CROYDON IN CRISIS: Mayor decided to re-boot Negrini’s Place Review Panel, but after almost a year’s delay, the identities of the ‘experts’ assembled remain closely guarded secrets. By WALTER CRONXITE
“Just what are they trying to hide?” a Katharine Street source said today after the council refused to release the names of the members of its re-launched “Design Review Panel”.
Croydon Council issued a press statement this week to announce that they had finally made 31 appointments to what is supposed to be an expert body overseeing planning in the borough.
It has taken the council 10 months, since the closure in October 2022 of applications from participants eager to join Croydon’s assembly of experts, to get round finally to re-booting this piece of “Peak Negrini”. The original Place Review Panel was first launched in 2016, the brainchild of discredited former chief exec Jo “Negreedy” Negrini.
Sources at Fisher’s Folly have suggested that the council’s reluctance to release the identities of the panellists might be because some of them could have obvious associations with Negrini’s old regime, perhaps former consultants or contractors.
It is even possible that Negrini herself, these days having to work for a living as a director at Arup “leading on cities and regeneration work in the UK”, might have a seat at Croydon’s new design table, or know a colleague who does…
Certainly, the previous incarnation of the panel included several figures from architecture firms which would get juicy council-funded contracts in the next couple of years, whether from failed, council-owned house-builder Brick by Brick, or to work on the fiasco of the Fairfield Halls refurbishment.
According to Mayor Jason Perry, this new version is to be “a revitalised and enhanced Design Review Panel”. The 2023 version has 50per cent more members on the list than was the case when it was originally formed seven years ago.
When Croydon’s Place Review Panel was originally established, Negrini was applying her “no expense spared” approach (other people’s expense, that is; never her own) to her mission of making friends and influencing people among London’s architecture set.
Brandishing her then newly minted status as a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (for services to architecture firms’ bottom lines; Negrini has no architectural qualifications herself), her Review Panel allowed her to rub shoulders with the likes of design “guru” Wayne Hemingway… though the council got very coy when they were asked how many of the design review sessions Hemingway ever showed up for.
Others on the original panel included Hugh Pearman, the editor of the RIBA Journal, plus the director of design and exhibitions at the V&A, David Bickle, as well as a couple of partners from architects Hawkins Brown, there was Russell Curtis, the founding director of RCKa, Nick Hayhurst (Hayhurst & Co, director) and Holly Lewis (We Made That).
The gig was that one or two groups of around half a dozen panellists would gather in Croydon once a month to go through what they thought of some of the latest building schemes put forward by developers in the borough.
Developers were expected to pay £5,000 (including VAT) per scheme for the privilege of (fingers crossed) getting a seal of approval from the PRP. This would be in addition to any fees that they might pay to the council planning department for pre-application “advice”.
The developers would always have the final say over whether the considered jottings of the Review Panel would ever be made public. Which was a bit of a shame…
But the original panel’s credibility was dealt an early blow when Westfield – whose £1.4billion shopping mall scheme promised to revitalise Croydon town centre – refused to have anything to do with the Place Review Panel.
And the then Labour-run council didn’t do itself many favours, either, when it emerged that its own house-building company, Brick by Brick, was giving the process a bit of a swerve, too…
Given the penury that Brick by Brick created for the council, there will be little in-house development likely to be sent through to the new-look Design Review Panel for the nod of approval. Though the opportunities for potential conflicts of interest will no doubt remain.
According to the council propaganda department this week, the members of the panel “will be using their areas of expertise to advise the council on major planning proposals, capital projects, regeneration and development projects in the borough”.
The council says that the panel “is being refreshed” to include members “from different specialisms”, while making sure it “represents the Croydon community”. It is self-funded, they say, suggesting that the tab for these lovely get-togethers – expenses, meals and a daily professional fee for panel members – will be coming from the fees paid by the developers.
The cash-strapped council doesn’t say whether they are even trying to make any money out of the process…
“Through a rigorous selection process, the council appointed panellists with experience in planning, architecture, urban design, culture, landscape design, green infrastructure and placemaking.” But without the names of the panellists being revealed, we only have Croydon Council’s word for that.
“They will meet regularly to review all major development schemes in Croydon, Town Centre regeneration proposals and Growth Zone and public realm improvement projects, providing impartial advice to the council.
“The Design Review Panel will support these priorities by assessing proposals to make sure they enhance the unique character of Croydon’s communities, as part of Executive Mayor Jason Perry’s commitment to restoring pride in the borough.” Which is nice.
Part-time Perry must be rubbing his hands with glee: despite being on £84,000 per year as Mayor (he got a £2,000 pay rise in March), Perry has retained his directorship in the family wholesale building equipment business…
“This revitalised and enhanced Design Review Panel will play a key role in making sure that major planning, public space, regeneration and development projects being proposed will vastly improve our town and district centres for residents and businesses, while protecting their character,” Perry said.
“We welcome the new panel members and look forward to hearing their views,” Perry said, somehow forgetting to mention who any of them might be.
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