Implementing a vision and restoring the heart of Croydon alongside Westfield

Allders resplendent 1960s

Allders resplendent in 1960s (Andrew Kennedy)

‘Croydon needs a stronger vision for North End and George Street in advance of the detailed design of Westfield and the CPO demolition’ argues local activist Andrew Kennedy.

Purpose

In presenting his justification at the CPO Inquiry on 5 March Andrew said:

  • ‘Without robust action from the Council the local traders and the area immediately peripheral to the development will suffer and Croydon’s reputation be irreparably ’
  • ‘The streets that are peripheral to Westfield need to fight for their existence and need their own design vision to maximise their potential. Westfield has its own objectives so the council needs to fight for the rest of the town.’
  • ‘There is also a lack of consultation with local people and a lack of transparency. For instance little notice appears to be taken of the Conservation Advisory Panel and I believe there are delegated decisions already being taken which should be going to committee.’

He suggested that ‘there is a potential conflict of interest between satisfying the needs of Westfield and looking after the rest of the retail core. Those two roles should be separated’. There need to be two advocates at the highest level within the council, not one.

The rest of his submission to the Inspector was about the treatment of heritage buildings in the scheme. “We don’t want another Grants do we?”

  • The Council’s Central Croydon Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan, ‘admits “The bulk of the upper floors of the Grants complex has a negative impact on the character of the street”’
  • It ‘does, and the facade is dead too.’

The original Victorian entrance to Allders Mall at 5 George Street is ‘another past failure’, with:

  • Overpowering roof and loss of original roof features.
  • Mirrored glass in windows.
  • Facade pays little attention to what is going on behind.

‘In consequence the facade has been neglected’.

Conservation Area Guidelines

Andrew argued that ‘(T)hese are good but don’t go far enough. Facades are not dealt with in enough detail.’

  • ‘To retain a facade should be not just to retain the bricks and mortar but to bring the facade back to life again.’
  • ‘Windows should show into the building behind and shine light in and out onto the street. No mirror glass. The windows should reflect the floor levels behind or be an integer multiple thereof.’

He asked in relation to the Allders façade:

  • Is there not a possibility to use the first floor at the front for some other use other than mannequins? As a restaurant perhaps with a view of North End, or to open up the windows so that they look on to the unit behind.

He stressed the success of the way the façade of the Central Library and Braithwaite Hall were retained.

The importance of the Allders building

Allders was ‘at the traditional centre of Croydon.’

  • ‘If you ask anyone who has lived in Croydon for any length of time and who knows the geography and the layout of Croydon, they will tell you that the centre of Croydon is at the meeting of North End and George Street.’
  • ‘We don’t have a town cross to mark the place but “Meet you at the junction of North End and George Street” is a commonly heard expression’.
  • ‘The roads mark where the east west and north south routes cross and became the centre once elegant Victorian and Edwardian houses and shops were built on higher ground away from the marshes of the old town.’

Heals in Tottenham Court Rd shows how buildings with interesting historic facades ‘can have a night time use too or at least be properly illuminated at night.’

Vision for Retail Core

He quotes the Council’s own document. Pages 57 and 58 of the CCCAAMP Regeneration of the Retail Core document states:

  • The Opportunity Area Planning Framework ‘recognises that North End and George Street both contain fine grain buildings and heritage assets and are both located within the Central Croydon Conservation Area.’
  • It states that ‘The Retail Core should become a mixed-use, retail-led destination with new homes, leisure and other work space forming an integral part of the area’s make-up. These uses should sit alongside a new quality physical environment of streets, spaces, enhanced heritage assets and transport connections.’
  • This complementary approach should help attract more people into the area, in turn generating a vibrancy to support new and existing uses. The guidance contained within this Management Plan supports this vision.”

This recognises that North End and George Street are special cases and need special treatment of their own.

Connected Croydon

Andrew then discussed the Council’s Connected Croydon Project.

  • ‘working to improve East Croydon, West Croydon, Old Town and South Croydon’ but
  • noticeably quiet when it comes to North End and George St.’

He stressed that ‘Croydon needs a strong vision for this special area and that in frustration one could tear the lot down and start again or alternatively restore these buildings to their former  Victorian and Edwardian splendour. The facades, shop fronts, windows, street lights, furniture and the tramlink stanchions.

But restoration is more than just bricks and mortar. The town has had a culture of both local and national significance. He outlined some practical ideas, like:

  • encouraging former uses like the London to Brighton motoring and cycling events being returned to North End. That would mean enabling it to be an occasional thoroughfare again plus the layout more suitable for carnival processions.

Shop Fascias and frontages

Andrew then drew attention to the issue of shop fronts. ‘The last issue of London Borough of Croydon’s Shopfronts and Signs (SPG No.1) was in March 1996 with an addendum Shopfront Security Addendum in April 2012 which concentrates on drawdown shutters and grilles following the riots.’

  • ‘This advocates treatments more sympathetic to the original building.’
  • ‘This has patently not been enforced in North End and lessons can be learnt from other boroughs such as Merton in this respect. (See their SPG Shop Front Design February 2004).’
  • ‘Without a stronger design ethic for North End and George Street the shops and public realm will not match up to Westfield and those areas will continue to decline.’
  • ‘I only have anecdotal evidence but a close eye needs to be kept on how local Stratford is coping with it’s Westfield’.

In addition the Council need to look at zoning.

  • ‘North End is currently zoned for daytime retail and not as part of the night time economy.’
  • ‘The council should take on board the likelihood of the area becoming more of a restaurant and cafe quarter with use after dark.’
  • ‘Indeed Westfield is proposing a 27 screen Cinema with an exit on to North End.’
  • ‘It is important that North End and George Street have a distinct character, be better lit and feel more secure as opposed to the no go area which it currently is at night time.’

Conclusion

In conclusion Andrew stated that he was not opposed to the Westfield scheme, he welcomed it ‘but Croydon Council have got to stand up for local residents, to better their socio economic situation and to enable local businesses to succeed and the best way is to split the roles of looking after Westfield from the rest of the town at a high level’

  • ‘Westfield stands for big business and international brand names.’
  • ‘Most of the money from sales and the rent will leave the local economy.’
  • ‘Croydon Council needs to be an advocate for the local economy as well as a welcoming arm for Westfield.
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About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly, and am a member of the latter's Environment Forum. I am a member of the 5 Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee, and a Governor of Norbury Manor Primary School. I write for Croydon Citizen at http://thecroydoncitizen.com. I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and advise the North East People's History Project.. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour movement, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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