“I want Croydon to bid to be London Borough of Culture”: Sadiq Khan’s long walk

By - Thursday 8th September, 2016

London’s mayor walked, talked, and waved his way through the town centre last week, with Tom Black never more than a few steps behind

Photo by Croydon Council, used with permission.

Sadiq Khan doesn’t wear a tie. This has divided opinion – while some insist that his bare collar looks unprofessional or even disrespectful, I happen to think that he’s a bold poster-child for the growing ‘crisp white shirt, dark suit’ movement. John F. Kennedy didn’t wear a hat to his inauguration, and they say that this rang the death-knell of the homburg, fedora and cloth cap. Then again, we’ve had two other mayors of London, and we don’t all run around in cream-coloured suits, or with tousled hair.

The mayor’s open-necked shirt on his visit to Croydon last Thursday, therefore, should in no way be taken as a sign that he doesn’t take Croydon seriously. Because judging from the number of questions he was asking as he and his entourage took part in a walking tour of the town centre, he does.

I made a similar journey two years ago, following another London mayor. There was a different atmosphere this time, and not just because we were able to move around relatively unmolested (Boris had a tendency to attract selfies unlike any other politician that I’ve seen up close). While Boris and his Conservative colleagues were walking around a town centre that would one day have a Westfield in it, Khan and Croydon Labour were proudly visiting specific stops that already represent the growth that has occurred in the intervening two years. The rapidly-changing Boxpark site, the now-closed-but-refurbishing Fairfield Halls, and TMRW, the new tech hub by the flyover: they all stand as monuments to what’s already happening in Croydon. And they make for better photo ops.

“Croydon is an area that has often been forgotten about and, if we’re honest, neglected”

At the end of the walk, it’s time for us hovering hacks to be rewarded for our two hours of standing around. Questions are pooled, with the full slate of Croydon’s media represented – Croydon Radio, the Croydon Guardian, the Croydon Advertiser, and of course, the Citizen. 

“I’m so excited about Croydon”, Sadiq begins, in answer to a question about the town’s changing fortunes. “As a south London boy, I think that you’re right: Croydon is an area that has often been forgotten about and, if we’re honest, neglected”. Our economic growth is cause for celebration, he says. “This is a hub now for tech, and for culture – look at what’s happening with the Fairfield Halls”. He then praises tech hub TMRW, where we’re now stood, which is half full after only a few weeks. If a new runway at Gatwick is given the go-ahead, as Khan favours, more of “Croydon’s potential” will become clear.

Photo by Croydon Council, used with permission.

Khan talks confidently and has an earnestness in everything that he says – unlike certain predecessors, there’s no sense that a joke could be coming at any time. When he mentions Boxpark as an example of how the UK’s biggest brands can come to Croydon, he opens himself up to an obvious question: with the town centre the focus of so much regeneration, is there a risk of leaving behind rest of the borough? “The lesson of the riots is that there are areas in Croydon that are forgotten, and areas that do well”, our ‘south London boy’ mayor replies. “It’s not about putting all our eggs in the Westfield basket, as important as Westfield may be”, he continues, the first mention of the W-word in our chat. The town needs more types of regeneration, he says, and we must ensure that locals can take part. “Look at the efforts being made [by Croydon College and others] skilling up young people to take part in the tech jobs coming to Croydon – the future economy can’t be about unskilled low-paid jobs”.

My turn. Khan, along with his four leading opponents, took part in our Croydon Manifesto project during the election. His main priotities for Croydon were to make commuting and housing more affordable. Not one to pass up an opportunity to hold someone to account for promises made to our readers, I ask how that’s going.

Khan’s answer is immediate and prepared. He wants to be ‘the housing mayor’, after all. “It’s about genuinely affordable homes to buy and rent. We’ve got an ambition to have half of all new homes genuinely affordable, which means combination of social rent, London Living Rent [1/3 of avergae earnings] and shared-ownership”. Croydon Council’s new arms-length company taking charge of building homes gets a shout-out. As for commuting, Khan leads with a promise delivered: “We’ve got the most expensive fares in all of Europe they’ve gone up by more than 43% over the last 8 years.” he talks with pride of his status as the first London mayor ever to freeze fares and talks up his offer to the government – recently rejected – to take responsibility for the Southern franchise. “When they let me take over Southern, not only will it lead to fewer cancellations, but I’ll freeze Southern fares as well”. As usual, the tram gets a nod, though Sadiq talks in more vague terms than his two predecessors about plans for future expansion – perhaps he’s learned from that big photo of Boris Johnson promising to extend the network to Crystal Palace.

After a string of straight answers, it seems like we’ve just had our first dodge

Photo by Croydon Council, used with permission.

So far, so decisive. What about Zone 4 Croydon? Wouldn’t that make a big difference in affordability for Croydon commuters? “Well, I’ve heard the lobbying from the local council and the local MPs. We’ll be publishing a business plan for TfL later this year going forward. What’s important is that we eliminate waste, we make sure that there are more efficiencies, and we also think about revenue streams coming into TfL”. After a string of straight answers, it seems like we’ve just had our first dodge. So… no? The idea of moving East and West Croydon into Zone 4 has dropped off the radar of late, and Khan’s emphasis on TfL’s revenue is troubling – it’s TfL’s concerns over losing too much money which are the most likely reason for the scheme not to go ahead.

The conversation moves on and other colleagues ask questions. We hear that Khan wants Croydon to bid to be the London Borough of Culture when that’s up and running, and that when the Fairfield Halls reopens, “it will be able to compete with the best of London”. Croydon’s three fatalities from knife crime this year trigger a discussion of knife crime, in which Khan outlines robust responses including youth workers tasked with reducing knife crime being present in A&E wards now, on-hand to immediately speak to victims.

And all of a sudden, that’s it. We’ve heard optimism and earnest praise for the status quo, and Khan’s sentiment of “if I’m going to be a mayor for all Londoners, places like Croydon are absolutely key to that” will be ringing in our ears for some time. For now, though, after a short speech into a phone camera, our mayor is whisked away to Earlsfield. He doesn’t wear a tie for them, either.

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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  • trypewriter

    Cloth cap? #kennedy #youareacardTomBlack