Where are the articles defending the Fairfield Halls’ closure?

By - Monday 18th April, 2016

Why aren’t the Citizen’s contributors expressing support for the Fairfield plan? Politics editor Tom Black investigates, or at least speculates

The Citizen has published a number of articles about the council’s proposals to completely close the Fairfield Halls for two years while the venue undergoes refurbishment. Opponents claim that there is a real risk that it will never reopen. Others say that even if it does, its complete loss for two years is unacceptable to the community groups, businesses and concert- and theatre-goers who make use of it. Our December 2015 print magazine cover provocatively framed the cases for and against the proposal as a seasonal dilemma: to deck, or possibly to wreck, Croydon’s famous Halls.

Just last week, as tonight’s council meeting loomed, four articles have criticised the plans from an engineering perspective, assessed the latest campaign meeting against the plans, warned of a ‘slow and agonising death’ for the Fairfield, and accused ‘the politicians’ of forgetting that the Halls ‘belong’ to the people of Croydon. I found all of these articles interesting and illuminating, but there’s no denying that there’s a bit of a pattern among them. Having always aimed for pluralism, not neutrality, the Citizen prides itself on publishing as many views as possible on any debate. The only issue this time is that, well, almost nobody’s written to us about why the council’s plans should go ahead.

We’ve been pleased to attract and generate debate on many of the hot topics of the last few years. The Opportunity and Fairness Commission made its case in our pages in the words of its chair, and was praised and criticised by other contributors. Whether Croydon should have grammar schools again has been a recurring topic, with strongly-held views on both sides. I still fondly remember the back-and-forth about proposed uses for the old Ashburton library building. Big picture issues like the European Union have been discussed favourably by some contributors and negatively by others. (Watch this space for more coverage as the referendum campaign heats up.)

On virtually every other controversial issue, our contributors have enthusiastically made the cases for and against

Politicians like to get involved too. Recently we heard Labour and Conservative approaches to delivering the ‘real’ living wage. On the sale of the Riesco collection, we ran the case for and against side-by-side, complete with a poll. And of course, in all three elections during the Citizen‘s lifetime, we’ve always had people from various parties keen to make their case, most recently in Andrew Hamilton-Thomas’s interview series, and in our ‘Croydon Manifesto’ feature in this month’s print edition.

That may seem like a lot of examples, but I hope that it makes my point: this situation is very unusual. On virtually every other controversial issue, our contributors have enthusiastically made the cases for and against. The same cannot be said for the full two year closure versus phased refurbishment debate about Fairfield.

What have we got instead? There are anonymous accounts calling the proposal’s opponents ‘Tories’ on Twitter, but I think that that’s been the case for just about every political story since Twitter was set up. None of those people seems keen to write an article expanding on their view, either.

The opportunity to contribute is permanently open to anyone who wishes to get involved in this debate

I should say a few words in defence of council leader Tony Newman here. On reading our December print edition, which covered the Fairfield story from various angles, he contributed an article making the case for refurbishment. An explosion of comments followed, with many complaining that the case for refurbishment was not the issue, and that the case for a complete closure was not made at all by the article. But nevertheless, councillor Newman has contributed to the debate.

The same cannot be said for Timothy Godfrey, Croydon Council’s cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport. Keen to lambast people on Twitter and claim that secret reports mean that there are no other options, Godfrey has declined to respond to any of my attempts to reach out and encourage him to submit an article setting out this case in detail. The Citizen‘s model of publishing content means that that opportunity is permanently open to councillor Godfrey and anyone else who wishes to get involved in this debate.

We’d be interested in publishing the case for a full two year closure. Would you like to write it?

It would also be worrying if the only people telling us that the council was doing the right thing were, er, the council. If you disagree with the proposals for a phased closure, if you think that the Fairfield Halls can happily re-open after two years, if you think that the refurbishment is too overdue to allow any half-measures, we want to hear from you. Get in touch and we’ll get the ball rolling.

Of course, we’re also still interested in publishing cases for a phased closure, or no closure at all. But an imbalance of content like this is so rare that we thought we’d have a go at attempting to directly ‘correct’ it.

The council meeting tonight will see the petition presented to a full meeting of our borough’s elected representatives. Whatever happens, matters will soon be brought to a head – and the Citizen will continue publishing articles on what happens next.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Robert Ward

    Thanks Tom,
    For me the issue is more about the process by which the decision has been made. The Council attitude has been – here is the answer, like it or lump it. Anything that might help the public, or even the opposition to understand the case for or against is secret.

    I could easily make a qualitative case for complete closure as I have tried to do for a phased closure (my instinctive choice). The problem is that without access to the figures we are just waving our arms around rather than understanding the costs and benefits of the options.

  • Peter Staveley

    The basic problem is that only those who have seen the secret report have any evidence to decide if the decision to close completely is a good one or a bad one.

    Since, for some unknown reason, the Council administration has chosen not to publish that report (even in reacted form) then the general public are having to make their decision as to which side to support with only the facts that are publicly available.

    As it so happens I too support the phased closure side but it the complete closure option is a good one then why can we not see that evidence and make our own decision? What have the Council got to hide?

    To me the bigger issue is the lack of opportunity to engage the public and the stakeholders in the decision meaning that we have a deficiency in democracy in Croydon. It is quite possible that a funding solution could have been found to provide that additional £4.8 million (or whatever it is) but we will never know that because the Council have not engaged the public who voted-in this administration.