Croydon gears up for ‘snowball effect’

Thursday 24 September 2015

Croydon © Hayes Davidson

Croydon is starting to reap the benefits of the kind of approach taken at Stratford and the Olympics with a series of residential, retail and commercial projects taking shape. And as London is faced with the prospect of a million more people by 2030, the area is busy creating the right infrastructure and facilities to cope, whilst maintaining its heart and focus as a liveable community. The result is a ‘snowballing effect’ as developers and investors witness real change happening on the ground.

Those were some of the many principles espoused at the NLA On Location conference held in East Croydon yesterday, just across the road from where the new Boxpark is taking shape, and where the 2 million square foot of offices, residential and retail that makes up Ruskin Square is now on course. 

Croydon deputy leader Cllr Alison Butler said that the place was blessed with ‘absolute gems’ and that the private sector was now buying into its regeneration potential, with the highest rate of office take up in 10 years and a 49% spike in tech sector firms since 2011. Housing starts are significantly above the mayor’s target, added Butler, and Croydon also aims to rejuvenate its cultural offer while talking to universities and education providers about their plans for the area.  But it was also crucial, she said, to cater for the existing community. ‘You won’t find better people than those coming from Croydon’.

For LB Croydon’s executive director of place, Jo Negrini, the key is to create a ‘liveable place where people want to dwell’, with ‘the right kind of growth’ aided by having the right infrastructure in place, both social and physical. To this end, the area needs £500m of infrastructure and the council is pitching to central government on a TIF model to provide borrowing costs. But public realm improvements are also key, as is creating an arts quarter where people ‘can hang out at night.’ ‘There are too many examples in London where development has happened and the place has been left behind’, said Negrini.

Arup’s director of planning Jerome Frost said there were similarities in Croydon’s rapid rise with that of the Olympics, and that city leaders in the North working on the so-called northern powerhouse were all asking how Croydon was doing it. But most important to success and the certainty, said Frost, was the beginning of change, and the ‘snowballing effect’ that comes from seeing progress on key schemes on the ground. Arup has helped in this by creating a ‘dashboard’ or shared platform to let all stakeholders see progress made on schemes so far, in real time.

The conference also heard from speakers including Bob Alllies of Allies and Morrison on the work his practice is doing on the Whitgift and Centrale shopping centres and his ‘urban acupuncture’ work in the old town. Allies also reflected on the notion that, on tall buildings, people tend to pay far more attention to the ‘hats’ – their silhouettes – than their ‘shoes’ – how they hit the ground.

 A panel discussion included Westfield development director Steve Yewman expressing his delight at last week’s confirmation of the CPO, allowing work on the centre to begin; GL Hearn’s planning director James Cook commending the ‘pro-development council’ and responsive planning department doing so much to facilitate regeneration, and GLA’s Fiona Fletcher-Smith saying that Croydon could have the capacity and appetite to help with a 50,000 housing units target London is getting nowhere near.

Finally, a series of speedtalks from Croydon practitioners included Boxpark CEO Roger Wade on progress on his scheme, which aims to provide the ‘glue’ for why people want to live and work in Croydon, featuring 20,000sq ft of event space inspired by Covent Garden. Rick Mather Architects partner Stuart Cade detailed the conservation-led regeneration of the Fairfield Halls, which aims to improve connectivity and tie together cultural assets in Croydon, while Francois Mazoudier, managing partner of Tech Leaders showed how the place has become a powerhouse for tech: ‘If they start here, they are going to stay and hire here’, he said. RISE Gallery CEO Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison showed how his commercial gallery – with a social agenda – had helped to lift footfall in the area, increase occupancy by 60%, and draw more media attention than any other Croydon initiative.

And while Studio Weave founder Maria Smith aimed to take the audience on a story of Croydon’s optimism and excitement, Studio Jump director and co-founder showed a little of the inspiration his practice aims to provide on Exchange Square and a 1851 water pumping station with a tour of projects including Campus Madrid for Google. ‘The idea is to create a destination’, said Jordan. That could be latter-day Croydon’s motif too.

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