Friday, 25 March 2016

Ruskin Square: A Revisionist History - Guest Blog by Susan Oliver

BoxPark was talked about quite a bit during the 16 February 2016 Scrutiny Committee Meeting (webcast here: and I would like to point out a falsehood given at the proceedings.

Mr Matthew McMillan, Development Director for BoxPark, says at 29.15 that BoxPark “is using a piece of land that wouldn’t be used otherwise.”

That’s not true.

CTT Co-operation with Stanhope

Stanhope had approached Croydon Transition Town (CTT) to get involved with the land and we had started to transform the area into something more hospitable for the public. 

The following is taken from the 5th September 2013 CTT minutes, with the most important parts underlined:

At the end of August, CTT members met the architects, sub-contracted by Schroders, who are responsible for making best use of the space (Ruskin Square) before and after the new buildings have been built.
South London Botanical Society had identified 150 species of plants growing there and the architects would like to see some of the space being used for a community garden or something along those lines. If we’re able to get something going, again with the participation of people living or working nearby or passing through East Croydon, then it’s possible that it would be retained when Schroders start building...

Volunteer Input

After our initial August meeting, other CTT volunteers and I put in between 50 and 75 hours of volunteer time at the site.  We would get the key from the reception desk at AMP House to open the locked door. 

Although heavily over-grown, it was clear that effort and expense had been expended in establishing an area for activity.  Paths had been clearly established and further delineated by ropes. There was a handball court close to the Dingwall Road gate and I recall something that looked like a poly-tunnel.  Mounds specially built for wild-flowers lie closer to the tracks.  The survey done by the South London Botanical Association was formatted into an expensive-looking booklet but, sadly, not widely distributed.

It was my understanding that employees of AMP House used the area as a place to take their lunches, exercise and use the handball court. 

Open ‘House’ 21 September 2013

A public opening was held on 21 September 2013 as part of Open House London,  where people came and enjoyed the grounds; tables were set up, some selling food and drink from local establishments.

This is all to prove that BoxPark wasn’t always the chosen messiah of Ruskin Square and that Stanhope was planning to work much closely with community members to develop it.  This would have resulted in a space that was much more creative and directly supportive of businesses and organisations already established in Croydon than the BoxPark proposal.

BoxPark: “big, brash and in-your-face”

During the Scrutiny Committee meeting, at 34:00, Jo Negrini gives a colourful justification for BoxPark by asserting that, at the time, Croydon needed something “big, brash and in-your-face; something to say that things were changing in Croydon.”  

That means they wanted to hit people over the head with the look and feel of wealth.  Apparently Croydon Council believes that giving the right impression - which means creating an image associated with money, trendiness, superficiality, and material success - is the most important aspect to running a successful economy.

Let’s not turn away from the fact that this ethos is also driving the Fairfield refurbishment. 

Nor should we shut our ears from the gleeful laughter of Roger Wade, BoxPark CEO, who’s set to make a ton of money to say, “Things are changing in Croydon.” 

Stanhope Subsidies BoxPark

The public should also have the right to reject the terms of the rental arrangement between BoxPark and Stanhope.  I actually yelled out loud when it was exposed during the meeting webcast that Stanhope was giving them free rent for the duration of the project!

This is weird.  When does a developer give free rent to a wealthy business? 
This rental agreement amounts to a generous hand-out to a very successful commercial operation. Is this what we do in the U.K., help the wealthy? 
It is deeply suspicious that Stanhope has given BoxPark free rent for such valuable space when most other restaurants and cafes have to pay a landlord.  Why has BoxPark been given these miraculous terms?  How are ordinary businesses supposed to compete in an economy where megaliths are given such boosts? The Council or Stanhope itself needs to explain this arrangement because I am left with grave concerns.   

Stanhope Schroder was on course to create something very special for Croydon until someone stepped in and convinced them – or strong-armed them? – to make way for BoxPark.   A park is not “big, brash and in-your-face” but, like the Hippocratic Oath, it does no harm.  It would not have brought in competition to restaurants and cafes already operating in Croydon. BoxPark will. 

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