Our Town Hall correspondent, KEN LEE, on an optimistic wish list for a handful of cosmetic schemes around the town centre
Part-time Mayor Jason Perry’s pitch for £20million of “levelling up” money from the Tory government is “just a re-hash of the council’s old, and some failed, schemes”, according to senior Katharine Street sources.
Other experienced Town Hall figures suggest that the amounts that Mayor Perry is bidding for are insufficient to achieve the sort of “transformation” that Croydon’s Tories claim it will deliver.
Perry, the council’s £81,000 per year Mayor, had the levelling up bid endorsed at last week’s cabinet meeting, despite his 22-page presentation being badly written and full of basic spelling errors.
Top of the Mayor’s wish-list is £12million to pay for some of the work alongside the Fairfield Halls which was never done due to the collapse of failed building company Brick by Brick and the sale of the neighbouring sites for housing.
The council’s new bid even uses the same “Fair Field” styling, the somewhat pretentious re-naming of the area known as College Green.
College Green has been fenced off from the public since the start of the controversial refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls arts centre in 2016, while the brutalist architecture feature, the Arnhem Gate, was demolished, and public art works in the area have mysteriously disappeared.
The council has been working on plans for College Green since 2014, hiring fashionable London architecture firm Rick Mather Architects to draw up a “masterplan” that included underground art galleries, fountains and windswept patches of open space between seven residential tower blocks.
They even granted initial planning permission in 2016.
The remainder of the Mayor’s dusted-off schemes also use old “masterplans” which have been kicking around in the council offices for most of the past decade, but never delivered, usually because of the lack of funding.
In the case of the revived Old Town project, work on those proposals goes back to 2015, with the intention to seek to improve “connectivity” in neglected areas around Croydon Minster that were hard hit in the 2011 Croydon riots. The early plans sought to block up the often hostile-feeling pedestrian underpasses, and provide better pedestrian and cycling infrastructure across the urban motorway that is Roman Way.
In 2019, the council finally got approval for £17million-worth of funding for such work from Transport for London.
But the collapse of TfL’s fare revenues due to covid a year later saw Croydon’s scheme shelved, indefinitely, under orders from Tory advisers working for the Department of Transport.
In the latest version of the Old Town plan, Mayor Perry is asking for £3.9million – less than a quarter of the cost of the already approved plans.
Mayor Perry has been critical of the previous Labour administration for not putting in a bid for levelling up funds sooner.
But Inside Croydon understands that this was because senior council executives advised against an earlier bid because, “Croydon is considered by the government to be too ‘southern‘, too wealthy, and it was a Labour-run local authority,” according to one source.
“Croydon was told that it was not among the councils that would qualify for the first round of funding.
“Other councils with much wealthier demographics, such as Tory cabinet minister Rishi Sunak’s Richmond constituency, had no problem getting millions of pounds of levelling up money, just because they fitted the fixed criteria, and fitted the narrative that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove wanted out there.”
The new, Tory-controlled Croydon Council appears to be struggling to get its own story straight in its somewhat thin, short-on-detail levelling up presentation. On one page, they say that, “New investment is already driving the change”. Yet elsewhere, they claim that the £20million levelling up cash is needed to “kickstart” regeneration.
“It clearly can’t be both,” said one Katharine Street source.
“The council’s problem for a decade has been that they are waiting for Westfield. When the plug got pulled on that £1.4billion scheme, it exposed the council as having no ‘Plan B’.
“Bringing in the South Bank university centre, subsidising Boxpark’s business… they are all just sticking plasters, and they offer nothing like the financial shot in the arm the town centre, and the council, so desperately needs.”
According to a press statement issued from the council propaganda bunker in Fisher’s Folly, the £20million funding bid will “kickstart local regeneration and make Croydon more welcoming, cleaner, greener and accessible…
“The central areas of East and West Croydon, Fairfield, Wellesley Road, Old Town, South End and North End are all earmarked for major improvements.
“The Executive Mayor wants to see more green spaces, pedestrianised zones and cycle paths, reconnecting all of central Croydon’s transport hubs, retail and residential districts, and forgotten areas of the town centre.”
Mayor Perry’s sudden interest in cycle paths represents something of a U-turn: when he was a mere councillor in South Croydon before the local elections two months ago, Perry was calling for the axing of a safe cycle lane along the Brighton Road in his own ward.
