This is £12m Fairfield ‘plaza’ that Mayor Perry wants to create

Kids’ stuff: this is one of the illustrations used by Charles Holland Architects to illustrate their banal proposals for College Green

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’.

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”.

Money for old jokes: Mayor Jason Perry

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.

‘A metropolitan meadow for Croydon’: or Teletubbies on acid

“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.

Survival bid: planning director Heather Cheesbrough

“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.”

Rejected: a green oasis between Fairfield Halls and Croydon College was only a runner-up in the council competition

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.

Crass and whimsy: ‘Wherever you see his work in London, it looks tired and lacking in substance… Croydon deserves better’

“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.

Squeezed in: the architects’ sketches failed to show the true size of the flats which have been granted planning permission around the ‘plaza’ site

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.”

Read more: Mayor bids for £20m funding with old and failed projects
Read more: Part-time Perry uses Labour budget to outsource graffiti team
Read more: Director of planning’s bogus claim over Institute membership

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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12 Responses to This is £12m Fairfield ‘plaza’ that Mayor Perry wants to create

  1. I cannot believe this awful scheme could go ahead. Surely what the present heatwave shows us more than anything, is that a relaxing green and shady place is what will attract people rather than this gimcrack scheme. The barren asphalt desert infront of the Halls is already terribly discouraging.

    • Lewis White says:

      Steve is so right about the forecourt of the Fairfield Halls.
      A tarmac desert with a few tiny pathetc planting crates (empty or with dead plants.

      It demarcates a big expanse of tarmac as cycle path– but the former big planting beds and trees are long gone.

      Can I just correct one thing in the otherwise excellent Inside Croydon article above ?

      The Fountain jet splash zone is itself a potentially really useful and attarctive feature of the design for the “Fair Field ” aka Collage Green aka the Open space btween Crioydon Collge and Fairfield Hall, if PROPERLY DESIGNED

      The fountains would allow children to come and play in the water– cool down, move around, and enjoy surprise jets popping up. Pure water, from the mains, purified and in the sun. Healthy.

      Just imagine hiow many hundreds of children would be there this very week, just as they are near City Hall by Tower Bridge in “More London”. It is Bermondsey beach there– used by families from nearby counciol estates who might never go down to the seaside. Absolutely fabulous!

      What was wrong about the design for our own Fair Field spash zone is or (I hope –was) – the planting areas and mini ponds which were bigged up as “ecological filtration” for some of the fountain water overflow. I would add 3 !!! marks if this misguided idea were anything other tha dangerously daft–and potentially tragic.

      Children should not play close to stagnant poools of water, mud and luxuriant water plants where rats might live. So mini ponds and bog garden habitat zones next to a water play area is a total NO !

      Paving to the splash zone, with stone benches for the adults to sit on– with mown grass around, would be a YES ! Clean, free of tempting wet soil and vegetation for rats to take up residence.

  2. derekthrower says:

    So the war of the architects has been joined in the fiasco of Croydon’s development plans recriminations. It is noticeable the absence of the word’s tallest modular buildings in any of these wonderful presentations of a dystopian level of human density in such a small space From what I see the mark of success will be an outcome of massive overdevelopment with no complimentary improvements in local infrastructure to meet the needs of such an influx of population, unless they are yet more outlets for property speculation and unoccupied units. Whatever is the outcome it probably won’t be seen in this decade as the UK economy goes into a deep sleep for the foreseeable.

  3. Dominic Minns says:

    Nobody is going to want to go there when opposite you have the barren wasteland of Queens Square which has sat derelict for years. Will the Mayor act to take control of these areas and revitalise the embarrassing post-apocalyptic look of a key space in the town centre?

  4. Mark Samuel says:

    Please Croydon, reopen The Queen’s Gardens in 2022, Platinum Jubilee Year!

  5. moyagordon says:

    Walking around that area recently I did think to myself how awful the orange highlights of colour on the ground looked. I’ve lived elsewhere and when town centres are badly re-designed they can have a really detrimental effect. Croydon is a blank canvas in that area and green space would be wonderful with a bandstand for local musicians to perform from. Like many people Mayor Perry may not have a good eye for design and should realise that and get some expert advice from someone with form for choosing amazing public space design – not the planning department obvs. That Charles Holland Architects design is stomach turning. Please, please. Spare us that.

  6. Dave Russell says:

    Looks like it was designed by a 5-year-old at play school.

    The ridiculous, and misleading, sign
    shows that the designer doesn’t know Croydon at all.
    It’s FAIRFIELD – one word, singular, and always has been.

  7. Pete Jenkins says:

    When the Queen’s Gardens reopens, please, please cut the verges immediately by the entrance on Park Lane (there are now bushes growing in them…..!) and on the roundabouts.
    Apart from the large buildings, this area is the first that visitors may see of Croydon when approaching by road. Not a pretty sight.
    Council staff and Councillors must regularly walk past these verges – aren’t they able to see these verges and action something?

  8. Lewis White says:

    Over the past 15 years, there have been some very successful urban / street landscape design projects in the borough of Croydon, where the council have invested sizeable sums to repave the footways in good quality paving such as real stone and high quality concrete with a topping of attractive aggregates, in place of the former Croydon black “mastic asphalt” footways which were practical and very smooth, but very dead and dusty in appearnace, which soaked up the sun, releasing it in the afternoons , evenings and nights to make the air in the summer streets uncomfortably , very very hot. At the same time, the schemes included the new trees where possible, and good quality new street furniture.

    Much of this was done by the Conservative administration, and continued for a while by Labour.

    Credit where credit is due to both administrations, for the improvements in various areas, such as Purley High Street, Addiscombe, Broad Green/ London Road West Croydon..
    I am not sure whether all of these were done in Jo Negrini’s time.

