CROYDON IN CRISIS: Business interests in the town centre will benefit from Government cash for cycling and walking schemes. But doubts surround whether Mayor Perry will manage to deliver a six-year-old Labour plan to open up College Green. By our Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE
Croydon’s Tory Mayor Jason Perry has been crowing about £18.5million in Levelling Up money that the Conservative Government has shovelled his way.
This is what local businessman Perry once said at a development conference staged in the town centre: “We can take investment money and make it work for the benefit of Croydon.
“We are a borough that is open for business and focused on delivery. That is what we are about.
“We are on site and we are here to help you invest and deliver London’s next big opportunity.”
That was Jason Perry in November 2012, when he was the council cabinet member for planning, regeneration and transport, full of enthusiasm for the new Westfield regeneration of the town centre that he and his Tory mates – including “bamboozled” Boris Johnson – had recently inflicted on the borough.
The Westfield scheme, in its various guises, was promised to be a £1.4billion redevelopment – 100 times the size of the Levelling Up grant announced for Croydon yesterday. But it has never been delivered, and has blighted Croydon town centre for more than a decade.
Here’s Jason Perry again: “I am determined to bring much-needed investment to Croydon, starting with our bid for almost £20million of Levelling Up funding, which would firmly put town centre regeneration back on track, making us a destination where people want to live, work and visit.
“With this funding, we plan to make necessary changes to reconnect, refresh, revitalise and regenerate key areas of our town centre – restoring a sense of local pride in Croydon.”
That was Jason Perry in July 2022, when he announced the submission of the borough’s bid for Levelling Up cash.
Included among the requests originally submitted was a £11.8million ask for “walking, cycling, public realm” for something the council insists on calling “Fair Field”. That’s a throwback to the time when Labour’s Paul Scott was in charge of planning and doling out multi-million-pound contracts to his architect acquaintances. Most Croydon residents still consider the place to be called College Green.
Effectively, “Fair Field” represents nearly two-thirds of the entire Levelling Up grant that was approved in principle yesterday, to be used to landscape and open up the plot of land between the Fairfield Halls and Croydon College – work that was supposed to have been completed alongside the budget-busting £70million refurbishment of the arts complex but was never done. The Fairfield Halls re-opened after its refurb more than four years ago.
Given Perry’s instinctive pro-pollution, anti-cyclist preferences, the schemes which he has championed to the Department of Levelling Up represent considerable investments in new bike lanes and other pedestrian-friendly measures.
There was a £3.9million ask to green up Roman Way, the six-lane urban motorway that speeds past Croydon Minster and splits Old Town from Waddon.
Then there was £1.4million requested for “walking, cycling, environmental enhancements” – probably a cycle lane and a few trees – along Wellesley Road, another of the town centre’s divisive motorways.
There was £500,000 for “walking, cycling, bus priority and public realm” at East Croydon Station. Does that mean someone might powerwash the grease off the pavement outside Boozepark (you don’t get much for half-a-mill these days)?
And there’s a similar amounts requested for similar broad-stroke proposals at West Croydon Station and along the High Street from South End to North End, too.
Back in July 2022, it all totted up to £19.9million. It is not yet clear where the mandarins in Whitehall have trimmed £1.4million from the Croydon pitch to come up with the £18.5million announced yesterday.
But what is clear is that, however you dress it up, none of the schemes taken individually are likely to provide the kind of “transformation” that recurs throughout the council’s own propaganda. Collectively, they represent just 1% of what was promised with the Westfield development.
In short, it all smacks of more than a bit of desperation.
And what Perry has not said is that even the payment of the grants is not altogether nailed down.
The latest round of £1billion Levelling Up Fund grants have been made to those schemes submitted in 2022 and initially rejected. Including Croydon’s.
This round of grants has short-circuited the previous system, avoided another round of painfully patronising Powerpoints, and just doled out large dollops of public money around the country. Call it a pre-election bribe if you like.
Croydon’s was one of 55 such schemes from what Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove described yesterday as “communities that have, for too long, been overlooked and undervalued”. Which is nice.
In a letter from Levelling Up minister Jacob Young to Mayor Perry, however, it was made clear that the £18,498,777 was only provisionally awarded to Croydon. The men (and women) in suits in Whitehall want to re-check Croydon’s rough workings. And, given our council’s problems with making numbers add up correctly, who can blame them?
“Due to the time that has passed since your application was submitted,” Young wrote, “we will require a short check to ensure the bid will still benefit from Government funding and remains a local priority.
“We will also ask you to confirm that the bid has not changed significantly, is still deliverable by March 2026, and still represents value for money.” For anyone who’s been following Croydon’s council for a couple of years or so, there’s a couple of serious red flags right there…
Young also caveated the award by saying, “The money cannot be used to support activity that is substantially different…”, before adding that he recognises that “project adjustments” may need to be made. We will see…
For Perry’s sake, let’s hope that Gove, Young and the Whitehall beancounters don’t look too closely at some of the wild claims that Croydon Council made in its original bid documents.
In the Powerpoint presentation that went before Perry’s council cabinet in the summer of 2022, they claimed, in all seriousness, “Croydon town centre is a hub of social and economic prosperity.” What do you mean, you spat out your coffee?
- They also claimed: “Croydon town centre is known for being an accessible, safe and
- The council presentation said: “Croydon town centre is healthy, green and pleasant.”
- Oh, and this was a good one: “Investors have confidence in Croydon.”
- The borough which has an annex of a university that is not ranked within the country’s top 100 also claimed: “Students choose Croydon’s educational institutions.”
- And the real zinger was saved to last: “New retail, hospitality and leisure businesses choose to locate in Croydon.”
In its announcement issued yesterday from the council’s propaganda bunker in Fisher’s Folly, they said, “The vision for the project is to ‘Reconnect, Refresh, Revitalise and Regenerate’ the town centre, as part of Executive Mayor Jason Perry’s priority for the wider regeneration of Croydon town centre.
“The projects will provide improved connections throughout the town centre, so residents and visitors will be able to travel more easily through safer, greener and more pleasant routes.”
And in November 2023, Jason Perry is supposed to have said: “I’m delighted we have been successful in the Levelling Up Fund…”
Apparently ignoring the fact that the public funding is only 1% of the value of the regeneration of the town centre he first promised 11 years ago, Perry said, “This will be a huge boost for Croydon town centre and will form part of my determination to restoring pride in our community, reconnect and regenerate Croydon.”
But there was one other comment from July 2022 which might inform judgement on the impact, or lack thereof, of the various piecemeal schemes put forward by Croydon Council. “The business community has got behind the bid with wide-ranging support,” according to Matthew Sims, the chief executive of business group Croydon BID, “… as we work together to strengthen Croydon as a destination where businesses can thrive.”
So was this a pitch for public money for private interests made by Croydon’s part-time Mayor?
Jason Perry is a director of Croydon BID.
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