STEVEN DOWNES, the editor of Inside Croydon, highlights the latest example of shameless self-promotion by the borough’s highest paid public servant
You’d be forgiven if you missed it. There was lots of other news around that day, and lots of tragic Croydon news. There was Trump’s election as US President, and there was the Croydon tram derailment. Far more important matters.
But there in the middle of the Evening Standard‘s weekly Homes and Property supplement one day last month was a piece of self-aggrandising self-promotion for the council’s £185,000-a-year chief executive which was full to the brim of half-truths, misdirection and out-right lies.
Is Jo Negrini, the Croydon Council chief executive who glories in being described as a “regeneration practitioner”, even aware of the four-year delay in delivery of Westfield’s £1.4billion new super-mall? You wouldn’t have guessed it from this piece of arslikhan that was passed off as objective journalism.
Negrini – the council CEO who often fails to find time in the day to respond to emails from the residents who pay her wages – had made herself available for the latest in a succession of newspaper articles and video interviews which usually manage to promote her own career.
The article reported how Negrini “aims to change perceptions of the town as drab and boring”.
Note that: rather than refute outright the lazy sterotype of the borough’s reputation, Negrini used the suggestion to enhance her own role, that of the person who would change it. How kind of her.
This is the same Negrini who takes full credit for the £3million loan of public money, plus nearly £500,000 in council spending over three years, to support one new commercial venture, at the expense of a multitude of struggling businesses already established in the borough. No wonder, then, that the picture accompanying the hagiographic article appeared to have been taken in Boozepark, the recipient of Negrini’s publicly funded largesse.
Go through the article, line-by-line, and test everything that Negrini is supposed to have said, and ask yourself: who benefits from this flirtation with (minor) fame? Croydon, her employers, or Negrini?
The article begins: “With a grin, Jo Negrini, Croydon council’s new chief executive, says: ‘I caught a train from East Croydon station last night and I was at the South Bank in 27 minutes’.”
And your point is, Jo? Croydon has always been known as a commuter town, one with usually great public transport links into London. Is Negrini claiming to have “discovered” this fact of geography?
Homes and Property, of course, is beloved of the capital’s estate agents, with its regular 40-odd pages of advertorial content, helping to flog their latest “luxury apartments”. It is not unreasonable to ask whether it is the task of the most senior member of staff on a local authority to also indulge property speculators in this manner.
Did Negrini have to seek approval from anyone at the council before making herself available in this way? Or is she now so powerful as to be unanswerable to anyone?
The article states as fact: “Croydon has just been named the fastest-growing economy in the UK”.
This is untrue.
There was a report, issued back in August, which provided some figures which showed that the Croydon economy had previously been so very bad that its recent, post-global crash recovery has been rapid (because it had so far to recover from). But no self-respecting economist would accept without proper context the hog-wash that Croydon is the country’s “fastest-growing economy”.
Negrini clearly has no problem with this, though. Just as with any propagandist, going back to Goebbels, she understands that if you make the lie big enough and repeat it often enough, in the end enough people will believe it. Or lazy journalists will cut and past it from the interweb.
Then the article went into full-on arslikhan mode: “Negrini, with her spiky haircut, leather jacket and Australian accent, doesn’t look like a traditional council chief executive. The first woman to hold the top job in Croydon, she is leading a campaign to change perceptions of the town as drab and boring.”
There we go again: Jo Negrini – the saviour of Croydon!
The article continues: “Having already worked on major London regeneration programmes, including Brixton’s Windrush Square and Stratford’s Olympic Park, Negrini knows you can’t please everyone. ‘Public space is hard,’ she admits. ‘Much harder than architecture’.”
The Standard‘s journalist doesn’t use this as an opportunity to highlight how Negrini has recently been honoured by RIBA, the architects’ organisation whose leading figures include some who Negrini’s council has just handed some juicy contracts to (happily, we can point you in the direction of someone who has, just click here).
The puff job quotes Negrini as saying: “The key for us is, what are the ingredients that will make Croydon a great place? Obviously there have been priorities around the physical infrastructure, so we’ve put £50million into the streets, just making it look and feel different. All the gateways into the centre of Croydon, through East Croydon and West Croydon stations, have had a lot of improvement in terms of shop fronts. So when you come into Croydon your perception is immediately different.”
Really? Is Negrini being serious?
Thing is, that £50million pre-dates Negrini’s arrival in Croydon, with much of it being what was known as “riot recovery money”, coming in the form of grants after that infamous night in August 2011.
