This is what £12,500 of council money pays towards at MIPIM

Our housing correspondent, BARRATT HOLMES, went undercover last week, and disguised as Charles Aznavour he sneaked into the London Pavilion at the MIPIM property conference in Cannes to find out what was being said, apparently on behalf of the people of Croydon

At another Croydon-staged event, Jo Negrini stepped up, literally, to make an impression. All well worth £12,500 of public money

Croydon’s was just one of a series of half-hour panel sessions conducted by various London boroughs in Cannes last week, some more desperate than others to lure developers to their patch of the capital with their various “offers”.

Though organised by the not-publicly-accountable Develop Croydon business organisation, this session was heavily influenced by the council, which indirectly was picking up a chunk of the bill. Croydon Council, after all, is one of the major backers of Develop Croydon.

This session was in addition to Croydon’s Brunch on the Beach and Beer on the Beach, staged by the various business interests looking to carve-up the borough. Presumably, the force of the case for Croydon’s redevelopment was not deemed a compelling enough attraction to lure the international speculators, so a bit of free grub and free booze was laid on, too.

This panel session had Jo Negrini, the council’s publicity-hungry CEO, as one of the main speakers, alongside Gavin Barwell, the government minister and local MP, together with various other suits and vested interests, all of whom have much to profit from the “regeneration” of Croydon.

Barwell’s participation, while housing and planning minister in Theresa May’s government, is particularly intriguing.

The minister was seated on the platform with a representative of Westfield, the shopping mall developers who he helped to introduce to the town centre five years ago through his close personal association with the Whitgift Foundation, the owners of the down-at-heel Whitgift Centre.

This particular vested interest was never declared by Barwell at this session, but his presence and close attention to the scheme may explain why he and his usual hyper-hypocrite colleagues in the Croydon Tories have been very quiet and have failed to condemn the council spending £12,500 on a sales trip to promote the stalled Westfield development.

What follows is a transcript of the session.

If ever you wanted a good example of mutual back-slapping, empty platitudes and developer cliché, then be prepared for something which takes vacuity to a whole new level…

A particular favourite in the self-serving bullshit that got spouted – and there was an entire dung heap to wade through – was this gem: “There’s a lot of bottom-up stuff coming through the residents and parties on the ground, to really create that energy where the top-down meets the bottom up and that’s where you get the regeneration sweet spot.”

Yes. Seriously. And Negrini is paid £185,000 a year by the people of Croydon and she comes up with that bollocks.

Mind you, that was followed closely by the bloke who is selling flats at £800,000 and claiming them to be “accessible to your average person in London”, while annexing for private use a public open space in Croydon town centre, something which Negrini appears to have encouraged and condoned.

Peter Murray, the chairman of New London Architecture, was dragged in to “chair” the “debate”.

Peter Murray: Good morning everyone and welcome to this session where we’re talking about Croydon Urban Edge. Croydon now is building up its cultural transformation, it’s located on the edge, it’s edgy, and it is actually changing dramatically.

I’ve been following the redevelopment of Croydon since the early 1990s but it’s amazing to see how it is really transforming very fast at the moment and is totally changing its image as a place where people want to be and moving out of Shoreditch and places like that and down to Croydon because of this amazing cultural shift that is taking place.

A lot of it is being led by Jo Negrini, who has really set the bar very high for other outer London towns, but I’ll just go along the panel and tell you who they are because they are going to speak in this order…

Starting with Jo Negrini, chief executive of Croydon; then we have Gavin Barwell, who is minister of state for housing, planning, and minister for London, of course he is the local Conservative MP for Croydon Central; then we have Steve Sanham of Hub, Steve Yewman from Westfield, Robin Dobson from Hammerson, Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison of the Rise Gallery, and then Stuart Cade from Rick Mather Architects.

Were Jo Negrini’s fellow MIPIM panellists (a) plain bored because they’d heard it all before; or (b) sleeping off their hangovers from the previous night at the booze and hooker fest? Answers on postcards only, please, to The CEO, Fisher’s Folly, Cost A Mint Walk, Croydon

So we’ve got a large panel, we’ve got a short period of time, so I’ll just ask Jo to get things rolling, thank you.

