Croydon Council Tax-payers have spent at least £3 million over the past five years for an official press office which as well as churning out the latest news from the council, also has the responsibility for “moulding” and improving the public reputation of our borough.
To that end, the council press office has been aided and abetted – often with public funding – by the likes of slightly naff PR agency Grey Label, and vested interest organisations such as Croydon BID and the Whitgift Foundation.
They must all have been utterly delighted, therefore, when they picked up a copy of last night’s Evening Boris to find an official of the National Trust describing Croydon as a “crap town”.
News desk sub-editors don’t have to break a sweat to work on their page lead headlines when they’re handed quotes like that. So officials in Fisher’s Folly, the council head offices, really ought to be forced to explain how “crap town” came to be included in the announcement of a scheme which is being co-promoted by… Croydon Council.
The newspaper report was about the National Trust’s intentions to stage guided walks around Croydon, in a sort of counter-intuitive way. “Edge City: Croydon, will celebrate the area’s brutalist architecture,” the London evening paper’s reporter had copied from the NT’s press release. The story has since been picked up by other national papers.
According to a National Trust official, Croydon has extraordinary buildings which were a “vision of the future” when they were constructed.
“It’s such an interesting place,” Joseph Watson, London “creative” director for the National Trust, is reported as having said. “It has been described as a mini-Manhattan…” Watson added, digging up the developers’ publicity bullshit from 50 years ago which no one ever really believed, “… and Alphaville.”
Alphaville was a French film noir, a dystopian vision of a city of the future. There is some video which explains the connection. “Alphaville”, “mini-Manhattan” and “brutalist” are not usually regarded as complimentary.
“Many Croydonians have so much pride in their home, but it is also known as a ‘crap town’ and frequently features in lists of the worst places to live,” Watson said, assuring his organisation’s extra column inches for the NT’s tours, which are due to begin next week.
It all smacks of the voyeurs who used to pay their shillings to go on tours of the inmates at Bedlam.
“We wanted to explore why Croydon has that reputation and understand its history. There was a huge post-war construction boom and a grand ambition to create London’s third city, but it didn’t really come off,” the National Trust man patronised.
“It shows how quickly tastes and architectural fashions change and the occasionally dystopian outcomes of utopian visions.”
Elsewhere, Watson has also said, “Concrete has such a bad reputation that people always want to call them jungles and monstrosities and wastelands and busy themselves with trying to pull them down. We’re just saying look, every era makes its mark on society architecturally and we have to try protect some of the best at least – and Croydon clearly has some of the best.
“As a society we owe it to that era to protect those buildings. It was not very long ago that we were busy pulling down some of the finest buildings from the Victorian era under the rubrick of Victorian monstrosities.”
Watson may have a point there. After all, much of Croydon’s Victorian and Edwardian town centre was demolished to make way for a somewhat drab shopping centre which itself is now awaiting demolition.
The tours are due to include the very worthy No1 Croydon, designed by Richard Seifert & Partners, but which because it is not listed for its architecural merit has recently had a box-shaped carbuncle of a supermarket bolted on to it, all waved through on the nod by the council’s not-so-sensitive planning department.
The National Trust tours will also visit the Nestle tower, now a sad husk of a building, neglected while it is awaiting transformation from office to residential. But unmentioned on the itinerary are Croydon’s other examples of 1960s architectural merit, such as the striking Leon House. And don’t dare mention Taberner House, which the council, such is its devotion to the town’s architectural heritage, has had demolished in its drive for “urban regeneration”.
Instead, Lunar House and the Fairfield Halls, a pastiche of the South Bank’s Royal Festival Hall, will get visited by the NT.
“Not everything should be preserved in aspic,” says Watson, an employee of a charity whose core function has been to do just that.
Perhaps mindful of what is being proposed for the site of the Whitgift Centre, Watson also said, “We need to develop for the future, but we need to be convinced what will follow will be better. In the post-war boom there was unleashed capitalism with developers allowed to come in with very little scrutiny of the plans.
“In subsequent years we’ve learnt that really good planning and careful architecture with good consultation leads to better places to live.”
Ahh, now that must be a vision of the future – somewhere in a parallel universe where there is good planning, careful architecture and good consultation. We can but dream.
The National Trust tours run from July 15 to 24, and also offer a two-hour Routemaster tour for a mere £22. Further details, should you want them, can be found here.
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