With Labour eyeing a return to power at Westminster after next May’s General Election, it is of great value to Croydon that 11 councillors are here, making the case for the borough.
Party members from around the rest of the country and the professional lobbyists attending the conference are intrigued by the news they have been reading in the national press about how Croydon has become the go-to place to invest.
Interest is especially keen after Lord Rogers talked of fitting two cities into Croydon town centre.
The Croydon council contingent has also received much praise for their bigger than expected win at the local elections in May, taking back control of the Town Hall.
Croydon North MP Steve Reed is here, as is Sarah Jones, Labour’s candidate for Croydon Central, and who the bookmakers are convinced will win in May, providing a vital gain on the swingometers come election night. Both are working on honing the winning strategies and team-building for the election.
It is important for Croydon to be well-represented here to argue the case for fairer funding from government and for more investment.
The comments of the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, yesterday on the need to end the delays on delivering airport expansion for London re-emphasised the importance of the council leader, Tony Newman’s, vocal support for Gatwick’s new runway. Such an expansion would bring even more opportunity for Croydon, with residents able to compete for the 20,000 new jobs likely to be created.
The devolution of power to local councils and regions seems to get a mention at every fringe meeting, following the exhausting Scottish referendum.
London Mayoral candidates have been setting out some of their ideas. David Lammy’s suggestion, floated here in Manchester, of a higher minimum wage for London than elsewhere in the country – with Labour pledging to increase the minimum wage to £8 per hour – makes sense for those who live in one of the world’s most expensive cities, though caution may be needed if such demands might see employers moving their businesses from, say, Croydon, to Redhill or Crawley to escape the increased staff costs.
Sadiq Khan, the shadow spokesman for London but as yet undeclared as a Mayoral candidate, should be attractive to Croydon were he to stand, being a south London MP. He has spoken here of giving more powers to the Mayor over more of out-of-London rail lines, following the much-improved service on London Overground, which operates to east London from West Croydon – a project introduced by Ken Livingstone when Mayor.
The importance of housing as an issue for the electorate was shown by no less than four fringe meetings being held on the subject within the space of two hours.
Croydon councillors Newman, Paul Scott and Sean Fitzsimons were prominent in their participation at these events, with Newman being singled out for praise for the work he does nationally, for the Local Government Association, in making the case for confident policies on delivering Labour’s target of 200,000 new homes by 2020.
At a meeting organised by the National Federation of Builders, Newman said that his council is talking to a number of pension funds who are seeking a 4 per cent return from investing in building housing.
But Newman highlighted something which has been the bane of many local authorities since Margaret Thatcher introduced the right-to-buy scheme in the 1980s: councils have been unable to use the proceeds from those sales, and other housing revenue, to build new homes. “The party needs to be more confident on relaxing the housing revenue account,” Newman said.
Addiscombe councillor Sean Fitzsimons astonished the audience when he told of how unaffordable most homes are in his ward, as Londoners continue to be priced out of Croydon by investor buyers, usually from overseas. Only 10 per cent of homes in Addiscombe, Fitzsimons said, were affordable, and any property that comes up for sale, not just new-build flats but even houses in streets, were being snapped up by overseas investors. He was seeking a mechanism to stop foreign buyers from purchasing homes here, just to leave them unoccupied as an “investment”.
At one of the events, Scott asked a question which made no secret of what Croydon’s new council team thinks: “Does the panel agree with permitted development rights being used to change tired old office buildings to sub-standard housing?”
Croydon’s Labour council has given developers notice that they intend to end the situation, granted by the current Conservative-led government, for rapid and relaxed planning requirements on office conversions.
Scott explained to the meeting why. “We are very concerned about this in Croydon. It is a carte blanche to convert offices badly, and outside most planning controls. There’s no improvement to the outside of the buildings. They are the slums of the future,” he said.
Scott said that he and the council are in favour of replacing old buildings and for good conversions. But referring to London housing standards introduced by Mayor Boris Johnson, Scott said that the permitted development rights are being used by developers in Croydon, “way outside London standards, with the council receiving an application for a 13 sq m flat, which is not as big as the standard for a double-bedroom”.
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Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema: Jimmy’s Hall, Sep 25
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Organ recital, St Michael’s church, Poplar Walk, Sep 27
- Fancy dress family funday, Sep 28
- Ukrainian choir concert, St John’s Shirley, Sep 29
- Tree Sides, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 2-4
- The Goon Show, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 8-11
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- Croydon 10km road race, Oct 19
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- CODA’s Wind In The Willows, Charles Cryer, Carshalton, Oct 29-Nov 1
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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