CROYDON COMMENTARY: As commuters face a fortnight of rail disruption (yes, some still work over Christmas), our local politicians and officials are spending their time proposing unnecessary re-naming schemes. It is an admission that they have run out of ideas, writes STEVEN DOWNES
The vacuousness of local politics, and local politicians, appears without end.
But when the best initiative that the highly paid numb-nuts at Fisher’s Folly can come up with is to announce a desire to re-name East Croydon Station, then you can only conclude that they have lost the plot.
As of this weekend, rail services ceased running into London Bridge for two weeks to enable engineering works to be conducted in and around the commuter terminus (with Network Rail’s fingers crossed that the work can be completed in that time). Got to get to work in The City or Southwark on Monday, a normal working day? Tough.
For residents of Coulsdon, Oxted and neighbouring smaller stations in east Surrey, a new timetable and inferior service into London is being slipped in under the radar by Thameslink’s new franchise-holders (the consultation can be seen and responded to here).
But what is Our Brave Leader, Tony Newman doing? He’s announcing that he wants to change the name of the borough’s biggest, busiest transport hub, to Croydon Central.
This is such a blatantly bullshit idea, it ought to have been binned the moment anyone dared air it. That it was not suggests a real paucity of worthwhile initiatives at the Town Hall.
With anything such as this proposal, there are usually two questions which need asking:
- How much will it cost?
- What are the benefits?
In this case, the answers are:
- an estimated £200,000 (the costs being carried by the council, Network Rail and Transport for London, in utterly unnecessary re-signing around the capital’s transport network and in updating the national railway’s ticketing network), and
- absolutely nothing.
Two hundred grand for zilch? By Croydon’s recent standards, that might seem like a bargain. Little wonder that Nathan Elvery, the council CEO, has a hand in it.
The proposal to re-name East Croydon station has all the signs of the desperation that was evident in the previous Conservative administration’s wasteful pursuit of city status for our London borough.
You might think there are more urgent priorities. But no. Newman and his inseparable new buddy, Elvery, have decided that a facile name change is important.
Re-branding rarely works. Initial confusion might be followed by grudging acceptance, if you’re lucky. Re-naming the Post Office as “Consignia” was an expensive waste of public money. Surrey Docks has become the far more Yuppie-friendly “Surrey Quays”, but the River Thames continues to flow past the old docks and Bermondsey is still Bermondsey.
And try this little test: what do you call Croydon’s biggest hospital? Yes, the one on Mayday Road…
So any re-branding of East Croydon is likely to be expensive and initially confusing. With two other stations also with “Croydon” in their title, that confusion is liable to roll out to affect commuters on platforms there, too. Three times the fun.
What possible purpose might it serve? To meet with the approval of shopping mall developers Westfield, perhaps, or the well-financed lobbyists behind Gatwick’s airport expansion? It certainly isn’t something which has residents or commuters manning the barricades.
It is not as if having the station called East Croydon is deterring people from using it. Figures from the Office of Rail Regulation showed the number of passenger entries and exits from the station up by 832,000 in 2013-2014, to 21.8 million.
A further 6.9 million passengers used the station to change trains.
The sales patter for the name change includes many macho references to size, the sort of thing last heard when Elvery and his colleagues, while “serving” a Tory council, were wasting their time and our money by making an absurdly weak case for city status.
“We are a much bigger place. We would be the seventh largest city in the country if it was anywhere else other than the edge of London – and I think it’s time we started acting like it,” was council leader Newman’s argument for the name change.
Elvery belittled those who might have reservations about the name change: “If you don’t start making your mark and being bold about things, it will just carry on and we will be seen as a continued suburb of London rather than the geographical economic hub, which we truly are for London.” This man is paid £180,000 per year for this sort of guff.
East Croydon, according to Elvery, “makes no sense whatsoever”. Who knew that Elvery was so easily confused?
Special bit for railway buffs
The station name of East Croydon dates from five years after the station’s establishment in 1841, when it was first called Croydon.
Despite Elvery’s pleadings, the name East Croydon does make a lot of sense. The station is at the very eastern end of the town centre and the Croydon Opportunity Area.
To call the station Croydon Central would be to mislead people as the station is most definitely not in the town centre. Misleading people, though, is what people are coming to expect from politicians and, it seems, council officials.
Croydon did have a Central Croydon station, where the Town Hall now stands in Katharine Street. Some of the station walls can still be seen in the sunken part of Queen’s Gardens. The historical presence underlines further how the proposed name change would be a geographical fiction.
The Victorian extension to Central Croydon was an unmitigated failure, closing after just three years. The line was re-opened 15 years later but again to no success, this time lasting just four years. That is a clear lesson for railway people to ignore foolish ideas emanating from Croydon Town Hall.
But alongside the re-naming proposal’s whimsy comes the blatant efforts of deceit. That such sleight of hand is being attempted so early in Labour’s administration of Croydon Town Hall is as worrying as it is a disappointment, as Newman and Elvery attempt to distract from lack of significant achievement elsewhere.
Rather than sounding off about fanciful name changes, the council would achieve more for Croydon if it secured the connection of the Bridge to Nowhere to Addiscombe, or untangled the bottleneck on the road that delays eastbound buses typically for five minutes or more, or dealt with the frequent intimidation of female passengers that haunts the station exits most nights.
Croydon has an image problem (© Gavin Barwell) in large part because our civic leaders continue to spout obviously laughable nonsense. “The economic hub of south-east England”? Who do they think they’re fooling? Certainly not any serious investors who might consider bringing their money, and business, to our outer London borough.
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- Why do all roads lead to Westfield, but not the costs?
- Own goals galore scored on Croydon’s school playing fields
Coming to Croydon
- Christmas music and jam session, South Norwood, Dec 28
- David Lean Cinema, Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, Dec 29
- David Lean Cinema, The Beat Beneath My Feet, Dec 30
- David Lean Cinema, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Jan 3
- David Lean Cinema, Mr Turner, Jan 8
- David Lean Cinema, Leviathan, Jan 13
- Norwood Society talk: Penge, the making of a suburb, Jan 15
- David Lean Cinema, The 78 Project Movie, Jan 15
- David Lean Cinema, Hannah Arendt, Jan 20
- David Lean Cinema, The Imitation Game, Jan 22
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
- David Lean Cinema, Night Will Fall, Jan 27 (Holocaust Memorial Day)
- David Lean Cinema, Kon-Tiki, Jan 29
- Norwood Society talk: Crystal Palace and Dulwich, Feb 19
- Norwood Society talk: Charlies Dickens in Norwood, Mar 19
- Norwood Society: Balloons and airships at Crystal Palace, Apr 16
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