But give her half a chance, and Negrini continues to claim the credit for herself.
Certainly, never let it be said that Boxpark was anyone else’s idea: “We went out and sought Boxpark. We loaned them money to come down here,” Negrini is quoted as saying in the article.
On the £30million refit of the Fairfield Halls, Negrini is supposed to have told the Standard: “We’re saying, on the one hand we really value the town’s rich history, but on the other hand we want it to act as an anchor for a whole new piece of Croydon.”
Yet just five months into the project, and the two-year refurbishment is already – according to the council’s own reports, issued in Negrini’s own name – projected as being finished six months later than promised. Negrini, meanwhile, has written to some residents claiming that the refurbishment is “on track”. Perhaps Negrini thinks that Council Tax-payers, the people who pay her very good salary, are fools?
Certainly, the journalist who cobbled this piece together seems to be very accepting of anything she has been told. “Already the suburb has a growing tech economy with more than 1,000 startups. Silicon Croydon, anyone?” she writes, unquestioningly.
Again, this is a false claim.
Apparently attributed to the Official for National Statistics, if you ask the authors of the report where this claim was made, or the ONS, none of them can say where this 1,000 tech start-ups stat comes from. Someone has just made it up. For more background on this, click here.
But we’re seeing a pattern now. It’s what amounts to council-endorsed lying, backed by Negrini and apparently with the blessing of the borough’s political leadership who appointed her, Tony Newman and his clique of chums who control the Labour group: Alison Butler, Paul Scott and Mark Watson.
The article continues with another quote from Negrini: “What we need is money in people’s pockets. So we’ve set up a job- brokerage scheme. In my previous job at Newham, I worked on Workspace, set up by the council to take advantage of the Olympic opportunities but also the Westfield development at Stratford.”
Ahh. Westfield, and its supposed £1.4billion panacea to all Croydon’s ills. No where in the article does it mention that in Croydon, Westfield is running behind schedule. But this is not a delay of a few months, as with Fairfield. The Westfield scheme is years late – it had been meant to be finished and open by 2017. The 5,000 jobs promised by the supermall – no one’s been able to explain what sort of jobs they might be – seem unlikely to be putting any “money into people’s pockets”, as Negrini would have it, until 2022.
Will Negrini even still be around in Croydon then? The Standard failed to ask that question.
The quality of any new jobs is quite important, too, especially since Croydon’s Labour council is fond of trumpeting that its is accredited as a London Living Wage borough. Pity, then, that when Negrini was luring Boozepark to Croydon, neither she nor anyone else at the council bothered to insist that they, and the restaurants and bars which occupy the venue next to East Croydon Station, should be Living Wage accredited employers.
The Evening Standard failed to report whether Negrini had her hand on a stack of holy texts, nor whether she was subjected to a polygraph as she delivered her well-rehearsed bullshit, which got a further airing at the developers’ piss-up that was the Develop Croydon conference held at Boozepark last month.
In an indirect quote, the article states: “Negrini believes local authorities need to be more entrepreneurial to ensure the best returns for their people and places”.
Really? And did anyone in Croydon vote for a more “entrepreneurial” local authority at the last local elections in 2014? Was Negrini on the ballot paper that day?
The article goes on to state that while she was the borough’s head of planning Negrini had been “… paving the way for Westfield and Hammerson’s £1.4billion redevelopment of the town’s Whitgift Shopping centre”.
Again, that is simply untrue.
The facts are these: Negrini joined Croydon Council in January 2014 – nearly two years after Westfield and Hammerson had agreed to work together on the scheme. Negrini’s arrival at Croydon Council, though, must have been very comforting for her Aussie mates with whom she had worked so closely when she was at Newham.
Another assertion which the Standard appears to accept and has so re-published unquestioningly was: “She’s respectful of the town’s architectural history.”
This is a statement which, on recent form, doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny, otherwise Negrini’s planning department wouldn’t have recommended the building of a 17-storey tower block right in the middle of Purley town centre, nor supported the demolition of the Victorian St Edmund’s church by Wandle Park, in a tawdry £1million property deal.
And the test will come in the new year when the fate of two heritage buildings unmentioned by the Standard‘s article, the Almshouses and St Michael’s church at West Croydon, will be determined when Westfield re-submits its planning application.
Westfield has a gun to the head of Croydon’s planners when they come to deliver up their latest set of proposals, which includes plans for almost twice the amount of residential development for which they have been granted planning approval.
To achieve these extra flats – and extra profits – Westfield wants to build more over-tall tower blocks.