Now, according to the council, “If the bid is successful, it will become easier to move around the town centre with funds being used to redesign pedestrian and road layouts, including removing the current town centre subways.
“This work will provide clearer thoroughfares through the town centre and open up public spaces into ‘plaza’ style areas, incorporating public art, markets and space for cultural events.”
And part-time Perry found time to offer this quote: “I am determined to bring much-needed investment to Croydon, starting with our bid for almost £20m of levelling up funding, which would firmly put town centre regeneration back on track, making us a destination where people want to live, work and visit.
“With this funding, we plan to make necessary changes to reconnect, refresh, revitalise and regenerate key areas of our town centre – restoring a sense of local pride in Croydon.”
Last week’s collapse of Johnson’s government, and the exit from the Levelling Up department of Gove, could in any case render the Croydon bid redundant.
But experienced council figures believe that there are other, fundamental weaknesses to Mayor Perry’s bid. “It’s a poor piece of work, badly written, with basic spelling errors, and no real detail,” they said.
“It looks as if Perry has had it cobbled together in a bit of a rush to try to show that he is doing something. It is just a re-hash of the council’s old, and some failed, schemes.
“If the government does decide to provide Croydon with any of the money requested, it will be because they are doing a favour for the new Tory Mayor, and little to do with the merits of the projects put forward.”
- Click here to see the council’s cobbled-together PowerPoint presentation for its £20m levelling up fund bid
- And click here for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ prospectus for the second round of funding
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I think these are good ideas – this is small beer compared to the grossly large sums squandered by Tony Newman. Perry understands the importance of some change at least to inspire the City Centre to move forward – this is the least the people of Croydon deserve.
Rick Marther Architects no longer exist since Rick recently died. However, MCIA Architects who were formed out of Rick’s company carry on the concern for good design, placemaking and understanding of space and materials. They are a really good choice for Croydon.
There is one huge but, though. MCIA Architects are master planners and they have had foisted upon them a company called Charles Holland Architects to design in detail the space to the North of Fairfield Halls.
Charles Holland Architects are really not good. The adopt a jokey, naive, child-like design philosophy that you might see at a theme park. They use bright colours, silly shapes, humour, stripes and the things that will date incredibly quickly and to be honest will look shit on day one.
Their architecture and placemaking is one of inside jokes, parody, irony, stupid colours, no historical respect, really bad detailing and designs that have a shelf life of a month. Wherever you see his work in `london it looks tired, hollow, and lacking in substance. Like someone saying something part-funny at a party but 30 minutes later it’s forgotten about.
Croydon deserves better than this patronising jokey design philosophy which will make this key space look silly. These are things Charles Holland would not dream of doing in `Kensington and Chelsea, but hey-ho, this Croydon, let’s have a bit of fun.
This crass, whimsy, lightweight, impish design being imposed on Croydon will once again cause people to giggle and once again Croydon is not taken seriously.
Please can someone ditch `Charles Holland Architects designs before it is too late and we make a fuck-up of the spaces beside Fairfield Hall.
Mayor Perry has an opportunity to kick out these really crass designs and get a really decent architect in – Croydon does not need an ice cream scoop of kitsch post modern architecture at its centre. If this does get addressed, it will be a huge fucking mistake for our town centre.
Mayor Perry – please think hard. Do not allow the crass Charles Holland Architects design to go forward. I even think the disgraced Cllr Paul Scott was involved in their selection.
This is a 20 year mistake for Croydon’s town centre about to happen. Croydon deserves a fundamentally better design that compliments its modernist underpinnings – not parody them.
I’m glad to see Becca’s comments above about the banal, candy shop design proposed by Charles Holland Architects. When I went to the pathetically underpublicised public exhibition at the Fairfield Halls, just at the very beginning of Covid outbreak, I was very pleased to be able to talk with the design team, who were nice guys, but was shocked when I quickly realised that this was a firm of architects who, in spite of some good ideas, were totally out of their depth, totally inexperienced in creating real landscapes, relying on imposed architectural/ graphic design solutions that not only would look very dated very quickly, but didn’t even work.
They were learning on the job- and the evidence was that they had little more than quirky ideas. Very worrying !
