2015 marked the fifth year of publication of Inside Croydon, and we’re proud to continue to offer truly independent coverage of what is really happening in the borough, the unvarnished truth, without influence or favours from the speculators or politicians, and all the time offering a real platform for a range of views. During the year, this site registered its 2.5 millionth page view, and has seen its reports appear on BBC London, the Londonist, Evening Standard, Independent and Private Eye.
Here’s a stroll through the last 12 months of the most-read and most significant articles published on these pages
The scandal of the council’s £100m overspend on Bernard Weatherill House
Private Eye magazine followed up on our story, when local mainstream media and those in the politicians’ pockets kept well clear of the scandal of Fisher’s Folly.
Sometimes also referred to as Bernard Weatherill House, the council office building ought to have been built and fitted out for less than £50 million, but ended up costing Croydon’s Council Tax-payers £144 million through the urban regeneration vehicle, CCURV, which has appeared only to regenerate the bank balance of builders John Laing.
As the Eye reported, Fisher’s Folly cost more per square metre to build than The Shard, Europe’s tallest building.
Yet to this day no one, including the Labour council inheriting this absurdly expensive white elephant, have seen fit to call in independent auditors to investigate the contracts and deals which saddled Croydon residents with this bill. Makes you wonder why…
Could dead mall syndrome be coming to a high street near here?
Since the idea of a £1 billion supermall built by Westfield and Hammerson was first aired in 2012, the planned opening date for the mausoleum to Mammon has already slipped by three years. Now it won’t be “welcoming” in customers any time this decade.
In total, 141 objections were raised to the Compulsory Purchase Order imposed by “our” local council on behalf of the developers. In January, we wrote: “This inquiry is all being staged, at humongous public expense, so that majority freeholders the Whitgift Foundation and their chosen developers, Westfield, plus junior partners Hammerson, can carve up the centre of Croydon”.
In the meantime, we found a trend from across the Atlantic where shopping centres such as the proposed Hammersfield are turning into empty husks, blighting many town centres. A New York Times report stated that “one-fifth of the nation’s enclosed malls have vacancy rates considered troubling by real estate experts — 10 per cent or greater. Over 3 per cent of malls are considered to be dying — with 40 per cent vacancies or higher. That is up from less than 1 per cent in 2006”.
It all went a bit Pete Tong for ZhongRong’s Crystal Palace scheme
Another multi-million pound development story which Inside Croydon had followed closely from inception, including exposing how the Tory Mayor of London had handed a consultation contract to a company which has Tory peer Lord Coe as its chairman, and which was proposing the bulldozing of the National Sports Centre stadium at Crystal Palace.
By February, despite Boris Johnson’s evident enthusiasm to hand over a large section of a public park to a private Chinese developer, the scheme was falling apart, with Conservative-run Bromley Council taking some perverse enjoyment out of pulling the plug on the ill-conceived vanity project.
MP Barwell backs road scheme which could bulldoze Waddon park
Meanwhile, vested interests were cropping up elsewhere, with the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, Gavin Barwell, enthusiastically backing a new road scheme which would spend £85 million of public cash on a flyover by the Purley Way, just to cut a couple of minutes off the journey times for shoppers driving to the Whitgift Foundation-owned new supermall.
That such a scheme would bulldoze through a public park and threaten dozens of homes of appeared to be of little concern to Barwell, because Duppas Hill Park is not even in his Croydon Central constituency.
“I am delighted that TfL have come forward with these proposals,” Barwell gushed at the time. “Improving traffic flow on the A23 and A232 is vital to Croydon’s long-term economic prospects.” At no point in the MP’s communication to his constituents did it occur to him to declare that, at that time, he held a seat on the governing body of the Whitgift Foundation, the land-owners likely to benefit from this road scheme.
Having first reported Transport for London’s Boris Flyover scheme, Inside Croydon has continued to oppose that aspect of the road proposals ever since, and earlier this month Croydon Council, eventually, came to a view to recommend an alternative proposal.
