Regeneration posts that fail to offer a long-term future

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Loyal reader CRO CRUSADER was unimpressed by our council squandering £350,000 in over-generous pay-offs to departing senior staff. But it also highlights a lack of continuity at the Town Hall in this vital area

Given the austerity that Croydon is suffering, the pay-off to Emma Peters and three other former council executive directors reported by Inside Croydon this week seems far too generous.

There are deeper implications. We all agree that Croydon desperately needs regeneration. However, the departures of Peters and Stephen McDonald pose some uncomfortable questions on the management of Croydon’s regeneration effort.

As regeneration projects have a long gestation period (forever in the case of Ruskin Square and Menta?), you would hope that the key people charged with Croydon’s regeneration would be of high calibre, could focus exclusively on the task and would be in place for the long term.

At the executive (Council senior management) level, the appointment of Emma Peters as head of planning and regeneration in October 2008 was a good start in a concerted regeneration effort. She had been a key player in Tower Hamlets’ regeneration, which had achieved some notable successes. Following her Croydon appointment, she was brutally honest about the borough’s dire situation.

She believed that Croydon had acquired a reputation for being obstructive to developers due to the Arrowcroft/Arena saga. Her strategy was to make Croydon attractive to developers by putting in place a laissez faire planning framework. The key tool for achieving this was via the masterplans – which began to roll off the council’s conveyor belt at a furious rate. Although many would question the quality of the masterplans, even Peters’ critics would concede that she brought energy and experience to Croydon’s regeneration.

It was a nasty surprise in March 2011 when Croydon announced that Peters was leaving having served less than three years in the job. The Inside Croydon report provides a fascinating read – had Emma Peters jumped, or was she pushed? This week’s news of her £111,000 pay-off now seems to confirm the latter.

Time has shown that the loss of Peters was a real blow to Croydon’s regeneration effort. At the time of her departure, it was clear that Croydon’s crisis was deepening. The independent Centre for Cities report (released in March 2011) forensically analysed Croydon’s deep-rooted economic problems.

Given this dire background, you would have imagined that Croydon would have taken pains to recruit an exceptional replacement, who could focus exclusively on the regeneration role and who would serve for the long haul.

In August 2011, Stephen McDonald was appointed. Bizarrely, McDonald’s role not only encompassed planning and regeneration, but also took on board environment services. No matter how talented McDonald might be, this seemed to be spreading his skills, and time, remarkably thinly. Given his crucial role, his departure in February this year, after less than six months in the role, beggars belief.

The council’s website now indicates that there is no one specifically charged with regeneration within the council’s current senior management team. As happened when Peters left, chief executive Jon Rouse has assumed responsibility for this aspect.

Croham councillor Jason Perry: cabinet members in charge of regeneration have had more regenerations than Doctor Who

Croydon’s regeneration has not only suffered from the churn of executive staff in Taberner House. At cabinet level in the Town Hall, there has been little continuity on regeneration among the politicians in the Conservative group which controls the council.

You might imagine that there would be a desire to ensure that this role is given great focus and is held by our most able politicians, and that those given the regeneration brief would hold it for the long term.

Yet Jason Perry is the fourth councillor to have held responsibility for regeneration in the last three years. A

Until May 2010, Councillor Steve O’Connell’s cabinet brief was regeneration. However, he had to juggle that role with his Assembly Member responsibilities. In May 2010, the regeneration brief passed to the low-profile councillor Simon Hoar. After just a year, the brief was passed to Tim Pollard. As if regeneration wasn’t in itself a massive job, Pollard was also responsible for Croydon’s youth services.

And after just a year, like a hot potato, the regeneration brief was passed by Pollard to Perry. Perry has to combine regeneration with the similarly demanding transport brief.

Historically, the sensible approach had been to combine regeneration with economic development. However, in May 2012, the economic development role was split off and passed to Vidhi Mohan. Poor Mohan has to combine economic regeneration with the communities brief.

Croydon’s cabinet member for regeneration has had more regenerations than Doctor Who. When better calibre politicians such as O’Connell and Pollard have held the brief, their ability to focus on it has been seriously distracted by other responsibilities.

