Potholes and pointless art


By - Friday 20th April, 2018

What has Croydon’s Labour council actually achieved?


Photo author’s own.

On Thursday 3rd May, we have local elections in Croydon. No matter what the outcome of these elections, due in part to ward changes, the council will look quite different. So what has four years of the current Labour administration brought us?

Central Croydon has become an in-vogue place. Boxpark, Croydon Pride and Croydon Cycle Fest are among the things that have attracted publicity to the town. Massive redevelopment with flats springing up has changed the look and feel of the town centre. Street art adorns our streets and a new metropolitan set are making Croydon their home.

Has this been of benefit of the residents of Croydon?

Photo author’s own.

The Fairfield Halls redevelopment has closed off a major car park and our main cultural venue. This has resulted in a corner of the town that is covered in graffiti (sorry, ‘street art’), and in which businesses keep closing down. When I started work in Croydon at the end of the ’80s, I used to buy lunch at Piccolino’s Snack Bar in St George’s Walk. Last year it closed, thanks to – as mentioned by the owner – the drop-off in trade since the Fairfield closure.

To top all of this, Westfield hasn’t discernibly progressed. As I have written before, trade in Surrey Street has dropped despite – or maybe because of – council investment.

In Barcelona, they have been building the Sagrada Família for over one hundred years. Maybe Croydon will become the Barcelona of northern Europe with – at four years and counting – not a single house having been delivered by Brick by Brick. This is despite its ability to incur the wrath of every local area it has gone in to.

How does the Labour council rate itself after four years in office? Its manifesto has some clues

The ‘inadequate’ rating by Ofsted of the council’s children’s services has left some children ‘at risk of significant harm’. These are the most vulnerable children in the borough. They have been let down and we have lost local democratic accountability of this service.

How does the Labour council rate its four years in office? A useful guide is the ‘top achievements’ they have published in their manifesto.

  • ‘Prosecuted almost 200 fly-tippers since 2014 – up from just two under the Tories!’ and ‘Hired more enforcement officers and street cleaners’: both good, but does anyone seriously feel Croydon has control of its fly-tipping problem?
  • ‘Introduced a Croydon licensing scheme to tackle rogue landlords’: a solid achievement.
  • ‘Taken libraries into public ownership after the last Tory council sold them to developers’: not really by choice, as this only happened due to the Carillion collapse.
  • ‘Started to build a brand-new health and leisure centre in New Addington’; ‘Invested in Fairfield Halls to ensure it reopens this year as south London’s arts and entertainment hub’; and ‘Provided £6 million to build Croydon’s OnSide Youth Zone, which offers quality facilities for young people’: none of these is delivered. The New Addington centre is running massively over budget, and the Fairfield Halls redevelopment is behind schedule.
  • ‘Lifted standards so that 95% of Croydon schools are now above the national average’: the schools in Croydon continue to improve. The council’s education department confirms they aren’t afraid to tackle challenging issues in Croydon’s schools.
  • ‘Kept Council Tax in the borough affordable’: surely this can only be believed by councillors who are the best paid in London.
  • ‘Set up the Croydon Opportunity and Fairness Commission’: like something from an episode of Yes, Minister only a professional politician could believe setting up a commission is an actual achievement.
  • ‘Enabled the new Boxpark to be built in East Croydon’: another achievement bringing the total to three. Three ‘top achievements’ in four years – one every sixteen months.

In four years, Tony Newman’s administration has overseen a change in the image of Croydon, but has it delivered for the people? Whatever the make-up of the new council (and to declare an interest, I am a UKIP candidate in New Addington South), I hope there is a focus on actual delivery for the people of Croydon – not just more ambitious plans for some point in the future.

Michael Swadling

Michael Swadling

Michael works in the IT Industry for and has lived in Croydon all of his life. He has been a governor in local schools for over twelve years. During the referendum he was the Croydon Area Manager for Vote Leave, Now promoting Classical Liberalism and Freedom. Visit Croydon Constitutionalist for events and articles on Classical Liberalism in our area http://croydonconstitutionalists.uk/. Former UKIP candidate for Croydon North and Croydon Council.

