Electric House gets makeover for Britain’s 95th-best university

‘It’s a bit like saying Fulham are one of London’s top football teams.’ Our Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on the latest example of the council over-hyping its performance

After standing vacant for seven years, Croydon Council has finally found a use for Electric House

Unable to deliver the £1.4billion shiny new Westfield shopping mall that they have obsessed over for nearly decade, the brains’ trust that is in charge of the council is now promising to make Croydon a “top-class” (© Tony Newman) centre for… chiropractic.

Which is probably just as well, given the painful crick in the neck that Newman, the council leader, and his council chief executive, Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, will no doubt have suffered after wasting years with a backwards-looking strategy for the town centre, based on out-dated high street retailing and the dubious promises of multi-billion-pound international developers.

Negrini has been claiming to have a “Plan B” lined up in the (entirely predictable) event that Westfield or their erstwhile “Croydon Partners”, Hammerson, should pull the plug on their Croydon plans.

For more than a year, it has been clear that Negrini’s plan has been to bring Britain’s 95th-best university to the borough.

With Baldrick-like cunning, Negrini and the council revealed their hand in March 2019, when the Aussie “regeneration practitioner” waltzed off for her annual spring break to the South of France, showing up for a few receptions at the MIPIM property booze and hooker-fest in Cannes. There, it was announced that the council was courting South Bank Poly to move into the borough.

That was confirmed in the statement from Fisher’s Folly on Friday, when it was revealed that the Poly will be moving into the Electric House, a heritage building on Wellesley Road, close to the Town Hall.

Yet Negrini and Newman’s capacity for over-promising and under-delivering was evident in the very first sentence of the press release, when they described South Bank Poly as “one of London’s leading universities”. Which is simply not true.

Coming to a run-down town centre near you

“It’s a bit like saying Fulham’s one of London’s top football clubs,” a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon today. “Clearly, they just are not. Not even close.”

Fulham are the football club supported by Newman.

To start an official council press release with a bare-faced lie is perhaps a sign of the increasing desperation of Newman and £220,000 per year CEO Negrini to con the public into thinking that they are, in some way, doing their job.

“To attempt such dissembling over something so readily checkable is worse than desperate,” the source said. “It’s stupid.”

According to the Times Higher Education Supplement’s 2020 university rankings, London South Bank University is the country’s 95th best higher education institution.

There are 18 other colleges in London rated better than the South Bank. Fulham, as things stand, are just the seventh-best football team in London.

Then there’s the council’s equally misleading claim that South Bank are moving into “a new town centre campus”. It is not. They are moving into an old building (a very good one, but certainly not “new”). And any definition of the word “campus” usually suggests some form of complex, and requires more than a single building.

The matter of who has paid to buy Electric House, and who will pay for its much-needed refurbishment for South Bank Poly, remains unclear. The council press release failed to offer any insight on that. Or on the purchase price or likely cost of the refurb – perhaps they are hoping that, after making such a bang-up job of the Fairfield Halls, Brick by Brick might get the gig?

The building had been owned by property developers Minerva, who have long been a block on any progress with town centre development – they also owned the Allder’s building, and they were behind the last, doomed-to-failure large-scale town centre regeneration scheme, which promised a John Lewis store where St George’s Walk is now.

Electric House has stood empty since 2013, when it was last used as offices for Home Office civil servants. One of the problems of getting it back into use has been the seemingly prohibitive costs of converting a Grade II-listed 1940s-designed building to suit the electrical, digital, air-conditioning and plumbing needs of the 21st Century.

Baldrick-like cunning: council CEO Jo Negrini

When Minerva sold Electric House, it changed hands for £14million.

That price probably factors-in a hefty premium for its position, at the junction of Wellesley Road and Dingwall Avenue, one of the key entry points to the proposed Hammersfield scheme. With Westfield now unlikely to happen, the owners may have decided to abandon any prospect of screwing an inflated sum from the council through a CPO. Or perhaps they did…

Originally built to house the County Borough of Croydon’s Electric Department, the landmark building is reckoned to offer around 60,000 sq ft of floor space. It was previously subject to a planning application for a mixed-use conversion in 2016.

New planning apps have been submitted this week for the building’s conversion so that South Bank Poly can offer degree courses in nursing, accounting, business management and a Masters for chiropractors.

“The university proposes to convert the four-storey Electric House to include a lecture theatre, classrooms and a café. For nursing students, the building would also include nursing skills suites that replicate hospital wards,” the council says.

Which all sounds fine, as far as it goes.

It does all smack of a post-Westfield after-thought, however.

And it fails to explain why similar efforts have never been made to convert the building for use as, say, an impressive civic gallery for the council’s collection and other exhibitions, as well as home for the world-renowned Croydon Art School (alumni including Jamie Reid, Malcolm McLaren, David Bowie, Noel Fielding), which is based on the opposite side of Wellesley Road, as part of Croydon College – which is already offering degree-level courses in a wide range of subjects under the supervision of the University of Sussex (rated as the 19th-best university in Britain).

