WALTER CRONXITE, our man in the public gallery with a Yorkie bar and a half-completed crossword puzzle in the Metro, reports on Croydon Council’s modernisation scheme and its stern warning to developers Westfield
Croydon Council will tonight launch its own “39 Steps” of public infrastructure projects – tram improvements, road works, new secondary schools – in a drive for growth in the town centre involving £500-million-worth of capital spending in what is the biggest public investment in the borough for half a century.
And like John Buchan’s famous adventure novel, Croydon’s 39 Steps could prove to be breathless, fast-paced and full of peril and plot twists.
The Croydon Growth Zone is something which the Tory MP, Gavin Barwell, and the council’s previous Conservative administration started pushing for in 2013, with approval from Chancellor Gideon Osborne.
According to a report being submitted at tonight’s Town Hall cabinet meeting, the now Labour-controlled council sees its Growth Zone plan as a way of “differentiating Croydon as a place to invest in London in a time of economic uncertainty post-Brexit”.
No11 Downing Street has agreed to allow all income from future business rates in the Growth Zone to be devolved to the local authority, which will use the money to pay off the borrowing to pay towards a shopping list of 39 infrastructure projects.
“It’s much like any householder going to their bank or building society for a loan for an extension or a new kitchen,” one Katharine Street source explained. “The householder is still in debt up to their eye balls with the mortgage on their house, but the lender knows that by improving the property, the value of their investment will go up by more than the additional lending.
“That’s what the Treasury is doing with Croydon: they’re letting them have the business rates revenue from the area, so that the council can pay for projects which will in turn attract even more businesses to the borough.”
The report talks about building “at least” 10,000 new homes, creating 23,500 permanent new jobs and around 5,000 more posts while building works are underway.
“The jobs and housing outcomes are just one element of a wider development programme which aims to recreate Croydon as a truly modern, sustainable metropolitan town centre,” the report states.
“The Growth Zone will also provide clear additionality [sic] in terms of the early and accelerated delivery of homes and jobs that would not occur without this initiative. It provides certainty to developers, investors and residents regarding the delivery of major infrastructure projects which is likely to accelerate discretionary development. This is especially important in terms of differentiating Croydon as a place to invest in London in a time of economic uncertainty post-Brexit.”
And a “£7 million revenue grant has been agreed by the Government to cover the interest costs associated with borrowing in the early years of the Growth Zone, prior to any significant business rate uplift,” the report says.
Significantly, the report presented this evening by senior Labour councillors Alison Butler and Simon Hall together with the council’s new CEO, Jo Negrini, also includes a no-nonsense message for the Croydon Partnership, the shot-gun business marriage between Westfield and Hammerson who are working together on their £1.4 billion commercial redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre shopping mall.
Paragraphs 3.15 and 3.16 of the council’s report refer to the Westfield-Hammerson partnership as “CLP”, and the Growth Zone area as the “Croydon Opportunity Area”, or COA.
Those key paragraphs state: “The development by CLP of the Whitgift Shopping Centre is a key development that would provide significant certainty to the Council in respect of the delivery of overall development in the COA that will be required in order that the loan can be repaid. The Whitgift development will provide a critical mass of new retail and commercial space that will in its self-generate significant uplift in business rates. It will also send a powerful message to the market and investors that Croydon is changing, regeneration is firmly underway and that it is a strong place to invest and develop.”
So far, so familiar.
But then the report lays down the conditions it expects to be met before it is prepared to release the land around the Whitgift Centre, which the council is buying under the terms of the Compulsory Purchase Order (or CPO) which was agreed last year to allow Westfield and Hammerson to conduct their development work.
Referring to the ILTA, or in plain English an Indemnity Land Transfer Agreement, between the council and Hammersfield, the report says:
“For the ILTA draw down conditions to be met, specific and onerous conditions are required. The main requirements being:
• A satisfactory planning permission
• A satisfactory CPO
• Reasonable prospect of delivery of the development
• Reasonable prospect of timescale”.
That first requirement may be viewed as being in some doubt since Hammersfield dumped a substantially altered scheme on the local authority just a couple of months ago. The planning committee was not entirely in favour of several key proposals. And there are growing doubts and questions about Westfield and Hammerson fulfilling requirements (3) and (4).
“Like the interventionist Croydon Council of the 1960s, tonight our council will show that it is very much on the front foot in intervening in the market to get things done for the people and businesses of Croydon,” Andrew Pelling, the back-bench Labour councillor told Inside Croydon. “Whether it is building a thousand new homes or investing in renewing the town centre, this is a good example of how our public sector investment can be used to sustain or even boost our local prosperity post-Brexit.
“It’s good that the council will not pass on land to Westfield and Hammerson unless they are ready to develop. The mistakes of Bradford will not be repeated.”
According to the report, “the Council anticipates that all debt associated with the provision of the £309 million of infrastructure will be fully repaid by 2038”.
The report’s authors also say that while they did consider leaving the infrastructure development “to the market”, in the hope that something might turn up, this was rejected because it “would not deliver the necessary infrastructure and be detrimental to growth and regeneration. The total critical infrastructure cost is currently £600 million, however only £333 million has been identified from all current known sources this would not be sufficient to deliver the infrastructure necessary for the projected growth”.
Croydon is tapping into available money from a variety of public sources, including the Greater London Authority, Transport for London and the NHS. But all of the public works depend on the private sector development happening.
The projects to be developed in “Croydon’s 39 Steps” include a number of projects which have been discussed before, including the Dingwall Road tram loop (of debatable public transport merit), provision of an additional electricity sub-station, additional buses, other public transport improvements including a westbound tram stop at Reeves Corner, and what the full list (which you can view in full here) refers to as “A232 Corridor Improvements – Chepstow Rd/Addiscombe Rd”.
Only three of the 39 schemes listed are expected to be completed before 2019, with 24 of the projects to be finished some time between 2019 and 2022.
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