Across the board there has been an impressive range of creative and lateral thinking in the development of the Council’s Growth Plan local economic strategy, as set out in the report to the Cabinet meeting on 24 February as part of setting the Budget for 2020/21 .
The report sets out a lot of detailed information on what has happening over the last year and how things are being developed especially in relation to culture, especially in the Town Centre. Unfortunately| is in embedded in a pack of which is too large to link to from this blog site. You can access it at
Although there will always be legitimate debate about the relationship between to-down/bottom-up, engagement and partnership as programmes develop, the report has much in it that activists particularly in the cultural field will welcome.
Since 2012, Croydon has seen an 8% growth in population; 11% increase in under-16s; 20% increase in over-65s; BAME residents now over half of Croydon’s population. The population will ’continue to grow at an even more-accelerated rate over the next 20 years as we build the much-needed homes to meet housing demand.’ (Para. 3.3.2) This means that a large percentage of the population will not be economically active, and will need education, cultural, play and health services. This poses serious funding challenges.
The Economic Realities
Tonight’s report was written before the announcement of the mothballing of the Westfield/Whitgift shopping centre redevelopment, which could undermine the whole Town Centre strategy.
The report to the Cabinet in November last year painted some of worrying economic realities.
(1) There is a dearth of major employers with over 250 workers. While the number of businesses in Croydon rose 33% from 2013-18 to 14,675, 93% are classified as micro-businesses, and 99.7% as small and medium-sized enterprises SMEs.’
(2) The main employment sectors are retail, business & administration and health & social care, of which retail, hospitality and health & social care that pay low wages.
(3) There is a ‘disparity between the earnings of residents living in Croydon and working outside of the Borough, and the pay rate of jobs in the Borough. Those working outside of the borough are likely to earn more than residents living and working in the borough.’
(4) ‘The unemployment rate in Croydon is the third highest in London at 7.2% (Annual Population Survey). Many of those who are workless have multiple and complex barriers to work and have significant challenges to accessing and sustaining work.’
(5) There is a high level of in-work families in poverty.
(6) 25% of those in work are being paid below the Living Wage.
(7) 16,600 families were in work and claiming tax credits.
(8) ‘Borough-wide data masks the extreme differences between various parts of the borough and sometimes between neighbouring wards.’
(9) ‘The impact of Brexit is yet to be fully felt on the economy in Croydon. It is likely to have disproportionate impact on sectors where EU nationals fill high volume vacancies including construction, retail and hospitality and health & social care.’
Is the updated growth strategy approved by the Cabinet in November capable of meeting these challenges, especially now that the Westfield shopping development has been mothballed?
There is so much going on in the Town Centre that it is probably now urgent for the Opportunity Area Framework which includes the Town Centre and the various smaller district plans with in are up-dated. There is a strong case for doing this as part of the current Local Plan Review.
Other new key challenges relate to funding, especially whether there will be further cuts in Government grants to local authorities, the effect of any migration back to Europe as the implications of BREXIT take effect, and the knock-on effects of deteriorating world economic and environmental developments.
Of particular interest in the report to the Cabinet tonight are sections discussing Climate Change, the future of Croydon Clocktower, Town Hall and Museum of Croydon, Children’s Play Provision, Primary and Community Health Care, Croydon Creative Campus, Community Facilities, Social Impact Baseline and Monitoring, Music and Festivals, Creative Enterprise Zone, Lighting (Croydon Lit), Job Training and Apprenticeships. New Employers, Digital connectivity and The Internet of Things (IoT).
These are discussed in the next posting.
The climate change emergency is now embedded into the strategy.
‘3.2.2 Plans for growth and regeneration will incorporate improvements that can have the most impact on reducing or mitigating future climate change. In particular this includes a focus on investment in more sustainable transport, improving sustainable energy supplies and networks and achieving high environmental standards in new construction and refurbishment projects.’
Hopefully, the Council initiated Citizens Assembly on Climate Change will assist in creative ideas for strengthening what the Council can do in the future.
Social Impact Baseline and Monitoring
Work is underway ‘to develop a framework to gauge and monitor the social impact of the town centre regeneration programme.’ (Para 4.3.9)
‘4.4.1 Across a number of project themes, collaborating with other Growth Zone workstreams, we will develop and deliver innovative and appropriate meanwhile activity in the town centre, testing ideas and building evidence towards social infrastructure objectives, particularly in relation to the engagement and outreach required to develop the Clocktower and Town Hall refurbishment project, and for testing proposals for new community spaces and children’s play provision.’
‘4.4.7 We will complete and publish the baseline report and accompanying monitoring framework for the town centre regeneration social impact measurement/analysis in 2020, including future proposals for regular reassessment.’
The 2021 Census will provide important evidence as to the nature of the growing population and its diversity which will be able to underpin development of social infrastructure from about 2013.
