A council official who was involved at a high level in key redevelopment schemes, which in the past six months have also included making a £3 million public finance loan to tempt Boxpark to set up next to East Croydon Station, has quit his local authority job to take up a post as development director with… Boxpark.
Matthew McMillan had worked as Croydon’s “business investment consultant” at the council’s Fisher’s Folly offices from August 2013 until last October. He has admitted to having introduced Boxpark to Croydon.
But McMillan denies any conflict of interest in his moving from his council post to join the retail centre developer, claiming that his “temporary contract” at the council was up for renewal after two years and three months working for Croydon.
“I brought together the initial introduction to Croydon from Boxpark and then I worked alongside Jo Negrini and the team on how we sought to bring them into the area,” McMillan told a local paper.
But he denied any involvement in agreeing the crucial £3 million council loan to Boxpark.
McMillan had worked closely with Negrini, the borough’s six-figure-salaried planning and development executive director.
The £3 million Croydon Council loan to Boxpark – or “Boozepark”, as the residents of Hackney have come to regard the company’s original Shoreditch operation – was only revealed in June. Town Hall sources suggest that with Boxpark unlikely to break even until its third year of operation in Croydon, the council loan was essential to get the operators to take-up the site.
Boxpark Croydon – which the company describes as “Not some run-of-the-mall shopping centre” – is due to open next summer.
It was originally believed that Croydon’s Boxpark would be like Shoreditch, and offer a mix of fashion outlets in a trendy retail mall.
It was not until the launch in July – after the £3 million council loan had been agreed – that Boxpark’s founder, Roger Wade, announced the his Croydon mall was to be made up exclusively of food outlets and bars.
It was three months later that McMillan left his job with Croydon Council.
McMillan describes himself as, “Highly experienced in urban centre regeneration schemes through developing, managing and implementing key urban realm and marketing projects through public-private partnerships”.
He is modest, with it, too. McMillan claims to be part of “an exclusive member network of the country’s most innovative business brains and creative talent… I intend to use my position within this network to develop innovative new projects to regenerate urban centres through property development/creative industries focused schemes”.
Given all that, McMillan might be a big loss to Croydon Council, making it seem strange that Negrini, or her boss, council CEO Nathan Elvery, or their poodle, council leader Tony Newman, would have allowed such a talented networker to leave Croydon at such a critical stage in the regeneration “programme”.
Yet this key departure from the council passed entirely unmentioned by the Town Hall’s press department. It was almost as if they didn’t want anyone to know it had happened.
As recently as June, McMillan was busy talking up his role at Croydon Council at a New London Architecture talk for developers, where he spoke about “the measures his authority is taking to attract tech companies… and attracting new ventures such as Boxpark to help to shift perceptions of the place”.
McMillan was among the main movers in the decision of Croydon Council to give away 21,000 sq ft of its own office space, two floors of Davis House in the town centre, for a “tech incubator” – where new companies can work and exchange ideas and trade together.
According to the council, the scheme is due to begin in 2016 and will cost £2 million in total over two years, with some of that funding coming from the Greater London Authority.
In his Linked In profile, McMillan reveals: “I am also an advisor to RolePoint, a tech start up developing an enterprise level social recruitment platform.” So he clearly knows the tech start-up sector very well. Possibly better than the food and catering sector, in which he now finds himself employed with Boozepark.
In what turned out to be his last few months working for the council, McMillan was wheeled out several times as a key proselytiser of Croydon as some sort of tech hub. McMillan led guided tours around the empty and near-derelict Exchange Square, telling anyone who’d listen about the growth in the sector. Hard, independent data to confirm the assertions continues to be hard to find.
McMillan appears to have had some success in luring businesses into central Croydon, provided he has been able to offer them 100 per cent business rate relief for two years, under a scheme introduced in 2012 – before he was employed by the council. Giving away other people’s money does not appear anywhere on the “key skills” bit of McMillan’s Linked In profile, however.
Earlier this month, now with his new employers, McMillan claimed that Boxpark Croydon is over-subscribed by 250 per cent with traders wanting to take up the 80 units in the re-utilised shipping containers. Single units at Shoreditch cost £1,200, including VAT, in rent per week, plus utilities and service charge.
In the same report, though, McMillan also said that only 75 per cent of Boxpark Croydon’s space has so far been let.
Things have not been straightforward for McMillan since he joined Boxpark, though.
Almost upon his arrival in November, he was issuing a grovelling apology for the company because its designers had managed to put together computer-generated images of the Croydon mall which were conspicuously missing any one who was not, well… white.
“It was a stupid thing to do,” said McMillan, who after more than two years working in Croydon will have realised that the borough is among the country’s most ethnically diverse. The CGI was quickly “amended”.
“We are really excited about Croydon, we can’t wait to get down there and open the doors,” McMillan said on behalf of Boxpark. “The council has put together some really good proposals for how we are going to bring Croydon forward and we just want to be part of that story.”
And after working at the council on a “temporary contract” for more than two years, Boxpark’s McMillan would know all about that.
McMillan was not available for comment when Inside Croydon approached Boxpark this week. No one was answering their phones or emails.
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