Bit by bit, the Whitgift and Westfield takeover of the town centre continues, aided and abetted as usual by our pliant councillors.
It has been announced – via a news report in Architects’ Journal – that part of the Fairfield Halls car park is to be turned into a vast underground art gallery.
What was not said was that, as part of the redevelopment of the “Cultural Quarter” which will involve building a new Croydon College and around 2,000 flats over the course of 15 years – yes, 15 years – the car parking space is also to be reduced by at least two-thirds, from the 1,000-plus bays at present down to 350 spaces, including around 100 for disabled drivers and Fairfields and college staff.
Clearly, the Fairfield Halls car park is not always used to capacity. But there is a demand among theatre-goers for convenient parking spaces; who knows, if the Halls re-opens in 2018, as scheduled, with a reinvigorated artistic programme, the demand from punters to park nearby could even be greater than at present.
The Fairfield car park, off Barclay Road, is also well-used by commuters who travel to and from London from nearby East Croydon Station.
Where will these users be displaced to? “Oh, they can use the new Westfield car parks once they are built,” a senior council figure told Inside Croydon this week. The shrug of the shoulders which accompanied the comment spoke volumes about the inevitability of a council scheme that will force people into using the delayed supermall being developed by Hammerson and Westfield, if only for parking their cars. It is clear who is calling the shots in this town.
Even the location of the art gallery is only second choice, and again because of property developers (different ones this time), since Segas House, the listed former office building on the other side of Croydon’s urban motorway from the Fairfield Halls, was the original pick for conversion into gallery use. Very post-industrial. But negotiations with the property owners Minerva (or whatever they are calling themselves this week) “were not fruitful”.
The “gallery in a car park” cat was let out of the bag by the scheme’s designers, Rick Mather Architects, who bragged of the project with the usual Glee Club-style gushing old flannel.
Architects’ Journal reported: “The 2,000 sq m art gallery forms part of the practice’s wider £750 million Fairfield Halls and College Green regeneration which will see the area transformed into a new arts and education quarter.
“The underground gallery, which will be located in a subterranean car park beneath College Green, will be accessed by a new glazed cloister being created as part of the refurbishment of the halls. The gallery will feature a large bespoke frameless rooflight providing light into the basement art space.
“The space will offer the kinds of environmental and light control suitable for visiting exhibitions, loans and displays, as well as providing space for transit, storage, conservation and preparation of material.”
Where does this leave the existing Arnhem Gallery, within the 1962-built Fairfield Halls? “The Arnhem was not fit for purpose almost from the time it was built,” said the Town Hall insider. “The light was all wrong. That’s why they’ve had to find other uses for it.”
In common with much of what is being proposed for the “Cultural Quarter” development by council executive director Jo Negrini and her “Place” department, the details have been drip-fed out, quietly, almost contemptuously of the Croydon public. The gallery proposal is probably not among the most contentious, but the manner in which it was announced is symptomatic of the poor handling of what includes an important £30million public investment in the arts.
“The Gallery adjoins a new Croydon School of Art and Fairfield Halls, and will create a new urban arts venue which will play a vital role within the rejuvenated complex at Fair Field as well as the vision for Croydon’s Cultural Quarter.”
They say that they “have been in discussions with Croydon Art College, Fairfield Halls, and Rise Gallery amongst other stakeholders with an aim for this project to become a catalyst for an innovative and self-sustaining regeneration of the area, through the transfer of an under-utilised space to a new arts and community”.
Rise is the gallery on the run-down and often deserted St George’s Walk.
So perhaps the new space will be called the Sink Gallery?
“I actually wanted Segas House but negotiations for that building were not fruitful,” Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, who runs Rise Gallery, has said.
“I really feel this will be a wonderful addition to Croydon and very positive for everyone. My only aim and vision is to make my own community a better place. The location to me seemed to make good sense.”
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