It’s little wonder that our elected Croydon councillors seem to pay so little attention to accountability when those who run local residents’ associations avoid listening to their neighbours, as GENE BRODIE reports from the Sanderstead RA’s annual meeting
Last week’s Sanderstead Residents’ Association annual meeting went ahead, without having properly notified all members. Despite this sudden bashfulness by the SRA officers, the meeting was nonetheless attended by several long-standing members as well as a number of Sanderstead Library supporters keen to ask questions about SRA’s stance on the library.
That anyone made it to the meeting is a minor miracle. The latest issue of Sanderstead News, put together for the SRA by ward councillor Yvette Hopley, and which contained the notice of AGM, was delivered late. According to Dennis Eldridge, the long-standing SRA chairman, this was because the magazines are heavy, so the postman couldn’t cope.
Someone at the SRA must also have forgotten to deliver any copies of Sanderstead News to the library (resting heavy on their mind, perhaps?), as is usual practice. Copies did turn up there after the AGM, though.
None of this explains why requests from some residents to the chairman for information about the AGM were ignored. Some residents who contacted SRA and were promised a hand-delivered copy only received it after the deadline for committee nominations. Notices of the AGM only went up in the SRA’s own message boards in Sanderstead after the closing date.
Naturally, the old committee was voted back in, without debate or discussion, en bloc, swerving any new candidates who may have wished to serve.
It was hard to believe that this was the same SRA that had actively encouraged volunteers to join committee only a year earlier, and the same Association which had more recently claimed to identify a small army of volunteers prepared to staff Sanderstead Library for nothing.
Now, it seemed, while the SRA claimed to speak on residents’ behalf, it did not want to hear what they might have to say.
Perhaps the most revealing aspects of the meeting were not only SRA’s unwavering belief that Croydon Council’s plan was that Sanderstead Library would close, a point that was reiterated throughout the meeting, but quite how heavily Sanderstead ward councillors – the Tories Lynne Hale, Hopley and Tim “Nice But Dullard” Pollard – were all advising SRA.
Had SRA been misled? Those who were able to discover when and where the meeting was being held were told that SRA was committed to finding an alternative to the library’s closure. As Eldridge, a retired estate agent, put it, the library will “come up again and again, year after year, and it will close”.
Anyone who took part in the council’s libraries “consultation” would be aware that it was “a genuine consultation” (copyright 2011 Sara Bashford), that sought residents’ views, including offering the option of keeping open all six libraries under threat.
Some Sanderstead residents were at a loss to understand why SRA would not engage with them, would not canvass for their views and refused to advertise the consultation process as other residents’ associations had done for their communities across Croydon.
Cost was never an issue: a quick look at the SRA accounts showed this. The committee even sought suggestions from the floor as to which charities the SRA could support to spend some of the £50,000 sitting in the bank.
So why would SRA be so reluctant to take on the views of residents? To visit the library to assess the situation and engage with service users? Or, simply, to consult?
Could the answer lie in the overweaning influence of the Sanderstead ward councillors?
When questioned from the floor on the SRA’s lack of consultation with its own members, Councillor Hopley was quick to jump in and back the committee. They didn’t need to ask their own members what they wanted, she told us, as the councillors fed through views that had been passed on to them at the council.
Is this bottom-up local government? Openness and transparency?
If Croydon is listening to residents in Sanderstead, it’s only if they’re saying what they want to hear.