After a decade of Town Hall squabbles, the legacy of Newman and Butler’s years in charge of the council is a playground for the children of tower block half-millionaires. WALTER CRONXITE on another late, costly and incomplete town centre project
A little spat has broken out between the Town Hall’s third-rate politicians over who takes the credit for the Telly Tubbies-style playground that has been constructed in the remnants of Queen’s Gardens.
Between them, the Tories’ Jason Perry, the part-time Mayor, and Labour councillors including “Thirsty” Chris Clark, have been squabbling over who takes the credit for a project that is at least a year late in delivery, has still not yet been finished and inevitably, given that it is Croydon, has cost more than will have been budgeted.
“Putting pride back into our town centre,” Part-time Perry gloated over images of his deputy, Lynne Hale, cutting the ribbon on a scheme that, for eight years as part of the Croydon Conservatives Town Hall group, they had both opposed.
“A great day for Croydon,” said Clark, a member of the Labour group that bankrupted the borough.
“Like two bald blokes fighting over a comb,” was the observation of a Katharine Street source who had neglected to take out a subscription to the Glee Club.
The fact is, Queen’s Gardens was a public park in the town centre, but has been much-reduced to provide more space for predominantly private housing, with a kiddies’ play area which many suspect will be largely annexed by the families who have forked out top-dollar for their “luxury apartments” – with some still being marketed, going for £500,000 for a three-bed flat.
Croydon’s Conservatives and Labour both fumbled the property speculation ball over this one, though you will have struggled to find any acknowledgement of the slow pace of delivery from either bunch of clowns as they battled to take credit for the re-opening of a public park that had been closed to the public for two years.
Taberner House, the former council office tower block, was demolished almost 10 years ago.
The 513 flats built on the site, including using a huge chunk of the former public parkland in the town centre, has taken a decade to develop after the collapse of not one but two Town Hall schemes.
First, the Tories looked to use their expensive development joint venture, CCURV, to build on the site. Then the new Labour council binned that idea, and Alison Butler (remember her?), Tony Newman’s deputy who he put in charge of housing, looked to instal Brick by Brick, the failed house-builders.
When that idea was abandoned (regarded now as a lucky escape), the search began for a real developer. Eventually, one was found and appointed, although construction work did not begin until late 2018 – nearly six years after Taberner House was demolished.
Slowly Hub, the appointed developers, built the 35-, 21-,19- and 13-storey blocks that tower over the Town Hall and overshadow what’s left of the gardens, which we are told were “designed by renowned landscape architecture practice Grant Associates”.
Croydon got 90 council homes out of the deal, what some might suggest was a very poor return for eight years of a Labour-controlled Town Hall. No one has ever published figures for any financial benefits of handing a sizeable chunk of town centre real estate over to developers to build and sell 400-plus homes for profit. There’s strong suspicion in Katharine Street that gormless Newman and Butler pretty much gave the land away.
A small side deal was that Hub would get a larger footprint for extra blocks, extra flats and extra profits, and would be allowed to build out over Queen’s Gardens, the public park which had been a backdrop to hundreds of Town Hall registry office wedding photographs, but had been allowed to be run-down, and which had become a haunt for street drinkers and drug users.
In return for the extra building land, Hub would provide a children’s playground – effectively annexing the gardens for the use of the new residents of their tower blocks, enhancing the value of the properties – together with a new café.
And all this was to be provided right across the road from the council-owned Fairfield Halls, where plans for another open space were being worked up, separately, and where a council-run café was also in the offing. In the world of Newman and Butler, you can never have too many over-priced cafés.
Queen’s Gardens’ candy-striped playground was finally declared “open” last Thursday, with the council’s propaganda department, from their bunker in Fisher’s Folly on the other side of Fell Road, working overtime to disseminate the notion that this is somehow a “new” park, and not simply a bastardisation of a rare public open space in the town centre.
“The new designs combine woodland-themed planting with play equipment for different ages and abilities,” they gushed.
The council propagandists claim “the new green space has been revitalised”, with 39 new trees (they fail to state how many mature trees were destroyed to make way for the encroachment of the tower blocks), “… This will provide a nature-rich environment year-round – with special attention paid to plants that encourage pollinators.” Which is nice.
“The new playground is a key feature of the project and was designed using a variety of timber elements incorporating abstract features, to bring about a flexible and inclusive feel, with a Secret Garden play structure.” Anyone who knows what this is actually supposed to mean, please send your explanation on a postcard to: Talking Bollocks, Mayor Jason Perry, Croydon Town Hall.
