Croydon streets being paved with gold – or public cash

How one of the council's expensive marketing drives suggests that Croydon town centre will look by 2020. That's if the Hammersfield development goes ahead, of course...

How one of the council’s expensive marketing drives suggests that Croydon town centre will look from a low-flying aircraft by 2020. That’s if the Hammersfield development goes ahead, of course…

Next Monday, the council starts work to give the area around East Croydon Station a £5million overhaul.

But when all the work is finished, will we be able to say it is money well spent?

If the quality of some of the workmanship and the lengthy over-running of similar “regeneration” works conducted in the past year in South End is anything to go by, then that seems very unlikely.

And who will actually benefit from this spending of millions of pounds of public money?

On social media, the council’s PR spinners have drooled approvingly over a artist’s impression of what the town centre might look like in five years: “Public realm improvements underway are a big part of the transformation.” An admission that, yet again, a large wodge of public cash is being spent largely at the behest of the £1 billion Hammersfield supermall development and its commercial partners.

Certainly, the tens of thousands of Croydon commuters who have had to endure delays, cancellations and disruption travelling through London Bridge since the New Year should beware. Buried deep in the council’s usual mix of vague promises and blandishments, there’s a warning that you’re about to have to endure “disruption at busy times throughout the duration of the works” around East Croydon. And that could last at least the rest of  2015.

“We are investing an initial £2 million to transform the area around East Croydon Station and George Street, as part of the overall regeneration of the town centre,” according to Connected Croydon, the council adjunct established under the previous Tory Town Hall administration and which is managing to spend £50 million – from Network Rail, Transport for London, and including £18 million from the Mayor of London’s regeneration fund – on a few new road lay-outs and paving stones around the borough.

Connected Croydon's artist's impression of what East Croydon Station will look like after they've spent £5m. That is, not much different

Connected Croydon’s artist’s impression of what East Croydon Station will look like after they’ve spent £5m. That is, not significantly different

Connected Croydon promises that, “The works are starting this month (January) and will be completed by next November (2015)”.

But elsewhere in the council’s disconnected publicity blurb, they also suggest the works will be completed in December.

Ah well, what’s another four weeks?

The council should listen to the hard-pressed shop-keepers, bar owners and restaurateurs in South End about the disruption and delays their businesses have suffered during a similar council-run scheme. They have endured South End and Selsdon Road being a building site for nearly a year, with road closures, closed parking bays and other disruption driving away trade since last March. The road closure of South End – redirecting traffic down other, residential streets – over-ran by a month, and works in the area which were supposed to have been completely finished before Christmas 2014 still continue today.

So what do we get for our money? Of the East Croydon “improvements”, we are told…

“Better pedestrian access to the station”: Jet-packs to be distributed to all commuters as they approach the station from Wellesley Road, perhaps?

There will also be, “refurbished East Croydon Tram Stop including new surface treatment to the area between the tram tracks”. The area between the tram tracks being an important open space, clearly.

“Crossings will also be made simpler and easier to navigate at the junction with Wellesley Road”. Are they going to start handing out OS Maps and compasses to passers-by as they reach the central reservation on Croydon’s very own urban motorway, so that they can “navigate” five yards in a straight line to the other side of the road?

Around £500,000 is being spent giving a "makeover" to the tired shop fronts on South End. Many of the properties are owned by the multi-million-pound Whitgift Foundation

Around £500,000 is being spent giving a “makeover” to the tired shop fronts on South End. Many of the properties receiving this public-funded  treatment are owned by the multi-million-pound Whitgift Foundation

They promise, “improved pavements on George Street”, which is probably much overdue, although it seems unlikely that such work would cost the multi-millions which the council’s propaganda department says is being spent.

There will be “new seating and tree planting”. We must have missed the vast public clamour for chairs on George Street where people may sit to observe the trees.

And they say that there will be “improved access between transport types”. If anyone can explain what this is supposed to mean, our email address is at the foot of this post.

All in all, it doesn’t sound very much for the initial £2 million that is to be spent in “phase one”, with a further £3 million to be spent on an open space by Billinton Hill. Yes, that’s right, next to the old Post Office sorting depot, and beside the Menta building site. Nice. And handily placed to where there remains no access to the station’s £23 million new entrance bridge, because someone failed to secure a proper agreement with the developers.

This is a good example of Disconnected Croydon: the council is spending £3 million on creating an open space close to a building which is currently up for sale, and which will surely be re-developed itself in due course. Any “connected” planning might have delayed spending public money on the public realm until after work on the old Post Office building was complete.

“Connections from train to bus and tram will be significantly improved, with better links between eastbound and westbound bus stops,” we are promised.

This "high-quality" public area is what part of South End looks like after the repaving work has been completed. The will-writing service might be useful for anyone who trips and falls

This “high-quality” and “welcoming” pavement is what part of South End looks like after the repaving work has been completed. The will-writing service might be useful for anyone who trips and falls as a result

They also say: “In addition there will be an improved taxi rank and public ‘drop off’ and ‘pick-up’ points at the station.” Not if you speak to the taxi drivers, many of whom are angry at the way their livelihoods are being shunted around the station.

