CROYDON IN CRISIS: After a year in office, the Tory Mayor told a Purley audience last night that he has failed to ‘fix the finances’ and he won’t be opening the local swimming pool without lumbering the area with another massive development scheme. By WALTER CRONXITE, political editor
Jason Perry, the part-time Mayor of Croydon, last night as much as admitted that he’d sold the borough down the river by agreeing to the 15per cent Council Tax hike without first securing a vital agreement from Government to write off the borough’s crippling debt.
Perry was speaking at a Mayor’s Question Time event staged in the Tory heartlands of Purley. Although having what should have been a supportive audience did not guarantee him an entirely easy ride.
The pre-event censorship and careful selection of what questions could be asked, and by whom, did that for Perry, as key points about the borough’s finances were not allowed.
Attempts were also made to remove a “No to 15% Hike… Fund Croydon Fairly” banner, placed outside the meeting hall. On this occasion, senior Tory councillors and the Public Order Act were thwarted because the school where the banner was placed had given its permission.
Inside the school hall, it was soon made clear that the chances of the Government writing off one-third of the borough’s £1.6billion debt, the possibility of which was raised six months ago before the Council Tax hike was announced, is now very remote.
Perry told his audience, largely made up of white, middle-class and older residents, that he had had meetings with Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, and with the Prime Minister.
“The current one,” Perry clarified, getting a rare laugh from the audience.
Many attending will have voted for Perry to become Mayor on his promise to “fix the finances”. But last night he told them, “It isn’t right for other parts of the country to have to bail Croydon out” – the kind of language which Gove and Rishi Sunak, and the grey suits in Whitehall, will no doubt have used.
On the Council Tax hike, one polite questioner asked: “Could 10per cent have been possible? Especially as the £20million raised is a pittance compared to the request to government to write off £540million of Croydon debt?”
The hoped-for half-billion debt write-off will have been the first time in the history of local government in Britain that a council will have been allowed to default on its debts. Such a precedent will have surely created a clamour from dozens of other hard-up councils, also looking to get off the hook of debt that has been built up over a decade of austerity and a couple of years of covid.
It was last November that, under Mayor Perry, Croydon had issued a Section 114 notice – effective admission of bankruptcy, Croydon’s third in two years – predicting that it would be unable to balance the books without the half-billion pounds write-off.
Some in the audience quickly realised that while Perry had inflicted the 15per cent Council Tax hike on residents, he had come away from negotiations without getting Government to sign-off on their part of any rescue package. The £540million debt write-off amount had even been included in the 2023-2024 council budget that was eventually passed in March.
Perry’s other answers will have been familiar from those budget debates: that the Council Tax increase was necessary to avoid another £20million of cuts, that the Council Tax decision was “difficult to make”.
One-quarter of all the council’s spending – £50million per year – is being used just to service the loan interest on the debt. Having previously claimed that the council has nothing left to flog off, last night Perry said that there is £300million in assets, and that these were being liquidated.
It seems that other Perry promises are crumbling all the time.
His pledge to fix the town centre? Well, despite all the Tory blandishments, that won’t happen any time soon: after having a meeting Westfield yesterday, the Mayor said that the company’s “divorce” from Hammerson (10 years ago, it was Perry and Gavin Barwell who had had a hand in creating the doomed shotgun marriage) gave him cause for optimism.
Yet the discussions yesterday were not about an urgent new masterplan for the Whitgift Centre and surrounding area, but about “meanwhile use” for just the ground floor of the Allders building – something Perry had promised would be operating before Christmas last year.
A man of very limited repertoire, “If we fix broken windows, other things will follow,” was the best cliché he could summon up.
He’s still saying that those responsible for the council’s bankruptcy “must be held to account”. But given what he has himself put in writing to the Secretary of State, it is surprising that he still tries to peddle this load of old flannel any longer.
Certainly, his election lies about re-opening the Purley Pool are now widely seen as just that: lies.
Perry tried to put it another way: he was “misinformed” was the best that he managed last night. “Misinformed”, over what he had claimed was a “fully costed” amendment to the council budget that he had presented to the Town Hall little more than a year ago.
Last March, Perry had presented to council a motion that claimed the pool could be re-opened by spending just £3.5million-worth of community infrastructure money that had been collected from developers operating in Croydon. This had then become “a key commitment” in an election he eventually won by fewer than 600 votes.
