In his latest column, ANDREW PELLING uncovers the reasons behind Croydon missing out on Enterprise Zone status: the council did not want to give up its control of planning
Inside Croydon is running a series of interviews that are full of pathos, giving voice to the victims of 8/8 in London Road and Old Town.
It is already clear that while there is a desperate desire to help, the resources being provided to Croydon’s front line services are just not equal to the task.
Interest free loans of just £1,000 may be gratefully received by the riot-ravaged businesses, but the sum gets nowhere near close enough to match the needs of burnt out shopkeepers trying to re-build.
In these circumstances it is astounding that, post 8/8, London was not given any Enterprise Zones by the government.
Jeremy Frost, an insolvency practitioner and chairman of the Croydon branch of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) professes himself to be “disappointed” by the decision to turn Croydon down. An Enterprise Zone would allow business rate relief for small businesses and provide investment in superfast broadband. Such a boost to small and medium-sized enterprise would have started tackling Croydon’s spiraling joblessness, Frost says.
Instead, he finds himself being grateful for small mercies and the council’s £4,500 grant to promote the FSB’s “We Mean Business” conference at the Fairfield Halls on November 3.
Instead of an EZ, Croydon is to share £20 million fund with Tottenham. The scheme will not be run here in Croydon, where the local knowledge and expertise is, but instead be run remotely up at City Hall.
At City Hall, it’s an Old Etonian and politicos of the more influential Wandsworth, K&C and Westminster councils that run the show. They don’t really have Croydon’s interests at heart. The foolishness of this remote approach has already been shown by the eccentric decision for £8 million of the money earmarked to help rescue Croydon to be given instead to Tottenham Hotspur FC.
It is a very ugly world indeed where riot victims are passed over to give money to a club operating in the richest league in the world’s richest sport. Will Croydon’s riot victims get their money back if Spurs manage to sell their Croatian midfielder for £30 million by this week’s transfer deadline?
You can’t see Haringey Council accepting just the £2 million loose change from Spurs’ share; so Croydon’s allocation could end up being even more pitiful.
Croydon’s Labour leader Tony Newman has good reason to say that, “ I am not at all happy about the Spurs money taking urgently needed funds away from the people we represent in Croydon.”
In any case, not much of what’s left will find its way to London Road. The money is to be used by City Hall for land acquisition. Let’s hope that land is not going to the council’s first refusal development partner, Laing’s.
The concentration of the monies promised seems to be on areas not so badly touched by the riots. The Conservative-LibDem government press release talks of “significant opportunities to develop new commercial and residential properties and attract new commercial space around the New Town and East Croydon station”.
I have lived in Croydon for 49 years, but I am yet to locate “New Town”. The fact is, it is something which exists only in planning documents at Taberner House.
And then there is the balance sheet of lost grants. Even assuming Croydon gets £8 million, the borough has, in the past year, had £60 million of Local Regeneration funds cut by the government.
The Enterprise Zone concept worked well in Docklands under a previous Conservative government, driven by Michael Heseltine, so why has Croydon and the rest of London missed out this time around?
The cat was let out of the bag by Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell whose press release stated, “We had originally bid for part of town centre to be one of the new Enterprise Zones being announced today but the Council was concerned about the planning freedoms that come with Enterprise Zone status.”
A typical response from London Road traders to this desire of local worthies to hang on to their personal powers over planning was to jab their finger upwards in disgust pointing to some of the ugly, high density housing above street level. “Do you call that good planning?” was one response typical of the feeling.
In fact, Croydon Tories don’t seem to be very in tune ideologically with Conservative free market philosophy. They are behaving more like Tower Hamlets councillors, who fought tooth and nail to avoid losing planning powers to the London Dockland Development Corporation in the 1980s.
And Croydon Council’s record on planning is far from impressive. You can hardly call the failure of the council to develop the site next to East Croydon Station during this country’s longest ever economic boom a shining success.
West Croydon should by now be redeveloping, boosted by the new Overground connection. But there’s no action. After the trauma of the riots, as Newman suggests, it might be too late. “Plans for West Croydon are now obsolete,” Newman told Inside Croydon.
Yet the council’s green light to build a monstrous 54-storey residential tower in Cherry Orchard Road is hardly a stunning argument for the coterie of planning councillors to keep their comically mismanaged planning powers at the expense of a boost of up to £50-million to the Croydon economy that would come through an Enterprise Zone.
Perhaps it is no surprise that the government turned up their nose at the idea of a Croydon Enterprise Zone with such a disdainful lack of enthusiasm from councillors, more worried about their own powers and status so that they can continue to be courted by billionaire developers.
Part of the failure regarding Croydon’s recent economic decline falls upon Mike Fisher, the leader of the Tory group on the council, for appointing a lightweight to the economic development role, in the form of Councillor Simon Hoar. Mercifully, Hoar was shifted out of the role in May this year but he has clearly failed disastrously in his new role for “community safety”. Most likely, he will to be deputed next May to go away and to concentrate on fighting his key swing marginal Waddon ward seat. Of course, Hoar may be kept on just to spite this column, but that would not really serve Croydon’s interests well.
Instead, Croydon now has Tim Pollard holding the super brief of Deputy Leader, Regeneration and Economic Development and Children, Young People & Learners. Labour accuse Pollard of incompetence over the school bus contracts and the Oval School affair. But Pollard is head and shoulders above his colleagues for administrative capability and understanding of business.
Pollard has some other perspectives on the EZ idea going off the boil. He says the government really found the Enterprise Zone idea more applicable to manufacturing based towns rather than suburban service industry boroughs with dispersed areas of concentrated poverty as Croydon has.
“The criteria really suited towns with industrial parks and with contiguous areas of development need,” Pollard said.
He feels confident that such is the closeness of the relationship with Boris Johnson’s City Hall, that it will deliver results for Croydon and that the council will enjoy a good deal of discretion to target business rate relief “after further discussion”.
Indeed “further discussion” was an oft-repeated phrase that Pollard used in response to questions about the operation of the Enterprise Zone, including Croydon’s share of the funds due.
In reality, Croydon should have had both an Enterprise Zone and money to relieve the victims of the riots. Croydon’s Tories have looked a gift horse in the mouth. It is a further shame that any real help may still be weeks in coming, when Croydon’s London Road victims need assistance urgently.
- Andrew Pelling is a former Croydon MP, leader of Croydon Conservatives, London Assembly Member and councillor.
- Cameron snubs Croydon again over Enterprise Zone (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon 8/8: Council chief admits mistakes were made (insidecroydon.com)
- MP Wicks renews demand for urgent inquiry into Croydon riots (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon was vulnerable after being short-changed for decades (insidecroydon.com)