‘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
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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