One of the key promises I made in the run-up to the General Election was to campaign for the redevelopment of the Fairfield Halls so that it can put on a much wider range of events and return to being one of London's leading cultural venues. In principle, it is therefore good news that Croydon Council has announced plans to transform Fairfield Halls, Croydon College and the surrounding College Green area.
The plans would see the construction of a start-of-the-art college on the Barclay Road Annex site behind the Fairfield Halls. Fairfield Halls would be transformed into a modern concert and events venue, able to attract a broader range of acts. The venue’s 1,800 seat Concert Hall would retain its acoustic integrity, but would be fully refurbished to include new seating and modernised backstage and servicing areas. The rest of the 1962 building, including the 755 seat Ashcroft Theatre, would be refurbished to contain flexible performance and arts spaces. On the ground floor, a new restaurant, bar and surrounding seating area would open on to a transformed College Green public square.
Hundreds of new homes would be constructed on the existing college site alongside new shops and restaurants, with new pedestrian paths and squares linking the area to East Croydon station and other parts of the town centre.
Fairfield Halls will be closed during the redevelopment due to the scale and ambitious nature of the scheme. I will be meeting the Chief Executive of Fairfield shortly to see whether this scheme has his support and will keep residents updated on developments.
Both Simon Thomsett, the Chief Executive of Fairfield, and Kate Vennell, the Chairman of the Board, have very significant concerns about what the Council is proposing. I have written to the Cabinet member responsible, Cllr Tim Godfrey, as follows:
I am writing to you about the Council’s plans to redevelop the Fairfield Halls as part of a wider scheme to transform the College Green area.
In principle, these plans are very exciting. However, I recently met with Simon Thomsett, the Chief Executive of Fairfield, and Kate Vennell, the Chair of the Fairfield Board, who raised a number of concerns.
First, they question whether the Council is right to seek to close the Fairfield for a couple of years while the redevelopment takes place. They believe that it is both possible to keep parts of the building running while work is underway, which I think the Council accepts, and that doing so would be both less risky and cheaper, which clearly the Council disputes.
Second, they believe the timetable is very ambitious. The Cabinet paper says the Council plans to secure planning permission in April 2016 and that work will start about three months later.
Third, they question whether it is possible for the new building to be commercially self-sufficient as the Council intends.
And finally, they say that their staff have not been involved in the design process and that as a result mistakes have been made, which will make it more expensive to run the new building.
I would therefore be grateful for answers to the following questions:
1. When does the Council envisage the Fairfield closing? What power does it have to make that happen?
2. If the Fairfield closes, new staff will have to be recruited before it can re-open and the audience will have to be won back. The paper that the Cabinet agreed on 20th October claimed that full closure would save approximately £4.8 million compared to a phased development. Even if the building is commercially self-sufficient in the medium-term (see below), it is clearly going to need some revenue subsidy both before it re-opens and for a period after it re-opens to fund recruitment of new staff, the employment cost of those staff and a marketing programme to win back an audience. What allowance has the council made for these costs? In the interests of transparency, it would be very helpful to have a detailed breakdown of the Council’s estimates of both capital and revenue costs for full closure and phased development to see what assumptions underpin the £4.8 million figure.
3. The Council’s plan entails making the existing staff redundant. Is it not worried about losing all that collective knowledge about how the building works, the local audience etc?
4. Has the process to appoint a contractor to carry out these works begun? If not, when do you expect them to be appointed?
5. Can you give examples of similar centres that are commercially self-sufficient?
6. Who will operate when Fairfield Halls when it re-opens? If you haven’t decided yet, when will this decision be taken?
7. Is it true that the Fairfield Halls staff haven't been involved in the design process?
Like you, I want to see the College Green area regenerated and a state-of-the-art Fairfield Halls offering the best possible cultural offering to the people of Croydon. However, without satisfactory answers to the above questions I am very concerned that the Council’s approach may make things worse not better.
I look forward to your response. In view of the public interest in these matters, I am releasing this letter to the local media.
MP for Croydon Central
I will let you know what response I receive.