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VOTE 2014: Council boss outlines Tory plans for future

IN THE second of a series of interviews setting the scene ahead of next May's local elections, Conservative and council leader, Mike Fisher, tells chief reporter, Gareth Davies, why Westfield and Hammerson will feature heavily in his campaign and that voters don't care about incinerators............

LAST week Labour leader Tony Newman said, if elected, he would pull out of the council's Urban Regeneration Vehicle (URV). What would be its future if you were re-elected?

"I find it quite interesting he is even thinking about pulling out.

"At the end of the day this is an agreement which is developing sites across the town, such as the Waddon Leisure Centre and Bernard Weatherill House. Who wouldn't want to share in the development profits of those rather than the traditional route of selling off assets and getting a capital receipt?

"It's not just the cost [of pulling out] it's the missed opportunities. At the moment College Green is the URV and we have a chance to really develop the cultural heart of the town centre. We would also be losing the ability to dictate and push on regeneration.

"We want use the URV to continue to develop the town centre, such as bringing Taberner House down and putting up a residential/hotel development. We have huge opportunities – we must not miss the boat."

The council has been criticised for its approach to culture over the last four years, with a number of venues closing. Do you think it will cost you votes next May?

"We asked what it was that people wanted to protect in terms of council services and culture was always towards the bottom of their priorities.

"There was a huge amount of publicity around the closure of the David Lean Cinema, for example, but I received about four letters. I walk around the town and talk to people about the cinema, and most didn't even know it was there. The audience figures spoke for themselves.

"All of these things are nice to have, and in an ideal world we would have all of them, but we're living in a very difficult financial climate and we've got to be responsible, which means making some hard decisions."

On the anniversary of the 2011 riots, you told the Advertiser: "I am sure there will be significant improvements in the look and feel of West Croydon over the next 12 months". A year later, very little has changed. Have you let those people down and will they see a difference before the election?

"I hope they will, but no I can't [promise]. There's an enormous amount of frustration along London Road about things not moving quickly enough, and I share that frustration.

"We should be moving along faster than we are but there are a very complicated set of issues behind this. If you take the rebuilding of the parade that burned down [Royal Mansions], there are a whole mixture of different freeholders and leaseholders on the site, which means it is difficult for insurance companies to come to a decision about who is paying what.

"We have done a lot to fight for funding from the mayor. Of that money £9.1 million is going to the benefit of London Road.

"But I agree that things are not moving as quickly as they should be, though there are processes that need to be gone through."

What will a Conservative council do to address the borough's housing crisis?

"We are looking at ways to secure housing on a longer term basis. For example, we have borrowed £20 million to buy 100 homes, and have already bought the first 69.

"They have to be in areas which are affordable, so they are in north Croydon, parts of central Croydon and also in Lambeth and Sutton. There's no point in us setting aside millions of pounds then going to buy in expensive areas.

"If we find the right properties, at the right prices, then we will buy in the south but the difference in price means we get more bang for our buck in north Croydon and places like Sutton.

"Once we have done these 100 we will review where we are in terms of numbers and we may buy more. It's an investment for the council because if the homeless problem goes away in a few years' time, we will be able to use them as permanent council houses."

How much will the Westfield and Hammerson agreement feature in your campaign, and how much credit will you take?

"I think we had a significant role. They didn't wake up one day and decide that Croydon might be a nice place to look at. They needed to be nurtured and to understand the journey we were on as a town.

"They came to the conclusion that we were creating an environment where a development like theirs would thrive. If you look back in ten or 20 years' time, people will see it as a huge milestone in the development of the town and I am proud to say we played a major part in that.

"If you look at Labour's plans, like dropping out of the URV, does that send the message that Croydon is open for business? I don't think so."

Given it's a key seat, how damaging could the approval of plans for an incinerator near Waddon be to your chances of reelection?

"For the last two or three years now Labour has been banging on about the energy to waste facility, or incinerator as they call it, but when we go out knocking on doors in Waddon it doesn't come up as an issue. They have failed to get this across as an issue in Waddon because when people look at the facts they see there are these types of facilities in other parts of the country and the scare stories that have been put out don't stack up. I think the whole issue smacks of desperation on their part. I'm happy to stand on our record in Waddon. We said we would build a new swimming pool and leisure centre and we have."

VOTE 2014: Council boss outlines Tory plans for future

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