How Brexit threatens Croydon

By - Tuesday 28th June, 2016

We’ve seen Brexit wipe £2trillion off global stocks and take the pound to a thirty-one year low. What might it do to Croydon… and to Westfield? asks Sean Creighton

Photo public domain.

Will the narrow victory for the Leave side in last week’s EU referendum lead to Westfield Hammerson pulling the plug on the Whitgift redevelopment? That is what council leader Tony Newman fears and he has written for an assurance that the Croydon Partnership will continue with the project.

Personally I would be delighted to see the project collapse, as it should never had been put together in the first place. I have been one of its few vocal opponents, clearly in a small minority as shown by the high level of support in the developers’ recent consultation. If it does not go ahead, and many of the other schemes are also pulled by the developers, bring it on. None of them have been in the interests of meeting the housing and job needs of people living in Croydon.

The pending Brexit-induced economic crisis could lead to a change in the economics of the private developers’ schemes and be a trigger for them pulling the plug. This has always been possible and why I have argued that Croydon council needs a Plan B, which it does not have. If the planned schemes do not go ahead, and if a developer cannot be found for the College Green/Fairfield Halls scheme, then can the council deliver its promise to refurbish and re-open Fairfield Halls?

There will be more austerity cuts, and further cuts in money allocated by central government to Croydon

I have also argued, as I did in my evidence to the Opportunity and Fairness Commission, that Croydon is not an integrated multi-cultural society but a set of silos based on colour, ethnicity, and faith, with little inter-connection. The toxic messages of the Leave campaign will see a rise in racism, islamophobia and xenophobia. A growth in intolerance and hate will see more incidents of abuse, physical attacks, organised violence and the rise of the extreme right fascists. A Pandora’s Box of unknown and frightening consequences has been opened.

If the economic downturn that is expected to follow from Brexit happens, there will be more austerity cuts and therefore cuts to the money allocated by central government to Croydon Council. It will be able to do even less. That will fewer services, more job losses, and a further shrinking of the important role of the council in the local economy.

It’s like the deck of the Titanic

In such a challenging environment it will need to carry the public with it, so it will need to change the way that it gets its news and messages across, to reach the high number of residents who are not digitally skilled. It will need to improve the way that it listens to people who raise questions and objections. It will need to stop imposing projects based on ‘we know best’. If the victory of Leave demonstrates nothing else, it is that all of those areas up north that were smashed by Thatcherism in the 1980s have had enough of politicians and their ‘we know best’ attitudes.

Meanwhile the panic in the political parties leading to their possible fracturing as coalitions shows that they have not got a clue how to move forward other than by emulating the panic on the sinking Titanic. This crisis could mean that both Croydon Tories and Labour fall apart, leaving us with an unknown combination of new political groupings in the next council elections in two years’ time. The anti-Corbyn frenzy that has seized Labour’s MPs will hit Croydon hard given that so many of leading party members in this area did not support his being leader in the first place. Such divisions could spill over into the council Labour group, meaning that it gets diverted from its real job of running the council.

New negotiations with Europe could lead to a better deal, market stability and a halt to the spiral of hate

Can the road to national and local self-destruction be stopped? Yes, if there is the political will. The referendum is advisory, not mandatory. The result was close, and revealed deep divisions across the United Kingdom. Therefore everyone should be taking time to think through the potential consequences of Brexit. A cross-party consensus to enter new negotiations with Europe for a further reform package could lead to a better deal for remaining in Europe, stabilise the markets, and halt to slide into intolerance and hate.

