I am delighted to report that Deputy Leader Stuart King continues to act in an open and transparent way welcoming comments and ideas from outside the Council. The latest examples are his responses to two sets of emails I sent to Cabinet members commenting on theGrowth Zone Plan report it was going to consider on 22 March. The first was sent on 18 March and the second on 19 March. A third one on 22 March dealing with water resources awaits a reply.
My first email stated: ‘It is spot on that the Council rightly needs to re-consider its ‘aspirations for the town centre’. During the CPO Inquiry of the Whitgift I criticised the Council for not having a Plan B in the event of the scheme not going ahead. I have read the report to Monday’s meeting. A number of questions arise.’
Stuart King replied as follows before the meeting started. Here is my text and his comments.
‘How are cultural and heritage activists being involved in this work so it is founded on their needs and aspirations, and gaps identified?’
King. ‘All programmes of work relating to Culture as part of the Growth Zone have an emphasis on providing opportunities for local artists, heritage groups and communities to be involved including supporting our local creative and cultural industries based in the town centre. The Growth Zone cultural projects are focused on enhancing the cultural offer in the town centre as part of the 6 ambitions outlined in the Cultural Strategy for the Borough ‘Croydon Creates’ https://democracy.croydon.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=15211
‘How are residents especially families in the tower blocks being consulted on their views?’
King: ‘Consultation and engagement with residents has so far taken place in relation to specific projects and activities, rather than across the Growth Zone programme as a whole, with local residents, businesses and visitors being engaged through a range of approaches including online and in person surveys, public exhibitions of design proposals, one to one conversations and targeted workshops with certain underrepresented groups. We are working hard to ensure that all engagement and consultation activity is representative of the town centre’s communities.
One of the themes that we have delineated under the social infrastructure programme relates to the evaluation of the ‘social impact’ of the town centre regeneration programme – working with specialist advisers we intend to establish a baseline understanding of the town centre’s communities, agreeing a series of key indicators, both quantitative and quantitative that can be reviewed and measured over the lifetime of the Growth Zone. Work on this project is was paused last summer, but we hope to start up again once we have fully appraised the options for the reduced Growth Zone activity over the coming year.’
‘When will the plans for the Clocktower be made public to ensure that the proposals address the views of users and organisations that put on events, including the cultural and heritage organisations?’
King. ‘This project is at a very early stage, and we will work with all the current users of the Clocktower and the Town Hall to ensure that they are involved in developing any proposals for the buildings.’
‘What is the justification for yet more investment in South Norwood and Thornton Heath, as opposed to pilots in Norbury and Coulsdon?’
King. ‘If this relates to Digital Town Hubs, I am advised that these locations have been identified by various services e.g Regeneration. The locations reflect a spread across the Northern, Central and Southern parts of the borough.
‘Can investigating the Smart Cities potential of 5G be added into the work programme?’
King. ‘4G/5G small cells project and the Digital Advertising project with 5G ready tech is being deployed in the Growth Zone’
Place and Public Realm
‘Even if Park Hill Park is not technically in the Town Centre, it is an important park for residents in the Town Centre. What projects for the Park are not currently funded through other sources which could be funded through the Growth Zone?’
King. ‘Park Hill is absolutely a crucial element in the renewal of central Croydon, and we believe the value of this green space has only been emphasised further during the last year. There are numerous improvements proposed to the park established in the Park Hill masterplan created in 2017. We do not currently have Growth Zone funding in place to cover all of these proposals, and Growth Zone funds may be used to match or maximise external fundraising. The Growth Zone Social Infrastructure workstream had previously prioritised some funding towards the early development of proposals to improve the entrances to the park, and work with young people to test ideas for new play provision, but these projects have been on hold since early last year.’
‘This seems to a very large cost.’
King. ‘It is essential to ensure a programme of this size and duration is appropriately resourced, this also included 2 number FTEs dedicated under Employment & Skills supporting the GZ and economic recovery.’
‘How many staff are involved in each work stream and what are their functions?’
King. ‘There is a restructure underway which is being finalised, so it is not possible to confirm this until this process is complete.’
Employment and Skills
‘Despite the adverse effect on the Town Centre economy of COVID, no funding is allocated to employment and skills. Why is this?’
King. ‘The new proposed structure includes 2 FTE dedicated resources to support economic recovery in the town centre.’
‘Is 2021/2 not an important year to find out the needs of businesses in the Town Centre, changes they may need to make to their premises, and their ability to take on apprentices?’
King.’Yes, it is and that is why the resources referred to above are in place. However, the council’s finances are such that we are restricted in the amount of support we can offer.’
‘How many years has Boxpark got on site? How much of its loan is still due to be paid back to the Council?’
King.’I am awaiting further info from officers to answer this question.’
