Transport correspondent JEREMY CLACKSON on how the Town Hall scrutiny committee wants Croydon to ‘champion’ the local tram network to ensure that TfL ‘takes passenger safety seriously’
Croydon Council’s scrutiny committee has warned that the town centre’s “current road network will not cope with the large increase in car usage” as a result of the opening of the Westfield supermall, and that there needs to be significant expansion of the tram network, linking with trains and the Docklands Light Railway to provide better connectivity with Brixton, Lewisham and Peckham.
The influential Town Hall committee has also recommended that Croydon Council should have a greater say over the management of the south London tram system, and more input over transport safety issues.
Sean Fitzsimons, the Labour councillor who chairs the scrutiny committee, wants Croydon to resume its role as “champion” of the tram system, for both its future development and over safety issues.
The recommendations follow discussions with passenger groups and safety experts following the Croydon tram disaster in November 2016, in which seven people were killed and all 62 other passengers on board sustained injuries when a tram travelling from New Addington to Wimbledon left the tracks on a sharp bend approaching the Sandilands stop.
The Tramlink system was originally built by Croydon Council, opening in 2000, before being handed over to the capital-wide transport authority, Transport for London, which franchises out the operation of the 26 miles of tram network to First Group.
TfL and First Group have both been widely criticised over safety issues following the 2016 tram crash.
Croydon’s scrutiny committee, which meets this week, has agreed that, “To help ensure that TfL and Tram operators take passenger safety seriously the Council should devise measures of public accountability for TfL on its safety actions in regards trams.”
The committee’s minutes from its last meeting, held in April, also note: “It would also be sensible to consider whether to include safety on buses within any proposed structure.”
Over the past 12 months, Fitzsimon’s committee has held evidence sessions with various parties, including TfL, to explore public transport safety issues and broader matters.
As Inside Croydon reported in March, TfL has even been accused of suppressing vital information related to the causes of the Sandilands crash by keeping secret an audit report into the events of November 9, 2016, even to the point of not releasing the information to its own investigation into the fatal derailment.
The committee’s minutes state, “Tramlink has not had an effective champion this last 20 years since Croydon Council handed over this role to Transport for London.
“All other transport systems in London, including trains, Tube, DLR and buses, have expanded in the last 20 years since Tramlink was built, during a time when other trams systems in the UK have expanded and added new lines. Political promises have been made on expansion by various Mayors of London, but necessary funding for expansion has never materialised.
“This has to change.”
With TfL focused so much on the opening of Crossrail later this year, and under severe budget pressures, the Croydon committee makes it clear that south London risks becoming the forgotten part of the capital once again.
“It was difficult to determine TfL’s priorities on future proposals as a result of information contained in the presentation,” the minutes note. “The Mayor’s new Transport Strategy alludes to [tram] expansion to Sutton, but experience of previous Mayors’ promises means these have to be taken with a pinch of salt.”
When Ken Livingstone was Mayor, a tram extension to Crystal Palace was promised, but this was axed once Tory Boris Johnson moved in to City Hall in 2008. And while Johnson four times made election promises to build the Crystal Palace extension, he never did.
With Westfield coming, Croydon’s scrutiny committee is pushing to get firmer promises on new tram lines, to help divert the public from using their cars. “Tramlink to Tube and DLR network will help alleviate this problem,” the report states.
How this might be funded is not addressed. Westfield recently pulled the plug on £15million-worth of community infrastructure funding towards a town centre tram loop, as the developers look to shave its costs on the £1.4billion scheme which won’t now delivered until 2023 at the earliest.
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If the existing or any improved road network will not cope with the traffic expected to be generated by Westfield then surely it should not have been given planning approval. Furthermore if the roads become even more congested than they already are then shoppers predicted to be driving to Westfield will just go elsewhere rather than sit in queues.
Trams are part of the mitigation measures but one is limited to what you can physically carry and that will not be good for sales.
There is not, and is never likely to be, a decent road into Croydon from any direction.
This report does not even consider the adequacy of the rail networks to Croydon to ensure the flow of consumers to the Shopping Temple. Everything about the transport infastructure to Croydon is inadequate and would require investment in the same region of what is required for the housing development with a shopping centre tagged on. How long will this all go on for?
I went into Croydon by bus on Saturday from Coulsdon (about 30 minutes ride), and went to the market and bought some presents. This was fine, and a successful trip, but had I wished to buy more at the market, I just could not have carried it. Had I come in by car, the cost of the multi-storey parking is a significant deterrent, which must encourage most drivers to go to Purley Way for purchaes like computers and furniture, where parking is free.
Over the last 20 years, trying to drive into Croydon from the east has been made much more difficult due to the tram system from the Upper Addiscombe Road and George Street / Cherry Orchard Road junction, which is a no go area now for car drivers.
Wellesley Road is divided by a continuous central reservation, and for anyone seeking to exit the Whitgift Centre and turn back south entails trekking northwards, to use the pathetic turning facility right at the north end of that centre reserve near the old BT building.
To be honest, it is so tedious and time consuming, I don’t ever drive nowadays to the Whitgift Centre, and (I hate to say it) will nip down to Purley Way o buy a fridge or microwave or new sofa when the time comes.
Apart from the cost of Croydon parking, another factor that puts me off from driving into Croydon for those purchases is the sad and dismal apearance of all the Croydon multi-storey car parks.
Someone needs to invest in cleaning them and painting them – yes, the whole floors with green tennis court paint like those at Gatwick, and paint the columns and ceilings white.
Why? Well, the journey to the shops is actually a key part of the experience. It is no point at all in having nice-looking shops reached via a threatening, run-down dirty environment that smells of urine. This is why I believe the car parks of Croydon are now eerily empty of shoppers. In the 70s and 80s they were chocabloc.
As a committed conservationist, I am very happy that trams and buses exist, and I use them, but it has to be faced – huge numbers of people who used to buy many things in Croydon used to come in by car, and no longer do so.
As more and more cars become electric, the “anti-car bias on the grounds of pollution” argument is going- Croydon needs to give up its prejudice against cars now, and gear up for an electric future, or there will be no real future for the shops in the new Westfield or the current shops in Centrale.
Councillors and Council officers need to recognise this, and do something about the multi-storeys, as their current down-at-heel dirty and badly lit environment puts huge numbers of drivers from coming to Croydon to buy in the town centre. These people are still driving, but going elsewhere, so they are probably driving further and adding more pollutants to the atmosphere as a result… and they are not spending their money in Croydon.
I also think that the High Street should be reopened to buses – electric and Hydrogen powered only. That would get people right in to the middle, easily.