“There are some symbolic buildings in Croydon which really mean a lot to people,” the Standard quoted Negrini as saying.
Will Negrini stand up for the people of Croydon over Westfield’s desire to over-develop, or will she back her old Aussie mates as they make their next billion (that’s sterling, rather than Oz dollars)?
Croydon Council’s planning department daren’t risk annoying the all-powerful money men of Westfield, or their “partners” Hammerson, in case they walk away, leaving the festering hulk of the Whitgift Centre to rot, with its leaky roof and increasing number of run-down or empty stores.
But again, that’s not something even remotely touched upon in the glowing Standard article.
Instead, they continued to mislead with half-truths and outright lies. Of the pop-up saffron farm (on a site where Negrini’s council ought to have been providing housing two years ago) they quote the “excited” CEO as saying: “They’re harvesting it and making a fortune.”
Not true (again) according to the council employee behind the scheme, Ally McKinlay.
Is there anything that Negrini says that can be taken at face value?
Hard to say, but consider this:
Negrini is quoted as saying, “We’ve got that opportunity to create an economy which is an alternative to people, so they don’t feel like they have to pay £1million to live in somewhere like Peckham, which is madness.” Elsewhere, the article mentions the Negrini brainchild, Brick by Brick, the council-owned housing company “set to deliver 1,000 new and affordable homes across the borough in the next three years”.
Here’s the deceit by omission: what the article doesn’t tell you is that half of those Brick by Brick new homes, built with council capital on council-owned property, will be flogged off or put out for private rent for maxium profit.
And not a single one of the 1,000 new homes will be what was once known as a council house.
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Is anyone surprised by Negrini’s self puffing bullshit? I don’t think so. It will be interesting to see how she deals with the real crap when it all starts to fall apart.
Come on, beloved Editor of Inside Croydon, and join the new world. Don’t be scared. You know as well as do I that, post-Brexit and post-Trump, we now all live in a post-Truth world. Real, verifiable facts, actual figures, reliable data have all now been consigned to the dustbins of history. What matters now is that you tell the story and use the facts, true or not, as they suit you and the case you are trying to make. Honesty and Probity are long gone…..it’s the story you tell and how you tell it that is important. The best practitioners are those highest up the corporate or political tree and they get better at it the more they practice. The better they get at it, the further they leave reality behind: behold Farage, our diplomatic saviour, Boris, our reliable and consistent Foreign Minister, the unbelievable Trump in whom all odiousness resides and our very own, our local expert practitioner as so well identified by you. It’s an insidious process. Soon I am will change my online preferences to Breibart and Russia Today….and howling at the moon when it is full. Then, and finally, will I be a thoroughly modern man, one who can live in peace with the headlines and self-seekers.
I did a quick search on the net and found reported that she claims 28 new public squares and £750 million for a cultural quarter centred around College Green. Truth or fantasy!
I am sure you report will set tongues wagging
Well done on even reading the property pages of the Standard. A piece of tat that normally leaves the recycling pulp factory overworked, but is this all that flattering to Negrini before she seeks her redundancy payment for failing to deliver a small fraction of what she claims to achieve. It all looks like Buster Bloodvessel on the Council Beano to a Metal Box. Not a picture to grace her future CV applications.
Self promotion is something a few recent chief executives and planning chiefs have been good at, so no change there.
The claim about being the fastest growing economy is of course nonsense. We were the third largest office employment centre in London and admittedly a few more offices are being built but the heart of the office centre to the east of Wellesley Road has largely gone. Not the Council’s fault (although they failed to oppose it due to their anti-car attitude) but the Government allowing uncontrolled conversions of offices to sub-standard flats. Some particular tiny slums.
It is also true that the Brick by Brick schemes are a programme to meet unrealistic extra housing targets in a largely full-developed borough by building on parking areas and garages (as we all know cars no longer exist in Croydon, that is official), limited open amenity spaces (we no longer need as we apparently stay indoors watching computer games and Sky), redevelop community facilities (clearly less need now?) and redeveloping housing to increase density which we all need, apparently.
You are right to point out that half of the new housing will be ‘unaffordable’ private sale but I do not believe the remaining rented accommodation at 80% of the current inflated ‘market rent’ will be affordable either.
I sometime do work with a Housing Trust elsewhere in the country where their ‘affordable private sale’ properties are 60% of a much lower market value. The build costs are not greater (their standards are higher) so it would be possible here too without the need to make more money.
Something is not right.