I sat down at home in the wierdness of Covid, to try and get a set of comments together to respond to the invitation to submit pubic comments. After weeks of looking at the drawings (which were really just graphic sketches) and working out how or if it would all work, and then gettting up to over 60 pages of what was wrong about the scheme, I gave up. There was some good, but so much, very dubious.
There was a weird structure incorporating a lift and stairs, down to the underpass below Park Lane, resembling a feature from an Indiana Jones set. It looked very different in the two images provided. It would have been a mugger’s paradise, and would have provided a great night-time urinal, as the stairwell was crammed in , out of sight, between the two “horns” of this irrelevant and wierd Aztec/ Mayan temple. Doomed for failure.
Plus some pigeon lofts. Sorry, “iconic model tower blocks referring to Croydon’s past”. They could be cafes, or cafes, or .. cafes. Ice cream kiosks on 3 storeys. They were about 10 m tall ! Actually, the idea was fun and workable, but only if the scope for pigeon accommodation was somehow designed out. 95% impossible, in reality. I wondered hiow much each would cost to build, how they would survive, and how many would become white elephants. (pigeon dropping streaked)
A key feature was a gigantic umbrella canopy looking like a merry go round, above a pit of grass. A performance space, next to some banks of seating like US “bleachers”, the undeside of which would have become a giant litter bin.
The grass area was so small it would have become worn out after a few weeks. I could imagine the dead grass in summer, and mud in winter, all filled with beer cans thrown by people who would perch around the edges. The canopy would have seized up after a short time had it been motorised, then it would never have been fixed, due to cost. If fixed, it would have ripped out of the ground in a high wind. And pigeons would have loved nesting under its shelter, and pooing on the people beneath, until that happened.
This open space, built on a very difficult site– a roof deck- was once very green with lots of green grass, and paved walkways, designed by 1960’s Landscape architect Professor Youngman. It was underused, as few people lived in the area, and it was a tad dull — but it was sunny, open, and green. I realised that it was now going to be transformed to one gigantic hardscape of pink and grey candy stripe concrete paving.
Yes, based on a notion of the Fairfield being a Fairground. A pretty idea, but surely, not at this enormous scale. Oh– and the open space would be reduced by about 25% or even 33% , as someone a few years ago had decided to give the East end of the space away to become a building site. That would, I realised, mean that the new flats would crowd in on the open space, and severly limit its uses. Noise issues…..
The potentially very good thing is the spash zone with pop-up fountain jets. But someone had thought that the water could be run off into some naturalistic planting areas next to it. Water, planting and soil = rats = Well’s Desease. Contamination, just where the kiddies will be running around in hot summers with swimming costumes and bare feet. Wonderful!. I did point this out to two senior Labour councillors, both Cabinet members. I am glad to say, that they more than listened, but gave me an hour or more, both of them, separately, to tell them what was wrong -and right- with the design. I am very grateful to them for that, and I think the design was modified to take on board many of the points I raised. I have not seen the design in a final form though.
Had the council placed the project with one of the experienced landscape architectural practices who had a track record of making new parks and city squares for real people, the Weill’s design would never have been proposed. Also, the fountain area would be designed properly for children to use, and their families to chill out in Summer in the space around the water jets.
The architects had added quite a lot of trees, which would have needed special supports coming up from the basement level, or would be planted in giant “planting wells”. I sympathised with them, as the site is basically an enormous roof deck. To plant a tree in the ground costs hundreds, but these would would cost tens of thousands. Each !
What about grass? Yes, that green stuff that people living in flats and cities like to sit and lie down on? Would this design deliver for all the people from the overheated new residential towers already rearing into the East Croydon sky. Where would these new residents have to connect with the green, and relax? Well, not here, or at least not many of them, and the grass areas around the water feature were tiny. It clearly needed more grass, usable grass, mounded to provide places for people to sunbathe and shade bathe.
I would just disagree with Becca on one thing– this site does not need Architects.
It needs people who spend years in training, and learning over decades of doing projects, about how to design really good public parks and spaces– they are called Landscape Architects. They too are capable of bringing creative solutions to a design project, but “growing” a fitting and responsive design for that site, not grabbing on to a concept and then imposing it. I am not saying that all architects do that, but too many think they can “do landscape”.
