Is it growth for all or for developers’ profits?

By - Monday 17th November, 2014

What will Croydon’s Growth Plan deliver?

Who profits?
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission

The provision of skilled jobs, decent wages, affordable housing, the creation of a decent environment and greater democratic engagement are the challenges facing the people of Croydon over the next four years.

In the view of the Labour administration elected in May 2014, this will be achieved through its newly adopted Growth for the Prosperity for All; Growth Plan & District Centre Investment and Place Plans adopted on 14th July by the council’s cabinet and refined at its meeting on 29th September with the accompanying Croydon Promise publication..

The central driver for the local economy is seen as the Westfield/Hammerson retail development in the town centre, supported by the building of thousands of new homes and provision of modern office blocks.

The politicians have been captured by the developers

But both the politicians and the officers refuse to recognise the need for a plan B in the event of a delay or non delivery of the Westfield/Hammerson redevelopment. Delay is possible given the pending judicial review of the initial planning decision, a public inquiry into compulsory purchase orders and their implications for the yet-to-be-submitted detailed planning application.

It looks as if the politicians of the new administration and leading officers have been captured by the developers and their property world advisers.

The administration has committed itself to the creation of 5,000 mainly low paid retail jobs in the Westfield/Hammerson scheme with no ability to insist that the London Living Wage is paid. The Growth Plan is too weak to be able to sow the seeds for creating a diverse and resilient local economy. It fails to outline a strategy for greening the economy.

The future is grim for a quarter of Croydon’s households

Those on low incomes in work will become increasingly dependent on benefits to ensure they can afford to remain in Croydon, or will be driven out of the borough as rents in both ‘affordable’ homes provided in private developments and in council and housing association property rise. With George Osborne’s announcement at the Tory Party Conference that benefits will be cut again if the Tories form the next government, the future is grimmer and grimmer for at least a quarter of Croydon’s households.

It looks like the public consultation on the Growth Plan will be a traditional sham form of public consultation and that local residents will have little say in detailed implementation of spending in the districts. A meeting held in Norbury on 7th October, mainly aimed at businesses, was invitation only and only a few residents were invited. The councillors and officers got a clear message of disillusionment and cynicism about the council’s intentions from resident activists.

Croydon Trades Union Council (CTUC) is very concerned that the new paper does not address the issue of delay or non-delivery of the Westfield/Hammerson redevelopment scheme, and the need for an alternative strategy in either eventuality. Its working party has received a detailed response to its submissions but has not been invited to discuss them with politicians or officials. The working party has now finished its work, and as its former convenor I can only assume that most of its concerns and recommendations have been dismissed.

Claims of transparency and openness are the emperor’s new clothes

Taking into account the failure of the administration to consult widely on the proposed Cultural Quarter, it increasingly appears that the new administration’s claim to more openness, transparency and public engagement is the ‘emperor’s new clothes’. This should act as a warning to every organisation and informal group of people that wants to try and influence the development of council policy.

The leadership of the new administration is in danger of losing much-needed support as people revert to a more cynical view of the political process. The administration is locking itself tighter and tighter in with the private developers through the Croydon Strategic Metropolitan Board. This means it will be seen as highly partisan towards the interests of the particular developers involved and could limit the ability of politicians to negotiate for better outcomes from them.

The administration needs to develop a strong negotiating position with developers so that is not trampled on and manipulated for the benefit of private profit that does not meet the needs of the people of Croydon: good and well-paid jobs, decent wages, and attractive neighbourhoods.

The Croydon Assembly being organised by CTUC for Saturday 15th November will give activists from trade unions, residents and community and voluntary organisations and campaigns the opportunity to discuss in detail the wide range of issues of concern.

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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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  • Stephen Giles

    Forget “affordable housing” because builders will not be prepared drop profit margins at the whim of a struggling Labour Council, so who will take up contracts to build – cowboys building sub-standard properties? Furthermore, where on earth does this struggling Labour Council propose to build???