Among the features included in the Hub flats’ new play zone are a sunken trampoline, horizontal bars, balance beam, monkey bars, shimmy ropes, a Cantilever swing, a timber slide and a toddler slide.
Nowhere in the publicity issued, so carefully co-ordinated between the council and the developers, is there any mention of how this play equipment is to be maintained or cleaned. Nor does it state how the new plants are to be tended and watered – at a time when Croydon’s cash-strapped council is pulling funding from what’s left of its once highly-regarded and award-winning parks department.
“The gardens are now more accessible and provide a cycle and pedestrian link between Fairfield Halls and the Town Hall.”
“A pedestrian link?” we hear you ask… Yes, that’s right, the path through the park from Fell Road to the crossing on Park Lane, which pedestrians have used for decades, is once again available for people to walk along. Put out the bunting!
And with a dab of paint here and there, they’ve managed to designate less than a quarter a mile of traffic-free paths as a cycle lane.
This is “more accessible” in Croydon councilspeak.
“The Queen’s Gardens is a much-valued park in the heart of our town centre, so it’s great to see it back open and reimagined for residents and visitors to enjoy,” according to part-time Mayor Perry, a man who probably had never before used the word “reimagined”, until it was inserted for him into this particular piece of gratuitous quotage by the marketing department of Hub developers.
Perry is such a part-time Mayor, he didn’t bother turning up for the ribbon-cutting, but left that to Hale. “I was delighted to open The Queen’s Gardens today, as this historic park is such a cherished part of Croydon’s town centre,” she’s supposed to have said.
“Children are already making use of the new playground – and it is wonderful to hear the sound of play in a safe, clean, and green environment.” Safe? Clean? Green? But for how long?
“I want to encourage residents to come and visit this park from across the borough – this is a great step toward the much-needed revitalisation of our town centre.”
Hub claim that the tower blocks in Croydon town centre – the “Queen’s Quarter” for their marketing blurb – “is our most significant project to date”. They also claim that they have created “a new landmark for Croydon’s town centre, setting a benchmark for regeneration in the area that benefits not just its residents, but also its neighbours”.
Damien Sharkey, the managing director of HUB, said, “We are hugely excited to welcome the people of Croydon to their new park,” referring to a park that has been open to the public for 50 years before he came along with his award-winning architects and bulldozers.
It was then that (metaphorical) shots were fired in the Town Hall spat.
Perry tweeted: “Revitalising our public spaces – making them cleaner, greener and better connected – is at the heart of our wider regeneration plans, as is listening to our residents about how they want Croydon to grow and develop and putting pride back into our town centre.”
But Clark, who was promoted beyond his abilities to chair the planning committee by Tony Newman and his mate, and Butler’s husband, Paul Scott, also tried to claim some moral high ground: “Today I visited the Queen’s Gardens – a good example of what a Labour council can achieve. Over 500 homes, over 50per cent affordable…”, which of course is untrue unless you are so deluded to believe that shared ownership is in any manner “affordable”.
Clark – still clearly operating off the scripts provided to him by his old bosses Scott and Butler – described the Telly Tubby annexed play zone as “improved public gardens and play space”.
“A great day for Croydon,” Clark wrote, apparently in all seriousness.
Nowhere in all the verbiage issued from Hub and Fisher’s Folly about the long-delayed park re-opening was there any mention of the long-promised café (there are some hoardings still up in the gardens where the building was supposed to be).
And no one has mentioned the project costs – so it must be reasonable to assume that after taking at least a year longer than was originally promised, the budget for the not-so-new park was also busted long ago, too.
Over-budget, late to deliver and incomplete: right across Park Lane from the Fairfield Halls, where Brick by Brick’s disastrous refurbishment was eventually delivered for £40million more than had been budgeted.
Part-time Perry and his Tory mates claiming the credit for Queen’s Gardens might not be such a smart move after all.
And not all Croydon residents are so easily taken in by the PR bullshit churned out by the propaganda department and the developers’ marketeers. “The gardens didn’t need regeneration,” one Council Tax-payers noted, tartly. “But obviously changes had to be made when Taberner House was demolished and those hideous tower blocks built.
“Another Croydon Council travesty.”
Read more: After eight-year wait, Croydon delivers homes on Taberner site
Read more: This is £12m Fairfield ‘plaza’ that Mayor Perry wants to create
Read more: ‘Disgrace’ as £110m of Brick by Brick homes stand empty
Read more: Taberner House developers still don’t have building start date
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