Develop Croydon chair Mark Easton spoke about the genuine sense of optimism in the borough as he launched Placemaking Croydon – Space Age City as the theme for this year’s conference.
Mr Easton, the BBC home editor, was returning two years after last being Conference chair and began a day full of debate by joking about the rapid progress being made in the borough.
“If you are fan of anti-climb site fence panels, temporary traffic lights and earthmoving machinery the last few years have been an absolute treat,” he told delegates at the View marketing suite, a meanwhile use venue in the Whitgift Tower.
“It’s been hard hat heaven here but all this disruption of course very exciting – it does feel as though a new Croydon, the Croydon Vision 2020, is taking shape. The construction of Ruskin Square, the arrival of Boxpark, thousands of new homes, new prestige office development and of course the capital’s latest Westfield coming right here and I think that all of that – and as an outsider I think – is creating a very real sense of optimism that we could all do with at the moment.”
Mr Easton also made some amusing comparisons between Croydon and the space programme during his opening speech.
“It may be slight puzzle as to why Croydon would aspire to go back to those games but then I began to think about it and Croydon’s great expansion as a booming commercial centre coincided with the Spage Age,” he said.
“On the same day as that the Apollo 8 spacecraft arrived at the Launchpad at Kennedy space centre, Boots the Chemist opened its doors right here in what was then the brand new Whitgift Centre – October 17, 1968.
“And just after the Duchess of Kent inaugurated this building in 1970, the Russians landed a probe on Venus. Uncanny I think.
“And Croydon, with its futuristic buildings and forward-looking ethos was – and I think to an extent still is – seen as the exciting face as urban progress.
“Like the space programme this town has had to negotiate some bumps along the way but here we in in 2016 with the Rosetta Probe landing on a speeding comet and Croydon announces that the HMRC has signed a deal to set up £500m regional office at Ruskin Square. Again, uncanny the tie up there.
“There is of course another reason for describing Croydon as a Space Age City. You are going to be providing the space for people to live, to work, to shop and play in what I am sure will be London’s city before long – an honour long overdue.
“And today we’re going to think about that journey, described to me as two decades of development crammed into five years, so we really have no time to lose.”