Leader's blog

News and thoughts from Croydon Town Hall

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Standing united against hate

tony newman - feb 2017-2I’m proud to be the council leader in Croydon, the town I have lived in for over 30 years, and I’m proud of our record as one of London’s most diverse boroughs. So, like all of you, I was appalled at the vile and cowardly attack we saw on a defenceless young man, Reker Ahmed, last week in Shirley. An attack described by the police as a “hate crime”; an attack on a young man who was assaulted by a mob because he was in our country seeking asylum; an attack that was both vicious and mindless. An attack that has been condemned by all.

Local people, and those choosing to come here, tell me they live here because they love Croydon’s diversity and sense of community. That reputation is something we all celebrate, and we will not allow one attack, however vicious, to damage it.

Both Croydon and the justice system must send the clearest possible message – that hate will never be allowed to divide us. We are proud of our communities, proud of our diversity and we are proud of Croydon; our strength is our unity, and that is why we will prevail.

On your behalf, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our excellent local police and new borough police commander Jeff Boothe, both for the speed with which they responded to the original incident, and for the speed with which they have moved to make arrests and charge the alleged suspects. While, of course, due process must follow, I know I speak for the overwhelming majority in calling for the most severe sentences possible to be levied against anyone who is found guilty. Anything less would, in my view, be unacceptable.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Reker Ahmed at this time, and we wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Leader, Croydon Council

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The council delivers yet another value for money budget for Croydon

Despite a tough financial backdrop, I’m pleased that we’ve delivered a balanced Town Hall budget, and held, once again, a small increase in council tax to less than inflation at 47p per week for local services.

Because we’ve done that, work is well under way on the major £30m renovation of one of Croydon’s crown jewels, the Fairfield Halls. We’ll shortly also be in a position to announce who the halls’ new operator will be, ensuring that Croydon once again attracts the very best national and international stars to perform here in our town.

We’re also making big improvements to our local district centres, too. We’re building a new swimming pool and community centre in New Addington, restoring the old library building in Ashburton Park and, in Purley, we’re renovating the town’s major car park. Lots of improvements are being made in Thornton Heath and South Norwood, too.

That the council can make these investments even when times are tough shows that we have a firm grip on finances. We continue to protect and deliver value-for-money services to Croydon residents while keeping any increase in council tax for local services as low as possible. Indeed, I’m pleased that again, this year, we’ve been able to keep the council’s part of the charge to just 47p per week per band D household.

You may be aware of the urgent need to fund increases in demand for adult social care. As national funding doesn’t adequately address this pressure, the government now expects local councils to collect money separately to spend directly on these services. As our elderly and vulnerable residents are a priority for us, we feel that we have no choice but to add a 3% government precept to your council tax to help protect these vital services. This equates to 70p per week and will appear as a separate charge on your bill.

I recognise that a stable council budget with a small increase in council tax allows us to both plan and protect those key services that you have told us are a priority, protects the most vulnerable in our community, and allows those of you planning the family budget to do so in the knowledge there will be no nasty surprises with the council tax bill .

Leader, Croydon Council

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Improving economy and exam results – what’s not to like?

This week saw the publication of an authoritative national report declaring that Croydon had the fastest economic growth in the entire UK. While it’s true that any one report can be taken with a pinch of salt, when seen alongside the recent decisions by Body Shop and Superdrug to move their HQs to Croydon, and the government tax office also transferring 2,500 jobs to the town, it’s clear that something very positive is happening.

As a newly elected Labour council in 2014, we were determined that, along with cleaning up the streets, one of our key priorities was to be working alongside the private and voluntary sectors to drive forward Croydon’s economy to create quality jobs and training opportunities for local people. That this is not only starting to happen, but is picking up pace, is very encouraging – but there’s a long way to go.

With the great work of companies such as Croydon Tech City, Boxpark, Rise Gallery, Body Shop, our traditional retailers, Mott McDonald and many others – and, of course, with Westfield heading our way – there are grounds for believing the growth we are seeing is going to be sustainable.

As a council, we are playing our part by investing directly into a new Fairfield Halls, building affordable homes for local people, building new schools, and much more.

