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Vincent Lacovara: Placemaking in Croydon

Vincent Lacovara, the leader of Croydon Council’s placemaking team, on doing the right thing for the south London borough

What major projects are you working on?
There is a lot going on in Croydon. Our work falls into five key areas. We are doing a series of masterplans for the metropolitan centre – at the moment one for the old town with Allies and Morrison. We have a £50 million programme of public realm and transport infrastructure projects.

There are some fantastic design teams working on this, such as East, We Made That, Hassell Studio, Project Centre, Studio Weave, Jan Kattein Architects, Erect Architecture and Exyzt. My team is also contributing to Croydon’s planning framework, including conservation area appraisals and management plans for all 21 of our conservation areas. We are also advising on major planning applications, including the Whitgift scheme, Stanhope and Schroders’ Ruskin Square (AHMM, Muf, Shedkm) and Barratt Homes’ Cane Hill development in Coulsdon (HTA).

We are also providing design advice on Croydon’s own capital projects – including its own schools and housing projects. For instance in the last couple of years we worked closely with Hayhurst and Co. on their project for Hayes Primary School.

Croydon has been touted as ‘the next big thing’ for a few years now. Will 2014 be any different?
It takes time to put good plans together, and for the last few years our focus has been about developing a robust set of coordinated plans for Croydon. As we come out of recession, these public infrastructure projects and plans provide a consistent framework in which developers can invest with confidence.

What kind of reputation do you think Croydon has for the quality of its built environment?
It depends on who you ask. Most people have a preconception about Croydon’s built environment that is misplaced. Croydon has some amazing buildings and public spaces, old and new.

From the Old Palace and Minster in Croydon’s Old Town to some of the better 20th Century buildings such as Richard Seiffert’s NLA Tower (No.1 Croydon).

People have a preconception about Croydon’s built environment that is misplaced

In recent years we’ve also seen some brilliant new buildings completed including Hayhurst and Co.’s award winning Hayes Primary School, the East Croydon Bridge, FAT’s Thornton Heath Library and Croydon Council’s new offices designed by EPR.

Some of the 1960s and 70s buildings in the town centre are tired and in need of some love, and the public realm in the centre is disconnected and not of the highest quality, but that is why we are investing £50m in new public realm projects and bringing in some brilliant design teams to help us implement them.

What do you think your team’s biggest achievement to date has been?
Our coordinated set of Croydon Metropolitan Centre masterplans which we developed in a genuinely collaborative way with stakeholders. As for the next 12 months, I am really excited about seeing the delivery of a number of important public realm projects on the ground as part of the Connected Croydon Programme and the ‘rates free for a year’ deal where the Mayor of London will fund a whole year rates bill (as much as £130,000) for new occupier stands out as a unique incentive to come to Croydon in 2014/15.

Are there future opportunities for architects to work with you?
There will no doubt be plenty of opportunities for architects in Croydon in the future. With our plans in place, significant funding secured for public realm and transport infrastructure and a real new buzz inspired by the recent strategic planning committee decision on the Croydon Partnership’s proposed Whitgift scheme, there are likely to be many more projects coming forward in the Borough.

The Opportunity Area alone has the capacity for around 7,500 new homes

The Opportunity Area alone has the capacity for around 7,500 new homes and associated infrastructure, and it is important that high quality design teams are engaged to deliver these over the coming years.

What are you looking for from an architect/design team?
The ability to work collaboratively, to be open-minded, to engage sensitively and meaningfully in the specific context of a place and to then respond thoughtfully, creatively and with a sense of practical purpose. Also to be prepared to challenge and be challenged.

Croydon station

Source: Jim Stephenson

Croydon station

How do you keep all the firms working in Croydon happy?
It’s not about keeping practices happy, I’m afraid, but about doing the right thing for the people of Croydon. One way that we do that is to run design summits, where we bring together all of the design teams working on the projects we are leading to meet each other.

Over the past five years we have developed a reputation for positive and proactive public sector leadership from the strategic level to detailed delivery of projects, which is now being recognised through awards such as our recent Landscape Institute Award for the Connected Croydon Programme. We’ve done this by successfully integrating placemaking and plan-making, design and policy, as part of an integrated Spatial Planning Service, which I think is quite rare. We have also been given corporate support and commitment at the highest levels in the Council to work in this way. This is critically important.

Finn Williams recently moved to the GLA. How are you managing without him?
Finn was a greatly valued team member who worked tirelessly and contributed a great deal to Croydon over the five years that he worked here. But we are just that, a team. I am looking forward to welcoming some new members in January.

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