Leading authority on development in the south east, Richard Plant, discusses the future of Croydon

Having been Head of the Development Consultancy Division at SHW (Stiles Harold Williams) for over two decades, Richard Plant is a leading authority on development consultancy in Croydon. Not only is he the Chairman of Develop Croydon, a private and public sector group that promotes the regeneration of Croydon, and a Trustee of Startup Croydon, a charity that supports start-up businesses here, but he’s also a Board member of Croydon BID.

Talking with Richard, it is clear to see how passionate he is about the future of Croydon and its enormous potential as the ‘capital of South London’. In fact, after a year of such bad news, it was a breath of fresh air to hear from Richard and learn how so much progress in development is taking place. Since the first lockdown, Tide Construction has completed the record-breaking 101 George Street (‘the world’s tallest modular building’) as well as Admiral Court, with its 23 high-end apartments. Development has also begun on Stanhope and Schroders’ Ruskin Square 2, in preparation for the arrival of the Home Office to Croydon.

As Richard said: “Despite the pandemic, everything has carried on in Croydon regardless in terms of development, even if it hasn’t in terms of a retail or office occupancy point of view”.

SHW has also completed three massive deals, as Richard explained “Each one of these deals would have been good in any single year, but the fact that they have all happened in 2020 is, quite simply, an incredible achievement.” London South Bank University (LSBU) signed a deal on Electric House, which will lead to the first university campus opening in Croydon in September 2021. Following that, residential developer London Square sealed a deal on the St Michael’s Courtyard's site to deliver a large mixed-use scheme next to West Croydon station. Last but not least, with the accelerated demand for logistics and distribution over the pandemic to meet the demands for warehousing and deliveries, new development for Prologis Park has been approved.

What does this mean in real terms for our businesses in Croydon town centre?

LSBU’s development of Electric House into a campus will, as Richard said “fulfil Croydon Council’s ambition to bring a university to the town and will help establish the borough as a hub for higher education in south London”. Furthermore, with a university that offers courses in nursing, tech and business management, it will provide educational and career opportunities for Croydon’s growing population and more local jobs. So as well as bringing more people to the town centre, LSBU will also support the retention of a skilled population within Croydon.

With new residential deals, such as London Square’s, the completion of 101 George Street and Admiral Court, as well as the continuation of new development of residential buildings in Croydon, Menta’s Morello phase II development and L&Q’s Addiscombe Road development, the demographic is rapidly changing, attracting a younger, economically active population, to a large rental market, as well as luxury and affordable apartments. In fact, in total, there are more than 2,600 homes being built in central Croydon at this very moment, which highlights its appeal to investors. As Richard said: “All of this residential development will bolster the retail market for shops and restaurants and so on”.

So, as more people make Croydon their home, we may see more of Croydon town centre follow the evolution of our much-loved Surrey Street, with its cool new bars like Mr Fox, Arts and Crafts and The Ludoquist, as well as the new Matthew’s Yard, with its large entertainment space. The arts, music and theatre scene in Croydon will continue to benefit from South London’s largest arts venue, the refurbished Fairfield Hall, the plans for Croydon being the Borough of Culture in 2023 and the establishment of Croydon Music City.

The development of the logistics and warehousing space at Prologis Park may, at first, not seem so relevant to our town centre but, as Richard explains, the rapidly increasing demand in ‘last mile delivery’ and the growth of this development (often reutilising brownfield and redundant space) creates many more jobs in the area, attracting more people to live in and around Croydon, and thus visit its town centre.

Needless to say, Croydon’s incredible connectivity in terms of public transport (being only one hour’s travel from places as far as St Albans to the South Coast, being only 15 minutes from central London or Gatwick) ensures Croydon continues to be attractive for investors. Yet also, even with the repercussions of this pandemic in terms of office occupancy, there is every reason to be optimistic as people return to the offices, even if it’s for fewer days per week. Croydon, with its wide range of shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, beauty salons, hairdressers and entertainment venues, to enjoy during lunch hours or after work, ensures that it is a great place to which to commute to the office. Although, as Richard noted, “One of the biggest problems is season tickets, as people don’t want to invest in a season ticket if they’re coming in for fewer days per week. This is a major barrier in terms of recovery of a town.”

The cranes that have appeared across the town centre may be one of the most noticeable differences as people return to work in the offices. From SHW’s offices, overlooking Croydon and Fairfield Hall, Richard said he can see numerous new cranes, (on Cambridge House, Ruskin Square, Pocket Living, two on the flyover, etc.) all of which demonstrate the amount of development in Croydon taking place. The lockdown has, in fact, provided a unique solution in limiting the amount of disruption that may have been caused by the initiation of all the simultaneous development taking place. It may, in fact, even have allowed construction to progress more rapidly. Furthermore, with a reduced number of people travelling out of Croydon to offices in London, Croydon has the ability to fare better than central areas of London in terms of the speed of recovery, especially as more people travel into Croydon than travel out of it.

In conclusion, in talking with Richard, there are numerous reasons to be optimistic for the future of Croydon town centre, creating a greater understanding of how it will continue to grow and transform into the capital of South London it longs to be.

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