Croydon’s Negrini, the £20m superyacht, and left over beer

It’s not happening: This is what the flunkies at Develop Croydon described as ‘packed’ at the freebie brunch they laid on for property speculators at MIPIM in Cannes yesterday

KEN LEE, our spending-four-days-on-the-lash-at-public-expense correspondent, detected waning interest among the world’s property developers in Croydon’s tired message at this year’s MIPIM

Apparently, it’s happening.

“It’s happening!” was the latest lame slogan for Croydon this week at the booze and hookerfest that is MIPIM.

It might have been a tad embarrassing if anyone had bothered to ask what “it” was.

Perhaps it meant the Fairfield Halls refurbishment..? Oh. It now won’t be fully open until the end of March 2019 – some nine months late on what was supposed to be a two-year project. Ah. Awks.

How about Croydon’s bid to become Borough of Culture, with all those zany pedestrian crossings..? Ah, right, no, that didn’t quite work out, did it?

Or what about Westfield… Oh, yeah. Sometime after 2022. Possibly.

The latest vacuous slogan from business lobby group Develop Croydon, as they pimp the borough at MIPIM

It’s easy to forget that the shiny Westfield supermall in among some “luxury apartments” in Croydon has been a promise dangled before international  speculators visiting the world’s largest property conference in Cannes every year since 2012.

But Croydon went back again this year, with a delegation headed by the council’s Australian-born chief exec, Jo Negrini, and still without any firm start date for the £1.4billion Hammersfield development.

Which might explain, at least in part, the somewhat disappointing turn-out on Thursday morning for the brunch on the beach, despite the offer of (yet more) free food, as well as the chance to hear another version of Negrini’s somewhat stale sales pitch.

The flaks at Develop Croydon, undaunted, tweeted enthusiastically that the brunch – the second of Croydon’s set-piece freebie events of the week – was “packed”, although pictures taken by those attending, and who did not have a vested interest, showed that was not the case.

The brunch was sponsored by builders Willmott Dixon, who presumably could afford to splash the cash out of the ample profits they have been making from all those public projects they’ve been building around Croydon.

Of course, when Croydon Council finally got around to answering a Freedom of Information request about the participation at MIPIM of the council and its wholly owned housing company, Brick by Brick, they said that they had no sponsors paying towards the £17,000 bill for Negrini and three other council employees to attend the four-day junket (© Tony Newman) in the South of France.

Jo Negrini, the council CEO rocking an Urban Edge T-shirt, watched over by her ‘minder’, Richard Plant

But then, the council’s FoI response also said that there would be no consultants’ agencies at MIPIM working for Croydon, even though a simple examination of the official list of attendees showed at least three agencies, all of whom have been paid handsomely by the council for their services in the past, also occupying stand C15 with the council.

A fourth agency could be said to be Develop Croydon, who effectively launder sponsorship money for the council, as they fronted up yesterday’s brunch and other activities (as well as dreaming up lame slogans).

Develop Croydon is run by Grey Label, a long-time beneficiary of the council outsourcing its public relations work such as this. The Develop Croydon committee is chaired by Richard Plant, who also happens to head up Stiles Harold Williams.

SHW are the property managers who handle most of the commercial estate of the borough’s biggest property owners, the Whitgift Foundation.

And it is the Whitgift Foundation which owns the freehold of the Whitgift Centre, which is in dire need of redevelopment and who called in… Westfield.

See how this works?

According to Develop Croydon’s own publicity, their delegation in Cannes this week had the backing of no fewer than 15 commercial partners – or sponsors – including Croydon Council itself, plus Redrow and Menta (the Cherry Orchard Road developers who have blocked the Bridge to Nowhere for half a decade), Hammerson and Westfield through their Croydon Partnership, Plant’s SHW, Willmott Dixon and a range of others with vested private interests, some of whom, such as property consultants Gleeds, also do very nicely out of regular payments funded by Croydon Council Tax-payers.

Even the offer of free beer hardly drew a large crowd of freeloading property developers to hear Croydon’s somewhat stale message

It was Grey Label who organised the design, build and theme of Croydon’s stand at MIPIM. And the slogan. This year’s exercise in vacuity, “It’s happening!”, follows last year’s “Urban Edge”. There were still some canvas bags left over from 2017, if anyone fancied taking one, and fair dinkum Negrini even gamely wore one of the not-so-edgy T-shirts.

Thing is, when you can’t even give away free booze to the usually thirsty delegates at a bash like MIPIM, you ought to be worried.

But such was the disinterest among MIPIM delegates for Croydon’s message that Grey Label’s dynamic team was reduced to offering the unwanted bottles of beer as the conference wound down on Friday.

The council-backed Beer on the Beach event on Wednesday evening had drawn in so few eager “punters” that there was still left over bottles of Cronx ale (from the Croydon brewery that donated to Tory Gavin Barwell’s election campaign).

Maybe it is the Brexit effect, with uncertainties over the commercial property market as Britain casts itself adrift from the EU in 12 months time. Consider this: we might be out of Europe before the Fairfield Halls re-opens.

