Nil carborundum illegitimi*
In dealing with the often obdurate and regularly crass management of our local council, sometimes people have to take satisfaction over the little victories, the minor successes. These are usually achieved against the corporate brick wall of obstructiveness and secretiveness that is the default setting of those “executives”, many of them on six-figure salaries, who inhabit Taberner House.
It is this “top team”, under chief executive Jon Rouse, who have lumbered East Croydon Station with a “prestigious” £20 million footbridge and entrance which lacks any access to the eastern side of the tracks, to Addiscombe. “A walkway that leads nowhere”, as it was described in a council report earlier this year.
This multi-million pound failure is, of course, Croydon’s “Bridge to Nowhere”.
With Croydon Council unable – or unwilling? – to force private “partners”, the property speculators Menta, to permit the bridge construction to be completed on the developers’ site, let alone to pay up an agreed, modest contribution towards the development costs of the bridge, it has taken agitating from local residents to ensure a solution, albeit inelegant and imperfect, is achieved.
Thus Addiscombe councillor Sean Fitzsimons has good reason to be pleased with himself as the council has bowed to pressure to provide a “link” footway to Cherry Orchard Road and beyond.
Intended to be only “temporary” (in councilspeak, that could be at least 15 years) and of much lower quality than the substantial main bridge, the dog-leg link walkway will go from the new bridge to the existing station entrance via Billinton Hill.
“I am pleased that pressure from Network Rail and residents forced Croydon Council to reinstate the link to Cherry Orchard Road,” Fitzsimons said.
The main construction is being put together on the old East Croydon railway sidings, before being moved carefully over platforms 1 to 6 probably during railway closures over Christmas.
The council has had to find an additional £2.3 million (cheers, Menta!) for the temporary extra link, to add to the £6 million they had already committed for the main bridge construction, with Network Rail and Transport for London having paid the rest of the original £20million bill out of public funds. The financial benefits of the improved value of the developers’ projects, the Menta Tower and the stalled Ruskin Square development on the other side of the tracks, will never be refunded to public budgets.
The public money spent is justified by some as a classic Keynesian example of pump-priming that will encourage private sector development in the area around Dingwall Road. Public bodies always struggle to prove links between spending and regenerative effects, but some will point to the speculative medium-sized Renaissance office development in Dingwall Road as being assisted by this generous public spending.
Encouraging visitors to wander through what the council now calls Croydon “New Town”, it is hoped the new bridge will increase economic activity and even create jobs, though it’s notable that the western end of the link deposits people straight to the entrance of Jobcentre Plus.
East Croydon Station is the eighth busiest station in the country. The number of passengers starting or finishing their train journeys at East Croydon is up by more than 5 million in six years, though how these commuter figures might be influenced in the future after the departure of major employers such as Nestle, Bank of America and Allders, or indeed by the above-inflation rises in commuter ticket prices, remains to be seen.
Regular travellers will know that the small concourse is regularly overcrowded, as the clearly inadequate 1992-built station, which the Conservative council of the time conspired to replace the previous attractive Victorian buildings, fails to cope with passenger numbers.
While the bottleneck might have been simply tackled by removing a retail unit from the current exit, a new way out at the northern end of the platforms should help the station cope with its 27 million users each year. Certainly, older, frail and disabled passengers will welcome the more modern lifts from the platforms that are planned as an alternative to the very long slopes.
Only if enough passengers arriving at East Croydon then choose to use the Addiscombe “link”, or opt to visit Croydon “New Town”, will the £20 million-worth of public cash prove to have been really well-spent.
* As Boris Johnson would be able to advise, Nil carborundum illegitimi is Latin, meaning “don’t let the bastards grind you down”.
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