But perhaps the most exciting news of the past week, which did not get quite so much publicity, was the astounding achievements of our young people in their school exams. At both GCSE and A level, Croydon students out-performed the national average. For this, they and their schools should rightly be commended. For Croydon it really is another sign that all our futures can be placed, with confidence, in the hands of Croydon’s next generation to ensure the growth and success now going on all around us lasts long into the future.

Leader, Croydon Council

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Local people know best

I wanted to blog today about growth in Croydon and how we’re making our borough the great place you asked us to make it when you elected us as your Labour administration in 2014.

I’m inviting you to contact me with your priorities for how we can involve more local people in local decision making – because local people know best and I want to make your priorities our priorities.

As the leader of Croydon Council, I’m proud that our borough is now rapidly experiencing the growth and economic investment that other parts of London have already enjoyed – frankly, it is long overdue.

I knew, when we were elected just over two years ago, that our priorities had to be to start cleaning the streets properly, prosecute those that blight our borough with their filthy fly-tipping (council prosecutions now number more than 100, and we’re still cracking down), to have a true partnership with the Mayor of London (something we have done successfully, both with Sadiq Khan and Boris Johnson before him) for the benefit of the borough’s residents, and send a big and bold message to both business and national government that Croydon is 100% open for business.

One of the early achievements of our Labour administration has been the signing of a major ‘devolution deal’ with national government that is linked to our town-centre growth zone and the way in which we invest business rates to support investment in local infrastructure, such as trams and roads. The government has signed a similar agreement with Manchester, but Croydon’s innovative approach has led the way in London and the south-east, something we are immensely proud of. However, there is a lot more to do to really ensure this investment benefits all communities across Croydon. That is why we, as a council, have taken a clear view that devolution of budgets and decisions must spread from the Town Hall and be taken, wherever possible, by you, the residents, in the communities where you live.

Our ward budgets initiative has been a great start to devolving decisions to a local level, and has seen councillors working in partnership with residents’ associations and community groups in the wards they were elected to represent. The amounts of money they have been spending may have been relatively small, but they have generated lots of local interest and commitment to renovating public spaces, improving children’s playgrounds, supporting local community groups, and much more. This year, we are getting bigger and better by increasing the ward budgets, but I want to go further still. I want to hear your views on how many more decisions could be taken locally, rather than in the Town Hall.

Should local environmental decisions on cleaning and litter be taken locally? Should our parks have much greater input from local residents in terms of what facilities they have? Could our libraries provide more IT support or child care facilities for local people? These are just a few thoughts; I am sure you will have many ideas of your own, so chat to me about them when you see me in your area. Alternatively, email me at tony.newman@croydon.gov.uk or write to me at The Town Hall, Katharine Street, Croydon CR9 1XW.

My job is to listen to you and, as I mentioned earlier, ensure that your priorities are our priorities. Together, we’re ambitious for Croydon.


Leader, Croydon Council

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Power to you, the people

As the leader of Croydon Council, I have been determined to ensure that we not only take decisions in an open and transparent way, but that we also seek, wherever possible, to devolve power and decisions from the Town Hall to local communities.

One of our early successes has been the ground-breaking Local Ward Budget scheme, given to councillors across Croydon to spend on community schemes in partnership with local community groups. This has resulted in a number of successes, ranging from improvements to children’s playgrounds and community clean-ups, to support for young people’s involvement in sporting activities funded and delivered locally.

Such has been the success of the scheme that, next year, we will be increasing the budgets; at £12k per ward, the sum remains relatively small, but it will allow further opportunities for local control. For example, the funds could be used to give communities a real say in how their local park is run, or what extra facilities the local library might provide. The days of “the Town Hall knows best” are over. You, the borough’s residents, and local communities are part of what makes Croydon so great, and that is increasingly where the powers to take decisions should lay – with you, the residents.

Further recent examples of how we are increasingly devolving power away from the Town Hall have been the fantastic responses – into the thousands – that we have seen in the local debates over the proposed 20mph zones for residential roads, and the borough-wide engagement on the issues of how to ensure we continued to deliver the garden waste-collection service. Both resulted in decisions being made that, of course, not everybody was going to agree with. The fact is, however, that we had at least taken into account as many views as possible from the residents that would most immediately be affected.

