The future of Fairfield Halls and College Green


By - Tuesday 14th June, 2016

Ian Marvin wonders if all eyes are on Fairfield when they should be on the wider implications of the development


Photo public domain.

14th April presented something of a dilemma for anyone with an interest in the development of Croydon as a residential, commercial and cultural centre. Not only was there the ‘Changing the Face’ event organised under the auspices of the RSA (in full, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) but also the second South Croydon Community Association (SCCA) question time, subtitled ‘Croydon Town Centre is changing, how will it affect you?’. The level of interest in the first was such that it had been relocated from Rise Gallery to Croydon Conference Centre. Council leader Tony Newman was present and it was also the first major public appearance in post for Croydon’s new Creative Director, Paula Murray. In spite of the obvious importance and attractions of that event, I decided instead to attend the SCCA event which was held in the relative splendour of the Croydon College conference centre, created as part of the recent £60m investment in the college.

With a panel including Stuart Collins, Croydon Council deputy leader and cabinet member for the environment, as well as executive director of place Jo Negrini it was obvious from the outset that this event was being taken seriously. The other panelists were Alex Andrews (Area Manager, Transport for London), Martin Skinner (CEO of Inspired Homes), Stuart Worden (Principal, Brit School).

Having attended the ‘Save Our Fairfield Halls’ event earlier in the month I was hopeful that that particular issue had been dealt with. However, it seemed that there were still people convinced that the entire scheme was part of a plan to close the venue permanently in order to demolish it and use the site for yet more housing. Unfortunately, this seems to be a commonly held perception. Both councillor Collins and Jo Negrini were keen to put this one to bed, and the £30 million refurbishment project is both real and backed up by detailed specifications now.

Debate was mostly related to the massive increase in the number of housing units in the centre of Croydon

However I don’t think that anyone would claim that the way that it has been handled by both sides of the arguments is exemplary in any way; the council having not anticipated legitimate fears and the ‘Save’ campaign having fanned the flames of misunderstanding. Jo Negrini was keen to point out that the upgraded Fairfield Halls was integral to the College Green Master Plan and that that would also provide a new building for Croydon College. To what extent that is positive for the college remains to be seen, however demolition of the existing college building would allow construction of yet more housing desirably close to East Croydon station. Ms Negrini appeared concerned that an application for listed status for the college building could jeopardise the whole plan.

For the moment, however, discussion of Fairfield was set aside, although I suspect that once the refurbishment of the Halls themselves is under way and the scale of the whole scheme becomes more widely known the broader issues will resurface. Attention then shifted to the impact of the substantial development plans for central Croydon. Questions on how the disruption to traffic flow caused by so much redevelopment and in particular the Croydon Partnership scheme for the Whitgift Centre is going to be handled were fielded by Jo Negrini and Alex Andrews; TFL have advanced software to both simulate traffic flow and interactively monitor and manage it. This was originally developed for the 2012 Olympic site, where Westfield Stratford City was simultaneously constructed with the games venue. We were told that we would have access to this information in order to allow us to plan our own travel and avoid the area in the event of disruption.

Further debate was mostly related to the massive increase in the number of housing units in the centre of Croydon. Concerns were expressed about both the prevalence of ‘micro-flats’ which may well be appropriate for young single people but based on past experience are likely to accommodate families with children sooner or later. City House in London Road (the former Philips building) is cited as an example. Poor provision of open space leads to social and education issues.

Office development is now lagging behind housing in Croydon

The panel didn’t really have any answers for this; Martin Skinner defended his developments as fulfilling a need and freeing up larger properties for those who need them. He is able to provide a one bedroom apartment of 28 square metres compared to the GLA recommendation of 50 square metres. This has been possible under a government exemption from planning consent where commercial property is being converted to residential. Croydon has now opted out of this so this type of development is no longer possible in the designated Croydon Opportunity Area.

However, the issue of amenity space was not really addressed, and it is hard to see how it can be provided in central Croydon with such high proposed housing density. Furthermore office development is now lagging behind housing in Croydon, higher capacity at East Croydon station is still a distant dream, and – as was also pointed out – Croydon is not cut off from the rest of London, so as far as housing problems are concerned we can only hope that our newly elected London mayor will be able to make this his top priority.

In conclusion, whilst the event provided a good deal of reassurance the audience was left concerned that little was being done to address concerns about a number of quality-of-life issues facing those who inevitably will be bringing up families in central Croydon.