Jo Negrini: Thank you all for coming to hear the Croydon story. A lot of areas have been talking on these panels are talking about what’s going to happen in their areas in the future.

I just want to take a couple of minutes to talk about what’s actually happening in Croydon now and what we’ve delivered over the last 12 months since the last MIPIM.

The first thing is we now have our full programme together for our Growth Zone, we have a £350million tax-incremented financing initiative, supported by government, to bring forward the necessary infrastructure to be able to underpin all the capacity that we’ve still got, particularly in the centre of Croydon, for 10,000 homes and in terms of the capacity for 23,500 new jobs. So the infrastructure is really important.

The second thing, we’ve set up Brick by Brick, our own housing company. People have talked a lot about housing companies. Our approach is very much about intensification in low-density areas, doing it a different way so that we can maintain our communities, and work with them in terms of increasing the densities on our infill sites, really important.

The third thing, that has been absolutely key to us, has been new occupiers in the centre of Croydon. Over the last 12 months EDF, Superdrug and The Body Shop have all left their central London locations to move to Croydon, HMRC are moving in with 2,500 staff, but in addition to that the Home Office and other government departments are looking at even more to come in.

But there’s been a lot of top-down interventions from all of these partners, but what makes the story slightly different is there’s a lot of bottom-up stuff coming through the residents and parties on the ground, to really create that energy where the top-down meets the bottom up and that’s where you get the regeneration sweet spot. And that’s what’s happening in Croydon now.

Peter Murray: So Gavin, can you develop as Minister for London and MP how Croydon fits into the wider London economy?

Gavin Barwell: As you said I’m very much speaking very much with two hats, as the Minister for Housing there isn’t a part of the country where the gap between what we’re building at the moment and what we need to build is bigger than it is in London. And I think Croydon is one of those key locations in the capital where there is the potential to build significant extra homes.

Gavin Barwell at MIPIM having the planning system explained to him. Very. Slowly.

And as Jo was saying, as a government we’re backing that with the Growth Zone deal and actually also relocating government uses down to some of the new office space that’s being developed next to East Croydon Station.

But I’m also very lucky, I’m one of those few local MPs that’s representing a place where I’ve lived all my life, where I’ve grown up, and it is a hugely exciting time for our town because we are seeing our town centre being completely redeveloped.

The original catalyst was the decision these guys made – Westfield and Hammerson – the decision to redevelop the Whitgift Centre. Boxpark’s arrival, but as Jo was saying we’ve got a really interesting balance going on there at the moment between major corporates moving here, major developers investing here, and the housing, the new office space and the cultural regeneration but also local community groups and the work they are doing here, we’ll be hearing in a second about the Rise Gallery and their work. And that fusion between those two things is what makes the story such an exciting one.

Peter Murray: So Steve, can you tell us what part you’re playing in this?

Steve Sanham: We’re a developer in London and we build homes, we would like to think, for real people in London. We have 1,700 homes under development in the outer boroughs at price points which should be accessible to your average person in London.

In Croydon we are developing the Taberner House site. Last week we got planning application in for 540 new homes in four buildings and a new park.

How Hub’s four blocks will overshadow the Town Hall and be built on to and annex Queen’s Gardens

One of the good things Jo was talking today about bottom-up regeneration, we deliver some big schemes but we also really value the opportunity in Croydon to get stuck in at a grassroots level to go out, walk the streets, meet people in the local community and we spoke to 1,200 people before we put a planning application in for our scheme and we really valued that interaction.

We want to do more in Croydon, we want to work very closely with the guys at Croydon Council and see if we can deliver something that’s a little bit more special than just bricks and mortar.

Peter Murray: Thank you very much. So Steve, can you bring us up to date with where you are with delivering your plans for retail in Croydon?

Steve Yewman: Well I’m hoping Jo and her team give us planning consent next month so…

In all seriousness, the team have worked tirelessly over the last nine months both on our CPO and getting our planning upgraded and primarily it’s for a new flagship store for M&S.

After five years of development blight in the centre of Croydon, the best that Westfield can offer is a Marks and Sparks

They’re showing their continued confidence in Croydon to move from an old ancestral building to a new flagship building. So we’re really delighted that they are now wanting to see a best in class building and Robin will be talking about other stuff that he’s done around the country with them as well, but the point is here people are feeling it on the ground so we want to move forward with it.