Looking to the future as council leader, I know that my key jobs are to continue to keep the streets clean and safe, protect vital frontline services and keep council tax as low as possible. Beyond that, increasingly it will be to ensure you have the greatest say on what’s good for your local area, working with your locally elected councillors, residents’ associations and community groups.

Democracy is a fragile and imperfect system but it is something we should be proud of and something we should ensure works best for us at a local level.

Best wishes

Leader, Croydon Council


Safeguarding your priorities

It is the time of year when, as a council, we get to set Croydon’s budget for the next 12 months. Our aim, even in tough economic times for the country, is to ensure that we continue to deliver the services you have told us matter most to you, and ensure we deliver them to the highest standard possible.

The money we spend as a council comes, in part, from the collection of council tax, while the rest is essentially government grant directly from Westminster. As you might have read in the local media, Croydon Council has been hit hard by the cuts to the government-funded part of our budget.

To make things worse, when ministers began receiving complaints from across the country about the damage their cuts were doing, they introduced something called a ‘transitional fund’, but that has not gone to the councils most in need. How can anybody justify Croydon receiving £800k while neighbouring Surrey received £24.1m? Utterly indefensible.

However, as leader of Croydon Council, I am determined that we will not allow Croydon to become a victim of the government’s cuts, and that we will protect those frontline services – such as libraries, leisure centres and improved street cleaning – that you have told us you value so much.

To achieve this, and honour our commitment to keep council tax affordable, has, to be honest, involved some tough choices. As a council, we are doing more with less as we continue to have to lose staff and some services. One such casualty is the green garden waste-collection service; it has been necessary to introduce a small charge to those wishing to continue to have the service, amounting to £1.12 per week.

Despite these tough conditions, we intend to deliver value for money where we can. To achieve this, part of the council’s new headquarters building is to be let out to the private sector, more of our services will be accessible online, and we will continue to cut waste and red tape wherever we find it.

With regard to our council budget, we are proposing a council tax increase of 53p per week (band D property) following last year’s freeze in council tax bills. This is equivalent to 1.89% on your bill but, I hope you agree, it’s a relatively small price to pay to protect those vital frontline services from the cuts. Having said that, I am acutely aware that the council tax bill is still a major part of many household budgets and I give you my word we will do everything we can to keep delivering value for money, and keep your council tax bill as low as possible.

Croydon is on the up – we are now officially London’s Growth Borough. Companies like Body Shop are relocating hundreds of their staff and corporate HQs here; Westfield’s new retail centre will soon be on site; and Fairfield Halls is set for a major £30m refit with a new college for Croydon being built alongside it.

As you can see, there is much to be excited about, but we also have to ensure that, as our town is transformed, we protect those vital frontline services. That is the job of myself and my colleagues, and we will not let you down.

Leader, Croydon Council

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City of Culture? Oh, yes!

Croydon – the UK’s next City of Culture. Unthinkable? Actually, it’s not as outrageous a proposition as many who don’t know our borough might have you believe.

Over the past few weeks, it has been my pleasure to visit Croydon’s brilliant award-winning Rise Gallery; see fine productions in The Spreadeagle Theatre; and attend several packed events in Matthew’s Yard in the centre of Croydon.

As well as some great bands at the renovated and now community-run Stanley Halls in South Norwood, and at Croydon’s fastest-growing music venue, The Oval Tavern,

I’ve seen the town’s first Craft Beer Festival at the Braithwaite Hall attracting a crowd aged 18 to 80. And, as the leader of the council, I had the privilege of announcing a major £30m renovation of the Fairfield Halls, to restore the building to its former iconic status.

The good news continues with the announcement that our partner Boxpark will, next summer, be opening London’s coolest new location at East Croydon; and we are enjoying seeing the much-loved David Lean Cinema flourish.

Those achievements stand alongside an exceptional summer programme that included the excellent Ambition, Purley, Thornton Heath, London Road and South Norwood festivals.