What kind of economy do we need in Croydon?
Back in 2014 I published three articles in Croydon Citizen What kind of economy do we need in Croydon?
(1) More attention is needed to see how the three sectors of the economy interrelate and a strategy developed that recognises that not only does each have a role to play by themselves and with others in their sector, but also through their inter-relationships. After all the public and voluntary sector organisations employing staff and running buildings purchase a lot of goods and services from the private sector.
(2) The need for a resilient, diverse economy, which
the Centre for Local Economic Strategies suggested consisted of the following components: a thriving community and voluntary sector’, strong civic engagement, a strong public sector, a diverse finance sector, high levels of diversity in the economy, effective public services, closer integration of land use planning with economic development, and strong provision for young people.
(3) The potentiality of the Co-operative Council model, involving a leadership and enabling role rather than a command and control one, especially given the ever decreasing revenue funding it will have available.
(4) The freeing of Council assets through asset transfer to the social economy.
(5) The establishment of a Croydon Bank.
In June 2014 I organised a public meeting to discuss the Whitgift re-development. The handout quoted:
|The ‘whole process of urban redevelopment is regressively redistributive and it is contributing, possibly on a very significant scale, to wealth inequality.’ (Peter Ambrose and Bob Colenutt. The Property Machine. Penguin Special. 1975. p. 142)
Although that quotation was 25 years ago it still resonates today.
Reliance on property development still seems to be the Council’s preferred main economic driver, including the new registered planning application for the 49 story tower on College Green.
The context in which the economic strategy is have to be implemented has changed dramatically since November, with the final decision to leave the European Union and the priority that needs to be given to the climate change crisis.
Croydon TUC and the Growth Plan 2014
The Growth Plan was adopted soon after the Labour administration was elected to control the Council in May 2014. 2014 I chaired the Working Party of Croydon Trades Union Council (CTUC) which produced its report What Kind of Economy do we need in Croydon? Croydon Council’s Growth Plan and District Centre Investment; Growth For All. A Commentary with Recommendations.
The Working Party was concerned that while the Vision in the Plan is admirable, a set of contradictions was likely to prevent it being achieved. It is particularly concerned that forces outside the Council’s control such as private developers rental and sale prices, the increasing role of private landlords, the continuing effect of the austerity measures, will simply increase the inequalities and largely benefit newcomers to Croydon rather than existing residents who have a wide variety of needs which are not being met.
Issues that are still relevant are its recommendations on:
(1) greening the economy;
(2) the establishment of a University Centre for Croydon Affairs to provide independent robust research evidence to underpin future policy and strategy development.
(3) in-depth analysis of social disadvantage and the barriers to overcoming it.
The Council never engaged seriously with it CTUC, although as the years have gone by several elements of its recommendations resonate within the up-dated Growth Plan.
The officer who is now the Chief Executive did meet members of the Working Party in April 2015 after being challenged to do so at the Whitgift CPO Inquiry. In a follow-up email CTUC suggested:
‘The main challenge is how to reduce inequalities without driving those experiencing them out of the Borough.’
Despite what you said about the improvement of District Centres being a political priority we are unconvinced that the Council is able to do enough to bring real quality of life changes to existing residents, other than the possibility of improved high street environments, particularly given the restrictions on key planning issues, such as the range of retail offer in high streets. In particular we are concerned that the growing articulation of concerns about the decline of many neighbourhoods are based on issues which cannot be addressed by money such as noise, insecurity and congestion which we tried to capture in Box A of the commentary on the Growth Plan.
Particularly in respect of District Centres and smaller neighbourhoods we consider that a priority should be to strengthen the alliance between the Council and local residents through using some of the mechanisms in the Localism Bill, such a neighbourhood forum (or District Committees as we called them in the commentary). A start could be made in Thornton Heath following the recent successful meeting there on the initial ideas for spending on the High St.
We remain unsure that there is full understanding of the loss of jobs in the past few years, current and potential jobs (by sector) is properly understood, and unconvinced that enough is being done to protect employment sites from residential redevelopment.’
‘Our overriding impression from the meeting is that the thrust of Council policy and action is overwhelmingly pro-developer with no guarantee their schemes will substantially help current Croydonians. We are concerned that if employers transfer their office bases into the Town Centre this will simply increase the number of commuters, unless there is an agreement of offering vacancies to local people. We fear that many jobs will be in low wage sectors. While there will be an unknown number of construction jobs created in addition to the Whitgift scheme (if the CPO is approved), and while training is being set up, the problem is going to be how to persuade Croydonians to take advantage of that training or those formerly in construction to return. It is difficult to conceive of enough locals being recruited and trained, therefore requiring building workers from elsewhere to commute in.’
These concerns still seem relevant nearly five years later. Even though the Council has moved down the devolution road, it is not yet working effectively as demonstrated by the Norbury Regeneration Steering Group, which I am a member of.