The major redevelopment of Sutton town centre is well under way, and two of the town’s leading figures believe it will bring the good times back.
In 2014, then Mayor of London Boris Johnson gave the green light for the start of the transformation which aims to turn Sutton into a unique destination that differentiates it from its south London competitors.
One of the major players behind the transformation is Successful Sutton chief executive Ross Feeney, who witnessed the town’s gradual decline between 2005 and 2012 when it became more known for its nightlife.
Successful Sutton business improvement district (BID), which sprung up in 2012, has orchestrated today’s landscape of high cranes and construction in and around the high street as redevelopment continues apace.
Mr Feeney said: “You just have to look at the town centre now. There are high rise cranes and building works going on like the town centre hasn’t seen for decades.
“In the next couple of years when all of it is finished, the town centre is going to look significantly different from how it is now.
“Yet, there must be a greater focus on the town centre being a 24/7 destination for people to come to.”
Approximately £400million of private investment has been poured into the town centre with more expected, especially in the next six months.
Exciting developments include new offices opposite Sutton railway station for Subsea 7, a major engineering contractor, and a striking 22-storey tower flanked by two smaller buildings – one a hotel and one serviced apartments with retail and office space – at Sutton Point next to the station.
The £4.4million redevelopment of Times Square Shopping Centre, which has been at the heart of the retail district for more than 30 years, is near completion, while a revamp of the St Nicholas Centre is also on the cards after it was bought by a new property development company.
The former gas works site and former Burger King site at the bottom of the high street are also being transformed into a Sainsbury’s and a number of modern residential flats in a £50m scheme.
It is that area that has carried a poor perception for a number of years, and Mr Feeney knows it is something that has to change to keep pace with the rest of Sutton.
“The bottom of the high street is undoubtedly our weakest link,” he said.
“We’ve got an uninspiring crappy looking market and a whole load of vacant units opposite dead frontage from Asda.”
Alongside the redevelopment, there has been a continual campaign to get the Tramlink extended from Wimbledon into Sutton.
Former mayor Johnson was vocally positive on the issue but did not sign off on it before he left office, and new mayor Sadiq Khan, whilst echoing sentiments of positivity towards the idea, is unlikely to agree to it anytime soon.
Conservative Sutton and Cheam MP Paul Scully though believes the Tramlink coming to Sutton will be hugely beneficial in terms of bringing a steady stream of investment into the town.
He said: “The Tramlink has been talked about for a long time, which will help people get in and out a lot quicker.
“People will think buses would suffice but if you look at Croydon, trams transport people a lot quicker.”
The MP, who has lived in Sutton for the most part of his adult life, is more concerned about the need to open up the high street, which due to the physical nature of it and its surrounding one way system, feels closed in and disconnected.
He said: “We need to do a lot more on the high street to make it look more attractive and open it up in some shape or form which is not easy because of the physical structures.
“Because you have this one way system that goes round it really encases the high street. You can drive around Sutton without knowing it’s really there.
Those passionate for Sutton, including Mr Scully and the team at Successful Sutton, are fully aware of the town’s past but are also alive to the fact that the key to successful redevelopment is down to both the developers and the town’s people.
“If you deny the faults you’re just managing gradual decline because attention will go elsewhere,” added Mr Scully.
“I’m ambitious for Sutton and want it do well, and I really enjoy living here. I want it to be a unique destination that people come to for unique reasons.”