Now Perry told the people of Purley that the condition of the pool was “worse than we had been told previously”.
Perry had been “shocked”, he said, when he visited the pool in Week One of his Mayoralty to discover that the concrete base of the pool was cracked. Perry said he “could not go into detail” but was working with developers “looking at the site as a whole and that there will be good news in a few weeks”.
Perry remained, he said, “very committed to delivering”.
Structural cracks have been used as an excuse for not re-opening the Olympic-sized pool at Crystal Palace for almost four years. But that is in a listed building that cannot be bulldozed for redevelopment. Purley Pool and leisure centre, alongside a council-owned car park and supermarket that has been vacant for a decade, has no such protections.
And in case you had forgotten, Mayor Perry’s Croydon Council is pot-less. So it probably won’t take much to guess what all this “looking at the site as a whole” business will really mean – more development in Purley town centre.
One obviously disappointed resident warned, to murmurings of support in the hall, that with all the development that’s been going on in the town for the past few years, including the Purley Tower, “everyone is selling up”.
After this latest underwhelming session with the Mayor, Purley estate agents can expect to be busier than ever this weekend, putting up even more “For Sale” boards.
Read more: Kerswell condemns councils’ accountability as inadequate
Read more: Purley Pool campaign calls on Perry to honour election promise
Read more: Councillors agree to chase Negrini for golden handshake cash
Read more: Cover-ups and denial over Brick by Brick failure
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Well that was a depressing read! Gove stabbing people in the back?! Hard to believe!! Just seems like more of the same, local Tories and Labour, both just seem totally hopeless.
The good news is that, unless plastic part-time Perry throws in the towel and gives us a by-election or is disqualified, we’ve got less than 3 years before we can vote the one-term wally out.
Should never have been voted as Mayor in the first place. Perhaps that was what the exceptional Ali award was for,
This is absolutely outrageous, so the residents have been saddled with a 15% tax hike, which gives pennies to the budget, but we aren’t getting any bailout? Perry has got to go, he’s basically forcing residents to pay interest on debt. An absolute embarrassment.
Old part time still claiming his wages then. Thought he said there should be no reward for failure.
That’s below the standard of high-quality, insightful and intelligent comments we usually expect from our readers, John.
I know and I’m sorry. I voted for an Executive Mayor last year like many Croydonians (although not Mr Perry). I’m laughing at the economic harm we sanctioned on ourselves last year. And I’m laughing at the prospect of what is to come!
John – I thought it was very insightful, wittyintelligent in its brevity (perhaps a couple more emoji’s?) and summed up many of our feelings – you have to laugh at the absurdity or listen to Leanord Cohen records with euphemistic razorblades.
IC does set very high standards though shame about the voters.
Well, You should be delighted that, not content with our Executive Mayor, there is now a CIVIC Mayor of Croydon! Rejoice!
Where did he come from,who voted him in, and did we really need to pay an extra salary to someone who can hand out awards when Perry is too busy elsewhere? No-one quite knows, least of all the bemused New Addingtonians who learned of this by means of a Croydon Conservatives local social media post!
There has always been a civic, or ceremonial Mayor, raking in extra allowances for all that ribbon cutting and glad handing.
Pearson’s just the first racist to don the robes and ermine
Half a billion pound bailout would have been nice. Though I guess setting a precedent like that doesn’t motivate councils to stick to a budget.
This is now a really serious problem, because the Croydon FD advised that even with a Council Tax hike, Council finances were not sustainable without the write-off.
Not just the finance director, either, but also Tony McArdle, the chair of the Gove-appointed improvement board.
If we’re skint, how come Perry’s mower happy mismanagement of our green spaces has seen him spend our money to not only wipe out the wildflowers and insect life in our parks and open spaces, but also pollard the trees along the Brighton Road?
It always was, There was no way on this planet that a Conservative minister was ever going to excuse that amount of money. Not when they feel there may be political capital to make by blaming Labour for what they also are culpable for.
This Government has regularly shown it not only throws people under a bus to gain political capital, it actively does this as a matter of course. And with the Public Order laws nothing you cans ay or do.
This Government has repeatedly shown it does not do as it says on the tin.
This is all lies, just like most other things on this website. The Mayor is doing a fantastic job and quickly sorting out the mess that Labour left Croydon in.
