There are occasions, in the right early morning light, or with the wrong amount of litter blowing along the broken and uneven paving on the walk from Inside Croydon Towers through to East Croydon station, that the nasal tones of Terry Hall singing Ghost Town as a soundtrack seem entirely appropriate.
With widespread redundancies going on at the council, and more than a thousand Home Office jobs to go at Lunar House, the last thing that Croydon needs right now is for one of its largest and most loyal employers to quit the town centre.
And Nestle are getting very fidgety about their decaying, decrepid tower block home in the centre of a decaying and cracked concrete town centre.
It is almost a year since the company issued a warning shot to the town planners and council with a condemnatory statement that said it was “increasingly clear that our current offices and the deteriorating environment around them do not provide a suitable base for our business”. As ever, our italics for emphasis.
Nestle’s threat to move got council leader Mike Fisher to promise to “move heaven and earth to make sure they stay in Croydon”.
So news this week of the deadlock being broken over planning for one of the prime sites in central Croydon may not be entirely unconnected. The council spending £10 million for a secondary pedestrian bridge to the north of East Croydon station may also have something to do with an attempt to remove the long-standing blight in the centre of town.
According to a report in Monday’s Times, Nestle, Croydon’s biggest private employers with more than 1,000 staff, are being suggested as potential main occupants of what was once called the Croydon Gateway site alongside East Croydon station.
Developers Stanhope and their backers Schroders were granted planning permission for the nine-acre site in 2004, but they had to fight a public inquiry in 2007 after a dispute arose between them and the council, which had Arrowcroft as its preferred developers, with the Croydon Arena music and sports venue as it centrepiece. Whitehall had to overrule Croydon’s Council’s attempts at a compulsory purchase of the site.
On Monday, Stanhope and Schroders submitted their latest plans for the landmark Ruskin Square project, this time with backing of a Croydon Council now desperate for its masterplan for the town centre to start to make some progress.
The £500 million plan includes 1 million sq ft of office space and 560 homes, plus a new 200-seat building for the Warehouse Theatre, which adjoins the site.