Congratulations must be extended to Croydon Youth Theatre Organisation on 50 years of fantastic work in the community, giving young people access to drama and theatre activities to increase their confidence and life skills.

And now we end a year that started with Ben Haenow winning The X Factor, to see Croydon wiping the floor at the globally recognised Mobo music awards. Thornton Heath’s Krept and Konan led the Mobo charge with two awards, accompanied by fellow Croydon winners Stormzy, Faith Child and Section Boyz.

That City of Culture honour, I’m sure you’ll agree, seems quite attainable.

Of course, the headline-grabbing news around Croydon’s many new artists and venues will come as no surprise to local residents. We have all long been aware of the talent that exists across Croydon’s district centres and in our vibrant and multi-cultural communities.

The difference now is that, as Croydon’s recovery continues and our reputation goes from strength to strength, more of our performers and their achievements are getting the recognition they deserve.

The remaining challenge for us as a council is to ensure that all of these talented people have a venue to perform in that will do them proud. That is why we are determined to see through the planned transformation of the Fairfield Halls, Croydon College and surrounding area into one of the capital’s leading cultural and educational hotspots.

Season’s greetings and best wishes for a peaceful new year.


Summer of Ambition

As I write this latest blog post, I am reflecting on Croydon’s first Ambition music and arts festival, which took place last month – and what a stunning event it was. Alongside up-and-coming young talent from Croydon, it featured international stars such as Soul II Soul, and nationally recognised comedy names, as well as theatre, dance and much more. But, more than anything, the festival proved to be another event putting people and local communities at the heart of celebrating art and culture across Croydon.

And when positioned alongside this summer’s already hugely successful Purley, London Road, Crystal Palace and South Norwood festivals, the arrival of the iconic Rise gallery, and fantastic announcement of Boxpark Shoreditch coming to our town next summer, it proves beyond any doubt that Croydon is changing forever.

No longer a sleepy outer London suburb, it is a vibrant, modern borough with an array of fantastic district and local town centres, a truly diverse population, and new job and training opportunities being created in numbers we could only have dreamed about a few years ago. And that’s all before Westfield/Hammerson’s new world-class retail centre opens in a few years’ time.

However, Ambition and growing success bring their own challenges, so that is why, as a council, we are proud to be delivering a number of new schools for local people, ensuring thousands of new homes are being built, and introducing a licensing scheme for private landlords to improve the standard of accommodation for those who choose to rent.

Also, we are campaigning to further improve Croydon’s fantastic public transport provision, which is rapidly becoming a victim of its own success with buses, trams and trains often running near, or at, capacity.

It is, in fact, with the pressures on public transport in mind that I, as council leader, have launched Croydon’s campaign to convince national government and the Mayor of London that the proposed Bakerloo line Tube extension should continue on from its proposed route to Lewisham and then cut through south-east London to Croydon.

I hope you agree that the Tube would be a good thing for Croydon; if you have a moment spare, do let us know your views.

Enjoy the rest of the summer, and if you have children, do ensure you take up the offer we are repeating from last year of free swimming for young people in borough leisure centres.

Leader, Croydon Council

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A home of your own

“A home of our own” is now a fading dream for so many people. It had formerly been the very bedrock of our society that drove the post-war consensus that if you studied, worked hard and “did the right thing”, going on to own your own home would be part of the “deal”. This is a dream that now lies in tatters for so many.

It is also equally true for many of today’s generation that they have lost the choice of being a proud tenant of a house the council built. Council homes in too many areas across the country are available only for those in most dire need – not as choice, or as part of a wider housing offer.

For too long and in too many areas, supply has completely failed to keep up with demand. In other areas of low demand and market failure, plans to demolish entire neighbourhoods have proven not to be the answer. In these areas, the creation of new employment opportunities has been painfully slow.

It therefore seems incredible that, with the general election dust now well and truly settled, the government apparently intends to press ahead with its scheme to force housing associations to sell off their homes. If this was not outrageous enough, to pay for this the government also intends to compensate housing associations by dramatically reducing the already depleted supply of council homes by forcing councils to sell their most valuable properties.

