Sarah Jones, the MP for Croydon Central, used a speech in parliament’s Budget debate yesterday to repeat her call for East Croydon Station to be “re-zoned” in the capital’s public transport fares system to Zone 4 – even though her two previous campaigns for re-zoning have been rejected by London and national transport authorities for failing to make a good enough business case for a proposal which could cost transport operators many millions.
Notably, in the whole of Jones’s four-minute speech, delivered by video link from her Shirley home under parliament’s coronavirus arrangements, Jones failed to mention her formerly close party colleagues at Croydon Council and their catastrophic impact on the authority’s finances.
Jones has twice before raised the re-zoning of East Croydon, on both occasions as part of her campaign to win the parliamentary seat. Yet she has known for at least five years that both Transport for London and the Department for Transport have rejected the scheme on grounds of cost.
Jones’s speech yesterday focused “on how the Chancellor could deliver growth in south London”.
Jones told the House of Commons, “A quick look at major transport and capital investment shows that south London has actually missed out for decades. We know London is a wonderful area. West London has a well-established economy. North London has seen several recent infrastructure developments, such as the hugely successful King’s Cross development and the start of High Speed 2. The Olympics signalled a shift east for some of our economy on the back of the growth of the stadium, housing and businesses there.
“What is south London’s equivalent investment? Many parts do not have the Tube, we do not have bike infrastructure and I cannot remember the last time the government invested significantly in our transport system.
“I therefore ask the Chancellor to look at investing in our transport system. East Croydon Station and the Windmill Bridge outside it require major transformation to keep moving the hundreds of thousands of people who every day travel through East Croydon from the south coast to London.
“Of course, the number of people using the train has slowed during covid, but it will go back up again and that funding will have to be found, so I ask the Chancellor to do that.
“Perhaps he can also support our call to move Croydon to Zone 4? That could be funded by the rail companies in the new bidding rounds. We need all kinds of infrastructure. Either we should have a Transport for London supported by the Chancellor, or he should give more powers to the Mayor of London so that we can do these things ourselves.”
Asking a Conservative Chancellor to get the Train Operating Companies to cough up money so that Croydon commuters can save a couple of hundred pounds a year on season tickets seems like a lost cause.
Jones ought to know that already, had she bothered to re-read the correspondence between Transport for London and her Labour colleague, Steve Reed OBE, the MP for Croydon North, in February 2015 when Vernon Everitt, then TfL’s MD for customer experience, writing on behalf of his boss Sir Peter Hendy, ruled out re-zoning for East or West Croydon stations, the cost of which would have to be “covered by raising fares elsewhere”.
A re-zoning at Stratford had gone through because local groups had made a good enough business case, TfL said. Reed, Jones and Croydon had failed to do that.
Jones’s reviving a twice-lost cause yesterday appeared to have more to do with providing support for Sadiq Khan ahead of May’s Mayoral elections, and followed on from Green Party Mayoral candidate Sian Berry putting forward a more achievable proposal as part of her campaign of “smoothing out” the fare zones to offer a better deal for those travelling from outer London.
In the rest of Jones’s speech, she made a case for Croydon – “an outer London borough with inner London costs” – to be given a fairer funding settlement.
Jones must have known that yesterday morning, Tony McArdle, the government-appointed over-seer of Croydon Council’s finances, was briefing senior councillors about the funding arrangements for the borough agreed between Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
“As our demographics have shifted, so has the need to fund more social care, health services and education,” Jones told the House of Commons.
“We have now reached the worrying situation where Croydon receives £200 less per person compared with some inner boroughs, even though it faces the same and in many cases higher levels of deprivation. Other boroughs often place looked-after children in Croydon. We have a high number of unaccompanied asylum seekers, whom we support. We have a lot of old people’s homes. We welcome them all, but we do not receive the funding to support them.
“We need a level playing field,” Jones said, “so that we can tackle the challenges we face and give every area the same chance. Funding for local authorities must be rebalanced and we must be supported to deal with the additional costs other areas do not have. Of course, the chronic overall underfunding of local government must stop and we must have proper funding for our services.”
Jones also raised the matter of Croydon’s badly neglected town centre, almost a decade since her predecessor, Gavin Barwell, together with the then London Mayor, Boris Johnson, inflicted Westfield on the borough, and with it 10 years of development blight.
“We have high streets that are really struggling,” Jones said.
“Westfield was due to come to Croydon and build the largest shopping centre in Europe, but because of the insecurities of the high street now, and the unfairness between the business rates paid by our physical businesses and those paid by our online businesses, that has not happened. The insecurity of Brexit did not help.
“So we need the Chancellor to speed up, review and reform the business rates system, so we can have a level playing field. We want to grow our high streets in Croydon and we will, but we need him to create the climate in which that can happen… Small businesses are the backbone of Croydon and south London, and we need to do more and go further to support them as we build back after covid.
“It is time for south London to be invested in. I hope the Chancellor will support us.”
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