Being a retired Chartered Landscape Architect I would probably be forgien for saying thatg, but good design for public parks and urban squares is not the same as designing buildings, nor applying opportunities for eye-catching graphics. It responds to genuine human and our environmental needs for an outdoor place that provides delight and satisfaction, repeatedly, and allows us to be human. Green grass, trees, water, light.
A bit of play, fun and excitement is part of that too.
So a £20 million regeneration grant is going to fill the void of a multi-billion Westfield refurbishment.
Looks like a part time grant application from a part-time Mayor, with a budget that will not even cover a fraction of the losses of Brick by Brick. Tories and Labour go hand in hand in blighting Croydon into another decade and it is starting to begin now like it will never recover in any of our lifetimes.
This kind of fanciful thinking is pointless. NOTHING will ever fill the “void” of Labour’s disgraceful 8 years in office. NOTHING!!!! Nor can Perry ignore the realities of the Westfield volte face – that is a simple reflection of the new reality of the retail world. Those who voted for Newmanism in 2018 have caused permanent damage to Croydon, and no-one will ever be able to repair that.
Perry is doing what he can to alleviate the harsh reality that CROYDON IS BANKRUPT and whilst the Mayor does not deserve unqualified support, it does mean that deserves support for anything he can reasonably do to mitigate the consequences.
Complete and utter twaddle.
You seem to think the Tory and Labour Parties in Croydon are completely mutually independent, when both have strong influence through connection to the Whitgift Foundation by schooling or membership of the Board.
To describe a half-arsed bid using a cobbled-together bunch of old schemes and a back-of-envelope level of presentation as mitigating the consequences of the failures of not just the Labour tenure but the previous Conservative one (which had set out the path to follow in hiring a Westfield connected operative) is as mindbending as hearing the Tory Party Leadership policy pitches.
I am inclined t agree to an extent Labour and Newman have not exactly done the Borough proud with the wasteful speculation. but neither did Perry and Mr Fisher remember – or has that been conveniently forgotten in the capitalised diatribe. Let us not forget Central Government and its role in cutting funding but also loosening the laws and regulations that enabled said ”gambling” with the Public Purse.
We have not exactly been graced with good local Government for quite some time and all are to blame to a greater and lesser extent for that. However the unethical and vindictive behaviors visited by officials onto residents is not a party matter that is all down to those individuals.
Perry having his Einstein moment? That is the saying, often attributed to Einstein, that repeating the same mistake and expecting a different outcome is a mark of insanity.
With the amount in council taxes Croydon Council rake in (third highest in the London) £20m is kinda lame. It won’t last long in this environment, in fact, it won’t make a dent and will not change the fact Croydon Town Centre is the knife capital of the UK and has a horrendous reputation nationwide.
There are many places in the UK with higher knife crime stats than Croydon. Please stop spreading such FUD.
Although Jen was not very accurate she was in the ballpark.
” According to Metropolitan Police data in 2021 violence against the person is the most common crime, followed by theft and vehicle offences.
The most dangerous borough in London so far this year is Croydon.
Croydon has also been the most violent borough so far this year with 1,617 violent crimes reported – the most in London.”
Although Southwark and Lambeth have had higher reported knife crimes (top 2). Croydon is top of the outer Boroughs. With overall violent crime including guns etc we are top in all London.
Croydon is quite well up the ranks of both bladed offences (swords machetes cleavers and ax not just the old knife) but as the figures get subsumed into London when comparing cities there is not enough data to state if it is or is not.
What one can say is that London is top for Crime in 2022 so far and Coydon is at the top for London for Crime – So with respect Jen was not preading ”FUD” – all data used above is freely available online or at the ONS or simply go to Crime – Compare your area | Police.uk for a snapshot.
What you might want to take on board is that Croydon may also be hitting the top of the charts for unreported Crimes.
So many are not bothering to report anything due to the time it takes that lack of response and not wanting to become a target.
Yes £20m is kinda lame, but it’s a gesture and it sure is better than nothing!
Gesture politics, writ large, with our money.
£20m will just about cover the necessary works around Old Town and Roman Way, works that were approved by TfL, but shelved after covid financial issues.
Now if the Mayor managed to get the government to provide the grant aid for that one scheme alone, whether directly or via TfL, he would really be doing his job and would be deserving of praise.