This amazing birds eye view of Thornton Heath has been revealed as the council unveiled the blueprint for the future of what the High Street and Brigstock Road could look like .
Croydon spent £50,000 employing consultants to put together a plan and manual called Shaping Thornton Heath but sadly has no funds to progress any of the ambitions in the two documents and instead is relying on the community to take forward the proposals.
The masterplan for Thornton Heath was created during the lockdown and headed up by a dedicated Thornton Heath regeneration officer, who after less than a year in the job has found employment elsewhere.
He is the fifth regeneration officer for Thornton Heath in the space of the same number of years to have moved on and now because of the council’s financial situation will not be replaced.
The council spent millions on regenerating the High Street but already the paint work on the shopfronts are peeling, pavements are dirty and planting schemes not maintained.
One of the biggest success stories of the project though has been the artwork which has really brightened up the area and is now part of an art trail which Croydon photographer Michael Shilling shot for a National City Park commission.
The council said the Shaping Thornton Heath plan, which is intended to help influence developers, and to seek funding was an important opportunity to involve the local community in change so that it provides current and future residents and businesses with the community facilities, transport and public spaces needed.
But due to the Covid restrictions the majority of the engagement has taken place remotely on line with a limited take up of interest with many residents not even knowing about it and those who have participated finding many of the ideas featured in both documents had either been discussed or tried previously.
Only around 360 people responded to the council consultation out of over 30,000 people living in the two wards of Thornton Heath and Bensham Manor.
While the plan identifies Thornton Heath as being ‘very diverse, with high levels of socioeconomic deprivation and health inequality” with 70 per cent of the population from black and ethnic backgrounds and 35 per cent aged under 24, it makes little provision for this audience. Instead of tackling historic and endemic underlying issues it focuses on blue and green infrastructure; with fanciful greening projects to re-wild your driveway, create a rainwater garden, or green your roof.
It prioritises investigating deculverting (opening up) Norbury Brook as a natural resource all of which could be beautiful but hugely expensive – ahead of responding to 41 per cent of people wanting outdoor spaces to be safer and 31 per cent wanting them to be cleaner and better maintained.
It talks about a sustainable development and a holistic vision for the town centre but what people perpetually complain about is the lack of a variety of shops.
The plan also makes no attempt to tackle long term complaints about anti social behaviour around the High Street except one suggestion that local organisations and businesses could be encouraged to “adopt a bench” to help manage ASB.
Repeated throughout though, is residents sense of pride and desire to make improvements: “There is a great community spirit in the area, with active local groups, and people wanting to make the area nice, pleasant and liveable. It could be a really attractive area for existing and potential residents, if only more was done to address the really stark issues that bring parts of it down.”
Some local groups and leaders have been represented on focus panels led by regeneration officers and consultants but it has galvanised limited participation with no representation from the business community except for a survey involving 21 interviews with unnamed businesses.
The plan is a more technical document, to inform the Croydon Local Plan and future development identifying key sites such as the station, Iceland, Tesco and Ambassador House while the manual sets out practical projects that could be taken forward to help deliver the plan.
It touches on markets, entertainment space and a community hub all of which have been high on residents wish lists but attempts have already been made to develop these initiatives and the manual doesn’t provide any real substance to drive these projects forward.
Just before Covid Thornton Heath was elected as one of 15 High Streets to take part in a pilot funded by the government providing training, face-to-face support and access to research from industry experts including the Design Council.
The High Street Task Force has been running a series of virtual workshops which have focussed on pursuing ideas in the manual. The two thought to provide the quickest wins are to improve the gloomy unnamed alleyway opposite the leisure centre which leads to the Gillet Road car park and is routinely fly tipped .The other is to repurpose the space outside Iceland which is another grot spot but now be resolved with plans by the supermarket to improve its store inside and out.
As part of measures to kickstart London’s Covid recovery, the Mayor has announced a £4m High Streets for All Challenge, inviting Londoners to come up with ideas with £25,000 available for each bid.
The High StreetTask Force is planning further workshops to help the Thornton Heath community apply for funding and look at developing a Community Trust to take forward projects.
It’s unclear if the pandemic will have a long term impact on the High Street as many of the takeaways, meat, fish and grocery stores continued to operate throughout.
There are more empty shops :William Hill at the Whitehorse roundabout and Corals underneath Ambassador House are both vacant but both betting shops closure was unrelated to the pandemic.
The 1960s office block has also sat empty for years but now has permission to turn some of the floors in to apartments