Hold very tight please! Our transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON, is ready to be taken for a ride around Croydon town centre, all in the name of a good cause
Croydon’s beleaguered £220,000 per year chief executive has attracted yet more ridicule after it has emerged that she and some architect chums are planning to stage a guided bus tour around Croydon town centre next month.
All for a one-way ticket costing a cool £81.44.
The guided tour was posted on Eventbrite earlier this week, around the time that Jo Negrini, the self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner” was avoiding fielding any questions about the apparent collapse of the £1.4billion Westfield-Hammerson regeneration scheme of Croydon town centre.
The developers have been “reviewing” their scheme for more than 12 months, and still they won’t reveal the outcome of their deliberations.
Nor has Negrini had much to say about the abrupt departure from the Fairfield Halls (26 per cent ticket sales and 3.5* on TripAdvisor) of that venue’s artistic director, less than six months after the place re-opened, late, unfinished and at least £12million over budget all thanks to the company she helped appoint to oversee the refurbishment, Brick by Brick.
But don’t despair, because Colm Lacey, Negrini’s sidekick, the local authority employee who has followed her around from council to council, from Lambeth, to Newham, to Croydon, before she promoted him beyond his capabilities to become “the chief executive and founding director” of Brick by Brick, will also be on board the bus for this magical mystery tour.
A sort of Arthur to Negrini’s Olive, those who remember the sitcom On The Buses might suggest.
Perhaps Negrini is missing going to Cannes, to attend the annual springtime hooker and boozefest that is MIPIM, so she needs to compensate for it by spending more time with developers, architects and her other chums from the property sector?
As news of the tour began to circulate on social media, reactions from Croydon residents and action groups were a mix of ridicule and fury.
The sheer gall of this stunt, at a time when the town centre is run-down, increasingly derelict and decaying, in large part because of policies Negrini has overseen and implemented at the council over the past six years, has angered enough people who pay her very generous salary through their Council Tax that some are considering staging protests and disruptions of the bus tour, or the promised “networking reception” to be held at the Fairfield Halls after the tour.
The tour is due to begin outside East Croydon Station at 6pm on Wednesday, March 18, and is expected to last 90 minutes.
That ought to be plenty of time for Olive and Arthur… sorry… Negrini and Lacey to lead their guests through what’s left of Allders and the Whitgift Centre after eight years of development blight caused by Westfield and the council. Though the chances are that they decide to give that particular delight a miss.
Co-ordinating the tour with Negrini is Sir Peter Hendy, the one-time commissioner of TfL and now chairman of Network Rail (is he laying on his own personal Routemaster?) and Peter Murray, the chairman of one of those organisations Negrini so enjoys rubbing shoulders with, New London Architecture.
Murray claims to be “a keen cyclist and campaigner for cycling issues”, so he might be in for a bit of a shock when from his seat on the top deck he encounters the non-existent cycling infrastructure in Croydon’s town centre, where the car remains king.
The blurb for Negrini’s bus tour might offer a bit of a clue into what her as yet unrevealed “Plan B” might be in the event of the widely expected withdrawal from Croydon of Westfield. If it is, then it will be typical of Negrini’s administration that she would unveil such a plan to her architect and developer chums before ever considering consulting the people she is supposed to work for, the people and businesses of Croydon.
The Eventbrite page begins: “Described by Boris Johnson as the ‘Economic Powerhouse of South London’, Croydon is one of London’s major office headquarter centres.” Might Negrini be looking to replace the Westfield void with offices, simply copying what the borough’s burghers did in the 1960s?
According to Eventbrite, on the Negrini bus tour, “Chief executive Jo Negrini will introduce our guides for this Sir Peter Hendy Routemaster Tour of Croydon. Supported by Councillor Paul Scott; director of planning, Heather Cheesbrough; James Cook, planning director, R&F Properties UK Ltd; Alex Hall, senior development manager, Square Stone Hub; and Paul Jess, development manager for Pocket Living as we navigate our way through key Croydon developments including:
- The world’s tallest modular tower at 101 George Street designed by HTA for Greystar [Note: a scheme with which Negrini and the council has had minimal input];
- The Morello Tower, designed by Make Architects and developed by Menta [Note: a scheme with which Negrini and the council has had minimal input; indeed, it was proposed and approved before Negrini had arrived in Croydon];
- Pocket Living’s Addiscombe Grove tower designed by Metropolitan Workshop [Note: a scheme with which Negrini and the council has had minimal input];
- The Brighton Mainline Upgrade at East Croydon Station [Note: also something over which Negrini and the council has limited influence];
- Ruskin Square – including public space and Boxpark [Note: a scheme with which Negrini and the council had minimal input until they handed a £3million loan and at least £500,000 in council grants to Boozepark as a sweetener];
- Westfield and the Whitgift Centre with Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield and Hammerson [Note: unusually buried towards the bottom of such a glittering itinerary of supposed Croydon hot spots];
- As well as the Purley Way Masterplan, Wandle Park redesign, Fairfield Halls and Brick by Brick with Colm Lacey.”