By “the Mayor”, you mean “my dad”. You probably hope he’ll give you extra pocket money this week for posting that feeble rebuttal
Really ?Homeless for a start . Why is there a disabled lady ,in a wheelchair with one leg who has been homeless for 7 months living on the streets ,left by the council? By no means , is she an an isolated case . What steps have been taken to chase the money ? Yet to see any evidence, personally, as a mobility disabled person from the council in 9 years.
You are quite right and there are so many disadvantaged and this Council plays with process and is unable to deliver at all
Walter Cronxite is 100% right in saying that we mustn’t get “lumbered”, but I take issue with him, for we….. Purley ….. really does — urgently — need the right redevelopment scheme to revitalise this important area of the town.
One that is really well-designed, and which does not cram this prominent, large, important and centrally-located large site with bloated buildings and development dross.
It is a decade since Sainsbury’s then superstore closed, leaving a massive void both in terms of an empty building, and human activity. It took thousands people every day away from that area of Purley–the narrow road that is actually the “High Street”.
Then, in the recent Covid era, the sad closure of the Leisure centre – which must be a total mystery to visitors because there is no sign on the door saying “CLOSED”- which has taken away the remaining activity from this section of the street and town.
The only use left on site is the multi storey car park. But that is half empty, or was the last time I parked there.
The only good thing is that a few years ago–under the previous Conservative administration as I recall- investment was made in repaving the street with attractive Dutch paving bricks, and adding some trees and street furniture. Before then, the streetscape was grey and very grim.
The improved street environment might have been have been the saving factor which has kept footfall going, and people shopping. Amazingly, on the North side of the empty Leisure centre and ex-supermarket, a Turkish restaurant and a Sainsbury’s smaller store, and some other successful shops and a takeaway are looking good and are doing well. Likewise, on the South, a Spanish restaurant, a butcher, a flower shop, an Asian food store, a lighting shop, and Portuguse cafe, plus others, also make this area of Purley attractve and alive…. but, how much better this street would be, if we have a decent redevelopment where there is currently just an ugly, blank looking building of the old suoermarket and Pool?
What does Purley need? And–what is actually, economically realsitic and feasible to have on the site? It needs to thrive, and provide an attractive place to live , shop, work and …. enjoy recreation.
Well, we can’t have a little village of thatched cottages and village inn. Nor a quiet close of bungalows, rows of semi D’s or detached 4 bed / 6 bathroom exec homes.
Nope…. it’s going to be flats, with probably a bit of a tower. Offices? Possibly, but my guess, probably less likely under current post-covid circumstances, than would have been the case pre-Covid. It really needs offices with a computer suite, so all that excess heat can be used to heat a modern swimming pool !
It’s going to need some shops–but, with the giant Tesco across the other side of the Eastbourne Road, would another supermarket want to have a big-ish store here?
So, a mixed development with many flats, some shopping, some offices and …..
a Leisure centre with Pool? I really hope so.
Yes, Pool . Why not ? — and perfectly feasible.
Southwark Council did a deal just a few years ago with a developer to build a new, high quality residential block on the site of the council’s Elephant and Castle Leisure centre. The deal was to have a brand new Leisure centre and pool on the ground floor. Amazingly– that is what they built.
I know no more about that pool, and its facilities, but someone who knows a lot more than I do about the history of the Purley Pool and Leisure centre recently told me that the absence of a sports hall or halls that can be let out to hirers is the key factor that made the income of the Purley centre much less than that of other Croydon Council Leisure Centres. The ability of the Purley centre to commercially “wash its face” was fatally compromised.
Everyone who knows anything about the South of Croydon knows that the current site in the middle of Purley is THE right site for a Leisure Centre and Pool. Just as it is for the now beautifully refurbished and renewed Purley Hospital.
It’s at the topographical and transport focus of the Southern area, where the valleys of Kenley and Coulsdon meet. The roads come along the valleys, and down from the hiily areas each side, from Coulsdon, Kenley and Whyteleafe in the valleys, and Old Coulsdon, South Kenley and Sanderstead on the hills.
All bus routes coming in from outer Southern Croydon and nearer Surrey, and from Croydon to the North, and as far away as Redhill, Caterham, and Streatham, converge on Purley !
