I spent this morning at Develop Croydon 2011, a one-day conference at the Fairfield Halls about development prospects in the borough.
The keynote speaker was Boris Johnson, who announced that he and the Government are providing £23 million to regenerate Croydon town centre. This money isn't compensation for the businesses damaged in the riots - that will come separately - it is investment to rejuvenate the town's economy, our equivalent of the Enterprise Zone status granted to some other areas.
The Council intends to use the money to significantly improve the public realm in the town centre, which is one of the key barriers to new investment, and to provide support to encourage businesses to locate in the area east of Wellesley Road and north of George Street. The public realm improvements include:
- improvements to the gateways to the town - the public space around West Croydon station and the junction of Dingwall Road and Lansdowne Road, which will be the route to the new access to East Croydon station at the other end of the platforms;
- improvements to Croydon's high streets - North End, South End, Church Street, George Street and London Road, some of which bore the brunt of the riots; and
- making it much easier to walk around the town centre, in particular by introducing pedestrian crossings across Wellesley Road so people don't have to use unpleasant subways.
I have spent several months lobbying for this money and for the Council to be given sufficient flexibility about how it is spent so coming on top of the recent announcement that Westfield are looking to redevelop the Whitgift Centre this was more really positive news. Despite the difficult economic climate, there was a real buzz among those present today. I can honestly say I feel more optimistic about Croydon's future than at any time in the 13 years I have been involved in public life.