Now top art critic warns: ‘Somebody is going to wind up in jail’

Anyone seen this missing statue? The Peter Youngman artwork. Photo: Bill Broaden

One of the country’s leading art critics, Norman Lebrecht, has today weighed in to the gathering storm around the £70million Fairfield Halls fiasco, warning that, “Somebody is going to wind up in jail” over what he calls the “chaotic rebuilding” project.

Lebrecht was responding to yesterday’s report on Inside Croydon regarding the latest lost artworks, the Peter Youngman statue which, until 2016, had stood on the corner of College Green, next to the Ashcroft Theatre.

Lebrecht edits an arts website, SlippedDisc, and has more than once referred to Inside Croydon over our coverage of the bungled Fairfield refurb. Which is nice.

Influential: Norman Lebrecht

Lebrecht’s views carrying some oomph. Once described as “arguably the most influential journalist covering classical music”, he has worked as a television news producer, music columnist for the Torygraph and as assistant editor of the Evening Boris, while also writing novels and presenting programmes on BBC Radio 3.

Lebrecht’s criticism of the Fairfield fiasco follows equally barbed coverage lately from The Stage and in Private Eye, as the arts world slowly wakes up to the damage that has been caused in south London by Croydon Council handing the Fairfield over to its loss-making in-house housebuilders, Brick by Brick.

Picking up on the Youngman story, today Lebrecht wrote on SlippedDisc, “Somebody is going to wind up in jail over the chaotic rebuilding of Fairfield Halls, Croydon, home of the London Mozart Players.

“There used to be a sculpture outside. No one seems to know where it has gone.

“Two Steinway grands have also vanished. Members of the council are giving blank looks.”

Croydon is London’s Borough of Culture 2023.

Read more: Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, unlawful payments
Read more: £30m Fairfield Halls project never went to competitive tender
Read more: Brick by Brick has paid nothing to council

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14 Responses to Now top art critic warns: ‘Somebody is going to wind up in jail’

  1. Maverick says:

    It’s time to bring in the police.

    I just can’t understand that the council just shrugs their shoulder with contempt.

    Sounds very much that they are under the impression that they are untouchable!

  2. mikebweb says:

    Chance would be a fine thing – BUT, who to prosecute and who would do it?

    We, the people of Croydon would have a good case in theory for misuse of the money we have given the council but I guess that a clever lawyer would argue that more than 50% voted for the very same people who have squandered this same money, so, effectively we give it to them to squander with our blessing!!

    The then leader of the council would come close to the top of the firing line, but other elected councillors who voted in favour of the original scheme would not be far behind.

  3. “Somebody is going to wind up in jail over the chaotic rebuilding of Fairfield Halls” – chance would be a fine thing.

  4. Jim Bush says:

    Only one person to end up in jail? I had a list, headed by Newman, Negreedy, Lacey, Hall….!

  5. Ian Kierans says:

    Perhaps no person in the council will go to jail. It is unlikely that direct employee’s were involved in it being allowed to go missing (sic or euphemism) .

    However that a Council executive undertook a rebuilding work and failed to do an asset register and have no idea where those assets have gone, shows the level of ineptitude and control there has been. That this is still the case defies credibility and is a shining example of the value of the Executive officers and the 70 Councillors over the last few years if not longer. Did they not notice? Did they care? Are they actually there doing council work perhaps on Furlough?

    Never mind selection committee’s – any Councillor standing again should perhaps be requested to provide data on exactly what they have done in relation to matters that have gone wrong.

    Perhaps we voters have to ask ourselves are we sheep? Do we vote for the same again.?
    I am minded of that definition of stupidity. When a person keeps doing the same yet expects a different outcome.

    One can only be amused by the Labour CLP and Mr Reed supporting more of the same. It shows the level of intelligence they expect of their supporters.
    The question really is – Are they right? If they are then we the electorate meet that old parable bang on.
    We will then should perhaps expect that more assets will vanish as will people and buildings and the rule of law.
    I would say confidence and trust in Fishers Folly hierarchy but that vanished a long time ago with
    the move from the farce of Catch 22 to when we entered the realm of the X Files with a new level of dissemble, Inveigle, and obfuscate.
    Their silence would have made the smoking man proud!