‘Is there a danger of it going into administration or having to close down for the proposed development without having paid back the loan in full?
King.’There can be no certainties given the current economic climate, but equally there is no indication that your scenario is likely. However, the council is very mindful of its responsibility to protect the public purse and has strengthened the management of its loan arrangements.’
‘In relation to the review of the Town Centre the proposed District Heating network could be further investigated with a view to seeking to add its creation into the future Growth Plan programme?’
King.’I have shared this suggestion with officers for their consideration.’
‘Will the Cabinet review the allocations during the year in the light of any recommendations from the Climate Change Commission in relation to the Town Centre?’
King. ‘Yes, further cabinet papers are anticipated and Cllr M Ali will be setting out the council’s response to the recommendations from the CCC in the very near future.’
‘At the Scrutiny Streets etc Sub-committee meeting on 16 March, Conservative Councillor Vidi Mohan expressed disappointment at the lack of an up-dated vision for the Local Plan. The Cabinet member’s response came across with uncertainty. He did not appear to cite Para 3.1 of the Growth Plan report. This could be a starting point for drafting an up-dated Vision for the Local Plan, along with an emphasis on meaningful community engagement.’
King. ‘Your observation is noted.’
The Scrutiny recommendations on the Equalities Strategy being considered on Monday by the Cabinet highlights the lack of data. This could mean that the proposed further Equalities Analyses for each Growth Plan project will be flawed. I have previously recommended that a research unit be set up, perhaps in partnership with South Bank University. It could play a major role in analysis the many sources of complex data about Croydon as a whole and the Town Centre in particular, and help to engage different partners who have their own statistics and need broader context analysis. My experience in the 1990s in work on analysing the 1991 Census data showed the added value of joint working. Could a research unit be funded by the Growth Fund?
King. ‘It’s an interesting idea which I am happy to pass on to officers for consideration as they develop and finalise the plan they intends to bring forward to members. I am conscious though that funds are going to be tight and with that in mind the business case would need to be a strong one for obvious reasons.’
Town Centre Refuse Collection and Recycling
On 19 March I sent a further email:
‘If my understanding is correct the Council does not provide a free collection service to businesses with respect to glass, cardboard, paper and plastics.
The quantity generated by the leisure and hospitality businesses in the Town Centre must be enormous.
It is also possible that large quantities of office furniture and IT equipment may be stripped out of premises where the businesses do not re-open or down-size their office presence.
Could an allocation be made from the Growth Fund for the establishment of a free collection and recycling/re-use project for the Town Centre which would provide jobs and apprenticeships.’
Stuart King replied on 22 March
‘Thanks for your question. It’s an interesting idea which I am happy to pass on to officers for consideration as they develop and finalise the plan they intends to bring forward to members. I am conscious though that funds are going to be tight and our scope to act is likely to be limited.’
I also emailed the Cabinet about the water resource problem.
‘As Croydon’s population expands the demand for water will increase, especially from the higher per person consumption in studio, one and two bed flats. There will also be an increase in sewage disposal.
I presume that the Strategic Planning Team is in discussions with the two water companies covering the Borough about their projected forecasts on demand and what they consider would be helpful policies and development measures that should be included in the Plan. These would like to the wider environmental sustainability and climate change agendas.
The stress on water and sewerage services are going to be especially heavy in the Town Centre. This suggests that there many be scope for a Growth Fund project to assess the Town Centre’s water and sewerage infrastructure needs. Linked to this may be the issue of energy needs required to get water up tower blocks, so that water pressure does not reduce the higher the building goes, and whether there should be a height limit.
Increased water storage will probably be needed both for the Town Centre and the Borough as a whole. Two outside the box ideas that might be worth exploring are:
(1) an underground water store under the Whitgift Centre is it is demolished;
(2) the creation of leisure based water ‘reservoirs’ in areas of low quality Green Belt land.
I raised water issues at the Local Plan Review Examination –
On 13 June 2017 I submitted an FoI as part of a batch relating to questions I had been raising at the Examination – see below. The Council refused to reply.’
(1) Have the officers seen the network capacity assessments that developers request of Thames Water when preparing their proposals?
(2). Can the Council provide any statistics from Thames Water that shows the annual water usage in the Opportunity Area 2006 to see how it has changed during the downturn following the banking crisis of 2008 and since the process of development and occupation of new tall buildings has happened?
(3) Has the Council prepared an Integrated Water and Sewage Management assessment for the Opportunity Area to ensure that the water supply and sewage infrastructure consequences of the new office and residential developments can be met?
(4) What evidence did the officers submit to the Mayor of London’s consultation on the London Infrastructure Plan 2050?
(5) Did the officers assess the water supply problems faced by the residents in Altitude 25 and what conclusions did it draw?