Ian Marvin

Ian Marvin

Ian is a product designer who moved to the borough in 2003. His interests in all things Croydon stretch from being on the committee of the Constructing Excellence Croydon Club to active membership of the Croydon Clandestine Cake Club. During the day he works on his interior lighting businesses which are also based in Croydon. In the unlikely event that he has any leisure time, he enjoys creating ceramic pieces and playing bass guitar. Any opinions expressed here are personal.

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  • Andy Hylton

    I must take umbrage with your suggestion that Save Our Fairfield campaign was in some way guilty of having ‘fanned the flames of misunderstanding’ over the Council’s plans for redevelopment of Fairfield.

    Never have we said, in any of our written articles, website, TV interviews or video messages that the Fairfield Halls was in danger of being demolished. It has been suggested to me, on numerous occasions, by members of the concerned public, that this is the plan, but I have always refused to believe that to be the case. The Council want an arts venue in that building.

    Valuable jobs, skills and local heritage may have been destroyed by the closing of the Halls, but the building itself was always going to be retained. It would a very brave Council who would commit that kind of crime against the community. I have seen many old theatres boarded up for years whilst funding is lost, found and lost again. Ideas changed and audiences move on to other venues. Nobody wants to see that.

    I think Croydon Labour Council has the best intentions for the venue, and for the future of arts and culture in Croydon but someone has to ask those awkward questions. Who better than a Croydon Labour supporter?

    In our opinion the plans have shown flaws, which would have affected the viability of the venue’s success on re-opening. We made our concerns clear to the Theatres Trust and they backed us up. An advisory peer review has been arranged so that the Council can listen to independent professionals about these concerns and amended if necessary.

    Our campaign was never going to stop the venue closing once closure was agreed with the board of directors, but we have already made a difference to the long term future of the Fairfield Halls, an investment which we fully support.

    Our position has always been to engage with the Council and give our professional opinions and advice, in order that the voices of the town could be heard. If anyone has misunderstood the council’s plans, it is more due to the lack of public engagement and ridiculous accusations of being a Conservative lead campaign which have muddied the water and confused the local people, rather than our campaign.

    We had a public meeting, delivered a petition and made numerous video’s,and it is good to know that it made a difference. We are always eager to talk to the Council, about our concerns and where we can help to promote the future of Fairfield Halls, so it will be beneficial for all of us.

    We will continue to support local community arts and call for wider access of the arts to all through temporary venues within the town. We hope that classical music will continue to be enjoyed in the finest acoustic concert hall in London and hope that the next couple of years are full of events, music, theatre, dance for all the young people of the town.

  • Sean Creighton

    Ian’s artilcle is essential read along with Andy Hylton’s comment on the rationale of he Save Our Fairfield campaign.Councillors who are putting out misinformation about the campaign need to reassess..

  • Ian Marvin

    Thank you Sean and Andy for your comments. Andy, it’s the name of your campaign which has caused misunderstanding, amongst the only marginally engaged there were plenty who had assumed that it was going to disappear and when I have told them the debate is over the methodology of refurbishment many are irritated by what they feel is scaremongering. I’ve attempted to be even handed and report what I have observed. Personally I can see both sides, in a perfect world phased refurbishment would have been started a while ago. I certainly feel that the attention and focus your campaign has brought is vital. And I’m sure that ‘Lobby for a phased refurbishment of Fairfield Halls in place of a two year closure that is likely to overrun and in any case where is the plan for re-opening?’ would have been a less effective name.

  • Andy Hylton

    Thanks for comments. I do think that you have over-egged the argument that by using the word ‘Save’ in our campaign that we were implying the venue would be demolished.

    What about ‘Save our breath’ – to not bother to say something because it is pointless?
    ‘Save their bacon’ -to rescue someone from danger or difficulty? Or ‘save the day’ – to find or provide a solution to a difficulty or disaster?

    We see the Fairfield as more than just a building. More than steel, concrete and bricks. Fairfield represents the people, history and heritage of Croydon. That site has been used for entertainment and the community, not just for the last fifty-four years, but for the last five and half centuries. It warrants a campaign to guarantee that this history is protected so that the building can be viable for the next century. Spending money on the housing around the venue does not do that. The only way you can truly save it is by investing in the people too, not just the structure. Did the council do that by closing the venue and making skilled people out of work, or 25,000 children losing access to the halls for two years?

    At the time we started the campaign 220 jobs were under threat, community groups were being threatened with eviction and the venue was going to be unnecessarily closed for an unknown length of time. We believed that there was something to ‘save’.

