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.
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 Leveling Up, Housing and Communities’ prospectus for the second round of funding
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