  6. Christopher Myers says:

    Didn’t BXB get a RIBA award?

  7. Lewis White says:

    It must be good that someone of this prominence is shining a spotlight on the missing art works. I hope that the beam is wide enough to also include a search for the wonderful Ashcroft Theatre Safety Curtain, a deplorable loss… or theft ? It would be bad enough it were stolen, but I would not be surprised if some idiot binned it. A tragi-comedy or comi-tragedy ? A Dame Peggy Ashcroft could have advised on which.

    Did not Brick by Brick, as part if the specification (if there even was one) for the hall refurbishment, have the savvy to make an inventory of all the precious portable bits ? Pianos, Safety Curtain, and now, Scupture? Such things need a Plan , to include safe removal, safe storage and safe re-installation.

    To lose one work of art is also bad enough, but to lose three is, well, trebly incompetent unless there was also complicity to “lose” or “cast a blind eye ” or …. worse. That is a matter for legal minds to decide.

    Professor Peter Youngman was a well known Landscape Architect of the mid-late 20th Century, who designed a wide range of designs for sites both large and small, including very large scale landscape masterplans for development projects around the world, and had great influence in design policy decisions for Milton Keynes new town. In Croydon, he designed the Fairfield Halls gardens (where the missing sculpture was sited) and the Landscape around the Parish Church (now Minster), showing two totally different styles– a geometric arrangment of paved walkways and extensive grass areas sheltered by clipped yew hedges, and a reflecting pool, for the Fairfield Gardens, and a combination of brick paving and stone at the Parish Church area to provide a fitting setting for the church.

    I did not know until reading the Inside Croydon article, that Youngman had designed this now missing scuplture as part of the wider Fairfield Halls Gardens design.

    Whilst it is of its time in terms of geometric use of metal, it is not of the quality of a Hepworth or Moore, but my feeling is that as part of the gardens it should have been protected and could perhaps have reused in the new design. I wonder how much it would have made in a covert sale to a “Private Collector” ?. Not much perhaps, so it has probably been melted down by now, unless it has been wrapped up in the Ascroft Theatre safety curtain and is hiding in plain sight in the Fairfield basement or round the back in the bins service yard area.

    Theft of an art work from a public place is always sad, particularly if it is melted down for scrap.

    Theft of part of a public open space is also very sad….. possibly a “crime” if considered in the way envisaged in the old riddle about the relative criminality of the man who stole a goose from the common, compared with the man who stole the common from the goose (and the Commoners).

    That is exactly what has happened to the Fairfield Gardens… someone has stolen the Eastern end of the garden, in fact the portion (maybe a fifth of the Youngman-designed gardens) lying to the East of the back end of the Fairfield Halls.

    During lockdown , I spent days and days looking at the proposed “consultation designs” for the “renewal of the Gardens” wondering where all the lush and lovely green grass that students used to sit out on, had gone?

    It took me ages to realise that the Eastern end had been swallowed up in the B by B redevelopment site. The boundary of the Open space had been moved significantly !!

    With regard to the new designs for the gardens, it seems that the design will now be slightly greener than the (in very many respects) impractical and architecturally self-indulgent, very un-green, and heavily concrete-paving dominated designs put out to consultation in the Feb -March 2020 period of Lockdown.

    Lockdown has made us all aware of the importance of having usable green space on our doorsteps. Experts of all kinds have articulated what we all knew – that merely looking at real green grass and ideally being able to walk on it, and sit on it, and lie down on it , literally “Earths us” and takes away the tensions and stresses of being indoors and confined at home, whether flat or house, and even a house with a garden. It did not take Greta Thunberg to make us realise that Green is not only good, but are key to our well-being and even, our sanity.

