Jo Negrini, the council’s chief executive, may like to pretend to her property speculator mates that refurbishment work on the Fairfield Halls is “on track”, but even her own officials are now admitting that Croydon’s major performing arts centre will not be ready to re-open before November 2018 – five months later than was promised.
The November 2018 re-opening date was provided in an official Croydon Council response to a Freedom of Information request last week, and amounts to the most definitive answer yet to the much-asked question.
The Fairfield Halls closed for a much-needed and long-overdue £30million refurbishment last July, when the council said that the project would take two years. So in the space of six months, progress has already slipped by five months, despite repeated assurances from Negrini and Timothy Godfrey, the councillor in charge of the borough’s arts provision.
Part of the delay is undoubtedly in the planning process, as the scheme is only now being put forward for formal permission at the next planning committee meeting, being held at the Town Hall next Thursday.
The 86-page application is unhelpfully entitled “Land Bounded by George Street, Park Lane, Barclay Road”. Presumably some petty council official thinks it might be too easy for the public to discover a planning document called “Fairfield Halls and College Green”, and reckons the people of Croydon are too stupid not to find it anyway.
The document confirms that Croydon College is to be much reduced in size, with significant parts of the land it presently occupies and some of College Green being handed over to the council-owned house-building company, Brick by Brick, to build town-centre Yuppie flats.
The profits from the sale of those homes may go to subsidise the Fairfield Halls refurbishment costs. Provided, of course, that the bottom doesn’t drop out of the residential property market at some point in the next few, post-Brexit years.
The council recently got a £14million boost for elements of the scheme – to link the halls through to East Croydon’s transport hub – in a grant from the Coast to Capital organisation, where one of the decision-making board members is Tony Newman, Croydon’s council leader.
Whether that will be enough to overcome the negative publicity around the delay in completing the Fairfield Halls work is unlikely, though.
The Labour group which controls the Town Hall has already suffered considerable political damage over the Fairfield Halls scheme, despite the significant investment in a cherished Croydon institution, after they opted for a complete closure, making the Halls staff redundant, rather than a phased programme of works, because doing it this way would be cheaper, and quicker.
Repeatedly last year – here from February 2016 and here, from July, just as the Halls closed – Newman and Godfrey put their names to council press releases which stressed that the work would take just two years, with Fairfield Halls due to re-open in the summer of 2018.
And who’s to say that there won’t be further hold-ups in the work on the Halls which could jeopardise the lucrative 2018 Panto season?
Maybe when the council said the Halls would re-open in “summer 2018”, the confusion was with Negrini, who comes from Australia, where it is the summer in November.
The Fairfield Halls delays will come as an embarrassment as well as a disappointment to Newman, Godfrey and their Croydon Labour colleagues, who will not be able to point to the Fairfield over the months before the next local elections, in May 2018, to demonstrate its delivery.
And the council’s recently adopted new slogan? “Delivery”.
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