But what we’re really feeling from the work that we’ve done in Newham and in West London is that the social change, and the change in people’s lives – I was invited by Newham to be on their stand yesterday – and it was about jobs, jobs, jobs. Croydon has created a lot of jobs and a lot of that is to do with Jo her team and the leadership getting the schools up to a much better level and education and all that want to invest in.

Five years ago that wasn’t part of the journey and the journey is about social as well. So from our point of view we’re ripe now to start delivering the regenerated Whitgift Centre but more importantly I think the town is ready as well.

In terms of the cultural offer, Kevin’s come in and we’ve all talked about the things he’s been doing, and it’s certainly from the ground-up we recognise that more and more is being spent just on leisure.

Whether dining out or cinema or spending money in Kevin’s gallery these leisure pursuits in addition to retail a lot more of our floor space is going to go to food, loads more.

Boxpark has been a good example of a hors d’oevre for the main event but they are doing a great job. And they’ve introduced to Croydon £10 burgers and £5 beers and I’m delighted with that, because they will be more expensive when we turn up.

But the bottom line of all of this is Croydon has now in the last 18 months really really moved forward. We’ve seen a complete regeneration of Newham change dramatically. We’ve got to change peoples lives and bring them with us.

Peter Murray: Robin how do rival companies agree on what’s going to be done in Croydon?

Robin Dobson: Well I do agree with everything that Steve has said!

Just by way of the UK, over the last 15 years Hammerson have delivered ten regeneration schemes. Some of the stats are just worth reminding ourselves on relative to what we are looking to do in Croydon.

Over the last 10 years over £5billion has been spent through joint ventures like this one here, 25,000 jobs have been created, 85 per cent of which were long-term unemployed, so there are some fantastic stats.

But what’s interesting about the story brings us on to leisure, very much as Steve was just saying, is how it has changed and how it is changing. If you look at the two schemes that we opened at the end of last year in Leeds at Victoria Gate and in Southampton at Westquay Watermark, while is a pure leisure scheme, it’s completely different kind of product to anything we’ve both delivered previously.

It’s all about creating the very best experiences, through the very best destinations in the very best towns and cities. And what I mean by that is it’s about lifting the benchmark for our town. It’s about architectural quality, about creating a much greater and wider leisure offer, and just about giving all-round experiences to everyone in particular families, which is so important in Croydon.

I think it’s also true that when you get that right you get true sustainability. And what I mean by that is that you drive sales, you drive footfall through the physical buildings that we create but you also you get this halo effect around buildings with 15 or 20 per cent which is a lot to channel online and then you have true sustainability across the piece.

So to finish on Croydon, I think there is fantastic levels of interest – you’ve got in the latest set of figures the highest demand for commercial space anywhere in the UK, you’ve got the highest population of any London borough, and the highest growth statistics, you’ve got fantastic leadership with Jo and her team and the GLA, and the missing ingredient – which there is now a real push on to deliver – is actually the retail and the leisure.

And we know, as Steve has said, it needs the real glue, the stitches, all the different parts – the culture, heritage and commercial to get there. So the future for the city should be bright.

Peter Murray: So Kevin, we’ve heard culture is so important to this renegenration, tell us your view.

Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison: Yes, absolutely. Culture is so important within any kind of regeneration – any kind of place has to have an identity that makes it stand out from other boroughs.

We’re very very lucky in Croydon that we’ve got a fantastic cultural offer which is growing. Old residents and new residents are being engaged much more to stay with us and spend with us so when they’re going out at night they’ve got plenty here to offer them.

Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison: will get to run a new gallery provided by the council

When you are trying to regenerate an area I firmly believe you need that right balance – we are very lucky in Croydon to have that at the moment with the right local authority, the right corporations all balanced together which is helping things to move along much quicker. We’ve also got a community which has all pulled together in the balance.

So over the last couple of years we’ve begun to bring a lot of public artwork around the town, which is beginning to strengthen that identity.

It’s also socially relevant while we go through a big time of change it keeps engagement with our community, our old community and our new.

