2014 Croydon – the graphene superhighway?

By - Wednesday 22nd January, 2014

As the Croydon Tech City movement continues to makes its regenerative might felt, Matthew McMillan from the council explores some other factors making the borough attractive to investors once again

Photo by Mike Beecham, used with permission.

Hi there, Croydon citizen. Long-time listener, first time caller, or whatever the digital equivalent for that is.

What brings me down to this parish is that I’m due to give a talk at the next #Croydon #TechCity event (Thursday 23rd January 7:30pm at Matthews Yard, Croydon). In investment terms, Croydon is emerging as the hottest part of London right now. Led by a visionary partnership of investors, businesses, civic leaders, and the local community, the city centre is radically improving as a place to work, live and visit. Is it time for London to tarmac over its silicon roundabout to make way for a new graphene superhighway, straight down Wellesley Road? Here are five reasons why I think it should…

Croydon has central London quality for less than 1/3 of the costs…

Like for like, it is impossible to find business accommodation options for the same quality and with the same connections into central London and international destinations for less in the UK. Base yourself in Euston and you are at the gateway to the Midlands. Base yourself in Croydon and you are at the gateway to Madrid (and Barcelona, Turin, Copenhagen etc) via Gatwick – and you’ll have saved enough on your office costs to make the most of it too. In 2014/15, you can even get your business rates discounted for a whole year.

…access to the best talent across London and the south east…

Over 1.1M economically active individuals live within 30 minutes door to door commute of the major commercial hub at East Croydon (ACORN 2013). To put that in context, the whole of London (including Croydon), Europe’s largest and most dynamic city, only has 4.1M across the entirety of its geography (NOMIS, 2012) and Birmingham, the UK’s second biggest city after London, only has 1.02M people altogether (NOMIS, 2012). Croydon is effectively Birmingham with 100% employment – every man, woman, and child.

…a skill base which is growing by the day…

The knowledge economy sector has been leading Croydon’s strong economic growth at three times the UK average, with particularly high figures for financial services, creative and tech industries (ONS, 2013). Following this trend, it is becoming obvious that Croydon is emerging as the new go-to location for London’s creative entrepreneurs and young professionals. Increasingly priced out of both office and housing accommodation across Shoreditch, East London and other major hubs, Croydon’s position as one of the most affordable places to rent (GLA 2013), work (CBRE 2013), and buy (GLA 2013) in London is attracting the next wave of talent. Furthermore, with 9,500 new home starts planned in the next five years and more than 27,000 planned in the next twenty years, Croydon has the pipeline to buck the trend which ends up pricing out these innovators.

…because Croydon is a great place to live at all stages of life…

One of the major benefits that make Croydon so attractive to the top talent is the high quality of housing and schools in the area for families. Croydon is the fourth highest performing borough in London for education attainment at GCSE level (DCSF 2013) and has some of the UK’s best schools, both private and public, including Whitgift school and BRIT school, the UK’s leading free performing arts school. The quality and range of the housing from high quality city centre flats, executive housing around the city centre fringe in Coulsdon and Sanderstead and affordable starter homes throughout the borough attracts a depth and quality to the talent pool. Of our 1.1M economically active people, 33% – approx. 380,000 – fall into the top three categories for skills and qualifications (ACORN 2013). That’s the equivalent to the whole of Bristol, or two and a half Readings (NOMIS 2012), being populated solely by creative leaders, captains of industry, or senior executives.

…and, finally, the timing is just right.

There’re no two ways about it – the Westfield/Hammerson plans to develop Europe’s largest urban retail/leisure destination in the heart of Croydon has put us firmly back on the map. In the past two weeks alone, there have been articles in Time Out, the Evening Standard (twice), the Metro, and the Telegraph, backing Croydon as the place to be in 2014. However, the Croydon Partnership is indicative of a much wider story, which includes huge investment across a number of developers, partners, the council and the community coming together.

We’ve got the biggest schools investment programme in the UK. Our award winning spatial planning team is delivering a £50 million public realm revitalisation programme that will transform the look and feel of the city centre. In economic development, we are delivering business support, entrepreneur and employment programmes which have brought down unemployment in the borough year on year and encouraged 275 more businesses to Croydon in 2013/14 – three times the UK growth average. The planning and regeneration teams have made Westfield/Hammerson and the many other deals, including Renaissance, Interchange, and Saffron Square happen, often in record time.

Croydon is on the rise in 2014. Here’s to the graphene superhighway.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether you think this is right or I’ve missed something out, so please comment below or come down to Matthews Yard tomorrow, Thursday 23rd January, at 7:30pm to see me and discuss your thoughts.

Matthew McMillan

Matthew McMillan

Matthew McMillan is the Business Investment Advisor at London Borough of Croydon and a highly experienced regeneration professional with over 10 years’ experience developing and running private public partnerships across London. An urban designer by training, Matthew set up Camden Town Unlimited, an award-winning private regeneration partnership which became one of the first Business Improvement Districts in London in 2006. In 2011, Matthew became Chief Executive of Ealing Broadway BID, working with LB of Ealing to secure investment in three major development sites in the town centre before joining Croydon Council this summer to lead the inward investment service.

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  • Andrew Dickinson

    Really good positive, timely article. Thanks Matthew

  • Mark343

    So why is the place so architecturally ugly though – including the brutalist brand new buildings?