MP Barwell’s aide: ‘Gavin has no idea. He trusts me to do whatever’
In the same month, Barwell was caught in another gaffe involving his personal publicity and promotion – mostly paid for by the tax-payer – and his key aide, Coulsdon councillor Mario “gobby fac totum” Creatura.
The report is included here only as a reminder of what petty crap this pair of Croydon Tories are prepared to indulge in, while apparently being paid public money.
And it is also included to note that, a few months later, after Creatura made his self-regarding admission to the Croydon Sadvertiser about Barwell’s incompetence, the aide was no longer employed by the MP. A mere coincidence, we are sure.
Barwell in bother again over his ever-slipping standards
Gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell made the front page of the Evening Standard in March after he sent out letters urging his supporters to write to their neighbours supporting him, but asking them to avoid mentioning David Cameron or the Conservative Party.
This was to prove to be a winning election strategy for the Tory MP for Croydon Central.
It also made Barwell subject to an investigation of his conduct by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Not for the first time.
Coulsdon residents appoint controversial UKIP figure as chairman
The Old Coulsdon Residents’ Association elected Janet Stollery as its new chairman. Just a month earlier, Stollery had cost the residents of Croydon an unnecessary £20,000 expense when she bandied together with a couple of colleagues from the United Kingdom Independent Party to demand a council by-election in Selhurst ward, following the death of the well-regarded Labour councillor, Gerry Ryan.
UKIP’s by-election call was unseemly, coming before Councillor Ryan’s family had even had the opportunity to conduct his funeral. It also forced the council’s democratic services department’s hand, when it would have been reasonable to hold the Selhurst by-election on the same day as the General Election in May.
But that wasn’t good enough for Stollery and her UKIP mates. At the by-election, Labour retained the seat with a 1,200 vote majority over the Tories. UKIP’s candidate couldn’t even manage 150 votes.
OCRA maintains that it is an apolitical organisation.
Croydon Council spends £8,000 to stage meetings in South of France
Despite millions of pounds of cuts to council budgets, Croydon still found £8,000 to send a delegation to Cannes, in the South of France, for MIPIM, the property developers’ “junket” (© council leader Tony Newman).
Three senior council officials, including executive director Jo Negrini, went along to do their bit of arslikhan for property speculators and developers, working with local PR agency Grey Label and the Develop Croydon lobby group of local businesses.
Richard Plant chairs Develop Croydon when he is not running Stiles Harold Williams, the property management firm which conducts much work for the Whitgift Foundation, the majority freeholders of the Whitgift Centre.
It was all done under the slogan “Our time is now”. Or perhaps whenever Westfield finally get round to building their £1 billion supermall, which could take five years. At least.
Inside Croydon reported on April that the Croydon Communities Consortium – an ill-defined and ineffectual talking shop which has figures associated with UKIP holding key positions on its committee – had been approached by Croydon Council in December for the repayment of any unspent cash from a £5,000 grant which it had received in 2013.
This all came after CCC’s then deputy chairman was exposed for tweeting racist messages and support for UKIP. He was replaced by Peter Staveley, who just happened to be UKIP’s General Election candidate in Croydon Central.
Before the end of this year, Croydon Council had said it would pursue the unspent element of the grant through legal action, and that officers such as Stollery, Staveley and CCC’s chairman, Elizabeth Ash, would be held liable for the legal costs incurred in the recovery.
Council backs down and agrees to refund illegal lesson charges
This was an Inside Croydon campaign brought to us by a concerned parent, Anthony Kennedy, who had discovered that his local education authority, Croydon Council, was charging some parents as much as £3,500 per year just so that their child could receive essential remedial reading and writing lessons.
The unlawful charging continued for a year under a Labour council, even though he broke all the principles of a free-of-charge public education system.