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  • Sannacott

    The Labour Council have done more for culture in 4 years than any previous administration since I moved to Croydon in 2002. They’ve employed a Culture Director who has helped leverage approximately £375,000 of Arts Council money into the borough by setting up a cultural partnership fund, and by bringing together and encouraging grassroots organisation to work together and aim higher. The Tories used to roll their eyes as me when I asked about an arts strategy. Fairfield is on its way and will be a great asset to the borough. It’s not all doom and gloom and lots of us like the street art, or are you just a concrete man?

    • Michael Swadling

      The council has brought and poured funding and effort into Arts. The main point of my article is to say maybe the same commitment should have been shown for Children’s Services, potholes, Westfield, new council houses, street cleaning to name a few areas.

      Yes lots of people enjoy the street art, but I’ve never been convinced why taxpayers money should fund peoples hobbies and interests. Given the choice between the old concrete view and the graffiti that comes with the art in Park Street/St Georges Walk/Kathrine Street / Queens Gardens – I would prefer the concrete. Making Croydon look run down is I believe to the detriment of the area.

      • Sannacott

        The Council haven’t paid for any of the street art – Kevin at Rise Gallery has funded all the larger pieces and the local artists buy their own paint.

        • Michael Swadling

          Which is great if rather selective. The Council has had significant involvement with this project which is taxpayer money. You mentioned Arts Council money which is funded in large part by taxpayers. I would again make the point which I fully understand you may disagree with. This street art in Croydon is accompanied by graffiti which makes a large part of the town look run down. This sends many of the residents of the borough to other town centres, rather than their own.

          • Sannacott

            Dear Michael, I saw this and thought of you. https://www.facebook.com/BBCArtsOnline/videos/2215708878444299/UzpfSTU3OTQwNjIxMjoxMDE1NTE0MDExMjAyMTIxMw/
            I sense you feel that we shouldn’t fund art at a local or national level. But to reduce it down to peoples ‘hobbies and interests’ is ignore the important part it plays in our society from on-street sculpture or murals to dance classes for kids. We enjoy a cultural life in this country that is admired the world over, but it doesn’t just happen, it needs resources. You don’t get fantastic West End productions without funding kids drama clubs, and it doesn’t happen in isolation, so public art is all part of that ecology. Plato had quite a lot to say about this. IMHO the graffiti situation has improved now there are some rules around street art, a legal wall and a good relationship between Rise and the graffiti community.

          • Michael Swadling

            So good of you to think of me. Interesting you mention “dance classes for kids” since these are almost entirely funded by parents not by the taxpayer.

            You’re right I believe art should be funded privately. An example of this could be the Statue of Liberty twice having private funds raised for it https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statue_of_Liberty#Fundraising. Tax taken by force from people is needed to defend the country, keep law and order and pay for essential services. Graffiti, street art, sculpture and murals can’t by any stretch be considered essential.

          • Sannacott

            But parents don’t solely pay for the construction of community centres where the dance classes usually take place.

            If you really believe that all art should be privately funded then you might want to petition for a fairer tax system. Essentially all politicians on both sides can do is tinker at the edges, barely making any difference. Until we tax the real source of wealth (land) then inequality is bound to increase and there will be greater and greater demand for tax payers money. I assume you didn’t watch the film because it was demonstrating how artistic and creative activities can improve health therefore saving NHS money, or is that not one of your essential services?

          • Michael Swadling

            Community centres charge the people who hire the space and
            provide the classes. I would love to see a fairer tax system.
            Ideally a flat tax, but your and my definition of fairer will differ. The film was an opinion of how creative activities can improve health. I think the NHS should really limit itself to health care not lifestyle and hobbies.

          • Sannacott

            I’m glad we’ve found something we agree on. But I think you missed the point re: the film – lifestyle/health/’hobbies’/art are all interconnected, surely it’s better to paint than take anti-depressants?

