Existing designs for a public open space between the town’s major arts centre and Croydon College have been derided as ‘jokey’, ‘crass’ and ‘one gigantic hardscape of pink and grey candy stripe concrete’.
By STEVEN DOWNES
Mayor Jason Perry’s announcement that he intends to “kickstart local regeneration” while opening up “public spaces into ‘plaza’ style areas” have been derided by architecture figures and the public alike.
As Inside Croydon reported, the part-time Mayor’s bid for £20million-worth of levelling up funding from the Tory government appears to be almost entirely based on dusted-off plans from the now discredited Jo Negrini era of Croydon Council, when money was no obstacle and the planning department was in the thrall of fashionable, and expensive, architects.
One existing “regeneration” scheme included in the Mayor’s funding bid was originally drawn up by a group of firms that included Charles Holland Architects, for what was pretentiously re-titled “Fair Field”.
This was for the concrete open space between the Fairfield Halls and Croydon College.
Or what was left of it after Negrini’s brainchild, Brick by Brick, had destroyed the Arnhem Gate piece of public art and demolished one of the town centre car parks to make way for housing which the council-owned developers never got around to building.
One local planning expert despaired that the Mayor might be prepared to spend £12million of levelling up cash to adopt such a scheme in order to land a quick win early in his administration.
“Please don’t let Charles Holland design another running joke for Croydon,” they said. “Jason Perry – please pull this project.”
The scheme for the Fairfield public square was approved in September 2019, at a time when Negrini, the then council CEO (Hon RIBA, dontchaknow), Paul Scott, the then Labour council’s “design champion” (a director of a firm of architects) and Heather Cheesbrough, the council’s director of planning (who was caught out making bogus claims about her qualifications) were still in charge of such matters.
“A collaborative bid by MICA Architects with Charles Holland Architects, landscape experts OOZE and designer Adam Nathaniel Furman saw off five other finalists in the Croydon Council-backed competitive process,” gushed the over-excitable Architects Journal, a magazine which was always ready to publish any old tosh that Negrini and her poodle at Brick by Brick, Colm Lacey, pushed their way.
“Dubbed a ‘metropolitan meadow for Croydon’, the victorious scheme features a circular mirror pool which can be drained to create a multi-purpose amphitheatre, a new pedestrian bridge over Park Lane and a series of pavilions designed as miniature replicas of the town’s best-known landmarks.”
As a measure of how out-of-touch with reality these proposals were, the “miniature replicas of the town’s best-known landmarks” offered by CHA included Taberner House, council offices that had been demolished six years earlier.
Architects’ Journal also reported that the “concept includes a ’much-needed pedestrian route’ running diagonally across the site”. A “much-needed” pedestrian route had in fact already existed, until it got blocked off by Brick by Brick’s budget-busting Fairfield Halls refurb. The whole area remains boarded off today.
Back in 2019, the devotedly uncritical AJ called the scheme “bold and innovative”, describing it as “one of the most exciting public spaces in London”. But then they also thought Brick by Brick was a good idea, until the auditors pulled the plug and started a fraud investigation into the company’s handling of the Fairfield Halls.
The Fair Field public space was meant to have been completed by [checks notes…] 2022.
Cheesbrough is the only senior figure still involved at Croydon Council, having survived the various regime changes since November 2020 following the borough’s bankruptcy – brought about largely due to failures on her watch.
“The role of Heather Cheesbrough, the council’s planning director, in putting all these old schemes forward now as part of the Mayor’s levelling up funding bid, needs to be looked at closely,” one Katharine Street source said today.
“It’s as if she’s trying to win the Mayor round with whatever she’s got to hand. Other mayoral candidates called for her to be sacked. Perry has already junked her special design plan which caused misery to so many neighbourhoods through overdevelopment.
“Perhaps she thinks that if she helps Perry win £20million-worth of levelling up cash, then she might survive in her job?”
Intriguingly, according to CHA’s own website, the original cost of building their Teletubbies version of a public open space was supposed to cost £8million. According to statements made by the council last week, they have pitched to the levelling up department for £11.8million for the project now – another example of rampant inflation under the Tories, no doubt.
“Our proposal – dubbed a Metropolitan Meadow – draws on the site’s rich history as well as its contemporary character to create a dynamic, diverse and pluralistic public space,” CHA say of their own work.
“Aspects of Croydon’s rural past are mixed with its modernist urban planning from the 1960s and its current intense development to create a space that offers generous outdoor space for the town’s growing population.”
Among the rejected proposals was a much greener public space, what in the past might have been called a park, with trees and grassy areas – similar to that which existed across the other side of Park Lane in Queen’s Gardens, before Cheesbrough, Scott and Scott’s wife, Alison Butler, got their mitts on it.
According to one architecture source, MCIA Architects, the masterplanners for the Fair Field scheme, have had Charles Holland Architects “foisted upon them”.
Said our source, “Charles Holland Architects are really not good. They 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.”
The source described CHA’s work as offering only a parody of Croydon’s modernist town centre, and said that their work has “no historical respect, really bad detailing and designs that have a shelf life of a month”.
They said, “Wherever you see his work in London, it looks tired, hollow and lacking in substance… 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 is Croydon, let’s have a bit of fun.
“This crass, whimsy, lightweight design being imposed on Croydon will once again cause people to giggle and once again Croydon will not be 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.”
And another loyal reader, one who actually bothered to attend the (“pathetically under-publicised”) public exhibition of the design work that was staged in the Fairfield Halls in early 2020, just before the covid lockdown, said that they were “shocked” when they encountered the CHA architects team.
“They were totally out of their depth, totally inexperienced in creating real landscapes, relying on imposed architectural and graphic design solutions that not only would look very dated very quickly, but just didn’t even work.
“They were learning on the job – and the evidence was that they had little more than quirky ideas. Very worrying!”
The loyal reader even tried to contribute to the public consultation. “After weeks of looking at the drawings (which were really just graphic sketches) and working out how or if it would all work, and gettting up to over 60 pages of what was wrong about the scheme, I gave up.”
The reader said how, in reality, the open space will be cramped and overlooked by the hundreds of flats planned to be built around its sides – the council has recently disposed of the site to a commercial developer in one of its Brick by Brick fire sales – while the water features as proposed would probably attract rats, and the accompanying risk of Weil’s disease.
Every tree planted, because of the site being the roof deck over an underground car park, could cost tens of thousands of pounds.
They noted, “This open space, built on a very difficult site was once very green with lots of grass and paved walkways, designed by 1960s landscape architect Professor Peter 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 into one gigantic hardscape of pink and grey candy stripe concrete paving.”
Which might prove to be an unfortunate use of £12million of public money in one of part-time Perry’s first acts as Mayor of Croydon.
Said our Katharine Street source, “Of course, Mayor Perry might make mistakes. But no one voted for him in May to make the same mistakes of the previous administration all over again.”
- Click here to see the council’s cobbled-together PowerPoint presentation for its £20m levelling up fund bid
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