Central Croydon looks like it is going to be a ghost town for a couple of years, as its two flagship attractions, the Whitgift Centre and Fairfield Halls, are both closed for redevelopment at the same time.
The temporary closure of the Fairfield Halls was announced late last night by Croydon’s Labour-run Council, as it revealed its “ambitious” (yawn) plans for College Green and the surrounding area.
Tellingly, the council omitted to provide any timescales for the redevelopment process or the price tag. The Tory opposition on the council was quick to suggest that this will be a cut-price scheme, with much less than the £34 million earmarked last year for the long-delayed and much-overdue Fairfield Halls redevelopment to be spent.
In the absence of any firm detail, the council leader, Tony Newman, resorted to his usual hackneyed cliche: “These visionary plans will put the borough well and truly on the cultural map,” the council press office had him saying, although if the Town Hall’s sketch map (possibly drawn in the lunch break by a Year 6 pupil) is all that we have to go on, then it really ain’t much of a map at all.
Typically, from a Town Hall where council officials make all the key decisions, the press release was issued before the majority of our elected councilors in the ruling Labour group had been briefed.
“The first phase of the plans would see the construction of a start[sic]-of-the-art college, bringing new facilities for all of Croydon College’s faculties including for the renowned school of art, on the Barclay Road Annex site,” the council press release states.“Complementing this, the neighbouring Fairfield Halls will be transformed into a modern concert and events venue, designed to attract world-class acts and become the focal point for Croydon’s creative and cultural scene.
“The venue’s 1,800-seat Concert Hall will retain its acoustic integrity, but will be fully refurbished to include new seating and modernised backstage and servicing areas. The rest of the 1962 building, including the 755-seat Ashcroft Theatre, will be refurbished to contain flexible performance and arts spaces.”
And while all this happens, it seems that anyone in central Croydon will need to don a hard hard and wear a hi-viz vest.
Given the plans for the Whitgift Centre, just across Croydon’s six-lane urban motorway, is to be closed for at least three years once Westfield and Hammerson begin their £1 billion supermall work next year, what is surprising is that the council has opted to have the Fairfield Halls closed at the same time.
“To allow this transformation to take place, Fairfield Halls will be closed for the duration of the redevelopment,” the council press release states, unhelpfully failing to offer a start date or likely duration.
Redevelopment of the Fairfield Halls has been promised – but never delivered – by the then Conservative-run council since 2006. The venue, which used to rival most in the south of England, has suffered from disinvestment and become tired and run-down, its performance offer looking as out-dated as Tony Newman’s cliches.
The new-look plans for the Fairfield will clearly borrow much from the successful recent re-configuration of the Festival Hall on the South Bank.
The intention is to break down the Halls’ almost isolated status, on an island surrounded by busy roads, and make it far more a part of its surroundings, linking through Croydon College to East Croydon Station and the rest of the town centre. “A new mezzanine-level restaurant is also planned, alongside bar and seating areas on the ground floor leading to outside areas on the transformed College Green public square,” we are promised.Significantly, “The project team includes Rick Mather Architects, a practice known for its work on the Royal Festival Hall in central London and the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith”.
Timothy Godfrey, Labour’s cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport, is supposed to have said: “This will bring about a cultural renaissance in Croydon, breathe new life into Fairfield Halls and transform College Green into a thriving quarter where people want to go out in their free time.” Godfrey has also been a long-time Fairfield Halls trustee.
The council’s plans for the area were first announced just over a year ago. Thirteen months on, the sketch map details have not been fleshed out any further in last night’s announcement, nor has the council revealed how – at a time of massive cuts in local authority grant – they might be paid for. While the council’s head of planning, Jo Negrini, has been able to outline her “vision” in various estate agent-like speeches, it seems no one has yet identified who’s to pick up the bills.
Having failed to flog-off parts of the vastly over-priced Fisher’s Folly council offices to Roehampton University, Croydon Council may be pinning its hopes that development of College Green will underpin the overall viability of the project.
The council release states: “The wider plans for College Green will see the construction of hundreds of new homes…” note the studied imprecision over figures once more… “of a mix of tenures and new shops and restaurants.” The council’s statement fails to mention that across the road from all this is to be the £1billion Hammersfield supermall, full of… new shops and restaurants.
“As well as providing state-of-the-art facilities for our staff and students, we hope that this would provide an incentive for other higher education institutions to open in the area to further complement our offer,” said the ever-hopeful Frances Wadsworth, the College’s chief exec.
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