OPPORTUNITY knocks, but Croydon seems destined never to answer.
We have wasted the chance to create a landmark development on the Gateway site beside East Croydon station.
Now we are to have a single office block, a few green squares and a possible new fringe theatre, but we don’t know precisely when any of these will materialise.
It would be easy to blame the developers for this drastic down-scaling of a site that has been an eyesore for 50 years, but that would be to miss the point.
Property development on a grand scale such as that originally envisaged has always been a cyclical business – the time is precisely right about once in a decade and we have missed it at least twice in the past 30 years.
The Gateway is a masterpiece of municipal muddle: the original owners couldn’t agree a scheme among themselves – a disparate collection of interests with as many different expectations, some of them wholly unrealistic.
Then Croydon Council muddied the waters with proposals for a grandiloquent scheme for which it had no money. It strutted around demanding compliance with its vision and giving the impression that it was calling the shots.
It backed a proposal for an arena, which I still believe would be good for the town centre, but it didn’t have the courage of its convictions to push the idea as hard as necessary to overcome entrenched opposition.
Not enough councillors went to see such an arena at work in Hamburg – had they done so, as I did, and talked to the German management about the economics of such a venture, they might have been more convinced of its success and therefore more persuasive.
But they allowed political considerations to cloud their judgement – they were more concerned about accusations of junketing or of abandoning the beloved Fairfield.
Now we have the worst of all worlds – a Gateway site that’s still in limbo and vague unfunded promises to refurbish a 1960s concert hall and theatre that could cost many millions.
The opportunity to create a modern entertainment complex will come again – East Croydon is the best site in Greater London for such a development.
Next time we must learn from our mistakes and be far more decisive.
David Callam is a freelance journalist and the former business editor of The Croydon Advertiser. For more examples of his work and to see what he could do for your business please visit www.callamedia.co.uk
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