What Labour has done wrong
Our town centre has been left to decline. In 2013 local Conservatives brought Westfield and Hammerson together, in order to deliver a much-needed £1.5 billion investment and create 5,000 local jobs. In the eight years since Labour took over the Council, they have squandered that opportunity. Businesses have abandoned the sinking ship of the Whitgift Centre, and that’s left a gigantic hole in our borough – a brake on our economic productivity.
Our district centres are not much better. Labour scrapped free parking, increased business rates with no discernible increase in support, and had among the worst roll out of Covid support grants in the country. When local businesses, struggling in the pandemic, were desperate for help to survive Labour just wasn’t there.
Litter is up, crime is up, the graffiti team has been sacked by Labour. All of these failures lead to the collapse in footfall, vital in getting life back to normal following the pandemic. Croydon’s local entrepreneurs and district centres deserve better than this – they are the backbone of our local economy and must be helped to thrive.
What would we do differently
Our high streets should be somewhere people want to visit, work and live; they have had to change over the years, but that doesn’t mean they have to fail. Croydon is one of the most connected boroughs in London and it’s time we took advantage of this to create the vibrant centre that we all know it can be. As Mayor I want to work with energetic Croydon businesses and local residents to ensure we have the best offer in South London and further, to make us the chosen destination from Surrey, to inner London boroughs and beyond.
I have a clear vision for how we can achieve this, based on collaboration, proper consultation and drawing on the strengths of our communities. I will work with Westfield and Hammerson to put the town centre development back on track, bringing in much needed investment to provide a mixed use of jobs, homes, retail, education and culture. I have four keys areas I’ll be focusing on:
I will put in place the right governance structure for our high streets by creating a Town Centre Board that will oversee partnerships and culture. The board will have clear reporting system and take evidence from residents on a regular basis to hold it to account. It will actively seek out the views of local people and imaginative entrepreneurs, working with community groups and charities to identify the issues and collectively devise the strategies to lift Croydon out of the mire.
We need to start working innovatively – making use of buildings and developments that are unused, re-establishing partnerships that have been lost, supporting community events and festivals, and activating space in a way that attracts inward investment into our town. Whether this is through repurposing abandoned units to make them office co-working spaces for the local community; or allowing markets and restaurants to use temporary outdoor seating between June and September each year providing people with a bustling, fun space to gather. Nothing will be off the table as we work together to rejuvenate our borough’s economic offer.
We need to consolidate and reduce retail dominance; I want our high street and district hubs to reflect the aspirations and evolving needs of our communities by embracing experiential services: restaurants and galleries; bars and family entertainment venues. We need to ensure we are data led and that our vision is clear to be able to actively seek out much-needed investment and repair Croydon’s damaged reputation. We need to restore confidence in Croydon by drawing on our strengths – capitalising on our young, diverse and talented population.
I will ask members of the new Town Centre Board to work with me to analyse local insights, data, footfall and national trends so together we can co-create and communicate our vision for Croydon. I will create a specific website that is updated regularly to show this and ensure I am working pan-London to utilise the best ideas available in our boroughs for the benefit of Croydon. Through a people-led marketing campaign, I want to rebrand Croydon as the ‘go to’ place for investment, for SMEs, and for a local population crying out for fun, thriving town and district centres.
It may be that it does take some time for us to reach where we need to be but in the meantime I’ll also make sure to deliver below much sooner:
- I will reopen Purley Leisure Centre, this is an essential facility for our borough. Families, schools, community groups and people of all ages use it to keep fit and healthy. It's an invaluable place to catch up with others and serves as a community hub - this is crucial for both physical and mental wellbeing. And it has important benefits for the local economy: ever since its closure, footfall for local businesses has dropped dramatically, by reopening we can revive footfall and support our communities in the South of the borough.
- Across the borough, from Crystal Palace to Coulsdon, I will facilitate the establishment of business associations to get traders working together to set the direction for investment, marketing and entertainment in our vital district centres. This could lead to the creation of Business Improvement Districts which would have the authority to truly set the strategy for boosting footfall, revenue and innovation in their communities, supported by the Council.
- As Mayor I will direct the Council to identify empty shop units across Croydon and publicise them on a bespoke one-stop-shop website that’s open to everyone. Which will mean anyone at any level wanting to set up a business can find the perfect site for them. This website will form the basis of our inward investment campaign, going on the road to encourage local entrepreneurs and national brands to come to Croydon.