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Croydon draws in the crowds at MIPIM 2017

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A debate on shaping Croydon’s future to make it a better place for residents drew one of the largest audiences seen for a panel discussion at the world’s most prestigious real estate show.

Croydon Urban Edge was the subject of a conversation at MIPIM 2017 with housing minister Gavin Barwell, Croydon Council chief executive Jo Negrini, Steve Sanham, managing director of Hub, the Croydon Partnership’s Steve Yewman and Robin Dobson, Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, founder of the RISEgallery in the town and Stuart Cade, partner at Rick Mather Architects which is working on the renovation of Fairfield Halls. The session was chaired by Peter Murray.

It backed up a stand showcasing the south London borough backed by Develop Croydon, the successful inward investment community interest company which has been leading its promotion since 2010.

Part of the audience for the Croydon panel debate YC

And as delegates packed into the London Pavilion to hear what the speakers had to say, Mr Murray, who is chairman of New London Architecture, commented: “This is the largest audience we’ve had at MIPIM.”

Ms Negrini, who was executive director of place before taking on the role as the council’s chief executive last summer, kicked off proceedings by setting the scene of Croydon and its regeneration ambitions.

She pointed to a programme being put together for the Croydon Growth Zone, the formation of the council’s own housing company Brick by Brick and the influx of new occupiers in the centre of Croydon – including HMRC, EDF Energy, Superdrug and The Body Shop – as evidence of the pace of change in the town.

“There has been a lot of top-down interventions but what makes our story slightly different is that there’s a lot of bottom-up stuff coming through the residents on the ground,” she said.

“It creates an energy where the top-down meets the bottom-up and that’s where you get the regeneration sweet-spot. That is what’s happening in Croydon now.”

“Something is really shifting now,” she said. “Being provocative and taking a risk has been a gamechanger for us.”

Mr Barwell, who is Croydon Central MP, agreed that it was a hugely exciting time with the town centre being completely redeveloped.

“We’ve got major corporates moving here, major developers investing here, the housing, the new office space and the cultural regeneration,” he said.

“But we’ve also got the local community groups and the work they are doing. That fusion between those things is what makes the story such an exciting one.

“There are huge opportunities for people who want to come here and invest.”

Mr Sanham, managing director of HUB, which is planning has submitted a planning application for 540 new homes and a revamped Queen’s Gardens on the former Taberner House site, said the company aimed to build new homes at price points Londoners can afford.

“We deliver some big schemes but we also really value the opportunity in Croydon to get stuck in at a grassroots level to go out, walk the streets, meet people in the local community and we spoke to 1,200 people before we put a planning application in for our scheme and we really valued that interaction,” he said.

“We want to do more in Croydon, we want to work very closely with the guys at Croydon Council and see if we can deliver something that’s a little bit more special than just bricks and mortar.”

He was followed by representatives of the Croydon Partnership – made up of retail giants Westfield and Hammerson – which is currently going through the planning process on its plans to transform the existing outdated Whitgift Shopping Centre into a £1.4billion retail mall, also featuring new homes and extensive leisure and dining facilities.

Mr Yewman, development director for Westfield, said: “The team have worked tirelessly on getting our our upgraded planning application, which is primarily it’s for a new flagship store for M&S.

“They’re showing their continued confidence in Croydon to move from an old ancestral building to a new flagship building.We’re really delighted that they are now wanting to see a best in class building. In addition to retail, loads more of our floor space is now going to food.

“From our point of view we’re ripe now to start delivering the regenerated Whitgift Centre but more importantly I think the town is ready as well. In the last 18 months Croydon has really moved forward. We’ve got to change people’s lives and bring them (the people of Croydon) with us.”

Mr Dobson, director of retail development for Hammerson, added: “It’s about delivering the best experiences in the best destinations in the very best towns and cities.

“In the latest set of figures the highest demand for commercial space anywhere in the UK, you’ve got the highest population of any London borough, and the highest growth statistics, you’ve got fantastic leadership the council and the GLA, and the missing ingredient – which there is now a real push on to deliver – is actually the retail and the leisure.”

The fifth speaker, Mr Zuchowski-Morrison, said he felt the borough had the public and private sector support to ensure its regeneration is a success.

“Culture is so important within any kind of regeneration – any kind of place has to have an identity that makes it stand out from other boroughs.

“In Croydon that we’ve got a fantastic cultural offer which is growing. We are very lucky in Croydon to have that at the moment with the right local authority, the right corporations all balanced together which is helping things to move along much quicker.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve begun to bring a lot of public artwork around the town. While we go through a big time of change it keeps engagement with our community, our old community and our new.”

Mr Cade discussed the work being done to transform Fairfield Halls and neighbouring College Green as a centrepoint for the borough’s cultural ambitions.

“We’ve just started on site in the last couple of months preparing the site for the redevelopment,” he said. “It’s a wonderful post-war building, mid-century, really finely detailed, luxurious materials, and we’re bringing that back to one of the finest concert halls in the UK.

“We’re regenerating the foyers, we’re adding new facilities onto College Green so that the Halls will be complemented by new retail and new art gallery so that the Halls will again be at the heart of the cultural quarter.”

Following the debate, members of the audience were invited to further discuss the town at a Beers on the Beach event supported by the town’s Cronx Brewery and Inkspot Brewery.

Meanwhile, a Brunch on the Beach was being held on Thursday morning, sponsored by the Kier Group, to further showcase Croydon with speeches by Ms Negrini, Brick by Brick managing director Colm Lacey and Nigel Turner, executive director of Kier Group.