Deal to bring university to Croydon looks to have fallen flat

The council’s attempts to turn Croydon into a “university town” by renting out some or all of their office space in Fisher’s Folly appear to have failed, judging by Labour leader Tony Newman’s remarks to a Town Hall meeting.

Crystal palace: The new council HQ will cost every household in Croydon at least £1,000. But it doesn't seem like a vote-winning election issue

Crystal palace: The new council HQ is costing cost every household in Croydon at least £1,000

Negotiations had been on-going with Roehampton University for them to take over parts of the extortionately expensive new council offices on Cost A Mint Walk. Although senior councillors were at first encouraged by the progress made with the former teacher training college from south-west London, more recently the academics’ interest in renting over-priced office space in Croydon appears to have waned.

Answering questions at last week’s leader’s scrutiny session, Newman avoided any mention of the Roehampton deal which he and his cabinet had enthusiastically spoken about previously.

Fisher’s Folly opened just over a year ago, having cost the Council Tax-payers of the borough £144 million to build. This makes it the most expensive council offices in history, costing more to build per square metre than London’s tallest building, The Shard.

Speaking in the Town Hall chamber, Newman described the previous Tory administration’s choice to build the offices, sometimes known as Bernard Weatherill House, as “the wrong decision at the wrong time”.

Yet Newman still refuses to hold an independent audit inquiry to discover how the building, part of the disastrous CCURV scheme with John Laing, managed to cost as much as £100 million more than similarly sized office blocks.

“We will let it to the private sector,” Newman told the meeting, “and we will claw some of that money back. Though it would be wrong to pretend it would be a hugely significant sum.”

The council’s problem in entering the commercial property sector, as highlighted previously by Inside Croydon, is that there is already a super-abundance of empty office space in central Croydon, much of it available for lease at very low rates.

Nathan Elvery, the council CEO, keping a close eye on Tony Newman at last week's scrutiny session

Nathan Elvery, the council CEO, keping a close eye on Tony Newman at last week’s scrutiny session

Newman indicated that more space within the council’s “service hub” would be freed up as staff are made redundant, or moved into less-modern Davis House next door. Yet according to council officials who have been in touch with Inside Croydon, the hot-desking arrangements operating in Fisher’s Folly’s open plan offices is vastly inefficient, and sees staff unable to get on with their administrative duties sometimes for hours on end.

“The place is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter,” one council staffer said, “and there’s 20 per cent less space in there than we had in Taberner House. We no longer have our own desks. We ‘hot desk’, because that’s supposed to be more efficient, but what it really means is that every morning, unless you get in specially early, a load of us are standing round waiting for a chance to get to a desk and get on with our work.”

Newman has described calls to have an independent audit into the bungled planning and massive costs of Fisher’s Folly as “a waste of money”.

Against a background of more public service cuts and the “financial black hole” left by Mike #WadGate Fisher’s Tory council, Newman assured his fellow councillors at the scrutiny meeting that, “We are committed to getting better value for money.”

Coming to Croydon


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