CROYDON IN CRISIS: The businessman behind Secret Cinema folded five companies in August, as ambitious plans for the ‘turning point for the future of entertainment’ in Croydon’s dilapidated town centre are abandoned. By STEVEN DOWNES
Jason Perry put on his best suit and stepped up on to the stage of the latest Develop Croydon conference this morning to waffle on about how he will “restore pride in our town centre”.
“The time is now and the place is Croydon,” said part-time Perry, Croydon’s Mayor.
“Let’s make it happen!”
As far as saying quite what he will “make happen”, Perry wasn’t so forthcoming.
His last “Big Idea”, of a big-ticket immersive experience, staged inside the empty Allders department store, never happened. Due to have begun in autumn 2022, the company behind the scheme that Perry brought to Croydon went into liquidation three months ago, not a single ticket for a single show ever being sold.
This morning, piss-poor Perry was delivering his tired old script to a decent-sized audience made up mostly of estate agents and property speculators, gathered together in a large empty space within the mostly empty Centrale shopping centre.
Perry might have an issue with his timescales.
As far as Westfield are concerned, the time is most definitely not now. The developers who have kept Croydon waiting for a decade on a promised £1.4billion redevelopment of Centrale and Whitgift shopping centre have said it could be 2038 before “the time is now”.
Even the masterplan that Perry said Westfield would be presenting this autumn now is unlikely to make any kind of public appearance until 2025.
Just across the other side of the North End pedestrian zone from Centrale is, of course, the run-down Whitgift Centre.
Alongside it is the old Allders building, which has been left to rot for almost five years, ever since the then Labour council sent in the heavies at the behest of Westfield to evict the various smaller businesses that had been legitimately operating in the former department store.
Back in the summer of 2022, just a couple of months after Perry had been unexpectedly thrust into the role of Mayor of Croydon, he was full of enthusiasm for a venture devised by millionaire Fabien Riggall, the businessman behind the successful Secret Cinema entertainment concept.
Working together with Westfield and their erstwhile partners Hammerson, former film producer Riggall was applying for an initial 12-month licence to operate across two floors of Allders as a venue for dance, music, theatre and cinema.
“A new format of entertainment” Riggall called it then, “a turning point for the future of entertainment”.
It would be “a new cultural movement looking to regenerate former retail districts into art and entertainment spaces”.
Perry said then that he “can’t wait for residents and visitors to discover what’s in store for them at the Allders building”.
Perry said, “The arrival of this project will be the start of the change we want to make and an important boost for the local area, as a strong vote of confidence in the culture, communities, and connectivity that we know our borough has in abundance.”
Since when, nothing, nada, zilch.
Perhaps it was an omen: Riggall’s Croydon project was called Lost.
Not such a vote of confidence in the area, then. None of that “important boost” Perry promised.
Some local businesses have contacted Inside Croydon to say that they have been left out-of-pocket to the tune of thousands of pounds for work they were commissioned to carry out on the Riggall project. There is no prospect of them recovering the money or being paid for their work.
According to Companies House records, Aerodrome Entertainment Ltd, which had been registered in March 2022 (sole director: Fabien Riggall) went into voluntary liquidation in August 2023, as did Aerodrome Properties Ltd, Aerodrome Croydon Ltd and Aerodrome Ltd (this company had existed since 2019), while Aerodrome City Ltd was dissolved. Riggall held directorships in all of the companies.
Lost Ltd, another company of which Riggall is sole director, continues to exist, though only in dormant mode.
In September 2022, according to Variety magazine, TodayTix acquired Secret Cinema in a deal worth more than $100million.
Mayor Perry, meanwhile, does not appear to have learned much from his own Lost experience.
This week, in another press release from the council’s propaganda bunker, Perry is supposed to have said, “While we want the town to be a vibrant shopping destination and workplace for the many businesses here, Croydon’s offer needs to be more than just shopping and offices, it also needs restaurants, cultural and entertainment venues, education and housing, to offer a unique experience for locals and to draw visitors in.”
Which is the same tired old message we have heard for more than a decade, from Perry when he was the Tory cabinet member for development when Westfield were first invited into the borough, from Jo Negrini – who Perry helped to recruit and hire as a council director – and from Tony Newman, the Labour council leader who ran the borough’s finances into the ground.
It is the same kind of message that the charlatans at Develop Croydon and their cheerleaders at Grey Label have also been peddling all that time, too. This year, they have at least partially admitted that development in Croydon has come to a grinding halt. They have called their money-spinning conference “Restart Croydon”.
Perry, meanwhile, continues with his waffle.
“I am committed to working with businesses and residents to develop a new, sustainable plan to regenerate the town centre, attract investment and restore confidence in Croydon,” he said, without once specifying how he might achieve any of that.
Read more: Founder of Secret Cinema makes bid to move in to Allders
Read more: Westfield boss says Croydon scheme could take 15 more years
Read more: Old Palace closure brought on by shaky Foundation finances
Read more: How ‘Lost’ soon became an apt metaphor for Perry’s mayoralty
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