A new residents’ association drew the attention and attendance of four Croydon councillors and an MP. It was a learning experience for them, as DIAMOND GEEZER reports
How things change: after a first meeting to which none of the nine councillors from the three affected wards could be bothered to attend, the second meeting of the South End community forum last Friday was overwhelmed by the presence of no fewer than four Croydon councillors, plus the local MP. At least for part of the meeting.
Maria Gatland, Jason Perry and Neil Michael, all three Croham councillors, plus council cabinet member Vidhi Mohan, who represents Fairfield ward, all attended St Peter’s church house (though no Waddon councillors bothered to cross the Brighton Road), and it would seem that some of them may have learned something useful about the community they represent.
As the discussions of the group resumed on some of the topics raised at last month’s inaugural meeting, extraordinarily, considering widespread local media reports since the beginning of the year, some of the elected councillors claimed they knew nothing of the decision of the Whitgift Foundation to lease their historic Swan & Sugarloaf pub to Tesco for yet another over-priced “Express” store.
As one resident at the meeting observed, “As several of the councillors and the MP for Central Croydon Gavin Barwell are Whitgift trustees, it seems almost impossible that that they were unaware of the Tesco plans. If they just didn’t know, then they are unfit to be councillors.”
At least Councillor Gatland seemed to be impressed by what the residents and shopkeepers had to say, as she has since Tweeted, “Support our shops in South Croydon. Great deli, flower shop, much more. Use them or lose them. Shop local.”
Perhaps the former IRA gun-runner can advise residents on key tactics to oppose or subvert the establishment of the Tesco store?
The feeling of the meeting was that a boycott of the Tesco store should take place, with residents discouraged from buying from the shop in the Swan & Sugarloaf.
Another issue identified at the meeting was the increasing number of empty, decaying shops in the area. The meeting suggested using some of them for youth enterprise pop up shops, which would be open for flexible periods of time.
There was a feeling of some anger towards the Whitgift Foundation for neglecting its properties, because the charitable body owns a number of the vacant shops yet does not appear to make much effort to fill them with businesses. The councillors committed themselves to issuing S215 notices to shops that had been shuttered up for more than six months.
“The Whitgift Foundation is one of the richest charities in the UK and they have no excuse for not maintaining their own property, whether it be the empty shops or the Swan & Sugarloaf,” said one resident.
The forum expressed concern at the Foundation’s lack of accountability, with it being accused of “letting their properties go to rot without any concern for the consequences”.
While the councillors present expressed sympathy to the residents’ point of view, they said that there was little that they could do. This was questioned by the meeting, since Barwell and other councillors hold positions of influence on the Foundation’s governing body. A Foundation representative is to be invited to a future meeting.
Barwell, who left the meeting halfway through, has undertaken to email his constituents with news of planning issues, and he also said that he was working with residents over worries about the impact of building a tower block on the quiet residential Edridge Road.
Councillor Mohan also left in the middle of the meeting. “He had another appointment which he rated more highly than listening to the community he represents,” one of his constituents said, clearly less than impressed.
Rubbish disposal and street cleaning was discussed at length, with residents remarking on the difference in standards of cleanliness between South Croydon and central Croydon in terms of both quality and frequency.
Residents wanted their streets to be steam-cleaned regularly and that waste disposal and cleaning should feature in every planning proposal, while the councillors present asked that anyone facing problems of street cleaning, waste disposal and graffiti should contact them as well as the council.
The next meeting of South End residents and traders will be at St Peter’s House at 7pm on Sunday, July 15.
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