Visual arts and culture is actually something that transcends everyone – which is really important to engage all.

We’ve got an amazing landmark project happening this summer in July which is an Andy Warhol Month. So please watch this space we’ve got exciting things to come.

Peter Murray: So Stuart, the Fairfield Halls is a sign of real post-war culture, maybe we’ve forgotten it, but now you’re about to breathe some life back into it.

Cade’s architects firm has provided the plans for the £30m refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls

Stuart Cade: We’ve just started on site in the last couple of months preparing the site for the redevelopment. It’s a wonderful post-war building, mid-century, really finely detailed, luxurious materials, and we’re bringing that back to one of the finest concert halls in the UK.

We’re regenerating the foyers, we’re adding new facilities on to College Green so that the Halls will be complemented by new retail and new art gallery so that the Halls will again be at the heart of the cultural quarter.

It will be a really major change and really impactful and sensitive.

Peter Murray: So Jo perhaps you can give us a little story about how you can shift the attitude of dare I say the rest of London or the rest of the world about Croydon. Croydon was in a difficult place in the 1990s, but now you do seem to have created a brand that people want to know about. This is the biggest audience we’ve had during MIPIM I think so what are the key brand values that Croydon has at the moment?

Jo Negrini: If somebody had said to me that Boxpark – we had to change the way people thought about Croydon we had to do some interventions so where people would go, “I didn’t expect to see that in Croydon.” So we proactively went and got Boxpark and we wanted everybody that went through that station – 20,000 people every day come out of that station – with thousands every day going through down to the south coast – to see that things were happening in Croydon. Stanhope were fantastic to give us that site. And actually that one intervention – when I was talking to Body Shop one of the biggest reasons they gave for coming to Croydon was Boxpark.

It is those kind of interventions it’s the Andy Warhol Month, it’s the punk festival, that join the people’s heads and makes them realise things are actually shifting but you’ve got to carry it on to everything else.

£185,000 Negrini: keen to take risks, with other people’s money

It’s not just about that. You’ve still got to do the good sites, you’ve still got to bring forward job development, you’ve still got to make sure the schools operate, the health service is working.

But it’s being provocative and taking a risk with things that has been a gamechanger for us and now we are looking for other people to work with but they’ve got to be in it to help make it a great place to be.

We’ve got to take risks and the council took a big risk with Boxpark because it could have gone disastrously wrong but you’ve got to be risk-takers or else nothing is going to change.

Peter Murray: I would like to hear Gavin’s viewpoint on that, are your constituents noticing the change?

Gavin Barwell: I think there are two problems we are up against. I think there is one brand that is a sense that we are a place that has been in decline in the 1990s and 2000s and the turnaround from that but I think a different problem that is that up in London a lot of people still think of Croydon as a sleepy outer London borough and changing that perception and saying actually it’s a really interesting place so we need to challenge both of those things.

But I think in terms of the people who live there, there is a huge sense of excitement about this transformation that we’re seeing in front of us in our town.

I hope we come back in a few years time… [transcript unclear] it needs to extend southwards because we are part of London and I think the problem we have with the old city bids is we’re not a separate place – we are part of London.

But we are not just a dormitory suburb we are a real centre in our own right – if you took this borough and put it down in the countryside somewhere it would be the seventh or eighth biggest city in this country.

Until you go there and see it, you won’t appreciate that scale.

Peter Murray: Well we are working on that. Can I ask as the Minister of London where do you think seeing the London Stand buzzing and with all this optimism despite Brexit . What do you think about the impact that might have.

Gavin Barwell: I’ve been around and I’ve looked at a whole load of the stands here and I think we can see that – the country made a decision last June and we’re now implementing that decision –Britain, and London in particular, is still open for business. We are indeed a global city which trades with the rest of the world, we work with other countries.

This Beer on the Beach event at Cannes last week was organised by Develop Croydon. They are funded, in part, by Croydon Council

The vibrancy that we have in our city is on display in this room and there are huge opportunities in our country and in our capital city in particular for people who want to come here and invest. Because there is a desperate need in our country for more homes in the south, I’m keen as I ever was to urge anybody who makes the decisions to invest here it’s a great place to come and do business.