    Among the very good results (you only have to see the number of people chilling out in the shade of one of the repaved areas opposoite Purley Hospital, on nice granite seats) there are some horrors, where design fashion for mass planting of grasses has not been matched up with enough maintenance. I am not talking mowing, for these grasses and other plants are in the currently much admired, trendy “prairie style ” planting. Great in the right places –such as by the Cutty Sark and Foot Tunnel at Greenwich (beautiful planting, and well kept the kast time I saw it a few years ago). These are grasses about a metre tall. Soft and wavy- relaxing to look at, but which have to be in the right place. That turns out not to be the verges down the middle of Wellesley Road, nor the sides of Park Lane. The result can be blamed on the designers for not understanding the toughness of the pressures on planting in the middle or at the sides of major roads, driven by people whio like to chuck litter and cans out of their windows.

    I recall that A Dutch Landscape practice -West 8- a well known practice from a very neat and litter free country– The Netherlands– was commissioned to do the concept plans. Not sure who did the detail.

    Sadly– this is hot and gritty, rather littery Croydon, not a nice town or city in Holland. Yes, Rotterdam is gritty too, and more like England.

    In my view, the best recipe for urban landscape in Croydon and UK urban areas, other than “showpiece town centres”, is good quality stone or decent concrete or brick paving plus sensible trees, or, if space permits, mown grass and trees. Either way, the ground surfaces are easy to keep clean of litter. On the lower level greenery front, there are big problems, of litter and weeds, and lack of gardeners.

    Wide shrub or prairie style beds tend to become giant litter bins (take a look at those along Roman Way near re Fire Station) containing a metallic Klondike of discarded drinks cans and a fe wtonnes of plastic and ploystyrene food containers).

    Hedges, however, once establisehd, work really well- too narrow to become a seruious dump for rubbish- but giving loqads of urban greeening effect, with minimal maintenance needs.

    Sadly,most urban designers, and that inlcudes landscape architects, have little or no experince of looking after urban planted areas . That means, going out, equipped with gloves and hand / powered tools, pruning the shrubs, picking out the huge amounts of litter, keeping an eye open for syringes, and doing things like laying mulch and doing weeding.

    When you have done this in real life, you understand that every shrub bed needs a regular input at timely intervals, to keep it all shipshape. That means people– who need to be paid– and…… Croydon is skint. So the number of gardeners is tiny, whether employed in the council or by the grounds maintenance contractors employed by it. They are an endangered, almost extinct species, at the fvetry time when the world is waking upo to the need for more green and less concrete and tarmac.

    That is why paving and mown grass, plus trees, is the cost effective and easy to maintain right course of action for improving our town centres. It is the landscape version of the modern KISS principle..– Keep It Substantially Simple .

    Off the highway, the pressures are reduced, but litter still a curse. My “rule of thumb” holds true in housing estates, all but the most prestigious well-funded parks and most settings.

    I know, sadly because in the 1970’s and 80’s I designed and planted up (as a council “in house contractor” acres of shrub beds in various urban contexts, and many trees, in 3 London Boroughs, and in a few parts of Surrey.

    What is left now ? Well, lots of beautiful trees, still thriving. I am naturally very proud to be able to go and see and even hug trees I selected and specified, even planted myself or my staff or contractors did.

    Most proud of a half a mile of trees planted down the grass verges of a road the council built down the course of the Surrey Canal at New Cross/ Deptfod, very near the Millwall ground. Never lost a single one to vandalism by Millwall Fans. Fact !

    It is truly good feeling to see a tree growing in a place big enough for it to grow to maturity, withot the need for much or even any pruning! Particularly with a tree which will live 200 years or more, like a London Plane, Walnut, Sweet or Horse Chestnut or Oak. One that is going to give so much oxygen, catch so much dirt and grit, cool and humdify the dead urban air of the streets, well after I have popped my clogs.

    What else ? Laurels and privet as hedges, laurels as bushes, and even laurels as low ground cover. Beech hedges, some Lonicera, Pyrcantha–and a few others, but in general, the finer, more short lived stuff has now gone. 15 years is the life of many shrubs, 30 if one is lucky. But laurels and privet thrive for 100, easy peasy.

    The fact is that Local authorities today sadly don’t have the staff (particulary the skilled staff with horticultural knowlegde) nor money to pay for them, particularly for landscape maintenance-intensive designs.

    So, we need simple, robust landscape and streetscape improvements, designed by people with real-life design skills and awareness of the maintenance needed and affordable, not ones designed by graphic designers and theoreticians.

    I welcome Mayor Perry’s resumption of investment in improving the streetscapes of Croydon.
    South End to North End is so important as the Southern gateway or front door to the Town centre for all those who come in by car, bus, bike or on foot from the South. It sets the scene for the town centre, and for far too long has been boring and grey.

    So much potential, and perhaps not enough quite funding as yet, but, really welcome news.

    Thanks, Mr Mayor !

    I look forward to having the opportunity–along with fellow Croydon people– to comment on the proposals in due course.

    ps, please ensure that the public consultation is publicised widely and prominently–and for long enough. Croydon’s record on involving the public is not exactly good.

  9. Susan Davidson says:

    charles holland is not a landscape architect – he should not be attempting to design this space.

    mayor perry should hold an international design competition to select a qualified landscape architect who is an excellent designer.

    everyone will regret it if Holland is allowed to realise his mediocre designs.

  10. Colin Cooper says:

    SOS = same old s**t!

  11. Eve Tullett says:

    Why do they insist on wanting to pave over every bit of green space in Croydon? I used ro Hang out there most days as a teen, and loved sitting on the grass in the sunshine. Not every bit of land needs to be overdeveloped. Leave some green space, especially with heatwaves and climate change being a real threat.

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