The A 23 Brighton Road and the A22 Eastbourne Road and the Purley Way meet right here. Trains on the Sussex Mainline, and Tattenham and Caterham branches, come in from all stations to Coulsdon, Tattenham Corner, and Caterham
It’s a “No brainer”.
Purley needs its Leisure Centre and Pool, right in the heart of Purley, where people can travel to it easily, from all points of the Southern Croydon compass.
OK… what sort of Pool ?
A good Pool, with two pools, plus a big sports hall and a small one. A well equipped gym, and a nice litte cafe. Economically viable, and self-sustaining as far as possible.
Why do so many Pools last just a few years before they look shabby, or experience big problems like cracks, corroded pipes, leaking roofs, and corrosion ?
Bad design / poor materials / complex technology/ poo management / bad and inadequate maintenance could just be the reason.
So– please, Mr Mayor, can we have a really well-designed and well-built new leisure centre with sports halls, gym and above all, a public pool lit by natural daylight? A pool heated sustainably, with rooftop solar panles and harvesting heat from office computer suites. One with good, natural ventilation and a roof that doesn’t corrode or leak, and with robust, easy to clean surfaces that will withstand the wear and tear that all such public buildings get. With properly tiled walls and floors, with stainless steel fitments in the changing rooms, top qulaity cubicles and partitions, excellent loos and cganging rooms, and no painted wood on skirting boards that look grubby after just a month of the building opening. A traditionally built concrete pool– cast into the ground, not suspended on a cradle above ground — a pool that won’t leak or fall to bits after 25 years, or has low quality pipework that rusts away, with pumps that fail ?
I nearly forgot….. what about the host development ? What do we need?
Well, certainly one that doesn’t fill the space up with buildings, but has sunny open spaces for residents to use, and users of shops and offices to enjoy.
The development needs to present an “active frontage” to the High Street, with ground level windows, of new shops or the cafe part of the Leisure centre, or both.
The current Leisure centre presented blank walls and blanked off gym windows to the street, so contrubuted almost nothing to the vitality or appearance of the street as a whole. Bad urban planning. Poor architectural design.
I would love to see a mixed development, with the blocks located to the rear, where they will not cast a chilly shadow on nearby residential areas, nor over the development itself, nor over the High Street.
Plus a very simple layout that has some green but sunny and shetered open space at its core, and a live frontage to the High Street that creates lots and lots of footfall.
Too many developments in Purley and elsewhere are designed in such a way as to block out the sun. Orientation of buildings and height is key to liveability for residents and shoppers and worlers alike. Yet so many streets in London-and parks- are made cold and gloomy at most times of day by
adjoining new buiildings.
Dear Mr Mayor, please get the right planning and design advice when looking at design options for this– the last big Purley town centre redevelopment site of our generation. It would be unforgiveable to waste this last opportunity to bring new life to this dead zone of Purley.
Lewis pleas for a development “that is really well-designed, and which does not cram this prominent, large, important and centrally-located large site with bloated buildings and development dross”.
That might be what you want. But look around and you’ll see what you’re about to get…
I live in hope. And in Coulsdon.
The people of Purley deserve a really good mixed development.
The people of the South of the borough deserve a really good new Leisure Centre and Pool.
I agree with your comments about the proposed development, Lewis. I also agree with Inside Croydon’s reservations about what is likely to happen in practice (unless we’re very vigilant).
If a pool comes it’s very important that it be a public facility, and not a private pool (though it could be managed by Better or similar of course)
Thanks David. I totally agree, we need a public leisure centre with Pool(s) , whether Council-owned or by a community trust.
The latter ony if properly “core funded” by the Council, and , by the NHS, as the excercise and company that all ages of people get from such a facility is about physical and mental health, as well as personal enjoyment.
This is an excert of a FOI made this evening to Croydon Council. I believe that it is in the public interest to fully know who borrowed what from whom and why I and other residents are being made to pay for something we never borrrowed, did not want, was not part of any manifesto at election and where due diligence of the lendee was ignored.
I feel that Croydon residents need to have clarity and honesty from our elected representatives and we are not getting it from Perry.
Dear Croydon Council – Under the Freedom of Inofrmation Act Please also provide a list of all loans taken out by Croydon Council from April 2011 – April 2023
The list should cover the date the loan was given and whether the loan is still outstanding.
There is no requirement to provide the names of the partiess giving the loan, but they should be identified as either public or private loans.