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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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