The aspiration for many people to own their own home remains as strong as ever. It is that desire that current government proposals exploit by reigniting the right-to-buy debate in terms of housing associations, and doing little to address the ongoing decline in the supply of new homes across all tenures. For previous generations, renting in the private sector while saving for a deposit to buy a home was the norm. Today in London, where average rents in the private sector have just topped £1,500 per month, that plan is clearly no longer feasible for the vast majority.

So, at best, this policy is a diversion that will do absolutely nothing to address the housing supply crisis, and, at worst, it is a deliberate attempt to attack the role of affordable social housing in society.

The vast majority of those who have looked at the detail of this policy, including those from all sides of the political spectrum and the housing industry, agree that it will do nothing to address the growing housing supply crisis we face. Under these current government plans, Oxford could lose 25% of its social housing stock and Southwark could lose 30% at the rate of 500 homes per year. In essence, over time and in areas of high demand and high value (including inner London), only those earning salaries significantly higher than the average will be able to live there. Dame Shirley Porter herself would be proud.

However, as with so many other policy areas, we no longer have time to look to or wait for Whitehall to come up with the answer. So, as the leader of London’s largest borough I am proud that Croydon is committed to building more than 9,000 new homes within the next five years, that we are working in partnership with the Mayor of London, and that the Treasury is to deliver Croydon’s Growth Plan. I am also proud that the first policy decision this administration took in June 2014 was to increase the affordable requirement of developers in Croydon to a minimum of 30% and that we are on course to deliver.

Whether it is a more flexible and local approach to right to buy, greater fiscal devolution or increasing the Housing Revenue Association borrowing cap, housing policy and delivery is surely somewhere we can turn the devolution debate into reality and let local government and our partners get on and deliver the new homes our country so desperately needs.

Cllr Tony Newman
Leader, Croydon Council
LGA Labour Group Housing Lead

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On your side

One of the key commitments of our council administration – which took office just over a year ago – was to serve all of Croydon, and accelerate the borough’s economic growth as a matter of urgency, while ensuring that as many local people as possible benefited from that growth.

So, for once, I have a list of positive stats and facts that reflect the progress we, together as Croydon, are making and, in so doing, turning those ‘ambitious’ plans into a reality.

  • Office vacancy rates at less than 10%, falling from 55% in 2011.
  • A 49% rise in the now-flourishing ‘tech sector’ since 2011.
  • 1,800 new homes being built, and 1,053 affordable new homes completed.
  • Imminent start of a major commercial development on the prestigious Ruskin Square site.
  • Box Park pop-up shopping mall at East Croydon set for the summer of 2016.
  • Work about to start on transforming the Fairfield Halls into the Southbank of Croydon.
  • District centre improvements under way in South Norwood and Thornton Heath, with others to follow shortly.

What all of the above illustrate is how fast we are now turning around Croydon’s economy and truly making it London’s most exciting and vibrant borough. Taken along with events such as this summer’s forthcoming Ambition Festival and the recent hosting through the town centre of a major international cycle event, we are, once and for all, ending the cheap jibes we once saw aimed at Croydon. Instead, we are reinforcing the view that Croydon is the place to be, the place people are moving to, and the place new jobs are being created.

However, with growing success comes a new set of challenges that together we must address.

East Croydon station is no longer up to the increased demands being placed on it and must be modernised – so, come on Network Rail, let’s get on with it. More trams, and tracks to run them on, are needed urgently, so we will be lobbying the Mayor of London, whose responsibility this is, as a matter of urgency.

More schools are needed and council, with partners, is building them; and we need the government to approve the planning process that will allow Westfield/Hammerson to get on and deliver the much-needed and talked about new retail centre.

Finally, as council leader, my job is also to ensure that, even as Croydon is being transformed, as a council we remain focused on delivering high-quality local services such as continuing to improve our street cleaning, increasing recycling, keeping your council tax bills as low as possible, and much more.

We are making good progress on all these fronts, but, as ever, if you have any problems or ideas about how we can further improve services, do not hesitate to let me know directly at tony.newman@croydon.gov.uk

Best wishes


Leader LB Croydon