing department have been summoned to attend an online “briefing” at 3pm today with Katherine Kerswell, the interim chief executive, and Sarah Hayward, who was recently promoted to the exec director Place role, and so is in charge of housing in the borough.

Sources at Fisher’s Folly say that staff are braced for bad news. Very bad news.

The report about the disrepair of the flats on Regina Road has been withheld for more than a month, with Kerswell claiming that pre-election purdah prevented its publication.

The report, conducted by Ark Consultancy, is understood to have found systemic mismanagement and incompetence at the council, with few proper checks conducted over its maintenance contract which was outsourced to Axis.

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Posted in Croydon Council, Housing, Katherine Kerswell, Sarah Hayward, South Norwood | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So farewell, then, Steve O’Connell. Here’s what you achieved

Cheerio: Steve O’Connnell

As the curtain falls on the long and very well-paid career in local politics of Steve O’Connell (pictured right),  who is standing down from public office today, Inside Croydon pays tribute to the Conservative councillor for Kenley and the Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton by giving a brief summary of his many achievements. Continue reading

Posted in 2021 London elections, Kenley, London Assembly, Steve O'Connell | Tagged , , | 3 Comments