Investors and developers at the London Real Estate Forum heard how Croydon people and creating a great place were at the heart of the borough’s regeneration.
The Croydon session at the two-day event at Berkeley Square was packed to the rafters as representatives of the arts and tech community joined council representatives to underline how the borough’s ambitions went way beyond bricks and mortar.
The session was chaired by Liz Hamson who spoke of the town’s transformation during her 11 years with Property Week, of which she is editor.
“Back then having a Pret was the height of luxury,” she said. “Now we’ve got Boxpark and a true wealth of food offers.
“In my first 18 months we had more than 100 per cent turnover of staff but now we’ve got people who want to work for Property Week for the location as much as for the magazine, which is fantastic.
“You only have to look at all the cranes around the skyline to see how much it has transformed in the last three or four years.”
Croydon Council chief executive Jo Negrini stressed that while the answer to London’s housing crisis lies in outer boroughs such as Croydon, creating a place of “integrity and identity” is key.
“Croydonisters are very proud people who care very much about their place and, from our side, it’s not just about the numbers and the metrics,” she said.
“If you want to talk about the big sites go to Barking. We’re trying to make Croydon sustainable. This has to be about creating opportunities for Croydon people.
“If we do not connect up the opportunities that we’ve got with Croydon people – particularly our young people– then we will have failed.”
Colm Lacey, managing director of Brick by Brick, outlined why the council had set up its own development country, feeding any profits back into core council services.
“We’ve got 30 planning consents under our belts over the last few months, we’ve got another 15 or so in planning and that programme delivers 1,200 units. Importantly, around 50 per cent of those are affordable,” he said, emphasising the borough’s own internal architecture practice was ensuring quality of design.
“We have a focus on smaller suburban sites and these are sometimes difficult, so they are sites that mainstream housebuilders aren’t particularly interested in.
“That’s really important for Croydon because having decent developments across the borough will impact on people in many different areas. It can make a big impact quickly.”
Mick Robins, chief executive and co-founder of Connected Space, outlined why his SME moved from Shoreditch to Croydon, citing the Croydon Tech City movement as a significant part of the town’s regeneration.
“All of the indicators were blindingly obvious to us in terms of its regeneration and, importantly for us, because of its organic grassroots tech community,” he said.
“Shoreditch is now dominated by Fin-Tech, given its proximity to the financial city, Newcastle is starting to become the UK’s data home while Manchester is the incubator of national ideas for smart cities.
“Croydon has a golden opportunity to grab a position. I would go for connected transport because we have an amazing transport system and a desire to innovate. I would be encourage companies to make the first fully autonomous vehicle trials in Croydon.”
Becky Golland, managing director of TMRW which opened just over a year ago said the dedicated tech co-working space had learned from the good and bad experiences of the Shoreditch tech scene.
“One of the things I felt passionately about was engaging with the local community and 85 per cent of suppliers are local,” she said.
“In Hackney the local community feel isolated from what’s going on but we were kickstarted by the Mayor’s Regeneration programme so it’s thanks to Croydon Council and the GLA that we exist.
“The whole point is to create something for Croydon. How can you do that if you suddenly bring in lots of outsiders who don’t engage?”
Private developers were represented by Steve Sanham, managing director of Hub Developments which has just secured planning permission for a 514-home scheme at Taberner House, site of the council’s former headquarters.
“What I’ve observed in Croydon is so much more than bricks and mortar and playing a numbers game saying look how many flats we can build,” said Mr Sanham.
“It’s about that creation of place, it’s about that pride, it’s that re-emergence of Croydon as a viable location to live and do business; unearthing the culture and the excitement that we know exists.
“We’ve delivered a planning consent that has 35 per cent affordable. There is a mixture, blind tenure, really super high quality and it’s about creating a mix and respecting people from different parts of society.
“We’re going to target these homes at people in Croydon, generate jobs in the construction process and really involve people who are part of the community in building the community.
“All of those things are we love doing, all of those things Croydon seem to love us doing.”
Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, owner of the RISEgallery, spoke about the role being played Croydon’s thriving cultural scene.
“We get a lot of references that Croydon is becoming the next Shoreditch but we don’t want to be the next Shoreditch. We’re doing something completely different,” he said.
“I think we can learn from the East London which saw an enormous amount of growth and prices go up substantially and everybody needs to move out.
“I think Croydon can find that right balance what really stands out from a cultural perspective is that we are all working together.
“Croydon has got an amazing charm about it. It has got some beautiful architecture – some people may love it, some people may hate it – but at least they’re not indifferent to it.