Friday, 7 November 2014

Is the Croydon Cultural Quarter a Top-Down Pipe Dream?

At its 15 September meeting the Croydon Council Cabinet approved the designation of part of the Town Centre as a Cultural Quarter from opposite East Croydon Station encompassing Croydon College and Fairfield Halls, Queens Gdns, the Town Hall and Clocktower round to Exchange Square to the Minister.

Many reservations have been expressed. It is important for the Labour administration, which claims to be committed to openness and transparency and wanting people to engage in policy development, that it listens to these reservations, engages with those that express them and fine tunes what it has already agreed to take account of good ideas that will emerge. As a top-down initiative is it a pipe dream unless the Council engages in an open and transparent way on how it is to be developed in practice?
This blog discusses the reservations expressed by the Croydon TUC Working Party on the Council’s Growth Plan (CTUCWPCGP) in commenting on the Cultural Quarter paper.

·         Tinkering

While welcoming the development of a more positive strategy to supporting cultural activity in the Borough CTUCWPCGP suggested to Councillors that the proposed Cultural Quarter appears to be just a re-packaging of an approach based on tinkering with the existing business not community model of planning driven by property developers not the needs of Croydonians.  The Working Party fully supports the need for investment in Fairfield Halls to ensure it is repaired and modernised. It is more than just investment in the building’s structure that is needed. It is also needs to develop programmes which attract bigger audiences at affordable prices especially among those Croydonians experiencing inequalities and social deprivation, and create a venue that people wish to visit, meet friends and family and socialise in.

·         Pedestrian Access

CTUCWPCGP indicated that it is not clear how there will be improved safe pedestrian access between Fairfield Halls and Queens Gardens across the main road so that people will want to go into the section of the Cultural Quarter on the western side. Further thought will be needed to how to make the route past the Clocktower round into Surrey St and into Exchange Square more attractive, and ways to ensure that the empty units are let to make the Square an attractive place to want to visit.
There do not appear to be any proposals for what to do to either improve or replace the underground and multi-storey car parks on the Fairfield/College Green side of the main road.

·         Lack of Consultation

Apart from the company in charge of Fairfield Halls, Fairfield Croydon Ltd, the Cultural Quarter Cabinet paper does not state which are the key cultural stakeholders already consulted.

Para 7.3 of the report states that the ‘Cultural Quarter is part of a wider conversation with residents and cultural groups’ and refers to the 8 July culture seminar. While some of the proposed improvements in the Halls were explained, no mention was made of the idea of developing the Cultural Quarter so those attending could express their views on it. Further the credibility of this seminar and proposed future ones declined as every week passed without the completion of the full report on it – finally circulated with a letter dated 29 September signed by the Cabinet member for Couture, Timothy Godfrey.

The Working Party recommended that the officers inform the Cabinet at the meeting which key cultural stakeholders had been consulted so far on the vision of the Cultural Quarter; of the date that the full report of the 8 July culture seminar would be published, emailed to participants, and put on the website, and of the dates for the proposed engagement of communities on the development of the project. These suggestions were completely ignored.

Elizabeth Ash submitted the following question to the 6 October Council meeting: ‘Which key cultural stakeholders were consulted on the vision of the Cultural Quarter, and what are the dates for the proposed engagement of communities on the development of the Cultural Quarter project?’ Godfrey replied ‘The vision for the “Cultural Quarter” has been discussed with key cultural stakeholders at a high level, at our ‘Ambitious for Culture’ seminar on 8 July.’ The notes of the seminar submitted as an Appendix to The Cultural Landscape of Croydon report to  the Scrutiny Committee for its meeting on 11 November does not mention the idea of a Quarter. (See previous blog)

Josi Kiss submitted the following question: ‘Why was the idea of the Cultural Quarter not consulted on through organising a second seminar prior to the submission of the paper to the Cabinet meeting on 15 September, and why does it not include Park Hill Park?’ Godfrey replied:  ‘The concept of the Cultural Quarter is at an early stage in development and further consultation will take place as part of its development and the borough’s Growth Plan, with consultation and engagement being undertaken to ensure the area is meeting the needs of communities in Croydon. As soon as dates are in place for any engagement they will be announced by the Council. We have and will continue to work with users and groups around Park Hill on their aspirations for Park Hill Park and we are looking at ways to improve not only this park but parks around the borough. …. I am very encouraged by the ideas that the friends group has for the development and support of the park, and I am sure that we will be able to work together to make many of the improvements that have so far been suggested.’ His lack of explanation as to why Park Hill Park is not included in the Quarter should be noted.  His answer to a Councillor question on the Park helps to build up an eye of his thinking on it.

