The walk from Croydon East to the Fairfield Halls isn’t endearing: empty buildings, amateurish billboards beseeching someone to fill them, underpasses that smelt of piss and fear. It was my first visit, and I hadn’t expected Croydon to live up to its reputation so quickly – in my mind at least. I was in town for the Develop Croydon conference: a private sector initiative designed to showcase the opportunities, and not just the challenges, of the area.
Boris Johnston chose the day to announce a £23 million post riot regeneration fund – and he popped by the conference to hail the imminent arrival of Westfield magic dust (although Westfield Stratford City director John Burton disappointed by saying absoutely nothing about his plans for a Croydon shopping centre) and the “beautiful and brilliant” ladies the area seesms to spawn (Kate Moss etc).
Croydon’s biggest problem is dealing with the outdated office stock, a huge proportion of which lies empty. (an interesting panel discussion with new regeneration chief Stephen McDonald spoke of adapting some of these, possibly into schools).
Croydon’s chief executive Jon Rouse was insistent that despite the economic climate, the area is ripe for regeneration.
“We are ready for business,” he said repeatedly stressing the area’s perhaps under-appreciated transport links (accessible in under an hour to 6 million people.
Schemes include Berkeley Homes’ Saffron Square housing development in Wellesley Road; Barratt Homes’ New South Quarter development in Waddon and Stanhope/Schroders’ Ruskin Square homes and offices scheme. Hammerson also revelaed a £50m revampe for its Centrale shopping centre.
Conference participants spoke with horror of his predecessor, hoping that this can-do attitude combined the deregulation of planning and economic pressures will make life easier for developers.
But enticements – such as free parking, trialed in the aftermath of the riots – may be needed to overcome a general London prejudice against the area, which is in competition with Bluewater and other nearby shopping centres.