Robin Dobson: Just a quick point, touching on what Jo said, and through the evidence of other good cities around the UK, central to any investment in construction is about good decision-making. In the cases of the GLA and of Jo and her team, actually that in itself inspires confidence. Although we haven’t put a spade in the ground it is a bit like the effect HS2 has had on Birmingham.

What I think we’ve done is also awakened the pride and the loyalty that does exist in and around Croydon. People want to come into cities, that is a changing demographic a change back to cities rather than towns, and actually I think what’s happening here is evidence of that confidence that we’re bringing back to Croydon.

Peter Murray: Steve Yewman, also been working in Croydon for quite a long time on other projects as well and you might say that the property business really took a bit of time to get the message but now everybody is collaborating. One thing I’ve picked up from these sessions is curating, catalyst and collaboration is really what planning and placemaking is all about these days, so it’s nice to see you two (Westfield and Hammerson), sitting together like this. It’s lovely.

Steve Yewman: From my point of view I’ve worked in Croydon for a long time and in my view there’s an opportunity now. It’s always been about big grandiose plans and what Jo and her team and actually from quite a few people before Jo turned up really was about how are we going to split this town into deliverable chunks.

Now we own a massive chunk in the middle of it but from a Westfield point of view and from Hammerson’s point of view we don’t make these sorts of decisions lightly. We’ve got lots of opportunities, both of us around the world, to invest. We’ve got an £11bn pipeline, the World Trade Center opened last year, and then when you go from the World Trade Center and start talking about Croydon people used to sort of snigger.

They’ve seen what we’ve done in West London and East London and Hammerson have done in North London, and it’s an obvious fit now. But that has really happened in the last 18 months in terms of people’s perception so we’ve just got to get on with it.

Peter Murray: Can we have a last word on cultural aspects, what are the key things you want to see in Croydon in ten years time apart from a refurbished Fairfield Halls…

Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison: Croydon’s the biggest borough by population in London. We need a big cultural centre, a big new art gallery for spectacular visual arts – something that competes with the big boys up in town – to continue more people coming to Croydon to see our outstanding visual arts offering and cultural offering and to watch that develop from the ground up and from the top down together is exactly what we all hope for.


And that was that.

Just like Barwell forgot to mention his close personal ties with the owners of the Whitgift Centre and his role in bringing Westfield to Croydon, so it must have slipped Zuchowski-Morrison’s mind to mention that the “big new art gallery for spectacular visual arts” is what he will get to run as part of the refurbished Fairfield Halls.

But hey, there was chilled champagne to be slurped and canapes to be swallowed. And meanwhile, our local authority continues to try to pretend it can mix it with the big boys of international development.

Trebles all round!

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6 Responses to This is what £12,500 of council money pays towards at MIPIM

  1. It would be nice to know from your correspondent how many people (apart from him) bothered listening to that shit.

  2. Steve Sanham mentions a “new park”. Talk about misleading, as I think he means a much reduced Queen’s Gardens.

    • It’ll be a new park for the residents of Hub Towers, David, in a private developer land-grab of a public open space, with the Labour-run council and Negrini doing nothing to protect the broader public interest.

  3. What a load of old toffee!!
    It could more easily be put in three sentences:
    Developer: We’re in it for the money.
    Politician: I’m in it to shore up a declining excuse for a career
    Chief Officer: I am in it for my career and for further opportunities to spout incomprehensible corporate gobblydegook masquerading as some sort of high level urban philosophy.
    All together, chorus: Now can we please go and sleep off our hangovers.

  4. dave1152 says:

    Words fail me.

  5. joeycan says:

    The number of revelations coming out of Barrett’s report which expose the crassness and shallowness of the thought patterns of those who appear to represent the “best interests” of the Borough are in danger of causing my urgent connection to an E C G machine to monitor my blood-pressure.

    I have tried to write the following observations without looking at what the other contributers have said, though if past practice is anything to go by we will have much in common.

    So, beginning with the thoughts of our expensive CEO who thinks her (councils?) approach is “very much about intensification in low-density areas, doing it a different way so that we can maintain our communities, and work with them in terms of increasing the densities on our infill sites, very important.”.

