Was it really ‘Tech City wot won it’?


By - Wednesday 21st September, 2016

Croydon Tech City may be – through no fault of its own – getting unrealistic levels of credit for Croydon’s boom


Saffron Square, Wellesley Road.
Photo author’s own.

Over the last few weeks we’ve heard plenty of talk about Croydon having the UK’s fastest growing economy, and how this is a result of the work of Croydon Tech City. My dedication to supporting CTC knows few bounds. However, I was curious to read the original article on the subject, on the website of chartered accountants UHY Hacker Young, from which the assertion originates.

Great though the achievements of Tech City founders Nigel Dias, Sarah Luxford and Jonny Rose might be, even they wouldn’t claim that Croydon Tech City (founded 2012) attracted DotMailer (which was founded in, er, 1999, in Croydon) to the borough. This is not to underestimate the influence of Croydon Tech City, which has raised Croydon’s profile dramatically and definitely encouraged the local tech start-up scene to coalesce and grow.

Alongside this, we have the publication of the Croydon Local Plan which has now reached the proposed submission stage. Consultation took place on this a year or so back and this is effectively the last chance for public representations to be made prior to its submission to the independent planning inspector appointed by the Secretary of State. I think that it’s worth quoting from the plan, giving the basis on which it has been prepared:

‘We are Croydon’ is the vision for where Croydon will be in 2040, and the work of 20,000 people, imagining the borough in the future.

Enterprising:

A place renowned for its enterprise and innovation with a highly adaptable and skilled workforce and diverse and thriving local economy

Learning:

A place that unleashes and nurtures local talent, is recognised for its support and opportunity for lifelong learning and ambitions for children and young people

Creative:

A place that draws people to its culture and creativity – an inspiration and enabler of new artistic and sporting talent in the country

Connected:

A place that is well connected, easy to get to and around, and supported by infrastructure that enables people to easily come together, with one of the best digital, communications and transport networks in the country

Sustainable:

A place that sets the pace amongst London boroughs on promoting environmental sustainability and where the natural environment forms the arteries and veins of the city

Caring:

A place noted for its safety, openness and community spirit where all people are welcome to live and work and where individuals and communities are supported to fulfil their potential and deliver solutions for themselves.

Croydon local plan: detailed policies and proposals (CLP2)

In reality, the plan’s vision for Croydon places its greatest emphasis on meeting projected housing requirements. Almost everywhere that isn’t currently green is up for grabs. Morrison’s at Fiveways? Squeeze up to 1,028 homes in there: no need to get rid of the shops though. PC World in Trojan Way? No more than 173 will fit. I’d like to address employment, though, and in particular employment with greater added value to the community than the retail/leisure/back office mix which seems to predominate at present.

We are promised an explosion of creativity: new companies, new ideas and tech innovations feeding directly into the local economy, creating jobs and prosperity. Where is the seedbed for such ideas supposed to be? For all the talk of ‘ambition for Croydon’, is our vision really ambitious enough?

Emerging technology thrives in locations where ideas can be taken from academia into commercial exploitation

Mention is made in the plan of the decline in provision for factory and warehouse usage which is in fact greater than the decline in demand. Much of this decline is in the area south of Fiveways, to the west of Purley Way. Some of this has already been lost, for example Costco stands on the site of a former Ford foundry. However, most of the remaining buildings are either warehousing and distribution or older facilities not suited to the ‘enterprise and imagination’ that we are being encouraged to visualise.

So, what should we be thinking about? Historically, innovation and emerging technologies have thrived where opportunities exist to take ideas directly from academia to commercial exploitation. Look at Cambridge Science Park, for example. In the same way, Croydon needs drivers for ideas and spaces for them to be taken to fruition.

My idea is for Croydon to host a substantial university campus, together with business units capable of accommodating start-ups all the way to full scale manufacturing. Team this up with enhanced opportunities for vocational training and for those needing various types of support and assistance in order to access employment, and we can truly make Croydon a community that stands out and lives up to the hype. I shall take a few fact-finding missions soon, both virtual and real, but I believe that I will be able to make proposals as to how this can be squeezed into an increasingly jam-packed Croydon. Croydon Tech City may not have been the panacea that others have described it as in recent weeks, but there’s no denying that it has a role to play in helping with that squeeze.

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.

More Posts - Website - Twitter