Long time Croydonians tend to be sceptical of press releases promising major investment. In the last 10 years, despite an initial blaze of publicity on the Croydon Arena and the Park Place retail development, both schemes eventually failed. Ruskin Square continues to be a case of “building Croydon tomorrow” – no work has started despite previous promises from Stanhope and Schroders as recently as October 2010 that construction work would commence in Q1 2012
Westfield comes to Croydon?
In recent months, there have been a number of new development announcements. Hammerson says it will invest £40m in its recently acquired Centrale shopping centre. Guildhouse/Rosepride seek to surpass Menta with an even higher residential skyscraper. But the standout announcement is Westfield’s tentative discussions with the freeholders of the Whitgift shopping centre. Are our politicians being honest in suggesting that a new future is dawning for Croydon? The ever astute InsideCroydon noted that the elections for London mayor and Assembly are fast approaching – they will be held on 3 May 2012. It is certainly politically convenient to maximise the flow of “good” news in the run up to the elections.
Does Croydon love Boris?
On the 2012 mayoral elections, the bedrock of Boris’ success in the 2008 elections was his support in the outer London boroughs. In my humble opinion, the inflation busting transport price hikes and the police cuts will make it hard for Boris to retain his support in the outer London boroughs. In Croydon specifically, the savagery of the Council's spending cuts, the inept policing of the August riots and the failure to secure Enterprise Zone status will hurt Boris. Most fundamentally, at the overall London level, as the riots happened on Boris’ watch, he is likely to pay the political price. On predicting the outcome of the 2012 Croydon & Sutton London Assembly seat elections, a good starting point is to study the 2008 results - which can be summarised as follows: % Conservative 43 Labour 19 Libdems 18 UKIP 5 Greens 5 Others 10
The 2008 results show a massive Conservative lead. Labour and the Libdems share of the vote was roughly equal – but they were well behind the Conservatives. In my opinion, the Libdem vote in 2012 could suffer a sharp fall. Even if many Libdems vote tactically for Labour’s candidate (Louisa Woodley), it is hard to see her overhauling the Conservatives’ 24% lead. I wonder if Louisa’s Assembly seat campaign is to position her as Malcolm Wicks’ successor for the next general election? If there is a large protest vote against the coalition government in the 2012 Assembly elections, then it may be UKIP and the Greens – as opposed to Labour – who are the most notable beneficiaries. In particular, the decision to site an incinerator at Beddington Lane may provide a substantial boost to the Green vote.
In my crystal ball, the Croydon & Sutton London Assembly seat seems to be a safe hold for the Conservative incumbent - Steve O’Connell – even if his majority is much reduced. But are Steve's talents best utilised by restricting him to Croydon Council and the London Assembly?
The real political mystery is why the Conservatives haven’t yet made an announcement on the succession for Richard Ottaway’s Croydon South seat (soon to be the new Purley & Carshalton constituency). Even by Richard’s low standards, his handling of the riots’ aftermath left much to be desired – a story covered not only by InsideCroydon but also by the Mail on Sunday. The usually obsequent Croydon Advertiser recently ran two prominent critical stories on Richard. The Advertiser’s first story was Richard’s suggestion that a 4 year old child should cycle 3 miles to a faraway school as a place hadn’t been offered at her local school – which backs onto her home. More damaging was the Advertiser's second story reporting on Richard’s trip to America which was financed by Liam Fox’s notorious political fund. Richard has long been a subject of satire for InsideCroydon. However, in recent months, an increasing number of letters from the public criticising Richard are being published in the local press. I particularly enjoyed a recent letter in the Advertiser. This letter joked that Richard’s constituency is so solidly Tory that its constituents would vote for a monkey – so long as it was running on the Conservative ticket. The writer suggested – tongue in cheek – that this theory should be tested as a monkey would be harder working and cheaper! Richard seems to be well past his “sell by” date. The logical successor would be Steve – his Kenley political base is in the constituency. Also, as the new Purley & Carshalton constituency incorporates a number of Sutton electoral wards, Steve's existing profile in Sutton gives him an advantage. In a sensible world, Steve would be formally anointed as Richard’s successor and would forgo the Assembly seat so as to concentrate on the parliamentary seat.
But when did good sense ever enter into political calculations? The recent blaze of positive publicity also nicely coincided with the Develop Croydon conference on 22 November. Develop Croydon is the pressure group of Croydon’s large developers. Following the damage to Croydon’s image caused by the August riots, the developers are desperate to “big up” Croydon’s future potential. The conference provided a superb conjunction for both the politicians and developers’ desire to paint a rosy picture of Croydon’s future. Boris was keen to milk the political advantage as the conference’s keynote speaker. At the conference, as well as highlighting Westfield’s interest in the Whitgift centre, the other big story was that the £10m earmarked for Croydon’s regeneration had been increased to £23m. However, despite the PR spin, £23m is wholly inadequate to make a serious dent on Croydon’s deep rooted problems. To put the £23m in context, the government’s austerity programme is forcing Croydon Council to make cuts of £90m over the next 3 years.
InsideCroydon separates the reality from the PR spin in a scathing - but brutally honest - post of 23 November
on the £23m grant. The local press – as always – has swallowed the positive publicity on Croydon’s regeneration. In particular, the local press has run a number of breathlessly enthusiastic articles on Croydon’s retail renaissance given the disclosures from Westfield and Hammerson. But is it a new dawn or a false start for Croydon’s retail sector? In two future posts, I will discuss:- the historical evolution of Croydon’s shopping centre and the “big picture” retail trends- the current poor state of Croydon’s retail offering and the reality behind Westfield and Hammerson’s announcements In writing this post, I realise that making political predictions makes a fool of even the most diligent observer. The views expressed are mine alone and I’m fully prepared to swallow a large chunk of humble pie if I'm proved wrong.