Live Croydon Housing Seminar 2013: Report

By - Friday 12th July, 2013

On the 1st July, public and private property figures came together in a positive afternoon for the future of Croydon at the Fairfield Halls

Croydon needs the ‘right mix’ – and Fairfield Halls can be part of that. Photo by Ade46. Image used under Creative Commons License.

As part of my recent duties for the Estates Gazette, I had the privilege of a free ticket to an annual conference (‘Live’ pronounced as in ‘Live and Let Die’ rather than ‘Live & Kicking’) where the present and the future of property in Croydon is discussed, with prominent council members, developers and estate agents among the industry figures invited. Of course, the figures present know that positivity towards Croydon is beneficial towards the companies they represent; yet it was difficult not to be convinced that Croydon has a bright future ahead.

The afternoon took the format of panel discussions and debates, with questions taken from the floor at the end of each individual panel. The event, chaired by Estates Gazette editor Damian Wild, was notable for the lack of questions received from the floor. Either the fantastic food laid on by the Fairfield Halls sated the appetite of the audience, or more convincingly, there wasn’t a lot to debate – the future of Croydon really is as bright as was promised at the event.

The first panel discussed ways in which Croydon has become ‘London’s Next Big Opportunity’ and how they can implement these plans. The main points were based on changing perceptions and diversifying the town centre. Paul Spooner (Croydon Council executive director of planning and environment) for instance commented of the need for “the Fairfield Halls to be developed to provide a mix in the town centre”, a focal point in the recent Riesco fiasco. Alongside this, he noted that the council is seeking 7,300 new homes in the Croydon Opportunity Area and 12,700 elsewhere in the borough – good news.

“Croydon talks the talk, but needs to walk the walk”

The second debate focused upon market indicators and trends. Mary Parsons, from Places for People, noted the welcoming nature of the council as a reason for their investment: “We were welcomed here, unlike other boroughs. Croydon really wanted this to happen.” Paul Endacott, from 1st Avenue, agreed: “I’ve never seen a town so willing to make changes, to be open to ideas.”

Whilst Croydon was named as the sixth cheapest borough in the capital to rent a home, there was a warning that a balance needs to be struck between the huge uplift potential and the creation of affordable homes. Endacott also noted the success of Saffron Square, commenting that “we can’t turn units in Saffron Square around quick enough. We are building a community in the heart of Croydon. Saffron Square can be the Manhattan of south London.”

The third debate discussed house building. Mark Bailey from Barratt Homes noted their new projects – New South Quarter in Purley Way and Cane Hill in Coulsdon. Cane Hill in particular “will deliver a broad mix – 25% affordable, different sized properties.” Bailey seemed less effusive of Croydon than other panellists; there was a statement that “Croydon talks the talk, but needs to walk the walk. The key is to make it an aspirational place.” Richard Plant from Stiles Harold Williams was more positive however: “It’s frustrating to hear the negatives about Croydon. There genuinely is about to be a change.” Plant cited the proposal to remove Taberner House as an example of this.

“We’re working on one of the biggest schemes in Croydon at the moment [Hammerson/Westfield] and we’re not really breaking a sweat”

The penultimate panel spoke of office to residential conversion. I must admit, during the technical talk of engineering I was a bit lost. However, office to residential conversion is crucial to Croydon. The multitude of 1960s, grey office blocks in Croydon is no longer an architectural blight; it is a great opportunity to bring residents back into the centre of town, through both luxury and affordable homes.

Jason Balls from EPR Architects praised St. George’s House, suggesting “It has an ability to adapt and reinvent. We want to use the elegance of the tower. We want to create something that adds interest to the skyline of Croydon, and provide spectacular views across Croydon.” There was a warning of the empty office space in Croydon – 7.9 million square feet are empty – but again, this was presented as an opportunity.

The final panel was on unlocking development opportunities in Croydon. The boldest statement of the afternoon went to Mike Kiely, from the LBC, who claimed “We’re working on one of the biggest schemes in Croydon at the moment [Hammerson/Westfield] and we’re not really breaking a sweat.” Confident. Jackie Sadek from UK Regeneration provided the most passionate and lively speech of the afternoon, arguing “the aim is to create an economically active community. The transport links have been there for some decades – not enough, not the tipping point, but a big tick. Croydon will soon have one of only four London supermalls – big tick. The message is getting through. The local authority is proactive and enlightened – both big ticks.”

The biggest pointer to come out of the afternoon was the importance of the Hammerson/Westfield development to practically all the other developments taking place. It has to be said; the council was very impressive in terms of confidence and clarity of direction and received considerable praise from developers, estate agents and architects alike. Of course, this is just a snapshot of some of the points that were made – but one went away with the feeling that Croydon is really going places. At least, until the walk back through the shabby entrance of the Fairfield Halls.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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  • Sean Creighton

    For a non-developer perspective on housing issues see my postings on my blog. Google History Social Action Blog..

    • Tom Lickley

      Which articles in particular Sean?