    So ironic, then, that when we were about to really realise these key simple facts, that more and more very tall blocks of flats were creeping up into the nearby skies of Central Croydon. Blocks that are bringing thousands of new residents to live right in the middle of Croydon, all of whom will really need easy access to usable green open space.

    So ironic too, that for some 5 decades since Peter Youngman designed — on the concrete deck over the underground car park- the very green and grassy Fairfield Halls Gardens, but that during all this time, very few people have actually lived in the immediate area. The main users of the gardens were students, skateboarders and –perhaps in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, office workers eating their lunch time sandwiches. The open space has been underused. A Sleeping Beauty awaiting a real role in her own future.

    So sad, therefore, that the Eastern end area of the Gardens has been taken away, and added to the adjacent Multistorey redevelopment site, as this lost greenpsace area could have been kept as real grass for the new residents of the nearby high-rise flats to use as their sanity-saving green sitting out and sun / shade-bathing space.

    I sincerely hope that the new design for the Fair Feld ( aka College Green / Fairfield Halls Gardens) ends up significantly greener, with preserved and bettered scope for (safe) skateboading and a really good water-splash fountain area for Croydon children and their siblings and parents to enjoy from Spring to Autumn as an inner Croydon version of the seaside. If it can technically succeed as a reflecting pool for people to admire the lights of surrunding Croydon or have as a site for a pop up ice skating rink in Winter, even better, but not at the cost of making it fail to deliver properly a successful water play space for children in globally warming, population mushrooming Croydon Town Centre !

    And, have as much green grass as possible. Sadly, the theft of the Eastern end of the gardens has not made the designers’ task any easier in this respect.

    I don’t hold out much hope of the missing sculpture coming back, but it would be nice if a decent area of sittable green grass could be incorporated in the new design. I think that Professor Newman would be more pleased about that being achieved, than he would be at the loss of his sculpture and its possibled recycling as bronze garden gnomes, wrong as that possibility would be.
    Even if the bronze were cunningly-painted fibreglass.

  8. Hazel swain says:

    and not just for this !…. where did all our money go ? and why is croydon filled with empty ugly tower block ?

  9. Maurice Harris says:

    To have missing a prominent statue and two Steinway Pianos and god knows what else that has gone “ missing” I do believe that the thefts should have been reported and surely there should be insurance for these valuable items!! Yes the police need to be called in to investigate

    • Yes, the police should be called to investigate Tony Newman’s overseeing of the project as Council leader. Something very dodgy here. Lots of money was spent but the refurbishment looks pants.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Missing does not mean theft sadly. Insurance would require evidence of safekeeping and normal security process in place. To do so would be difficult for the Council as no one can say what happened nor what was in place at that time.

  10. Ben says:

    Good job Steinway Grands are cheap as chips, eh?

  11. Dan Maertens says:

    If it was stolen, it would have been reported and a crime number would have been issued. Has anyone checked with the local Police (i.e. just over the road)?

    If it was to be retained, it should have been protected and safeguarded during the works if the intention was for it to remain in-situ and it was at risk of being damaged. Someone must have made this decision either way – who?

    If it was moved to store for ‘safekeeping’ it should appear somewhere on an inventory and there should be a receipt for its storage. This type of record normally forms part of the project ‘Health and Safety File’ required for compliance with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and / or the ‘Operations and Maintenance Manual’ for the building and its curtilege. Both these document sets would have been handed over to the Client when the building was handed over, or as soon after as was practical. Anyone checked?

    If it has been ‘mislaid’ it should be traceable from the initial conditions and asset survey when the building was handed over to BxB for the ‘renovation and improvements’ by Croydon Council in accordance with standard building contracts. I would be surprised if this does not include a detailed photographic survey. As before – anyone checked?

    Take your pick. Looks like someone has been a little bit negligent, but as everyone involved has pretty much scarpered from BxB, the Council and BH Live – don’t hold your breath for answers. Personally, I’m holding out for the previous Conservative administration to be done for the misappropriation and flog off of ‘our’ Riesco Collection ceramics. Only in Croydon.

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