With a bit of luck, Olive and Arthur’s bus tour will get snagged up in the latest Purley Way traffic jam at Fiveways, and may never return.
But hey, it’s all for charidee… “The tour will be raising money for greater diversity in the built environment professions.”
So that’s alright then. Hold very tight please…
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Dear oh dear. I must admit I went on Eventshite to check you hadn’t made a mistake with the date and got it 13 days too early.
And this is what we pay her £220,000 per year for .Incredible
As an Eventbrite novice I fail to understand how a pricing structure can charge a bus ticket at such a precise £81.44.
Am I not seeing the champagne reception and canapés?
I’d like to know who’s actually driving the Croydon Planning bus? Sure lots of Croydon residents would like to know who is driving planning in this borough…..
It can’t be Shifa Mustafa driving; it would be beneath her to take the wheel.
It can’t be Heather Cheesbrough – her blinkers will hinder progress…..
It can’t be Pete Smith – he hasn’t got a licence…..
It can’t be Paul Scott – he’ll be travelling behind it in a donkey and cart…..
It can’t be Toni Letts – she would have missed it.
WHO is driving the Croydon Planning bus??
Lord “Gav” Whitgift. “Super” Mario will be standing at the back dinging the bell.
With sunset at 18:10 on that date presumably Negrini is hoping that the darkness will mean that those on the bus can’t see just how shitty the town centre has become under her stewardship.
I worked for the Council when Boxpark came to the borough and was involved in the efforts to bring it to Croydon. Boxpark has made something happen at that prime site that had long been neglected. The project was led from within the Council to bring it to Croydon. Saying “council had minimal input” is just dead wrong. The council was heavily involved in bringing the parties together to make it happen. I’m not a Negrini fan but have to correct you as she supported it from the outset.
It was also council that led efforts with the Cabinet Office to attract HMRC to Ruskin Square. This enabled the development to come forward.
One could argue that the efforts the council put in to support these projects has attracted other developers and given them the confidence to invest in the borough and bring forward projects like Morello and 101 George Street which were long underutilized sites.
Our sources at the developers always maintained that the council was “next to useless” in all such discussions, and that it was their own hard-work and a hefty financial incentive that sealed the HMRC deal, nothing to do with the Town Hall.
The Morello development, which is only beginning on its final phase, was first proposed in 2011. So the idea that HMRC moving into an office block on the other side of the tracks somehow helped “bring forward” Morello is pure fantasy, and wrong in fact.
But if Negrini and her council are to somehow take the credit for any successes (however modest) around the town centre, ought she and the council also, therefore, take responsibility for its biggest failure, Westfield?
Hello Nick. Did you work in the council’s propaganda department, because you’ve applied more spin to this than Shane Warne.
The brief annotations in this piece are, of necessity, short because they provide context to some of the egregious claims being made on behalf of your former boss.
Let’s deal with some facts about those “efforts to bring” Boozepark to Croydon shall we?
The landowners, Stanhope-Schroder, allowed the site to be used for a peppercorn rent – ie. next to nothing, because they could not or would not bring forward their own development plans because of the various market issues – including doubts over Westfield. So Boozepark gets the land cheap.
Then a council official drafts a glowing report about the possibilities, and recommends a £3million council loan to lure Boozepark to Croydon. Recommendations accepted and loan agreed, the council staffer then promptly leaves for another job… with Boozepark.
The council has subsequently handed Boozepark more than £400,000 in grants, public money diverted from its arts budget, for Boozepark’s “launch party” and marketing. Other businesses in Croydon can only dream of that kind of generosity with public funds.
And further, the council has made special arrangements over business rates to many Boozepark tenants – in some cases, reductions of around £8,000 per year – to persuade them to stick around.
So you’re right, in a way, it was not “minimal input” over Boozepark, but shedloads of public cash as sweeteners to bring Boozepark to Croydon, and all because the town centre is so blighted for other developers that other, more long-term schemes, are not moving forward.
Yes, step forward Jo Negrini and Croydon Council and take a bow for such a record of achievement – with other people’s money.