Croydon's Future

Is the Laing deal good for Croydon?

The new Croydon Council offices
The new Council offices
I’m rarely surprised at what emerges in Croydon.  But sometimes, even a hardened cynic is taken aback.

Gareth Davies of the Croydon Advertiser has been pressing for the financial terms of the Urban Regeneration Vehicle (“URV”) between Croydon Council and John Laing.  As the Council was so reluctant to release the financial terms, Gareth lodged a formal Freedom of Information request (“FoI”).  Amazingly, the 400 plus pages of documentation released under the FoI had the key terms redacted – i.e. blacked out!  In Gareth’s article dated 28 March, there are some choice quotes from the Council’s Finance Director on the URV:

    "we have been absolutely transparent about the process"
    "the independently-minded scrutiny committee has also carried out an extensive review”
    "the URV's annual financial report is freely available on our website"
    "we have placed every detail we can into the public domain”

Despite the Finance Director’s protestations of openness, his interview provides few answers on the URV’s key terms.  This reticence is surprising – to say the least.  The opposition Labour party has been a critic of the URV for some time.  More recently, Croydon’s leading blog – Inside Croydon – and the local press have been pressing for answers.  As the URV was negotiated during the boom years before the financial crash, there are fears that it may be based on unrealistic assumptions.  Since the URV was signed, one of its key terms has changed – the Council is providing the loan finance.  Perhaps most importantly, the URV is where the “big money” lies.  Its value dwarfs many of the recent high profile cost cuts.  Finally, the lack of transparency has led many to assume that the construction cost of the new Council offices is £450m – which is in reality the total value of all offices and flats of the URV project.  One might imagine that the Council – at the very least – would be keen to set the record straight on the true cost of the new Council offices.