Or perhaps there really was a more business-like attitude at the usually champagne-soaked conference. As one delegate said, “In 2007 it felt like the last days of Rome. This week it’s been more like Last of the Summer Wine.”

Croydon never justifies its attendance at MIPIM, for the pimping of public property to private interests, Russian oligarchs, Qatari royals or Hong Kong speculators.

It remains a closely guarded secret about what exactly it was that Negrini and her council colleagues – Shifa Mustafa, Heather Cheesbrough, and Colm Lacey – got up to while at the  cocktails and sandals junket. Unlike other councils, which respond to FoI requests with the identities of the businesses who their staffers meet at MIPIM, Croydon refuses to divulge such information on the feeble excuse of “commercial confidentiality”.

Did Negrini nab a ride on Da Vinci, the £20m superyacht owned by Vincent Tchenguiz?

Which is a pity, because many Croydon residents will be keen to know whether Negrini took the opportunity while in Cannes to sample the high life on Da Vinci, described in reports as a “swanky new superyacht”, complete with a hot tub, office and fridge stocked with wine, and moored in the Mediterranean port’s harbour for the duration of MIPIM.

Da Vinci is a recent £20million purchase by Vincent Tchenguiz, the multi-millionaire property developer and, through one of his network of companies, also the owner of Citiscape, who is forcing the Croydon residential block’s leaseholders to stump up at least £2million to remove the potentially flammable Grenfell-style cladding from… his property.

Now, if Negrini had spent even some of her time at MIPIM lobbying Tchenguiz on behalf of Citiscape residents, rather than acting as a glorified sales agent for Westfield and their Whitgift clients, it might have served as some sort of public interest justification for splurging thousands of pounds of council cash on the four-day jaunt.

But we’ll never know. Because Negrini swilling cocktails on the fore deck with Tchenguiz will be commercially confidential, won’t it?

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This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", Brick by Brick, Business, Colm Lacey, Croydon Council, Heather Cheesbrough, Jo Negrini, Shifa Mustafa, Stiles Harold Williams, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Croydon’s Negrini, the £20m superyacht, and left over beer

  1. Oh dear ! Croydon’s finest spending the public purse , can’t understand why you are all so surprised.

  2. “Was it warm in Cannes last weekend?”
    “No, there was a nasty MIPIM the air “

  3. Charles Calvin says:

    I didn’t make the actual Croydon Beer on the Beach event, but I met a bunch of underwhelmed people who were returning from it.

    ‘Underwhelming’ was the operative word.

    One of the group had made an enquiry about a specific opportunity in Croydon, expecting the direct engagement of those present. No, they were given a piece of paper with a hand written number of a ‘consultant’ they “might want to speak to” in London.

    Brilliant. Croydon operating like clockwork and demonstrating the MIPIM expenditure was worth every penny.

    As for Brick by Brick, their profile was non-existent. Everyone I spoke to were confused as to what they were actually about. One delegate asked me if that was the Council development company who didn’t have to apply for planning permission? You couldn’t make it up!

    Really no need for Croydon to be at MIPIM in 2019. It is a complete waste of money. It’s not that the event is not appropriate for Croydon. The issue is the people Croydon send are way off mark and not of a calibre to engage in this international event.

  4. Doesn’t look much like a beach in the photo either. More like the edge of an industrial area.

    • Charles Calvin says:

      There are some amazing venues at MIPIM – it’s a beautiful location. But, organisers palm the less savvy exhibitors off with the sub- grade venues – think Croydon might have been in this category. Problem is, private companies are all out for best pitch, best return of inverstment etc etc…….the public setctor are not driven in this way. They’re not spending company money, they don’t have to justify expenditure or demonstrate return, it’s all a bit half inflated.

      • Ian Geary says:

        Or, to put it another way, Croydon didn’t spend as much as other developers securing a top notch location.

        And they are being criticised for this after a whole thread about…wait for it…spending money on a sales pitch!

        Now, that is irony “that you couldn’t make up”

        • Of course, you make a good point, Ian.
          But the council’s underpowered, and underwhelming, presence at MIPIM is also, surely, further demonstration of the inappropriateness of local authority amateurs diving into the pool of sharks to take on the property professionals?

  5. veeanne2015 says:

    Interesting article which should be read by Jo Negrini and ALL Councillors.
    I googled ‘Good Governance Guide Roles Councillors and Chief Executive Officer Relationship’ and the following sentences/phrases leapt out at me :-
    ‘the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is formally accountable to the council as its employee.
    Councillors, sitting as council, are therefore responsible for both employing the CEO and managing his/her performance.’

    ‘During their terms, it is very likely that councils will either have to appoint a CEO or make a decision about renewing the CEOs contract.’
    ‘councillors are accountable for setting the CEO’s performance plan and monitoring performance. Most commonly this focuses on the CEO’s annual performance assessment.’

    The CEO is an employee of the council ! Renewing contract ?
    Monitoring performance ? Annual assessment ? Is this done by the whole council, the gang of four, or anybody ?

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