Risking repeating many of the other empty promises he has made on behalf of the council in the past six years about “vision”, “growth” and “opportunities”, Newman is supposed to have said, “This council has a vision to deliver a Croydon Creative Campus, which would bring economic growth and more jobs while giving top-class university education opportunities through LSBU to all of our residents, including London’s largest population of young people.”

Someone just needs to explain to Newman what a “campus” really is.

And that Fulham are a bit second-rate.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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10 Responses to Electric House gets makeover for Britain’s 95th-best university

  1. Oh, good grief, what a weird idea.

    It’s not all that big a building, big enough perhaps for a department that is not too popular.

    HSBC over the road are closing and moving opposite M&S so there will be another building free for Negrini’s B Plan.

    B Plan is more accurate than Plan B. Perhaps they could negotiate with Donald to take over the disused remnants of Trump University and base it there?

  2. I’m pleased that this iconic listed building, which has been left derelict for many years, is at long last being returned to good use. Bringing students into Croydon should boost the local economy and might serve to replace some of the footfall and income lost when the likes of Nestle upped sticks and scarpered.

    As for “95th-best university”, why take the Times Higher Ed’s word as gospel?

    In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, LSBU emerged as one of the top three modern universities in London after 73% of its research was given the two highest ratings (4* and 3*) for impact – an assessment of the reach and significance a research project has achieved. 4* is “world-leading” while 3* is “internationally excellent”.

    LSBU has also been awarded a silver rating for teaching excellence under the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework, and was highlighted for excellent student outcomes,
    excellent teaching and personalised learning and for courses designed to give students skills and knowledge valued by employers.

    • The TEH ranking (and that of The Grauniad, which has South Bank Poly at a lowly 68th) both use scores from students to determine their ratings, among other measures.

      And by most measures, the South Bank is not “one of London’s leading universities”.

      Just how many lies in a Council Tax-funded press release from the council are you prepared to provide excuses for?

      • I’m not providing excuses for the Council.

        But maybe you’re right. Maybe we should start a petition telling “South Bank Poly” to stick their plans where the sun don’t shine and not to disgrace our KFC-strewn vomit-stained streets with their shabby vocational offerings.

        Instead the council should open a bidding war for a world leading institution to pay for the right to come and grace us with their presence. No red brick riffraff need apply – this is Croydon.

        • Simple question for you: Is South Bank “one of London’s leading universities”, as the council claims? Yes or No?

        • Dan Maertens says:

          Well, I’m with you Arfur so I’ll ignore the snarky comments of the proprietor and suggest that Croydon should take this for the small boost that it will bring to the local economy. Not every university can be top of the tree and as an alumnus of LSBU when it was plain old South Bank Polytechnic / Vauxhall College of Building, the institution always prided itself on providing graduates that had employability, and post graduate students with the skills to enhance their employment. And it’s great that the old Electric House will get the lights back on.

          As for ranking, the complete university guide scores LSBU highly for ‘student satisfaction’ at 82% (2nd in the list of London Universities behind The University of West London) and 3rd for graduate prospects at 88%, behind only St Georges and Imperial College and ahead of a host of a number of ‘more prestigious institutions such as LSE, UCL, KCL, SOAS, Royal Holloway, QMU and everyone else. Surely this is a small step in the right direction? Oh, and I did a first degree at one of the Russell Group universities.

  3. Malcolm says:

    I have several questions. I love reading these items, about Croydon ( lived here all my life). But I would like to know. How how many UK council’s not just Croydon have upper management earning more than our PM, including bonus schemes & pension packages ect? And why are they not on performance related pay deals instead? Like most company’s like to impose on it’s employee’s. Because if they don’t perform make savings without cutting services. What are we paying them for?And why is Croydon inparticular, I don’t know about other council’s. Outsourcing legal services?

  4. Sebastian Tillinger says:

    Where’s the design excellence in the proposals? Is the Croydon Place Review Panel sleeping on the job again?

    It a pretty lacklustre design proposal that doesn’t really engage with town centre or give anything back to Croydon.

    Why isn’t there a really dynamic ground level that opens up views into the workings of the institution ? Perhaps a cafe with public access to the central courtyard?

    Why shove rubbish bins and bicycle racks into the central courtyard which is the biggest asset of the buildin – these could be integrated into the basement with simple vertical or ramped access. The aspect ratio of the main auditorium is wrong – it should be orientated longways…

    Why put all your treatment rooms in the basement with no natural light? These could be on the upper levels with beautifully moderated light and their function celebrated rather than hidden away. Look at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in Fitzrovia where you get a balance between public interface / daylight moderation and an innovative education environment. See all LSE’s new building.

    How hard is Croydon Council pushing these newcomers to the City centre to bring in good engaging design that serves their own purposes and all engages with and opens up the centre’s streetscape.

    Who is Croydon’s Design Champion who should be setting the vision for this?

    Oh, it Cllr Paul Scott.

    Enough said.

  5. Chiropractic is defined, by Wikipedia as, “… a pseudoscientific, complementary and alternative medicine that is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine. Its ‘inventor’ DD Palmer, said he learned about it from, “the other world”. The idea it should be taught in a university, even one ranked as Britain’s 95th, is a joke, like this whole development

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