Locally we need to ask a series of questions and have a debate on the way ahead. Here are my preliminary suggestions:

  • how many small businesses will cancel their planned investments?
  • how many Europeans living and working in Croydon will start to leave?
  • which Croydon-based mutli-nationals will move their operations staff to Europe?
  • what impact is the market crash going to have on the value of the council’s invested assets?
  • what more can be done to train locals for the building trades as the supply of east European workers dries up?
  • which parts of Croydon were strongly Leave and why?
  • will the local UKIP be a growing force?
  • what can be done to counter a revival of the far right?
  • if the two main parties split, what new party groupings/alliances will provide the electoral choice in the local elections in two years’ time?
  • if the economic turmoil leads to more austerity cuts, what further council cuts will have to be made?
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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  • Ian Marvin

    Whilst I don’t agree with everything here you’ve hit several nails on the head. One possible silver lining is the potential to re-purpose stalled private developments (if that is a consequence of Brexit) to provide more genuinely affordable housing. My view is that this needs to a be a joined up London wide initiative, so it’s down to the new Mayor and whether he can get support from central government.

  • Anne Giles

    I was quite disturbed to learn that a lot of people in my area (Selsdon), as also Sanderstead and New Addington had voted to leave the EU. A survey shows that a lot of older voters voted Leave, so those of us who voted to remain in the EU are being blamed.

  • szczels

    Good you got this up so quick Sean. I’ve shared it on social media…

  • Susan Oliver

    Hello Sean! I, too, would be psyched if the Westfield project was dropped. Of course the Whitgift Centre needs refurbishment but pulling the whole thing down is unnecessary and wasteful and profitable only to the Croydon Partnership. It would also be very painful to the public in terms of traffic – which is already bad enough – and having to deal with the Town Centre looking like a trash heap for at least 3 years.

    Furthermore, one aspect of this project that has not been analysed thoroughly is the fact that one-third of the Croydon Partnership is a Christian charity: the Whitgift Foundation. The question being: is investing in a slick shopping centre a Christian thing to do? Is this something Jesus would advocate?

    I think it’s pretty clear that Jesus spoke about putting one’s spiritual practice first and not to care so much about superficial concerns.

    There’s not enough space here to fully expand on the questions that this angle brings up but I think it’s something that the Whitgift Foundation should and will inevitably have to face.

  • Charlotte Davies

    Yes there are tensions in Croydon as there are in all societies, but actually we do hang together when we have to. I have always had fabulous support across Croydon from all religions and classes of people on issues such as parking charges or very poor quality multiple housing units or after the riots or Tech City or our Festivals and we all care about our children – we do. I actually think that Croydon has a lot of assets that mean that we will survive, we might not be super rich, but we will survive – the average age of the Borough is young, we are entrepreneurial, we are adaptable, we already have in place many loose groupings and structures to rebuild Croydon. We have a lot of people who grew up with considerably less than they have now and they know how to get out of a difficult position. Be proud, build up the Made in Croydon brand!

  • Allen Williams

    I do not expect the Tory Party to split: instead I expect “Leave EU” to become Tory policy. They promised a binding referendum and Cameron has confirmed the party will carry out the wishes of the British people. They can hardly not incorporate this in their official party policy when their new leader takes office. They would look, and be, ridiculous.

    If the Labour Party has any sense, it will also change tack (again) on the EU and follow the feelings of “…all of those areas up north that were smashed by Thatcherism in the
    1980s [and] have had enough of politicians and their ‘we know best’ attitudes” The strongest Labour areas were among those with the fiercest “Leave” votes. It will fall apart if this is ignored. New Labour has had its chips so far as traditional Labour areas are concerned. The Parliamentary Labour Party doesn’t seem to recognize this, yet. Perhaps it will begin to sink in when de-selection moves begin to be made against rebel MPs, or if the Labour whip is withdrawn from them meaning they are not eligible for re-selection. A split could occur if the MPs who consider themselves above the wishes of the electorate and their own supporters fail to acknowledge that they are not. Let them set up their own party and we shall see how they get on. They can’t call themselves Social Democrats, though, because the SDP still exists. I am a member. The party is not afraid to call itself socialist and is strongly anti-EU, so they won’t want to join us – not that we would want them any more than their own members do.

    UKIP has served its purpose and will wither away.