Despite Croydon’s crisis having intensified in the past six months, as nearly 3,000 jobs are about disappear due to the departures of Nestle and Bank of America and possible demise of Allders, the council’s regeneration effort seems to have hit an all time low.

The splitting of the economic development and regeneration roles seems illogical. Each of these roles has been made the responsibility of two relatively low-profile councillors. Each councillor is unlikely to be able to bring focus to the task as they have other demanding responsibilities.

Our council and politicians are always quick to proclaim their devotion to Croydon’s regeneration. However, we would like to judge them on their deeds, rather than their words, because Croydon’s regeneration effort evidences a chasm between the aspirational pronouncements and effective action.

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2 Responses to Regeneration posts that fail to offer a long-term future

  1. Croydon made huge development strides in the late 1950s and early 1960s, allowing remodelling of the town centre. The work was regarded as inspirational at the time and the local authority was seen as one of the most forward-looking in the country.

    In Croydon, everything was possible, or so it seemed. But in the years since the 1980s those post-war development policies have been consistently criticised as being too short-sighted.

    The local authority could not have anticipated the demise of the back-office market, on which the town centre’s prosperity was based, but it should have been fleeter of foot in encouraging the replacement of obsolete office blocks.

    Instead it dithered. Every proposal was examined in minute detail and the slightest risk was amplified out of all proportion. The views of every protest group were given far more weight than they deserved and the net result was inertia.

    You couldn’t make up the farce surrounding the redevelopment of the Gateway site (Charrington’s coal yard) beside East Croydon station. One of the best commercial property opportunities in Greater London still lies fallow because successive town hall administrations have become so expert at looking gift horses in the mouth.

    The Whitgift Centre is ripe for redevelopment. The Whitgift Foundation planned the present centre to last 50 years, providing it was upgraded half way through – hence the addition of a glass roof and Italian marble flooring in the mid 1990s.

    Do we have a plan for a new centre? Well maybe we have two: and a potential legal battle that will be fought to a standstill over many years while the centre continues to decline. And then there’s the non-existent Park Place, destined now to become medium rise apartment blocks: not a bad idea, as long as they’re affordable for ordinary Croydon residents. But when precisely will they be built?

    And what of other developments, started or promised over the years? Among the more prominent are the part-built IYLO; the new-look narrower Wellesley Road; an integrated public transport hub at West Croydon station and a second in Dingwall Road at East Croydon station; a new fringe theatre (Warehouse or otherwise); and a swimming pool for the town centre (promised in the 1970s as a replacement for the one demolished in Scarbrook Road).

    Croydon has more loose ends than the fraying carpets in Fairfield Hall.

    The borough has an unenviable reputation in regional and national government circles for talking big and failing to deliver. Boris Johnson says Croydon is one of the opportunities he intends to show off to visiting business executives during the Olympics. But can he help them to bypass an obdurate local authority?

    Central Croydon needs a Docklands solution, a body with the experience and skill to paint the bigger picture – and to deliver it. And if that smacks of benevolent dictatorship, so be it.

    A 10-year development programme, free of petty party political squabbles, could see large parts of the town centre rebuilt for the benefit of the majority. It may be the only way to save Croydon from the indecision that has paralysed it in good times as well as in bad.

  2. Sorry but yet again Croydon council proves how inept it is. Ms Peters obviously wanted to get things moving on the regeneration front but the ‘old guard’ seem to have been put out by someone actually working for their salary. So they dumped her, put McDonald in the seat who found he couldn’t cope. Now O’Connell has the task, and presumably an increase in take home pay for the extra duties.

    Yet we all know that O’Connell is juggling two or three different jobs, and salaries. How can we residents expect him to put his efforts into the regeneration of Croydon when he’s more interested in photo opportunities with his mate the Mayor.

    Wake up Croydon. Stop voting for the Same old people. For a change, regardless of your political affiliations, vote some one new, fresh willing to roll up their sleeves and get on with improving Croydon instead of letting it continue to run down. The old guard will only look after their interests.

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