The charges of £90 per week per child were imposed on the parents of children who were referred by their schools to a specialist literacy unit run by the council at Purley Oaks Primary in South Croydon. When parents could not afford to pay the fees, Croydon Council denied the children the essential help they needed with their literacy skills.
The charging policy was introduced under the previous Conservative administration at the Town Hall, and endorsed in 2011 by the then cabinet member for education, Tim Pollard, who is now the leader of the Tory group on the council. The cynical charging policy continued, based on advice provided by the legal team under Borough Solicitor, Julie Belvir.
Cameron’s lies exposed in Croydon: he really supports West Ham
In case you hadn’t noticed, there was an election coming, and one of the party leaders’ visits to Croydon generated a priceless video clip which will follow the Prime Minister’s career forever more.
Do politicians lie? You bet. Does Bullingdon Club member and Old Etonian David Cameron really support Aston Villa? Probably not.
No true football fan would ever forget the club they support, but on his trip to Croydon, Cameron – or whoever wrote his speech for him – did, confusing the claret and blue of Villa with that of the ‘appy ‘ammers.
Can we believe anything that the pork poker says? Probably not.
The General Election result saw Lambeth South held by Steve Reed OBE for Progress and Chris Philp increase the Conservative majority in Croydon South, while Croydon Central proved to be a hyper-marginal seat which Gavin Barwell retained for the Tories by fewer than 170 votes.
It must have been his personal charisma which swung it for him…
All councillors removed from the board of the Fairfield Halls
This move on the governance and management of one of south London’s leading arts venues was to have ramifications towards the end of the year.
As we reported in May: “For the first time in its 50-plus-year history, the Fairfield Halls management board has no members imposed upon it by Croydon Council… The move for once creates a more arm’s-length relationship between the council, as lease-holders of the Fairfield Halls site and lead developers of the area around the arts centre, and the artistic management responsible for the day-to-day running of the venues.
“Having some distance between the Fairfield Halls management and the council is also important at this time, with tens of millions of pounds of public money due to be spent on a long-overdue refurbishment of the venue.”
All too quiet on the introduction of the Norbury Avenue Quietway scheme
Two traffic schemes from the Labour-controlled council were regularly in the news this summer. The 20mph zone proposals for the north of the borough got through a consultation, after some orchestrated opposition from a few very vocal individuals, but a poorly publicised “quietways” scheme, shutting off a rat run between Thornton Heath and Norbury, angered too many local residents to be allowed to run its full trial period.
As a consequence of the mismanagement of the Croydon section of the city-wide quietways project, the network of car-free, cycle-friendly routes is compromised in this part of south London.
The council had passed the order for the trial period less than a fortnight before implementing it. A lack of meetings of the council at the Town Hall denied the public opportunities to question councillors about the scheme. With the affected wards – Norbury, Thornton Heath and South Norwood – all being Labour-held, there was no rocking of the Labour Council’s boat by any maverick councillors.
The end result of this democracy deficit? A potentially good move for local residents undermined by poor presentation, and all the costs of setting up the scheme wasted due to lack of consultation.
Tories back landlords as they launch court challenge to licensing scheme
“Another of Labour’s flagship policies for Croydon, the landlord licensing scheme, could be facing a crisis as a group of local businesses are to challenge the decision in the High Court.
The Judicial Review against the council scheme has some commercial money behind it, coming from a group calling itself the Croydon Property Forum.”
And another potentially good piece of reform for a large number of the borough’s residents living in privately rented accommodation, but cruelly undermined by the council and the Labour group’s poor presentation and handling of the scheme.
The court challenge from the “Forum” arose despite an assurance given by Jo Negrini, the council’s executive director in charge of the scheme, that it was legally robust. In the end, the scheme went ahead on October 1, with landlords expected to pay £750 for a five-year licence.
Some reports suggest that the council now has so few staff, it has been unable yet to establish a proper database of licensed landlords, two months after the scheme began, which suggests that enforcement of the scheme could be a bit weak.
