Three reasons why Croydon’s naysayers won’t be satisfied anytime soon

By - Monday 14th November, 2016

A night-time economy, housing for all, or flourishing business: you can only have one, choose wisely

Despite the breathy promises of billboard advertisements, unscrupulous life coaches, and personal development books, you can’t have it all.

The same goes for Croydon. The borough is indisputably on the up: it has become a much more exciting and vibrant place to live in the past few years. We are the “street art capital” of London according to the Evening Standard, the “fastest-growing economy in the UK” according to CityAM, and finally having the “last laugh” at the naysayers according to The Guardian.

Croydon has three issues: an ailing night-time economy, little affordable housing and not enough office space 

However, the fact remains that Croydon cannot be all things to all people. The borough has goals that it needs to achieve if it wants to continue its upward trajectory: an improved night-time economy, more affordable housing and increased office space for incoming businesses. The problem is that trying to solve any one of these problems adversely affects the others:

More night-time venues means less housing

It’s a familiar sight that is being played out across London: the iconic nightclub Fabric is being shut down, following on from the shuttering of Madame Jojo’s in Soho, Club Colosseum in Vauxhall and so many other venues. Over the past decade 40% of London’s live music venues have closed, leaving our city a sadly quieter and less exciting place.

The reason? The nightlife of the city is being asphyxiated, suffocated by high-end residential developments, over-zealous council officers and noise complaints, as venue after venue is picked off.

The simple truth is that housing can’t be near night-time venues. If Croydon wants to resurrect its ailing night-time economy – and to build more places where large volumes of people can amass and enjoy loud music – then invariably this will have to be at the expense of housing in the centre of town.

More housing means less office space

An alarming amount of office space is being converted into residences thanks to the extension of ‘Permitted Development Rights’, which allow developers, for the first time, to convert office buildings to residential use without going through the normal planning process.

The Croydon Citizen’s Editor-in-Chief, James Naylor was the first to sound the alarm on this development, warning of a world in which the centre of Croydon becomes largely residential – and therefore vacant during the day as residents leave the area to work elsewhere: “Lots of small retail businesses, restaurants and chains flourish with the daytime trade from nearby office workers. Just look at what the density of workers does for central London; whole areas teaming with activity, especially eateries. If those people aren’t there, the streets will be dead and more shops and high street services will close”.

Which is fine if you think that affordable housing should be a priority for Croydon, but not so great if you think that local jobs for current residents should take precedence.

More office space means less housing

Croydon is currently the fastest-growing economy in the UK. Businesses are both starting up in the area and moving to the area in a bid to be a part of the “Silicon Valley of South London”. Many of these businesses can operate out of innovation workspaces such as Sussex Innovation Croydon, but eventually when they scale up to 30, 50 or 100 employees they need to move to serviced office space.

We are rapidly moving towards a situation where there is not enough office space in Croydon to house these incoming businesses. If Croydon is no longer a hub of industry during the day, then the entire town’s daytime economy will suffer. However, offices and housing are working from the same stock and the amount of space to build on in Croydon is diminishing rapidly. Therefore, if you do think that a thriving business district is key to Croydon’s fortunes (and it is), then you have to get to grips with the fact that it means that the affordable housing pressures will continue as a result.

Croydon: we can’t have it all – which one do we want?

Croydon can balance these three needs at the current sub-optimal levels without much trouble. But this means a lifetime of hearing about the lack of housing, or lifetime of hearing about there being not enough employment opportunities in the area, or how boring and undesirable the area is on the weekend and weekday evenings. But to reiterate my earlier point: the problem is that trying to solve any one of these problems adversely affects the others.

So, it’s incumbent upon our policy-makers and the citizens of Croydon to decide what the priority should be for the years to come.

A booming night-time economy. Housing for all. Flourishing businesses. The simple fact is that you can only have one. Choose wisely, Croydon.

Come and see the Silicon Valley of South London in action. The next Croydon Tech City event takes place on Thursday 17th November at 7pm at Sussex Innovation Centre Croydon. To attend, please register here.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • tyronen

    I choose housing.

  • trypewriter

    Actually Jonny, that’s another tick for Boxpark, loud music but right next to the railway line. In theory there should be less residential complaints in respect of noise. Good engineering.

  • Sean Creighton

    Welcome to the ranks of those who have been saying so for some time.

    • Jonny Rose

      HA HA – I’m honoured to be amongst such esteemed company! :)

  • Saif Bonar

    While I agree with many of the issues you raise in this piece, I think the key premise is incorrect. Croydon can have it all. Given your general optimism for Croydon, I am surprised you don’t agree.

    While accommodating everything you say in the heart of the town centre is challenging, it is achievable. More importantly though, there is much more to Croydon than the town centre.

    Croydon is one of the larger London boroughs in terms of surface area, it has one of the biggest and most diverse populations and there are still opportunities and spaces which can be used to meet the short term needs of inbound startups and established businesses.

    In the town centre Surrey Street, George Street, High Street and S G Walk still have an abundance of empty properties.

    Croydon is uniquely positioned compared to many other London boroughs to be able to develop a fully-fledged ecosystem which nurtures all the elements you discuss, and so much beyond.

    One of my biggest frustrations with the way Croydon has headed is that I feel opportunities that existed in Croydon meant gentrification could have been done differently. Croydon could have really broken the mould, so far we are largely imitating, rather than innovating on this front.

    Not enough home grown talent is being nurtured and supported to thrive in the boom times that are promised for Croydon. Not enough grants and subsidies are filtering down to benefit the local community (business or otherwise). Imagine if the recent high profile 3m loan to a temporary pop-up food and drink mall had instead been put directly in the hands of 30 or 40 local startups like Wine & Deli, Bobski’s etc and some held back to pull in the Franco Manca’s and Meat Liquors of the world. I have no doubt this would have delivered more sustainable, long-term economic growth and bigger returns for our town.

    The money raised and spent by Inspired and the rate at which they have turned round their developments in the town centre is impressive and should be a lesson to those responsible for affordable house building programmes that it can be done on a budget and doesn’t need to take decades. Yes these properties aren’t being marketed as affordable homes to the consumer, but the construction techniques used mean they offered the developers incredible value for money and big returns. Employing the same techniques could enable local authorities to quickly and significantly increase the supply of housing stock for a fraction of what they may spend on a new headquarters.

    With improved transport interchange connections at Purley Way there is no reason why it cannot become a low cost business district and tech and creative cluster. Croydon Radio, out of necessity have already made this move, but in fact there are significant plots of land languishing there which could be used to house embryonic startups. The Stewarts bakery building near Ikea is just one of many examples of spots I have day dreamed of turning into something incredible.

    In West Croydon too, opportunities abound to develop affordable housing and enhance the food and retail offering. Small grants to local businesses to help improve shopfronts, supporting them with marketing, social media and technology awareness would help them stand their ground and strengthen their businesses in line with regeneration objectives instead of being forced out through rising rents and dwindling sales.