Four years after they announced the project in a flurry of mutual back-slapping, the council’s leadership has gone quiet as the Legacy Youth Zone has missed its deadline, reports KEN LEE
There has been an unusual, for him, silence from Tony Newman, the leader of Croydon Council, about one of his council’s prestige projects, which has become the latest to be forced to postpone its scheduled opening.
The Legacy Youth Zone on Whitehorse Road in Selhurst, built at a cost of £6.5million, joins an embarrassingly long list of council-backed capital projects that are late in being delivered.
- Westfield: not the council’s own scheme, but one to which Newman has given unconditional and uncritical backing. The £1.4billion mega-mall was originally due to open in 2017. Now, after causing seven years of development blight in the town centre, there’s not even a start date for the scheme, while Newman is blocking Freedom of Information requests for details of whether it will ever be built at all.
- The Fairfield Halls: due to have been refurbished for £30million and open in June 2018, it now won’t stage its first concert until September. Managed by Brick by Brick. Final bill: £41million, and rising.
- New Addington Leisure Centre: Costs have rocketed by 50 per cent, to £25million, even before work began last year. Managed by Brick by Brick. Opening date: who knows?
- South Norwood Library: Was supposed to have opened last year. Still not finished. Managed by Brick by Brick.
Unusually, Brick by Brick, the council’s in-house house-builders, have had no direct involvement in the Legacy Youth Centre. That may explain why it has been delayed by “only” three months.
The scheme was first unveiled by Newman’s council in August 2015, when he promised £3.25million towards building costs, plus £300,000 annually toward the operational budget for the centre.
At that time, Alisa Flemming, one of Newman’s numpties at the Town Hall, said, “It’s important that young people also have access to productive and fun activities in the evenings and weekends.” The delay in opening the centre means that these “productive and fun activities” will be denied to the youth of Selhurst and Thornton Heath throughout this year’s long school summer break.
Even by Croydon’s tardy standards, the council has been slow in bringing this project forward. A year after announcing it, in 2016, they got round to cobbling together a name for the centre.
It was to be called “Legacy”, following a poll of the borough’s youngsters, many of whom had presumably seen some of those awkward scenes from the series-opening episodes of The Apprentice, where the teams have to come up with some deeply meaningful, yet entirely vacuous name.
Planning permission was not granted, though, until September 2017.
Then, the council press release stated that other “contributors to the capital funding include The Queen’s Trust (£1million), The Stone Family Foundation (£500,000) and The Fidelity UK Foundation (£250,000)”.
A bit of simple arithmetic suggests that, even with Croydon footing half the bill, the youth centre was still around £1.5million short of its total build cost.
Undaunted, Flemming, the council cabinet member for failing children’s services and introducing selective schools, was quoted as saying, “It’s great that the project can now go full steam ahead with the construction phase that the council is investing millions of pounds into. I can’t wait to see our new Youth Zone open because I know how much our young people are looking forward to taking advantage of the amazing facilities it will have on offer.”
Work on the site was hardly “full steam ahead”, though, as Flemming promised.
It was not until February 2018, six months later, that the next piece of cheer-leading propaganda about the project, issued from the Goebbels Institute for Truth and Transparency (previously the Croydon Council press office), announced that, “Work is about to begin”. Our italics.
By then, Town Hall elections were just months away, and Newman and his numpties were increasingly desperate for something… ahem, concrete to put in their leaflets, other than the increasingly controversial Brick by Brick, the Westfield woe or its Fairfield Halls failure.
Nearly three years since Newman had started to take credit for the scheme, the old Whitehorse Youth Centre, where the new facility has been built, had not even been demolished.
By this time, the council was promising that the youth zone would open in 2019.
The shortfall in capital funding was hinted at in that press release, which stated that OnSide, the trust behind the centre, “has raised the remaining upfront costs through the generosity of a range of trusts and grants, including funding from the Queen’s Trust and the Stone Family Foundation, and is looking for the support of local businesses and philanthropists who are also committed to Croydon’s young people”. Our italics. You could almost hear the rattling sound of collection tins.
Amid clichéd lines about “dreams becoming a reality”, it was Newman’s turn again to take the limelight, and therefore the credit, with this quote written for him: “We are proud to be investing in this fantastic project and working in partnership with OnSide to deliver this amazing facility for young people in Croydon.
“Legacy will give young people in Croydon a huge range of sporting and creative opportunities in first class facilities – opportunities that we know that young people in Croydon want.
“I’m delighted that the development is moving forward.” Oh dear…
The scheme, which had been going “full steam ahead” according to Flemming since September 2017, was now “kick-started”, this time with a photo op staged in May 2018, with a 10-foot-tall shovel for the ground-breaking “ceremony”.
Clearly, the council press chief hadn’t properly considered the possibilities of such an image. Cue all those unintended photo captions of council functionaries and “when in a hole, stop digging”.
It was the week after the local elections, and it now emerged that, three years since the project was announced in a flurry of Town Hall back-slapping, the additional money had finally been located: “OnSide has secured the remainder of the funding from external contributors including The Queen’s Trust, the Stone Family Foundation, Fidelity Foundation and UBS, Vistra and the Seroussi Foundation.”
The latter three contributors, a bank, a Jersey-based hedge fund manager and charitable fund set up in the name of a Romanian who made his millions from clothing and property speculation, had their donated £2.86million, to be used across four of OnSide’s London. It also served to demonstrate that Newman and his Blairite chums in charge of the council really aren’t too fussy on whose money they rely on supposedly prestige projects in the borough.
To celebrate the influx of this off-shored money, Newman was quoted on this occasion as saying, “I’m really delighted to see this fantastic project becoming a reality. Through Legacy we’re delivering a wonderful facility for Croydon’s young people and what’s really special is that they’ve been at the centre of this project throughout, helping to shape what will be on offer.
“Legacy will offer so many of our young people, so many opportunities – whether it’s the chance to learn new skills, do something they love, give something back as a volunteer, or even just make new friends. It’s going to make a real difference to their lives and I’m hugely proud to be part of it.”
More recently, however, and there’s been a deathly hush from the GITT (see Goebbels, above) or from the “hugely proud” local politicians, about the project, presumably because it had become clear that it was not “going full steam ahead”.
Indeed, volunteers and youth organisations who had been involved in the project recently received emails to advise them that a grand launch party, which was to have taken place next week, was now postponed until September.
And then this week’s freesheet from the Town Hall is the first public admission that Legacy is the latest council-managed project to miss its deadline.
It now won’t be open until September 7, just after all the borough’s teens, eager for all those “exciting opportunities” and “productive and fun activities” they have been promised by Newman and Flemming, will have gone back to school after having six weeks off.
Neither Flemming nor Newman have been available on this occasion for comment on their “delight” or “excitement” at the delay in the project. Notably, the duo are not included in the photograph accompanying the council magazine’s news about the opening date. Nor was any explanation offered for the late opening.
There has been no news of the opening date published on the council’s website, where the news is likely to be seen by many more than those who get their hands on the flimsy Your Croydon mag.
Entry on that first day will be free, though thereafter youngsters aged from eight to 19, and up to 25 for those with additional needs, will need to pay a £5 annual membership fee and 50p per visit.
Once there, OnSide says that, “Not only will the Youth Zone support those harder to reach young people, in particular from deprived backgrounds, but it will also provide a supportive and exciting place that all young people from the borough can access to help them live happier, healthier and more aspirational lives.”
Which will be nice. Just wait for Newman and Flemming to take the credit when the centre does finally open.
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