ANDREW PELLING wanted to speak to the elected London Mayor at an event in Croydon on Tuesday, and found it would cost him £260 for the privilege
Boris is in town tomorrow at the Develop Croydon Conference.
If you want to see your Mayor, it will only set you back £260 to be a delegate. If you are a business you’ll be able to reclaim £45 in VAT from Boris’s mate, Gideon.
It seems clear that the latest visit to the borough is more about “Vote Boris” than “Develop Croydon”. There’s an election less than six months away after all.
Our Mayor takes a very hands-off attitude to local council planning, as was revealed by a question at the London Assembly. That question was placed by Britain’s most overpaid local councillor, Kenley’s £115,000 per year man, Steve O’Connell.
Yes, the same Steve O’Connell who relegates attendance at a key meeting for the imposition of an incinerator on his voters in Sutton and Croydon to being less important than collecting tickets to see his favourite football team play Manchester United’s reserves at Old Trafford.
For his six-figure income from public funds, you’d expect a top-flight piece of public service from O’Connell. His question to Boris is intriguing in itself as both he and local MP Gavin Barwell had told Croydon that they were doing their utmost to stop the 54-storey Mental Tower from towering over Addiscombe residents’ terraced homes.
But it was a different story for O’Connell at City Hall. There, where O’Connell collects his generous allowances as the Assembly member for Sutton and Croydon, he was caught doing his utmost to prevent the Mayor from calling in the planning application for the Mental Tower, effectively the last chance that Addiscombe residents had of halting this multi-million-pound developers’ blight on their homes and lives.
As 180-degree U turns go, this ought to have left O’Connell’s head spinning.
This is the question put by O’Connell: “Will you confirm that you will not take a direct hand in the Menta development at East Croydon and will not interfere in Croydon Council’s ability to make its own decisions and listen to the local residents as the locally elected authority? Will the Mayor back the decision of the Council on this issue?”
Answer by Boris Johnson: “I will work closely with Croydon Council to bring about the necessary regeneration and improvements to Croydon town centre, including joint working on a planning framework for the town centre opportunity area. I will not intervene in planning applications that have no strategic planning implications. It would be wrong, however, to promise not to use my planning powers in particular cases before the application has been referred to me.”
Planners and developers 1, Residents of Croydon 0, as football fan Steve O’Connell might understand it. Was this an own-goal, or had O’Connell got himself a transfer to the other side?
It is a curious situation all-round: O’Connell betraying his voters by telling them one thing, then doing the opposite, while London’s Mayor turning round and saying that the development of the country’s tallest residential tower block in our capital city is nothing to do with him. Not for the first time, observers have been prompted to ask: what has Boris done for London while Mayor?
Perhaps Boris is in Croydon on Tuesday to tell us he’s concerned about developments of tower blocks of more than 54 storeys?
Expect big announcements though. Buffoonery may not be enough to clinch the votes of all London for a second time.
Council sources have played up the prospects for Boris’ speech through their spokesperson here on earth, The Insider column on the Croydon Sadvertiser.
A little while ago, Croydon Council’s propaganda department did its best to try to rubbish our Inside Croydon story – based on testimony given at the 8/8 riot inquiry by no lesser witness than the owner of Reeves Corner – that the council had failed to submit an application for millions of pounds in regeneration funding.
After the usual avoidance and obfuscation from the press office, we went over their heads and directly to Croydon CEO Jon Rouse, who after more than a week responded to the effect that, yes, we had been right, and that the council had not submitted a grant application, and that an announcement of the Mayor’s funding would happen “soon”. “Soon” looks like the carefully orchestrated and stage-managed “vote-winner” speech tomorrow.
The oracle from the Sadvertiser says that extra money for Croydon will be announced, but frankly that is of little worth when cash already promised have not arrived to help the struggling traders on London Road.
We need also to remember the recent axing of the £71 million funding for local economic regeneration in Croydon and the decision of our council to turn up their noses at government hopes to make Croydon an Enterprise Zone.
If promises are made about extending the Tram route to Crystal Palace, we also ought to treat those warm words with great caution, too. It was Boris Johnson himself who axed the
extension scheme in the first place almost as soon as he was elected nearly four years ago. Only if real money is on the table to do the design work should the promise be given any credence at all.
More money to help Croydon’s planning department might be a good idea, to encourage big businesses to invest in the town. Cuts at Taberner House leave that department at risk of not responding quickly enough to professional investor enquiries, the future of Nestle in Croydon still in the balance.
Mayoral money for training for skills would help as well. After all, more jobs for Croydon is what is needed, not unwanted and unloved 1960s-type residential tower blocks, like the unworkable Altitude 25 which remains 75 per cent unoccupied after being built with cheap boom-time Irish money.
Perhaps when he speaks to Croydon tomorrow, the Mayor will explain why the local Conservative MP has failed on his promises – gleefully announced to his Twitter followers at the time – to deliver extra government jobs for Croydon. The number of public sector jobs in Croydon has been going down since May 2010, with no announcements from Westminster nor Whitehall of any relocation of civil service offices to the borough.
Tomorrow’s delegate list is encouraging in terms of private sector participation. Important players like Barratt Homes, Hammerson, Nestle, Stanhope and Tesco are among a good long list of prospective commercial attendees. Notable by their absence from the list, though, are local players like the local Federation of Small Businesses, Whitgift Foundation and Allders.
“Good” development should concern itself with people and jobs, as well as throwing up buildings as high and cheaply as possible into the sky. It would have been good to have had the Job Centre, small business groups and trade unions invited as well, so as to try to create a holistic plan for Croydon.
It is labour, consumer and capital in combination that is the magic solution. Croydon’s obsession with buildings alone, without thought to the human scale, dates right back to the “triumphs” of late 1950s and early 1960’s municipalist Croydon Conservativism. It’s time to move on from such an outdated approach.
Croydon Council’s £248,000 per year salaried chief executive Jon Rouse is posted as one of three main speakers tomorrow, underlining what many Town Hall insiders suggest: that it is Rouse, and not Our Brave Leader, Mike Fisher, who really runs Croydon’s affairs.
Rouse is an important person and doesn’t he know it? His CV distributed before the conference may be signal that he is looking for “new challenges”, or perhaps fancies moving more openly into the political arena. The Rouse CV states: “Formerly chief executive of the Housing Corporation, he was previously chief executive of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE). Prior to that Jon was secretary to the Urban Task Force and Policy & Communications Manager at English Partnerships.
“He spent 5 years at the Department of the Environment, including a spell as Private Secretary to the minister for housing & local government.”
No wonder he often looks so frustrated being caught up in the mundane intricacies of local government. He’ll feel more at home in the company of the Mayor and big developers tomorrow. It’s time that he got a better job than that he currently has dealing with the intractable that is Croydon politics. But who could afford him?
- Twitter exposes O’Connell’s priorities over £1bn incinerator (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon goes Mental over “monstrous” 54-storey tower (insidecroydon.com)
- Noxious stench is polluting the atmosphere of dirty Croydon (insidecroydon.com)