Croydon College and the University of Sussex have been providing degree courses in the town centre for a decade. Now the council, with its own multi-billion development plans in tatters, has decided to come up with a scheme of its own, as education correspondent GENE BRODIE reports
Croydon Council, bereft of much to offer the Russian, Chinese and Middle Eastern property speculators at the MIPIM booze and hookerfest in the South of France this week, chose yesterday to unveil Britain’s 98th ranked university as the core offer of something they have chosen to call “The Creative Campus”.
What Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, the council’s £200,000 per year chief executive, could not detail for the conference delegates were simple, basic pieces of information. Things such as where South Bank Poly will base its Croydon campus. Or where their students would be accommodated.
In fact, the announcement included nothing much of anything at all. Most notably, Negrini’s announcement failed to state how how this latest wizard wheeze from the self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner” will sit with Croydon College, their partners at Sussex University, or the Croydon College of Art.
Indeed, in an article in the MIPIM conference magazine, Negrini seemed to lay out a confrontational approach, as if the council and South Bank Poly intend to challenge Croydon College and Sussex. It is almost as if, having failed to secure a key property deal with Croydon College last year, Negrini is on some kind of a mission to prove a point to the local further education institution.
“What we want to create is an environment in the centre of Croydon that’s about learning,” said Negrini in the article – the same Negrini who until a couple of months ago was committed to a future for the town centre that was all about retailing…
There was more than a hint of desperation about the council’s announcement, as if it had been rushed together as Negrini scuttles around to fill the gaping hole in their much-vaunted £5billion regeneration scheme that has been left by Westfield’s supermall being placed on “review” indefinitely, that collapse of their property dealings with Croydon College, and the thousands of as yet unbuilt flats which her building company, Brick by Brick, has been promising to deliver for five years.
Turning Croydon into a university town is not something which residents have not heard before.
Back in 2014, when the then newly elected Labour administration took charge of the Town Hall, there was bold talk of bringing in Roehampton University (ranked by the Times Higher Education supplement at a lofty 83rd among the UK’s universities) to take up a couple of under-utilised floors of Fisher’s Folly, the council offices which had been built at an astronomical cost to Council Tax-payers of £150million.
But the Roehampton arrangement collapsed, never to be spoken about again by the likes of council leader Tony Newman or Alisa Flemming, the rarely coherent cabinet member for education and failing children’s services, who yesterday were placed front and centre of the council’s video presentation.
The notion of Croydon having a university based in or near the town centre has been around for more than 30 years, but back in the era of university expansions, while nearby Kingston got a uni (now ranked No65), and even the Elephant and Castle got a uni (the South Bank Poly), our south London borough missed out, as the council and college engaged in a petulant little spat. The relationship between Croydon College and the council has never truly recovered.
To any reasonably disposed individuals, the College, with its own campus and buildings right in the town centre, situated between Fairfield Halls and East Croydon Station, would seem to offer the obvious starting point for Croydon’s university aspirations.
Indeed, for the past decade, they have offered BA degree courses in subjects such as business and management, fine art, film making and public health and social care, all done through the University of Sussex (ranked No23 in Britain… a whole 75 places higher than South Bank Poly).
The article in the MIPIM magazine states that Croydon Council “has struck a deal” with London South Bank University, which will require 10,000 sq m of space in an unspecified building.
Negrini mentions the presence in the town centre of Sussex University, though for her, it seems, they are just not good enough: “… but,” she says, “we want to build on the work we’ve done around tech and trying to create different types of activities”. Them’s our italics.
“We want to create as much opportunity for young people as possible in terms of education and learning,” said the local authority CEO who for 18 months has presided over a children’s services department that has been in special measures because of the young people it was putting at risk.
Negrini and her council’s relationship with Croydon College appears to be at an all-time low.
Three years ago, Croydon Council announced it would be working together with the College to re-shape the land and buildings beside Fairfield Halls, to provide hundreds of flats and a new building for the College.
But, as revealed exclusively by Inside Croydon, that all collapsed last year when the College, tired of waiting for the council’s Brick by Brick company to seal the deal, opted to sell their buildings to a rival developer, shattering the long-cherished, if somewhat sketchy, plans for Negrini’s “Cultural Quarter”.
The potential losses from property sales could cost Brick by Brick, and therefore Croydon Council Tax-payers, hundreds of millions of pounds.
Negrini, the council and Brick by Brick have been scrambling around looking for some way to fix this mess of their own making. Yesterday’s detail-lite South Bank Poly announcement appears to be a very large Elastoplast to cover Negrini’s embarrassment of spending five days in Cannes with nothing much to offer. Conversation at Croydon’s Council Tax-funded “Beer on the Beach” junket this afternoon could be a little stilted.
So rushed was the announcement that even the council was forced to admit yesterday that it does not yet have firm plans for the South Bank Poly scheme, but they did say, placing the cart firmly in front of their horse, that they hope to work up something to present to the council cabinet at some point this summer.
Inevitably, the council in announcing the coup of attracting one of the country’s bottom-ranked universities to the borough, describes this as “the next exciting step in the borough’s regeneration, as the town centre further develops as a centre of business, culture and learning”.
“If this is Negrini’s ‘Plan B’, her back-up plan to her failure to deliver on Westfield, then we’re fucked,” was the succinct viewpoint of one Katharine Street councillor.
Out in Cannes, as the Croydon stand was unveiled yesterday, the absence of a couple of long-term supporters may signal how dire the situation is for Negrini’s regeneration project.
Westfield and the “Croydon Partnership” have been talking about their £1.4billion redevelopment of the town centre since 2012. But this time around, they are notable absentees from the list of co-sponsors of Croydon’s C15 stand in the London Pavilion at MIPIM.
Stanhope and Schroders, the Ruskin Square developers, do have their branding plastered over the Croydon presentations, though they have been saying publicly for the past six months that they have halted further work on their own £500million scheme because of the delays over Hammersfield.
Not for the first time, Negrini appears to be talking-up prospects for Croydon when she knows the realities are somewhat different. While her bullshit might be cut-and-pasted to appear in gullible, cheer-leading local newspapers, the speculator sharks who infest the waters around the Cote d’Azur at this time of year will require a good deal more red meat to satisfy them.
The language used in Croydon Council’s university press release was full of caveats, of “maybes” and “possiblies”.
“… the partnership could see LSBU establish a centre for higher education in the heart of the town centre…” (our italics).
The press release was also full of nonsense, suggesting that the arrival of a university campus might build “on the success of the council’s award-winning apprenticeships scheme”, betraying a poor understanding on the separate life paths taken by those who feel forced to take a degree and those who work into their early 20s as apprentices.
Much was made of London South Bank University’s business incubation facility which, the council informs, “houses 90 businesses”. Sussex University’s business incubator, based in Brighton, at Falmer and at No1 Croydon, right in the middle of the “Cultural Quarter”, lists 173 businesses.
It has all the appearance of the Council choosing to go head-to-head with the College.
Croydon College’s principal, Careen Mitchell, declined to comment when approached by Inside Croydon. Which speaks volumes.
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