The incompetence of Croydon’s planners and politicians means that our council has been turned over by developers once more, hoodwinked into spending about £20 million of public money on what an official report this week concedes could become “a walkway that leads nowhere”.
One section of the report to the Croydon cabinet considers the £20 million pedestrian bridge that is being built across the northern end of platforms at East Croydon station. The majority of the funding was obtained from Network Rail, with £4.4 million contributed by Transport for London, and despite swingeing cuts being made to existing services across the borough, Croydon Council agreed to chip in £6 million.
The bridge was inspired – or insisted upon – by developers of two multi-million schemes, Ruskin Square, the Stanhope/Schroders project sited between the station and Dingwall Road, and on the other side of the tracks, the £250 million Menta Tower.
While Inside Croydon and others questioned why the developers were not made to pay for this amenity, the council argued that the bridge was a shrewd improvement that would provide a better link from the proposed 54-storey “Mental” tower on Cherry Orchard Road, to East Croydon Station and thence the centre of Croydon.
Urged on by the rich and influential developers, Croydon Council approved the spend on the bridge last February, even though planning permission had yet to be granted for the Menta scheme.
What is known as a “Section 106” condition was included in the planning application – granted by our pliant council last July, despite opposition to the Menta Tower from more than 600 Addiscombe residents – that required Menta to agree to spend £2.3 million to provide a walkway from the publicly funded station footbridge to Billinton Hill, the side street that wraps round the Royal Mail building and leads to the existing East Croydon station taxi rank.
No one argued that Menta was not getting a very favourable deal, with nearly £18 million of public cash being committed in a recession which would considerably enhance its own development and investment.
Now it seems that Menta has reneged on even the modest £2.3 million commitment required. According to senior sources at the Town Hall, there is a gathering rumour that Menta is refusing Network Rail permission to build one end of the bridge on the land that it owns on the Cherry Orchard Road side of the railway.
So the proposal being put to Croydon Council’s cabinet on Monday is to spend another £2.7million of Council Tax-payers’ money on something which Menta agreed to last year when it needed to get planning permission for its private sector development.
Someone on the council – it may be Tony Antoniou, the “director of Economy and Regeneration” under whose name the report is submitted – must have a sense of humour, because the report submitted to the cabinet is, even by Croydon standards, local authority comedy gold. Flick though the pdf to para 4.2.2, page 9.
They include a dinky little map with, highlighted in red, the 50-foot “missing” link bridge.
The council officer has written and submitted to Croydon’s ruling Conservative group’s most senior councillors: “The East Croydon Interchange ‘Public Realm’ project was initiated at the end of 2011 with the aim of transforming the poor quality environment around East Croydon Railway Station into a seamless and efficient interchange space…”
Ah. “Seamless and efficient interchange space”.
“… On Billinton Hill the strategy is to deliver a level walkway connecting the existing station concourse with the new Network Rail footbridge (currently under construction) via a Link Bridge to be delivered by developer Menta under a Section 106 agreement related to their Cherry Orchard Road site…
“Until the Menta scheme delivers the Link Bridge there would be a circa 16metre physical gap (shown in red below) between the Billinton Hill walkway and the new Network Rail bridge. This would seriously compromise the objectives of the investments made by LBC, TfL and Network Rail.”
Note that: “seriously compromise”. The art of the understatement is not lost. Our council officer continues…
“It is proposed that LBC fund the construction of a temporary… Link Bridge to avoid this scenario.” Cost? £2.7 million in a “worst case scenario”, the report states.
And “temporary”? How temporary? “Estimated lifespan of 15 years”, our council report states.
“LBC must make an urgent commitment so that the link bridge can be delivered by Network Rail as part of the new station bridge.” Another key word to note: the London Borough of Croydon “must” make an urgent commitment.
So multi-million pound developers, of a scheme roundly rejected by local residents, now have our council, Boris Johnson’s TfL and Network Rail over a barrel, fearing that they may have wasted £20 milllion of our cash.
The council report goes on to consider the various risks involved of the different possible courses of action.
One option is that Mike Fisher, the leader of the ruling Conservative group on the council and his cronies, grow some balls and refuse to bail out Menta, instead enforcing the Section 106 commitment given just a year ago, or threaten Menta with being stripped of the planning permission.
This is not an option posited in the report to cabinet. But this is:
“Do Nothing: The Link Bridge is not built but the Billinton Hill scheme goes ahead as planned.
“This option will result in a walkway that leads nowhere. This was never the intention of the masterplan so would be a poor outcome.”
A paragraph which wins this week’s Inside Croydon No Shit Sherlock Award.
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