          • Michael Swadling

            Clearly better to paint than take anti-depressants, but I wouldn’t want the NHS funding it or making it a required part of a treatment. That path leads to all parts of your life being under the purview of the government and that I would find terrifying.

          • Sannacott

            Effectivement! You and I will have to stop agreeing, it will make for a very boring thread, before you know it we’ll be bonding over a pint in the Green Dragon..

  • Anne Giles

    Wonderful article Michael. I agree with everything you say!

    • Michael Swadling

      Thank-you Anne I knew we would find an area of agreement eventually!

      • Anne Giles

        :-)

  • ArfurTowcrate

    What a waste of space. This could have been used as a positive opportunity for UKIP to explain why people might vote for them. Instead it just moans about how awful things are. Fail!

  • The Croydon Resident

    I have to disagree.

    Having been a business owner in Croydon for 15 years and a resident for the majority of my life I think most of the changes that the Labour administration have implemented have been to the general benefit of Croydon.

    The current council have supported entrepreneurial spirit, something the other parties have failed to do, whilst also helping bring in investment by changing the grass root credibility and face of the borough. Changing our image plays a major part in it all; with a strong ‘brand’ we stand a better chance of inward investment (both monetary and people) creating jobs, improved public and private realm, infrastructure, more homes for residents to choose from etc…

    There are always areas that could do better but in the history of politics, no party has ever been perfect in its delivery to all. I agree that there are areas that need to be prioritised and focused on but rather than just write a sarcastic article, why not use that time to highlight the specific issues and lobby the relevant people to ensure changes are made?

    You are critical of building projects overrunning in time and cost, yet have no formal experience in that field to enable you to fully understand the complexities of the issues in hand or why they have come about. As someone that does, cost overruns and delays are not always avoidable (particularly on complex projects like the Fairfield Halls) and so it is likely that any other controlling party would face the same challenges and may even find themselves in a worse position.

    Brick by Brick has taken time to get fully underway however it will also deliver a large amount of affordable housing for Croydon residents whilst also maximising the value of the councils assets which is surely the most sensible option. What is the alternative? Sell the land to the highest bidder who in turn will develop the site with less affordable housing whilst retaining the profit for which no doubt others will again criticise.

    Westfield is not something the Council can ultimately control. They are a private company that will make commercial decisions that are best suited to them. All the council can do is keep the lines of communication open and positive. I have not heard that the current administration have done anything other than that.

    What dissuades me from voting for other parties is the negativity they tend to show with the usual stance of ‘we wouldn’t have done that’ or ‘we could have done it better’ without any details as to how. I would rather hear about new ideas that bring positivity to Croydon and show the genuine passion you have for the borough whilst also working proactively through lobbying the controlling party on the issues at hand.

    Croydon is evolving, it is changing from a tired concrete run down town into a city. The changes will not be to everyone’s taste or pleasing but I for one will be fully supportive of this exciting time and ensuring I play my part in ensuring we remain one of the best boroughs in London. I hope anyone that feels passionately about it will do the same.

    • Anne Giles

      I wonder what your real name is?

    • Michael Swadling

      Thanks for reading the article and commenting. I’m pleased you feel Croydon is doing well. Can you accept when I look at all the closed shops I don’t? Judging by the debate this has sparked, it was an article well worth my time.

      Re my working for change, I ran the Vote Leave campaign in Croydon. Ran for Parliament, ran in a Council by-election, and running in these elections have served on 3 school governing bodies (still on 2) and recently worked with residents in my area to oppose the lion green car park development in Coulsdon. I would do more but I have to work to pay Croydon’s high council tax. I would encourage you to also get involved.

      I am critical of overrunning projects. As a project manager by trade, I know if my estimates were constantly wrong I would change the basis of my estimates.

      The Labour Council have created a bit of a buzz and noise about the town. They have also failed on both basic services and big projects. I hope the new council is one that can do the delivery as well as doing the shouting about it.