·         Equalities Impact

Welcoming the proposed full Equalities Impact Assessment (EqIA) of the Cultural Quarter initiative, CTUCWPCGP recommended that given the complexity of needs and aspirations of such a diverse Borough as Croydon that the draft EqIA be made available for public consultation especially with those involved in providing and developing cultural activities and those organisations whose services are targeted at meeting the needs of different diverse communities. While not mentioned at the Cabinet meeting the importance of the issue does seem to be reflected in The Cultural Landscape of Croydon report submitted to the Scrutiny Committee meeting being held on 11 November.

·         Options

CTUCWPCGP welcomed the inclusion of the section in the Cultural Quarter paper about options that had been considered and rejected.

Option 1. ‘Cease the Fairfield Halls project and the College Green development and continue maintenance regime for the Halls to keep business going – This was rejected as it would lead to business closing through the high number of failures within the building and no refurbishment of modernisation to enable the business to continue.’ CTUCWPCGP considered that this has wide spread support following the initiative of the South Croydon Community Association to start a public debate about the future of the Halls which led to the establishment of the Croydon Arts Network.

Option 2. ‘Standalone Fairfield Halls and College Green developmentsThe approach outlined in the November 2013 cabinet report to progress the modernised Fairfield Halls and the College Green development separately. This has been rejected to enable the Fairfield Halls to be better integrated into the College Green area and act as a focal point in a wider Cultural Quarter.’

CTUCWPCGP considered that this made sense in order to maximise the potential for the public use of the Green and enable Fairfield Halls to have an entrance directly onto it.

Option 3. ‘Include the Fairfield Halls project within the College Green development through the London Development Panel (LDP) – A second approach outlined in the November 2013 cabinet report to progress the Fairfield Halls project within the LDP tender for the College Green development. This has been rejected as the panel does not suit the new vision for the area as a Cultural Quarter.’ CTUCWPCGP would have preferred to have seen more detail about this and the reasons for the officers rejection of it.

Option 4 was the Cultural Quarter. CTUCWPCGP  expressed concern that options were rejected at officer stage rather than being presented in full to Councillors to make the decisions.

·         SEGAS House

At the time of the Cabinet meeting on 15 September the Council was locked into having to buy SEGAS House for the proposed Oasis Academy School. This has now been abandoned. Those who have been arguing for the building to be purchased and turned into a Museum and Cultural Centre see this as an important extra part of improving the cultural mix in the Quarter. So far the Council has been quiet about its view on the matter, but the Scrutiny Committee has the opportunity to raise this with Cllr Godfrey on 11 November.

·         Exchange Square

At the moment Matthews Yard is isolated down a steep slope into Exchange Square that act as a deterrent to some people because of age and mobility problems. The Yard is caught in a Catch 22 dilemma. Its service of food and drink is slow, but it is difficult to speed this up without either improved kitchen equipment and or staff, the money which can only be generated by extra customers who come because there are other attractions in the Square. The shop units in the buildings around Exchange Square are empty and boarded up. Perhaps it is possible that the Cultural Quarter idea may help to stimulate their letting.

·         Signage and Trail

An important first step towards beginning to publicise the Cultural Quarter will be street publicity, including:
·         Cultural Quarter signs to each venue and space.
·         A heritage trail map and phone app.
·         The identification of more plaques.
·          Information boards, inc. on bus stops about the Quarter.
Could these be funded out of Section 106/Community Infrastructure Levy monies allocated to culture?

·         Continuing Debate

Creative dialogue must be a continuing part of the process. It would make sense for Godfrey to convene a Culture Seminar on a quarterly basis, and invite Friends of Parks and the local history/heritage groups to take part as well. The dialogue among activists needs to continue without waiting on what the Council may or may not do.

Dialogue Opportunities

Croydon Arts Network: Thursday 13 November. 7pm. Matthews Yard, off Surrey St. Share your ideas with John Bownas, the Council’s newly appointed Festival Officer, about Council plans for music and arts. 

Croydon TUC Croydon Assembly: Saturday 15 November, Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Rd;  includes workshop on cultural concerns. See

Councillor Questions at 6 October Council meeting

The Cultural Quarter paper to 15 September Cabinet can be accessed at

For more on proposed Council Festival see:
Find out more about John Bownas at:

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