EAST CROYDON station has been a controversial structure since it was re-built in 1992.
I remember queuing for a ticket behind two elderly ladies not long after the new structure was unveiled. One said to the other: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I think it’s quite nice – for a temporary building.”
And that unwitting remark precisely sums up my feelings about it.
I later learnt that British Rail sought Croydon Council’s approval for the present glass box with a loaded shotgun in hand. In effect, it said: “This is what we can do with the money we have available – take it or we’ll spend it elsewhere.”
The station is one of the 20 busiest in the country, but remains unloved. It came joint bottom in a recent poll by Passenger Focus, a rail users lobby group, sharing that dubious distinction with Birmingham New Street and Liverpool Lime Street.
Yet it sits like an abandoned suspension bridge in the midst of an area earmarked for huge redevelopment. It could be the star attraction of a Croydon communications hub with easy rail connections to central London, Brussels and Paris, and – via Gatwick Airport – to the rest of the world.
And the cost to the public purse of building this super-hub to replace the existing ‘temporary’ building need be nothing. A redesigned station could include multi-storey mixed-use blocks where City slickers could have their week-day pad, just 20 minutes by fast train from their penthouse offices in the square mile.
And when it comes to jetting off to their week-end villa in southern Europe, they are just 20 minutes in the opposite direction from Gatwick Airport, or for those with their own aircraft, about the same time by road from Biggin Hill.
Croydon must rally behind the cause of putting infrastructure at the heart of the town centre’s redevelopment. The station and Ruskin Square –the gateway site – must be developed at the same time, and both within the next five years.
They could set the standard for a wholesale remodelling of the town centre – from Cherry Orchard Road to Wellesley Road – but high quality public transport must come first if we are to look forward to lasting success in coming decades.
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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