The Public Gallery: Fares and Fairfield

By - Thursday 30th October, 2014

Croydon wonders whether it is where it ought to be and the Twittersphere takes a local councillor at his word

Is the Fairfield Halls at risk of closing within 12 months? No, it isn’t

As the flippant subheading above suggests, this week saw a QTWTAIN – A Question To Which The Answer Is No – explode into Croydon’s often-volatile Twittersphere. Anonymous tweeter @ParkHillFriends, attending a meeting of the South Croydon Community Association, reported that Cllr Michael Neal (Con, Croham) had told the meeting that the Fairfield Halls was ‘twelve months from closure’ if an increase in health and safety spending was not found somewhere.

The Twittersphere exploded, as one might expect, but soon a strong smell of fish was detected. A Conservative councillor, in opposition, warning that the Labour council might be forced to close Croydon’s most famous venue? Even assuming he’d be able to know about this, wouldn’t he have a vested interest in making Labour look bad?

Yes, obviously. While some tweeters expressed concern – others jubilation – at the potential closure, others asked for more detail, and indeed proof. Labour’s candidate for Croydon Central, Sarah Jones, was quick to tweet that the announcement was ‘scaremongering’, nothing more.

Politicians say dramatic things when they think they’re off the record

A backtrack seemed likely, and one came in due course. Conservatives argued that Neal’s comments were misreported – in fairness, he did not tweet them himself, so any online record of what he actually said is second hand – and that a much more nuanced point was being made by the Croham councillor. His own response to the furore can be read here.

Labour’s cabinet member for culture, Timothy Godfrey, assured Croydonians that the planned £33 million investment in the Fairfield Halls – an issue that was at the centre of the Riesco controversy eighteen months ago, when Labour was in opposition – would be going ahead. It doesn’t look like the Halls will be closing any time soon.

What this series of events does remind us is that politicians often say ‘dramatic’ things when they think they’re off the record, or at least in a more private environment. The transfer of Cllr Neal’s alleged comments, from a small meeting to a social networking site populated by thousands of users in Croydon, was another example of the positive scrutiny the internet provides.

Attend to your words, politicos. We’re watching.

‘Zone 4 Croydon’ generates unity and dissent

Labour’s parliamentary candidates for Croydon North and Croydon Central, Steve Reed MP and Sarah Jones respectively, have launched a campaign to ‘save commuters £336 a year on travelcards’ by redesignating East Croydon and West Croydon as zone 4 stations.

A zone 4 destination?
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

The logic seems sound – some stations further from the centre of London are already in zone 4, while central Croydon languishes in zone 5. The further out commuters start from, the more it costs to get into zone 1. The measure has been applauded by many, including Jones’s Conservative opponent (and sitting Croydon Central MP) Gavin Barwell. He got on board with the campaign on Tuesday, expressing his approval and pledging to work with London Assembly Member Steve O’Connell (Con) to get support from other boroughs that would benefit from being considered zone 4 as well.

Labour were quick to accuse Barwell of ‘nicking a policy’, but the display of harmony between the candidates will probably play well with a Croydon public allegedly fed up with ‘Punch and Judy politics’. We shall see how long it lasts, however – the usual way these things play out is that both sides claim to enthusiastically support the ultimate goal of the project, then quickly find subtle differences in methodology to draw up new dividing lines. Hypothetically, we should not be surprised if Barwell is arguing that Jones is trying to ‘deliver zone 4′ in the wrong way, and Jones is accusing Barwell of ‘playing politics with commuters’ fares’, before the end of the year.

Jones and Reed would do well to clarify their positions

Right now, however, there’s an uneasy truce on the matter, at least in public. But there’s not complete harmony – commuters and residents in the south of the borough, using stations like Purley, Coulsdon South, have expressed concern that this would in fact increase the cost of their fares for coming into East Croydon – while right now they are travelling from a zone 6 station to another zone 5 station, making that journey zone 6-to-zone 4 would increase the cost. Hardly a way to encourage people from outside the town centre to come into it. Similarly, users of Waddon station are concerned they’d see their fares to come into West Croydon go up if they stayed as zone 5 and West Croydon didn’t.

Jones and Reed would do well to clarify their position on this – while the front page of the campaign’s website carries a petition that ‘East Croydon and West Croydon stations should be re-designated into zone 4 or zones 4/5′, the latter designation would mean that local zone 5 passengers coming into the town centre wouldn’t see their fares go up, and would surely be preferable. Rumour has it their plan currently favours making West Croydon ‘just’ zone 4, while East Croydon becomes ‘zone 4/5′. Good news for people in Purley, bad news for people in Waddon. Within the site itself, however, the ‘About’ page suggests that both stations should be redesignated to the more south-friendly zone 4/5, which Labour sources assure me is the fairer reflection of the campaign’s aim.

As a train user, railway buff, and political geek, this whole story is unreasonably exciting to me. I’ll be keeping an eye on it in the coming weeks, and will ask Labour and the Conservatives to comment on the potential problem above in advance of my next column.

Westfield-Hammerson sheepishly announces a delay to 2019

As speculated in last week’s TPG, the Westfield-Hammerson meeting with Croydon BID last week did indeed announce a delay – in a very roundabout sense. Answering a question on when construction would begin, Peter Cole of Hammerson confirmed that the Whitgift Trust’s likely-to-be-dismissed legal challenge against the Croydon Partnership has forced it to revise its timetable, which originally aimed for a Christmas 2017 opening. Now, he said, construction is ideally going to begin at some point in 2016. Cole followed this with a rather quiet “and it’s a three year period of construction, so…”

So 2019, then. Right. A number of articles exploring the impact of the delay – and the aspects of Croydon’s regeneration that don’t rely on the £1 billion shopping centre scheme – will be in the next print edition of the Citizen, which hits the streets next Tuesday 4th November. Do pick it up from one of the many distributing venues.

This article was amended at 12:44pm on Thursday 30th November to include a clarification on Labour’s position on zone 4/5 redesignation. A correction was later made at 1:23pm regarding the zoning of Purley and Coulsdon South.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Peter Staveley

    East, South and West Croydon stations are all in the same
    group for fares purposes. The grouping of stations was done under BR and would
    be very difficult to change since there will be revenue implications across the
    whole of Great Britain. Therefore, any change to the zones would occur for all
    three stations.

    The idea of putting ‘Croydon Stations’ into Zones 4/5
    would solve the Waddon, and indeed the Purley, problem, since they would then
    be unaffected by the change. However, if the stations were put into Zones 4/5
    that would reduce the net income and someone would have to pay for that, which will
    be be TfL/Mayor of London.