Rejects and nightmares that Palace’s Pardew must avoid
Cabaye was featured in the first of two articles by Inside Croydon‘s resident Palace fan. Six months later, the French international midfielder has not only lived up to expectations, but has so far exceeded them, as Palace maintain a challenge for a slot in European football next season.
Council caves in over enforcement action at The Ship pub
What do you do if denied planning permission by Croydon Council? Why, carry on and do what you always wanted to anyway, if the example of non-enforcement over a 160-year-old boozer in South Norwood is anything to judge by.
According to Pete Smith, the “deputy team leader of the planning [non-]enforcement and trees team”, the council visited the property “on eight separate occasions since the initial complaint was received back in October 2014″. The council officials, after their extensive visits, determined that the pub had indeed been subject to some unauthorised redevelopment – the upper storey of the pub having been converted into several flats.
And what action did the council take to preserve this building of local significance, to uphold the decision of elected councillors on the planning committee, and to represent the views of many local residents? Nothing, beyond negotiate with the property owner so that they might be successful with a retrospective planning application.
Locals, you might have guessed, despair. And the fight for The Ship goes on.
Social cleansing of town centre underway with council survey
Local environmental activist Peter Underwood uncovered a fiendish plan by our local (Labour-run) council to cleanse the town centre of all sorts of undesirables, including those blights on society, charity fund-raisers, cyclists and skateboarders.
It is all part of the effort to make central Croydon more in keeping with the gentrified, middle-class shop-ocracy which is required by property developers Westfield and Hammerson, using a Public Spaces Protection Order, or PSPO, effectively to privatise the policing of a large area of the borough.
Boxpark announced food-only plan after they got £3m council loan
And the latest piece of genius from the office of Jo Negrini at Croydon Council: hand out a £3 million loan of public cash to a private enterprise, without first finding out exactly what line of business they intend to pursue.
That’s what has happened over Boxpark at East Croydon, which is due to open next summer not with the boutique fashion outlets as envisaged by the brain’s trust that runs out council, but instead with more fast food joints and bars. From Boxpark to Boozepark, and all subsidised by the ratepayer.
As we reported in September: “According to senior sources at the Town Hall, it was not until a meeting with council officials on the day of the launch in July that Boxpark’s founder, Roger Wade, announced that Croydon’s mall would be made up exclusively of food stores, bars and restaurants.
“’Jo Negrini was not very happy at all,’ our source said of the reaction of the council’s planning director, who had brokered the multi-million-pound loan deal to lure Boxpark to occupy part of the Ruskin Square gateway site.
“’Jo was clearly expecting another version of Boxpark Shoreditch, with all the designer label fashion stores in the old shipping containers. The idea that Croydon’s Boxpark would be food-only was never discussed in advance’.
“’Filling Boxpark with nearly 100 cafes, restaurants and bars is not going to be easy,’ said the source.”
And guess what, just a couple of months later, the member of Negrini’s staff who had taken the credit for introducing Boxpark to Croydon was no longer working for Croydon Council. He’d got a job, instead, with… Boxpark.
Croydon MP offers to house refugees in his 4-bed home
As the flow of refugees from the Middle East to Europe reached a peak at the end of the summer, Steve Reed OBE, the MP for Lambeth South/Croydon North (delete to taste), was reported as saying that he would provide a home to Syrian refugees.
Reed, a one-time council leader who is supposedly a Labour MP, has never actually lived in his constituency. Instead, not lng after being elected to Parliament, he and his partner bought a £800,000-plus four-bedroom house in the Shirley Hills.
Since making his very generous offer through the local press, there have been no further reports of the leading figure in Progress, the party-within-a-party, actually welcoming any refugees across the threshold of his home.
Benn’s attempt at Labour purge highlights her support for WEP
Well here was a story in which a sometime contributor to Inside Croydon made it on to the front pages of national newspapers, into radio and TV news bulletins, and was even the source of some mirth on Have I Got News For You.
