McDonald’s new task: to help to re-build Croydon

You could be forgiven for wondering whether Stephen McDonald has been handed a poisoned chalice. It is certainly a case of out of the Olympic cauldron and into the (looters’) fire for the man announced today in an internal council memo as Croydon’s new head of planning and building control, regeneration and economy, environment management and public safety.

McDonald has been recruited from Olympic borough Hackney, where he was director of regeneration with particular responsibility for planning post-2012 legacy projects. McDonald also looked after commercial development, housing estate regeneration and business support.

To be lured away from such a key position at this time, some council-watchers suggest, may have taken a top-dollar salary offer, especially considering the myriad challenges facing Croydon.

He is expected to take up his new role in Croydon in late September.

McDonald’s new Croydon mega-portfolio has been handled since April by Jon Rouse, the council CEO, following the resignation six months ago of the highly rated Emma Peters. Peters, described by the council as “the brains” behind so many of Croydon’s regeneration plans, left the £140,000 per year job she had held since 2008 disillusioned, according to colleagues, at the slow pace of progress.

In Rouse’s internal memo to staff, issued this morning, the CEO said:

I have great pleasure in confirming the appointment of Stephen McDonald to the role of executive director of planning and environment. Following the recent corporate restructure and the departure of Emma Peters from her role as executive director of planning, regeneration and conservation, and Tom Jeffrey’s retirement in September from his role as executive director of community services, Stephen will head up the newly formed planning and environment department as the final recruit to the corporate management team (CMT).

With experience gained at two inner London authorities, and at government level in his native Australia, Stephen will bring a wealth of experience to the council. He’s worked for almost two years as director of regeneration in Hackney, and, for the two years prior to that, as the strategic director of major projects in Southwark. In Hackney, his remit covered Olympic legacy, commercial development, housing estate regeneration, and business support, while his responsibilities in Southwark took in a range of regeneration programmes that included the Elephant and Castle, Canada Water, and one of the largest housing programmes in London.

Stephen started his career in Australia, having gained business degrees in the universities of Adelaide and New South Wales, with his first significant role as an economist in the department of the prime minister and cabinet, in Canberra. He subsequently became a lecturer and research manager at the University of Adelaide, before taking the post of chief economist at an international accountancy firm. He relocated to London in 1998, where as a management consultant he led on a number of major public sector projects, and then during his three-year stint at PricewaterhouseCoopers tackled a range of projects, including taking the lead on a number of change management assignments within local authorities, before he took the job in Southwark, in 2007.

Of his appointment, Stephen said, “I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of picking up the planning and environment reins at such a pivotal moment for Croydon. I’m aware of the fantastic work that’s been done by the team to get the town to this point, and am confident that I can lead the next stage and help guide the successful implementation of the master plans that will revitalise the borough. In the light of last week’s events, this has never been more important. Joining at the onset of a brand new department, amalgamating key services including public safety, regeneration and economy, planning and building control and public realm, gives me a fantastic opportunity to provide sound leadership to the team and set the strategic direction for the future.”

South London is not unfamiliar territory to Stephen, and he’s returning to his roots having spent the first six years of his life in Norwood, prior to his parents emigrating Down Under. In his spare time he enjoys cycling, swimming, walking and is a keen music enthusiast.

Stephen was an excellent candidate, and I am looking forward to welcoming him to the council. I am positive that getting Stephen on board will enable us to embed the new department quickly and successfully, and I have no doubt he will be an excellent addition to CMT.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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