    This rubbish, translated, seems to mean ” find a space between two buildings and infill it with another building, never mind about blocking up the lungs of the town”. Developers are clearly encouraged to build ‘shadowlands’ for the profit of their investors who, most likely, live on the other side of the planet, rather than for the health and well-being of the community.

    It is a pity that Ms Negrini can’t seem to string meaningful sentences together

    Ignoring Mr Barwell who said nothing of substance, I turn to Mr Sanham of (hub), who, introducing a statement about building homes for real people in London, seems to have forgotten:-
    a. that Croydon is not the London about which he is salivating, where people in those gentrified parts of his city don’t blink when buying for pads at £800,000 a pop.or
    b. that the average price point for a person living in Croydon – not central London, is NOT accessible to the poor sods who have to commute into our town from afar to work as shop-assistants, teachers,policemen and local government servants (apart from our £185,000 a year CEO and her coterie), because they CAN’T afford the start-up prices quoted, or the subsequent monthly payments, or
    c. that Queens Gardens is not a new PARK, which it has never been, and should not be subjected to the environmental rape now planned for it, or
    d. that his firm’s survey covering 1200 people in the borough of 350,000 souls, plus those who attended the recent presentation at ‘Friends Meeting house’, is not at all representative, but merely follows the pattern set by previous development companies.

    Steve Yewman’s mundane aspiration for providing socio-cultural life for the visitors to Croydon,consists of ‘dining, cinema, or spending money at an art gallery plus retail – lots of retail, and betrays the wonderful opportunity that Westfield/Hammersons had to provide, within the replacement Whitgift Centre, such social-leisure benefits as an olympic-sized swimming-pool, a sprung-floor dance-hall/music venue or gymnastic auditorium for all nature of gatherings, and yet still find space for the retail outlets he seeks. It is a sad reflection of the ability of a major developer tasked with “bringing in the goods”, that the M&S flagship store (already in Croydon) is all that is on offer.

    The really worrying aspect of Yewman’s report is that in lauding ‘Boxpark’ “they are doing a great job”, he has indicated a disturbing pricing trend which will clearly influence the economics of the new Centre. He is “delighted” that the £10 burger and the £5 beer have made their appearance, but I have to say on what planet does he live? No one in their right mind would buy at such prices (does he not listen to what the Chancellor has done to beer tax), unless that horrible description ‘Gentryfication’ crops up, and then it will be the occupants of the “affordable properties” now being planned or built, who will provide his market.

    Kevin Z-Morrison’s view of culture seems dominated by Art in all its forms. Fine for him, but not as a centre piece of culture he thinks it is. Croydon will not have a ‘Tate Modern’ to attract visitors from all over the world or any such gallery that will rival it. There could have been one if the current Council hadn’t sold off to the Chinese, the development rights for the Grade II listed SEGAS House, without public review, but that is another issue to return to elsewhere.

    Culture, Kevin, doesn’t just rotate around pictures on a wall. it should stimulate its viewer into seeking to personally emulate. Yet where are the opportunities for such public engagement; where are the music centres which provide venues for the young and not so young to visit and absorb? With the Warehouse Theatre, killed by the Conservatives, where are the play-writing venues, the schools for stage training, where are the theatre workshops. Is the Brit school all Croydon has to offer?

    Mr Z-Morrison may be pleased that his visual arts gallery might be included with the cultural offer of Croydon but the reduction of parking spaces at Fairfield Halls because of it and the effect on other cultural gems will inhibit families from visits that terminate late because the public transport system which feeds the suburbs, if one is lucky to be on or near a route, tails off to nothing after 11.00pm.

    Were I a parent of a young family the last thing I would want, during the one third of the year when it gets dark by 4.00pm,, is to take my children out to a pantomime or school production in Croydon during inclement weather, when the option of using my own car is either priced-out by parking charges or curtailed by lack of parking spaces adjacent to a venue. (That means “next to” for those dickheads who think parking spaces more that fifty yards from a place of leisure are acceptable.)

    I have yet to write an appeal against the inadequate response to an FOI request relating to the value to the Borough of these annual bean-feasts because the current Council can’t or won’t reveal that figure in relation to previous jollies. I have concluded that the money could have been better spent on care in our community.

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