It also exposed the utter hypocrisy of many of the right-wing faction within the Labour Party, as they became increasingly uncomfortable with the democratic outcome of their party’s leadership election, in which Jeremy Corbyn won the backing of 60 per cent of the electorate.
As we reported at the time: “The Hon Emily Benn, the West Thornton councillor, has gone to the newspapers today with a letter she has sent to Labour officials in which she calls for the expulsion of Corbyn’s political adviser, fellow Croydon resident Andrew Fisher, after he sent a tweet 15 months ago apparently in support of a candidate from a rival party.
“But Inside Croydon has found evidence on social media of Councillor Benn apparently encouraging people to join another political party, all in the past six weeks – in the time since Corbyn was overwhelmingly elected as her party leader.”
Get your hard hat on: central Croydon is about to be closed
Inside Croydon was the first to highlight that plans for the refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, and the delays in starting work on the Hammersfield project, would mean that large parts of the town centre will be shut for at least two years, while extensive development work goes on.
Reporting on the council meeting where the Fairfield closure was announced, we said: “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’.”
Because, of course, the Fairfield Halls and Croydon had never been on any map, cultural or otherwise, before at all.
Hundred of teachers leaving Harris academies each year
Another footnote of a story in the national press, ignored by the local media and politicians, but indicative of worryingly poor attainment levels in Croydon’s schools, including some of the much-praised academies.
Parents choosing a secondary school for their sons and daughters might want to consider the rate of staff turnover in Harris schools, such as the “flagship” City Academy Crystal Palace, where 114 teachers and support staff have left in the past two years alone.
“This apparently high-rate of staff turnover is unlikely to be indicative of a happy staff room, nor is it usually a sign of a stable teaching environment. And it could be particularly embarrassing for the Harris Federation, which was founded by Lord Harris, the carpet salesman and generous Tory party donor, which has offices in Croydon and whose very well-paid CEO, Sir Daniel Moynihan, was previously the headmaster at the Crystal Palace school.”
Questions to be asked over £1.5m-worth of Viridor ‘gifts’
Another on-going Inside Croydon campaign, over the £1 billion waste incinerator at Beddington Lane, has prompted questions to be asked in Parliament. Not that the Tory minister responsible in the House of Lords gave anything resembling a frank answer.
With building work for the vast incinerator underway, some attention has now turned to the methods used by the company, Viridor, perhaps to influence the planning process, and how the LibDems in control of Sutton Council have acted to achieve their desired outcome.
“Grants”, amounting to £1.5 million, made by Viridor’s charity arm to causes in the constituencies of three Liberal Democrat MPs in south-west London are now beginning to attract attention from the national media.
Croydon in crisis: Councillors watch football on the telly
“This was the scene in Croydon Town Hall during a full meeting of the council… Two well-paid local councillors engrossed in the Crystal Palace match on their iPad, rather than engaging in a debate about crisis facing the borough’s council services through Tory cuts and the impending closure of the Fairfield Halls for refurbishment.
“If senior council figures such as Pat Ryan (£21,345 in “allowances” per year, for doing… no one’s quite sure what) and John Wentworth (£20,091 in council “allowances”, on top of his generous pension from being a headmaster) can treat council business with such utter contempt, is it any wonder that the public regard their elected representatives equally contemptuously?”
Neither of the councillors really apologised properly for what they were caught doing. They lied about “only checking the scores”, when they had been observed for up to 10 minutes watching the action on the screen. Ryan issued a mealy-mouthed, “I’m sorry if it caused any offence…” excuse, with no real contrition for his actions.
And there’s been no disciplinary action taken by their Labour leadership. Ambitious for Croydon? Or just ambitious for themselves?
Maybe 2016 will provide them with ample opportunities to disabuse us all of such an impression and surprise us with some better managed actions in the interests of the people of Croydon.
Happy new year.
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