Where is ‘Ambition for Croydon’?

By - Wednesday 22nd July, 2015

As Croydon’s Ambition Festival opens, Sean Creighton considers a distinct failure to reach for the stars

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

Flyposters now adorn the boarding in front of the closed Visitor Centre next to East Croydon Station while we wait for the Boxpark retail facility to be built.

The short-termism and lack of strategic thinking involved in the closure of the centre on 1st May by Croydon Business Improvement District (BID), and the council’s apparent non-intervention, have undermined ‘Ambition for Croydon’.

When the closure of the Centre was announced, I started paper and e-petitions urging the council to intervene.

‘We, the undersigned residents and workers of Croydon, call on the council to discuss with Croydon BID the planned closure of the Croydon Visitor Centre on May 1st 2015, because of the closure’s detrimental effect on the image of Croydon and the ending of its range of services which helped 150,000 visitors in 2013/14. We request the council to discuss with the BID methods to finance the re-location and continuing operation of the Centre. Given the damage to the image of Croydon if the BID does not agree to find a way to keep the centre open, the council should consider withdrawing its support from the BID.’

The council made a typical bureaucratic non-reply

I submitted it on 11th May. I have now had a reply (24th June) from Stephen Tate, Director of District Centres and Regeneration (Interim), which states:

‘Thank you for details of the e-petition that you sent to our Head of Democratic Services and Scrutiny on 11th May. I agree that the service provided through the Croydon Visitor Centre provided useful information for residents, office workers and visitors.

‘The visitor centre property is owned by a private developer, Stanhope Schroders, and it forms part of Ruskin Square scheme, one of London’s largest developments which will transform this part of the town centre with over 2 million square feet of new offices and shops. Stanhope Schroders is closing the centre to allow enabling works to take place on this part of the site. to prepare it for development.

Image by Boxpark Croydon, used with permission.

‘This will also facilitate the immediate delivery of a new temporary retail facility – Boxpark Croydon. This scheme, which is currently at its planning stage, will feature small retail, food and beverage stores and provide a wide variety of services to residents and visitors alike. The Croydon Town Centre Business Improvement District company is currently reviewing options for delivering high quality services to visitors in the future.’

This reply does not of course address the central point in the petition – it is a typical bureaucratic non-reply. It does not state what action the council took to discuss the issue with Croydon BID before the actual closure on Friday 1st May, the central point of the petition.

The reply also does not acknowledge that I had sent in the signed paper petition forms, giving the impression that it was only an e-petition. I have asked for clarification as to whether this letter is an officer’s response or was made after councillors’ consideration. I await a reply.

The CVC closure appears to have been premature

I was also advised by email that the reply would go up onto the council’s website. I checked on 30th June and could not find it. I have asked for the url.

If, as the answer states, the Boxpark scheme is still at the planning stage*, then the closure appears to have been premature. We could still have had an operating Visitor Centre helping to promote the Heritage, Ambition and other festivals, and encouraging people to take part in the consultation on the proposed Tramlink loop system.

Three of the six members of the former centre team made redundant are still seeking work. Croydon still awaits a replacement ‘mobile information service’, originally announced as commencing ‘during June 2015′.

*A Boxpark launch announcement is to be made on Thursday 23rd July. A ‘vibrant feast for the senses to kick off Croydon’s renaissance’ and a ‘casual dining revolution’ are promised. Watch this space.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Reena

    I agree with you Sean. It’s a shame. The centre really helped us when we moved to Croydon

  • Tony Skrzypczyk

    Yes I fully agree a town the size of Croydon needs some kind of Tourist Information Bureau type of outlet.n