Croydon town centre is changing: how will it affect you?

By - Wednesday 27th April, 2016

Robert Ward was impressed by the SCCA’s question time event on the upcoming disruption in Croydon

Sitting in the audience at the ‘question time’ meeting organised by South Croydon Community Association (SCCA), I was reminded of the saying ‘everyone wants progress but nobody wants change’. In recent times progress has passed Croydon by, to our cost. Now that change looms ever closer, it is perhaps churlish to complain about the resulting disruption; for disruption there will undoubtedly be.

This and other issues were discussed by a strong panel assembled at Croydon College for the SCCA April meeting. The theme of the meeting was ‘Croydon town centre is changing: how will it affect you?’. That’s a very wide brief, so the two hours were divided up into sections, from the general to the particular; from what the vision for the future Croydon might look like to the affordability of housing.

The panel was made up of Jo Negrini, Executive Director of Place at Croydon Council; councillor Stuart Collins, Croydon Council deputy leader and cabinet member for the environment; Stuart Worden, the principal of the Brit School; Alex Andrews, area manager for Transport for London, and Martin Skinner, a property developer from Inspired Homes. The meeting was run loosely based on the BBC programme of the same name.

We are all going to have to get used to the centre of Croydon being a building site for quite some period

Inevitably the issue of the Fairfield Halls came up. Jo Negrini appeared stung by what she saw as criticism implying she does not know what she is doing. I had not interpreted the criticism as implying that was the case, but if there has been some along those lines then I am not surprised that she is grumpy. I would be too.

What we learned from her response is that a team has been put together to monitor and manage progress on the various projects, with the job of ensuring disruption to the lives of Croydon’s people is minimised. Experienced people have been hired and are already in place, but no matter how good they are, we are all going to have to get used to the centre of Croydon being a building site for quite some period. Our traditional routes for getting from home to work or to do our shopping will be disrupted.

Housing and transport also came up, with the property developer presenting some interesting ideas on how his company offers accommodation that may fit the lifestyle of the twenty-first century, and the need for housing units that take up less space. Smaller units in buildings with common areas and rooftop gardens may be part of that solution.

Without community activity, especially in the evenings, we risk being a combination of a dormitory and a shopping centre

As we know, our transport infrastructure is already good, but more work is on the way. The Fiveways junction is an example. Less parking and more people means more cycling, and hopefully the opportunity for people to live within walking distance of their work.

What also came out strongly is that success must be defined as Croydon’s people feeling that they are part of, indeed are proud to be a part of, the new Croydon. Arts and culture came out as an element that will help achieve that goal. Without community activity, especially in the evenings, we risk being a combination of a dormitory for people who work elsewhere, and a shopping centre deserted outside working hours. Not an attractive proposition.

That the Fairfield Halls is central to success is beyond doubt. Indeed, the Fairfield Halls closure seemed somehow to creep into almost every section. A criticism which I had seen and which was also levelled at the meeting is that the council somehow wants the Fairfield Halls never to re-open.

I am no Labour supporter, but the suggestion that they somehow do not want the Fairfield Halls to succeed is frankly absurd

Councillor Collins, as stung as Jo Negrini had been, responded very strongly to this line. Here I am also not surprised. I am no Labour supporter, and no supporter of their line on the Fairfield Halls, but the suggestion that they somehow do not want it to succeed is frankly absurd.

One unknown has been the lack of an operating model for the new Fairfield. Jo Negrini offered some clarification when she indicated that there is a target for this to be determined by the end of this year. Let’s hope so. Resolution of this issue, and whether the closure is phased or not, is vital.

These and other uncertainties need to be resolved soon. It would also be a good start in achieving the buy-in of Croydon’s people if there was a greater sense of community involvement. We all need to get behind the plan, and work out how to make the best of the period of disruption. Handing down decisions from on high, then doggedly defending the party line, has clearly failed to do that. Having more meetings of this kind is a step in the right direction. Well done to the SCCA for making it happen.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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