The picture left shows an example of the kind of public artwork that two of the borough’s most senior councillors suggest, “will bring huge benefits to both residents and businesses in Thornton Heath”, and “continue to boost growth in the area”. Seriously.
These quotes’ toxic combination of fake news and false hope are being peddled in a council press release, where the comments are attributed to Alison Butler, the cabinet member for regeneration and homes, and Mark Watson, the councillor who is supposedly in charge of the local economy. Butler and Watson are half of Croydon’s Gang of Four which controls the Labour group that runs the Town Hall.
The press release was issued after 4pm on a Friday. In appending comments from senior figures such as Butler and Watson, it seems that some effort is being made to associate the local Labour leadership with multi-million-pound “regeneration” schemes around the borough. None of the (Labour) councillors for Thornton Heath or West Thornton wards were associated with the schemes in the council release.
The mural shows the writing’s on the walls: there must be elections, and ward selections, coming up.
Ben Connor’s mural, as shown in the picture which the council chose for distribution, is one of five works commissioned from artists “as part of the council’s £2.7million investment” in Thornton Heath. Butler is a councillor for Bensham Manor, the ward that adjoins the area.
“The artworks form part of wider improvements in the area, which will see 30 existing shop [sic] become more uniform and historic architectural features being repaired and reinterpreted in patterns used at the front of shops. The work also includes the removal of oversized light boxes and signs, the simplification of window advertisements and painting of upper stories [sic] of the buildings,” the error-strewn release states.
A similar project, costing £3 million, was conducted in South End, commissioned by the previous Tory Town Hall administration, was completed two years ago after many delays as part of the DisConnected Croydon scheme (notably, the council has since abandoned that unfortunate, and misleading, label. You can make your own mind up why). Oh, how the landlords of the long-neglected properties, many of which are owned by the vastly wealthy Whitgift Foundation, must have been delighted to have all this work lavished upon them at public expense.
While all the South Croydon shop fronts have been spruced up, with murals and artist-designed hoardings for the empty shops along the lines proposed for Thornton Heath, it is a fact that that scheme has done absolutely nothing to improve the local economy, beyond providing some extra parking bays at the expense of the cycle lane on the main road. Today, several Selsdon Road shops which were empty in 2014 remain unoccupied, and while there’s a couple of Vape shops just opened, two banks nearby have closed forever, with one of them – in a metaphor for the fate of the area – being turned into a funeral directors.
Butler and Watson’s Labour leadership nonetheless continues to plough on with the pointless project. They sort of have to, in part because that’s what the money has been allocated for from City Hall, and secondly because that’s what the executive directors who really control the borough have told them to do, as these were among the best ideas for post-riot recovery that our local public servants could come up with.
Thus, from the council’s post-truth, fake news propaganda department, we were told on Friday that Connor’s “…mural celebrates the unity and pride associated with the CR7 postcode”. Pride in a postcode.
In the case of illustrator Philip Dennis, the press office tells us he “was inspired by patterns created at his workshop, during which the group walked Thornton Heath with pencils and notepads looking closely at its buildings, collecting shapes and patterns that interested them”. There’s three other such schemes, which we are told were all supposedly subject to some form of competitive tendering.
Croydon Council’s press office decided some time ago that they would not bother sending their publicly funded press releases to Inside Croydon, nor ever deal with our questions – a bit like the White House press office does with any media that is not “on message” under US President Trump.
But the council press office’s unprofessional and unrealistic conduct does not mean that we will not be publishing some of its output, because it may deserve to be put on the record somewhere where it cannot later be deleted, hidden or amended.
So, on the occasion of this £2.7million Croydon facelift for Thornton Heath, please read, digest and remember the comments of Councillors Alison Butler and Mark Watson.
Butler staked her claim for the credit for the scheme by saying: “The artwork reflects the colourful and diverse nature of the high street’s offerings which local people expressed much pride about. Croydon’s regeneration is about the whole borough and it’s fantastic to see improvements being made that will bring huge benefits to both residents and businesses in Thornton Heath.”
And Mark Watson also wanted to be associated with the project and is supposed to have said: “The enhancements to the shop fronts and building facades will improve the look and feel of high street, which in turn will attract more people to the local shops and continue to boost growth in the area.”
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