Since Tramlink started running, taxis have had to exit from the station on to George Street, regularly delayed by the phasing of traffic lights that favour the trams. They have then been forced to thread their way out through the bus stands. The arrangement was ill-considered and unsatisfactory, regularly causing tail-backs along George Street. Yet the council’s traffic planners have now come up with an alternative which is worse.

The taxis will now have to approach and exit the station via Cherry Orchard Road, using a narrow access road which the taxi drivers believe will be a bottleneck and cause tailbacks along Cherry Orchard Road and back to the Thru’penny Bit building roundabout.

The plans around East Croydon Station were drawn up under the previous Conservative council. Since May, Labour has been in control of the Town Hall, and has publicly condemned the “financial black hole” which was left for them by the Tories, and the lack of available cash for the borough’s many crying needs.

So what is Labour doing about this overall £50 million public spend on largely cosmetic changes, all of it largely for the benefit of Hammerson, Westfield and their commercial partners?

Why, Labour’s embracing the Tory spending plans and going ahead with it.

Labour councillor Kathy Bee: sounding very much like a Town Hall official

Labour councillor Kathy Bee: sounding very much like a Town Hall official

East Croydon is “not just one of London’s busiest interchanges but the country’s too,” Kathy Bee, Labour’s cabinet member for transport and environment, says in a press release, sounding very much like one of the council’s own officials.

“It’s therefore really important that the surrounding area is a high quality, accessible and welcoming environment,” Bee continues.

It is unclear whether Councillor Bee had seen any of the “high-quality” environment which the works in South End have so far delivered. These include plonking a couple of seats down on the pavement outside the Treehouse pub, and replacing a well-tended raised bed of flowers with a single sapling.

Seating has also been installed on Selsdon Road, close enough to the Tesco Express so that those regular drinkers have somewhere to go after taking advantage of the supermarket’s licence to sell booze from 7am. Clearly, not much thought has gone into these “public realm improvements” in our disconnected Croydon. Certainly, little or no attention has been paid to the local community association’s concerns.

In her East Croydon press release, Councillor Bee continued: “Croydon’s regeneration is well underway…” It is? Really?

Seats being installed last week outside the Treehouse on South End. This is what Councillor Kathy Bee means by "huge improvements"

Seats being installed last week in the middle of the pavement outside the Treehouse on South End. Is this what Councillor Kathy Bee means by “huge improvements”?

“… and this is a key part of that process.”

We’ll take that as a further admission that, like the £25million of public cash to be spent on a proposed tram loop and £85million-worth of road schemes along the Purley Way being considered by Transport for London, this is another example of many millions of public cash being spent towards a developers’ scheme for private commercial interests.

Councillor Bee goes on: “While we appreciate there will be some short-term disruption for those using the station, the long-term benefits are huge, and will see vast improvements to the area around the station.” Really? “Huge” benefits? Seriously?

In Selsdon Road, the original Victorian cobbles next to the Swan and Sugarloaf, which helped to give the short stretch of road its quaint, village-like feel, have been torn out, to be replaced with charmless tarmac’d parking bays. The road has also been widened by about 1-foot.

And £500,000 of public money is being spent to “spruce up” some of the shop fronts along that stretch, many of which just happen to be owned by the Whitgift Foundation. That some of these buildings had been allowed to become a little shabby and run-down might have been because their landlords had not maintained them very well, so it’s generous of our council in these straitened times to step in and give them a lick of paint…

The Whitgift Foundation is, of course, the majority lease-holder of the Whitgift Centre. It stands to benefit hugely from the redevelopment of the Centre, where the Hammersfield development may get underway if the council’s Compulsory Purchase Orders manage to get through the hearings which begin next month.

The board of governors of the Whitgift Foundation includes a local Tory MP, the deputy leader of the Tories on Croydon Council and his wife, the mother of a Labour parliamentary candidate, the mother of a Labour councillor, the Labour council cabinet member for  economic development and one other member of Labour’s council cabinet.

Perhaps therein lies the true meaning of the “connected” bit in Connected Croydon: connected to the Whitgift Foundation.


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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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3 Responses to Croydon streets being paved with gold – or public cash

  1. Nick Davies says:

    “Connections from train to bus and tram will be significantly improved, with better links between eastbound and westbound bus stops”

    Absolutely. Try getting from the station to the eastbound bus stop, the one on the bridge, without taking you life in your hands. It would be a simple matter to make a gap in the railings and paint a zebra crossing on the road near said bus stop, making the exercise a simple matter of going straight across the tramway and road from the station, instead of the current circuitous route round by the bus station or being tempted to dice with death the other way if you spot the bus coming. This isn’t the sort of thing that takes £5M and years of planning to sort out. It’s a quick fix than takes a couple of grand and a day’s work to polish off.

    There are lots of other easy improvements that can be made at minimal cost and with little disruption Why can’t we just get on and do them rather than faffing around with grandiose masterplans which never seem to come to anything. Or if they do we end up with hopeless monstrosities like The Bridge To Nowhere.

  2. “Bonkers”. On 20 Jan 2015 the Council’s Streets and Environment Committee have a report that says the Tramlink Dingwall loop will be a key output at the end of 2017. There will be massive roadworks to build this, particularly for “pointworks” at East Croydon and Wellesley Road. What sense is there in spending £5 million on works at East Croydon during 2015 when they are planning to dig it all up in 2016/7. Just who at the Council is taking a strategic look at this? The businesses and public deserve better.

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