November 2016 in brief

By - Monday 12th December, 2016

The big news stories of last month, summarised by the Citizen team

Photo by Made In Croydon CIC, used with permission.

Tram derailment near Sandilands kills seven

Shortly after 6am on the morning of Wednesday 9th November, tram number 2551 derailed after leaving the Sandilands tunnel. The tram, which was travelling towards central Croydon from New Addington, overturned completely and fell onto its side. Seven people died in the accident, while fifty-eight more suffered injuries, many extremely serious. The derailment was London’s first tram accident to have involved loss of life since 1959.

Public reaction to accident is sombre and widespread

Tributes were immediately paid by civic, religious, and political leaders. The Armistice Day ceremony at Croydon town hall’s war memorial saw tributes led by Mayor of Croydon Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, and featured an additional two minute silence for all those affected by the derailment. Council leader Tony Newman described the accident as “devastating” and praised the reaction of the Croydon community as it stood “in solidarity with all the victims and their families”. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who visited the scene within hours of the accident, described it as his “worst day since becoming mayor”. Members of the public have been invited to sign a book of condolence in the town hall, which remains open to signatures at time of going to press.

Rail Accident Investigation Board interim report released amid allegations of other incidents

Shortly after the accident, a video from June 2016 emerged which claims to show a driver falling asleep at the controls of a tram. Other allegations spread over social media included a record of an official complaint that another tram had also sped through the Sandilands tunnel, a week before November’s derailment. These are now being investigated by British Transport Police.

Trade union the RMT also claimed that its drivers had been under increasing pressure to run services faster and with smaller gaps. The Rail Accident Investigation Board visited the site immediately and published an interim report within days of the accident, in preparation for a full report due out in approximately one year.

Christmas lights switched on with help from stars

Croydon’s Christmas lights were switched on at a crowded event on North End. Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew and captain Scott Dann were joined by X-Factor finalists Reggie ’n’ Bollie, while the stars of this year’s pantomime warmed up the crowd before a countdown and a successful switch-on of the lights. Other Christmas lights events around the borough included a switch-on of Boxpark’s Christmas lights by So Solid Crew.

The Fairfield Halls pantomime, unable to take place in its usual home thanks to ongoing refurbishments, will be performed in a specially-converted room at Waddon Leisure Centre from 7th to 31st December.

 ‘Made In Croydon’ launches local makers’ fair

A new community organisation launched earlier in 2016, which aims to ‘promote, commission and offer retail sales routes for artists and designers in Croydon’, held its first event with a makers’ fair inside Boxpark on 25th November. Sixteen stalls displayed merchandise, with new startups making up 40% of attendees. Work on display ranged from that of established designers and artists to local people who had recently made use of the pop-up shop in the Whitgift Centre to start their businesses. The next fair will take place in Centrale on Saturday 17th December.

Southern rail problems threaten Body Shop’s future in Croydon

The global cosmetics brand, which moved its UK HQ to the town centre this year under the internal headline ‘Moving to Croydon: Surprisingly awesome’, has admitted that it is concerned staff may quit their jobs because of the issues surrounding Southern and East Croydon. More than 200 staff work at the HQ in Knollys House on Cherry Orchard Road.

The Croydon Advertiser reported that Alex King, head of internal communications and employee engagement at the L’Oréal-owned company, told a debate at the Develop Croydon conference that “our biggest issue is trains”. Employees have been given compensation for the train issues, but this will end in March 2017. With many employees complaining of not being able to see their children or have an after-work life, King spoke of a real worry that widespread departures from the company may be on the horizon.

A spokesperson for Southern operators Govia Thameslink Railway expressed sympathy and called on the railway unions to call off upcoming strikes. For more on the economic dangers for Croydon posed by the ongoing rail problems, see last month’s edition of the Croydon Citizen or visit our website.

TfL fare freeze on buses and trams announced – but it won’t apply to train fares

As promised in his Croydon Manifesto entry (Croydon Citizen, April 2016) and elsewhere, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has confirmed a four-year fare freeze on TfL services will come into force in January 2017. Fares on trams and buses in Croydon will therefore not increase above inflation until 2020 at the earliest. However, the detail of the policy sparked controversy when it became clear that fares on Southern services would not be frozen, as TfL (which is controlled by the mayor) does not set fares for mainline rail services.

Croydon South MP Chris Philp accused Khan of not keeping his promise that “every single Londoner” would have their fares frozen. The Croydon Advertiser reported that a spokesperson for the mayor responded that it is not within the mayor’s power to control the fares set by Southern, but is instead the responsibility of the Department for Transport, which Philp as an MP can lobby directly. Another pledge made by Khan during the mayoral campaign – the ‘hopper’ bus fare which allows passengers unlimited bus changes within an hour of first touching in – has now been launched, and applies to bus services in Croydon, as well as to London Trams.

Shortage of office space for companies seeking to relocate from central London

Various news outlets reported the findings of consultant surveyors Sinclair Clark, which said that “less than 3%” of Croydon’s once-over-abundant office space now lies vacant. While much of the decline is due to employers moving to the town and new businesses opening up, the conversion of office space into residential flats has exacerbated the situation. ‘Permitted Development Rights’ (PDR), introduced by the government in 2013, allow developers to transform vacant offices into residential space without applying for planning permission.

The risk posed by PDR – that Croydon would become a so-called ‘dormitory town’ – was explored at length in the September 2015 edition of the Croydon Citizen. Though the council successfully applied to halt PDR in Croydon town centre during that same month, the dwindling amount of office space is now a serious concern for business, community and political leaders in the town. Whilst more office space is now forthcoming (several of the new developments underway in the town centre feature offices), much of it has already been leased in advance by organisations including HMRC.

The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen is a non-profit community news magazine for London's most populous borough.

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