Building a new Croydon won’t be boring, promises Negrini

Jo Negrini, Croydon Council’s head of planning, this week rejected earlier schemes – drawn up by the previous Conservative council – for Fairfield Halls to be virtually surrounded by high-rise housing as “really, really boring”.

Jo Negrini: she doesn't want Croydon to be boring

Jo Negrini: she doesn’t want Croydon to be boring

Instead, Negrini told hundreds of property developers, estate agents, landlords and land owners at the Live Croydon event, that the intention is to create a Cultural Quarter which “makes Croydon as interesting and exciting as possible”.

The new quarter would lead housing development, rather than the other way around so that, according to Negrini, people would want to live in Croydon for its cafe culture.

This was a more interventionist approach to town planning for Croydon than had been heard for many years, but it appeared to meet with the property developers’ warm approval at the commercial possibilities it presented them. The difference, you might suppose, between saleable and rentable flats and offices, and the unsaleable or unrenatable.

Negrini’s message was one of a strong planning leadership from the council, something that has not been seen in Croydon since Sir James Marshall started plotting Croydon’s office skyscraper and road widening boom in 1954.

The radical proposals will underpin the Labour council’s plan for growth, which are due to be revealed to the cabinet at the end of the month.

In a week when no less a figure than Lord Rogers extolled Croydon’s available space for development, a self-assured Negrini felt that Croydon has become a place that “people aren’t sniggering about anymore”.

Negrini dismissed those who question what would happen to Croydon if Westfield and Hammerson failed to deliver on their £1 billion new shopping mall, as there was so much else that the council was going to do to drive forward the town’s development.

The director of a London think tank told Inside Croydon today that Negrini’s take up of the Croydon planning job – as executive director of development and environment – “can be seen as an endorsement of Croydon’s plans for the future”.

After Negrini’s four-year spell for planning and Olympic legacy at Newham, the Australian headed south of the river with Westfield’s recommendation after the success of that borough’s regeneration at Stratford.

At Live Croydon, Negrini’s assertive approach was on show when she said, “Developers will not be allowed to sit on land anymore.”

She told her audience, “We will tell you what we want.” It almost sounded like town planning was going on.

“We want to ensure a pipeline of development,” Negrini said, saying that the council will act to ensure plots of land would be used.

The council would be taking radical action, Negrini said, including sponsoring a “revolving investment fund”. Other measures cited by Negrini included

  • equity financing,
  • some development-friendly redesignation of planning definitions for certain areas,
  • the setting up of housing development companies,
  • acquiring land,
  • taking direct council stakes in developments,
  • using compulsory purchase orders if necessary to get development going,
  • helping developers assemble land blocks,
  • undertaking direct building by the council, and
  • acquiring land

Negrini even mentioned that the council would enter into joint ventures. The Croydon Council Urban Regeneration Vehicle, CCURV, that has delivered to the borough the £220million council head offices, may not be the paragon of public-private co-operation she has in mind.

Coming to a NCP near you?

Drive-in cinema, coming to a NCP near you?

The town centre and its cultural quarter would include “clubbing outside of Tiger, Tiger”, Negrini promised, and that they will be “drive-in cinemas atop of the car parks”.

There would be rent-free accommodation for digital start-up companies, as already announced for Tech City activity in the council-owned Davis House, and the promise of world-class fibre optic provision for superfast broadband to make Croydon a connected town with signal strengths boosted from atop the town centre’s skyscrapers.

Negotiations continue to bring Roehampton University to take residence at Fisher’s Folly, and adopt as much of Croydon town centre as its campus.

What Negrini left unsaid was that Labour’s 30 per cent target for affordable housing could not be achieved in the town centre, but she said, “we have done the numbers” and that all developments outside the town centre can accommodate the required amount of affordable housing.

“We are going to prioritise New Addington,” Negrini said.

The council will aim to outdo the housing target set by the Greater London Authority and will seek to surpass even its own long-term target for new homes, which is set at 9,500 units. As many as 12,000 new homes could be built in the long-term. “We will have a good go at that,” Negrini said, with 8,000 the target for the first 12 years of work.

The council has already done work with EC Harris and Cushman & Wakefield to review 400 sites in the borough for possible development, with the first focused efforts to go into 16 sites identified from that report from the commercial estate agents’ professional analysis.

One senior Tory councillor was heard to complain that the Croydon Conservatives did not adopt such an active approach during its most recent eight years in power, and previous periods in control of the Town Hall over the past 30 years.

Three decades provided no successful new office building and only a rather pedestrian pace of development elsewhere. But a glass frame for East Croydon Station and a badly botched £20 million bridge project, some new school buildings, the BRIT performing arts school, the tram, the Coulsdon bypass, the Central Library, two leisure centres in Waddon (one of which was demolished), three residential towers of varying merit and, of course, the vastly over-priced Fisher’s Folly, is not much to show since the 1980s.

Negrini appears determined that the pace of change will accelerate on her watch. It certainly won’t be boring.

Coming to Croydon

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