A Croydon business owner has criticised developers and planners for pricing out small businesses from having a say in the borough’s regeneration plans.
Saif Bonar, founder of shared business space Matthews Yard, wrote an open letter to Croydon developers in reaction to the £350 cost of a ticket to the Develop Croydon conference last month.
Croydon is undergoing regeneration worth £5.25bn and is home to Tech City, a start-up cluster aiming to position the borough as south London’s Silicon Valley.
Mr Bonar fears that residents of the borough are on the cusp of facing similar issues of gentrification to Brixton.
“The Develop Croydon conference is an example which highlights part of the problem with regeneration and the fact that it’s almost them and us,” he said.
“This conference was pitched to external developers wanting to come into Croydon and profit from the redevelopment and the current trend of regeneration.
“There are a lot of people in the community who have some sort of buy-in and can’t necessarily speak out or they have a funder they don’t want to go against so there are murmurings and an underlying disquiet about regeneration and that it’s not necessarily being done in the interest of the community.”
Croydon has the fastest-growing property prices in London and office rents are projected to rise by 63% over the next two years.
“If people have set up businesses primarily for community purposes and they have to relocate, you start to lose the soul of the town,” said Mr Bonar.
“Developers don’t have sustainability in mind but I think people can work with developers to make sure the things we want are still here in five or ten years.”
It was announced earlier this year that BOXPARK, the pop-up mall that has enjoyed success in Shoreditch, will be opening another branch next to East Croydon station in 2016.
Its Croydon counterpart will focus on food and drink and will be made of 80 recycled shipping containers, initial designs were slammed for ‘white-washing’ as the designs showed only white people enjoying the new mall.
The images were later altered to include some ethnic minorities.
Mr Bonar claimed that the new BOXPARK is one example of the tendency of developers to simply replicate the regeneration which has brought them success in other areas.
“It’s essentially ‘let’s throw in this food court, let’s throw in some craft beer’. It’s very much a cookie-cutter approach,” he said.
“It’s almost like a list of check-boxes to get those things in a town, make a load of money and then move on to the next one.”
His letter was intended as a call to bring developers and local community businesses together and to encourage discussion of the potential problems which could ensue from careless development.
Mr Bonar wants the community to look at places like Brixton and Shoreditch, where regeneration has already taken place, and think about the problems that will arise in five or ten years’ time in Croydon so developers and the community can mitigate against them now.
“It doesn’t have to be a clear-cut case of some people being able to afford to live here and some not.
“We need to find a middle ground that supports those who are already here and those who want to come here.
“We have an opportunity in Croydon to do gentrification justice – the underlying premise that it should be raising people up and making them more aspirational is not panning out in Brixton, Brighton and Shoreditch.
“We should be able to provide sustainable regeneration and a town centre that provides all the services we need without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.”
The organisers of Develop Croydon declined to comment on the matter of ticket pricing.
A spokesman from Croydon Council said that the council was not able to comment on the Develop Croydon conference itself as it is not a council event.
He was however keen to stress that the council engages with small businesses in a number of different ways to share and receive feedback on regeneration plans.
He said: “We are keen to support Croydon-based small businesses as well as those seeking to relocate into Croydon to benefit from our regeneration.”
He cited regular regeneration consultant events such as Value Croydon Launch Event and councillors’ ward drop-ins among the forums which local businesses can use to make themselves heard.