    I too can see both sides of the argument, but sitting on the fence is a painful position to take. Up until October 2015 the venue was going to be phased. Everyone who worked in the Fairfield was of the understanding that a refurbishment was coming soon. “Let’s put up with the years of neglect by previous councils and await the future.” The arrival of Ms Negrini changed that. She brought a different vision of the utopian Croydon and this involved a starting from scratch and removing all that went before it. Listen to the words of Sir Simon Rattle, Nigel Kennedy and Jools Holland. Listen to the theatre experts at Theatres Trust and the union perspective at BECTU.

    If there has been any scaremongering it has not come from our campaign. If the council had been completely upfront about the whole consultant report and what the intentions were for the building we may have taken a different approach.

    One such development which had not been clearly outlined at the outset was the connection of the new College building to the Fairfield Halls. How reliant will the college be on the facilities of the hall? The Design and Access statement mentions physical integration via the two storey atrium and the Arnhem gallery mezzanine is also referenced as suitable for learning space. However much the college uses the facilities of Fairfield Halls, are they aware of the impact that this would have on rehearsals and other current uses? If there were lectures running, the Concert Hall could not be used for rehearsals. Does this not change what Fairfield Halls was built for in the first place and the use of the ground that it stands on?

    I am all for free education of our children and the use of the halls for arts and cultural but this Croydon College is a private business charging fees to students from around the world. How much of that will benefit the residents of Croydon?

    Our campaign agenda was clearly set out on saveourfairfield.org. If there is any criticism I would accept is that we targeted the online and social media aspects rather than standing at a stall in the centre of town and giving out leaflets. There are people who do not have access to computers that were not aware that the Fairfield was closing for a refurbishment never mind knowing there was a campaign to stop the closure.

    We have received hundreds of messages from supporters and local people opposing the plans to close. There are legitimate fears from within the community that the integrity of the Fairfield is being threatened without the proper consultation necessary to safe guard this. Our requests for public meetings and discussions were refused, our petition was not debated properly in April, my speech was censored to the public rooms and the webcast (still no official apology) To make matters worse there was a local online community of ‘trolls’ intent on labelling this as politically motivated by Tories and the elected councillors themselves were taking to Twitter to stoke the fires with incredulous statements and arrogance. I actually think it is time that MP’s and councillors removed themselves from social media and started to reply to letters and emails instead. I am still awaiting a reply from Cllr Godfrey to the many emails I have sent him.

    Going back to your original statement, I do think that our campaign and supporters have behaved in an exemplary way. Our campaign is made up of normal concerned taxpayers, theatre technicians, actors, artists, filmmakers, singers, honoured musicians, architects and patrons. We have only ever given out the facts, in an respectful and informed way. Can the council honestly say the same?

  • Andy Hylton

    Thanks for your reply, but maybe you are exaggerating the argument that using the word ‘Save’ in our campaign implies the venue would be demolished. The word has many definitions and different usages.

    What about ‘Save our breath’ – to not bother to say something because it is pointless?
    ‘save someone the trouble’ – avoid involving someone in useless or pointless effort Or ‘save the day’ – to find or provide a solution to a difficulty? Not to mention to save a goal in football or save computer data.

    At the time we started the campaign 220 jobs were under threat, community groups were being threatened with eviction and the venue was going to be unnecessarily closed for an unknown length of time, without any firm plans to re-opening date. All this before planning permission. We believed that there were many things to ‘save’ and we believe there still is.

    The Fairfield is more than steel, concrete and bricks. Fairfield represents the people, history and heritage of Croydon. That site has been used for entertainment and the community, not just for the last fifty-four years, but for the last five and half centuries. It warrants a campaign to guarantee that this delicate history is protected so that the building can be viable for the next century. We don’t have the deep pockets that the council have, but they can work with us if they want to.

    Our campaign agenda was clearly set out on saveourfairfield.org. If there is any criticism I would accept is that we targeted the online and social media aspects rather than standing at a stall in the centre of town and giving out leaflets. There are people who do not have access to computers that were not aware that the Fairfield was closing for a refurbishment never mind knowing there was a campaign to stop the closure.

    To make matters worse there was a local online community of ‘trolls’ intent on labelling this as politically motivated by Tories and some Tweets from the elected councillors themselves stoking the fires with incredulous statements and arrogance.

    I think our campaign and supporters have behaved in an exemplary way. Our campaign is made up of normal concerned local taxpayers, theatre technicians, actors, artists, filmmakers, singers, honoured musicians, parents, teachers, architects and patrons. We have only ever given out the real facts, in a respectful and informed way.

    I actually think it is time that MP’s and councillors removed themselves from social media and started to reply to letters and emails instead.