South Vale Play Street rejected – there’s a park on the doorstep

Calls to trial a Play Street scheme in South Vale, Upper Norwood, have been rejected by Croydon Council – because there is a large park close to the street.

The council has stated that it is not opposed to street play schemes in other parts of the borough.

The rejection of the South Vale proposal has been reported today by the Children and Young People Now website, without mention of a key detail: that South Vale is close to Westow Park, and is just a short walk to Upper Norwood Rec.

Play Street schemes are being tested in other boroughs around the capital, usually in areas where there are no open spaces, parks or playgrounds for children to play.

Dave Miller, a member of the South Vale residents’ steering group that was behind the proposal, is clearly annoyed that the scheme has been dismissed.

The residents also had a very reasonable request to make their street a 20mph zone – similar to those already in operation on several residential areas in the south of the borough – rejected.

“The attitude of the council is very much that streets are for cars and parks are for children,” Miller said.

“All we were proposing was for residents taking it turns at either end to explain the situation to motorists. It wouldn’t have cost anything and provides a place for children to play safely.”

In truth, though, there would have been considerable costs for closing the street and without the road being barriered off during the Play Street periods, may have created a high risk to any children playing there from unco-operative motorists.

Croydon’s decision was criticised by Dr Ute Navidi, who is the regional vice-president of something called the International Play Association, who said, “This goes against current government thinking of empowering local people and I would hope the council listens to local people and be more supportive of helping children play outside.” The only problem with that is that the decision does nothing to stop the parents of South Vale from allowing their children to play outside, in the public open spaces already provided nearby.

Would your children use a Play Street when you have a park on your doorstep?

It is unclear whether Dr Navidi has been made aware of the proximity to South Vale of the local parks.

The website report does quote a Croydon Council spokeswoman: “There are a number of parks and open spaces in the vicinity where children can play safely. The council is not opposed to street play and would review each application on a road-by-road basis.”

Steve Iles, the head of Croydon’s highways department, has agreed to meet Miller to discuss the issue.

When the meeting takes place, it may be that Miller states – as he does in today’s report – that a “majority of residents were in favour of the plans”. This, though, is not in fact the case.

According to a survey conducted at the end of last year by Miller and other residents, 27 are in favour of a Play Street scheme on South Vale, with 27 against or abstaining – hardly a ringing endorsement for the spending of public money to create a play area just a few yards from a public park.

The council did not cover itself in glory by taking 10 months to respond to the local residents’ enquiry, but when Iles did finally reply at the end of July, his letter seemed to add up, on grounds of cost, safety and simple common sense.

Inside Croydon has obtained sight of Iles’ July 31 reply, and reproduces it here in full:

I have given serious consideration to your request but feel that this is not a project that the Council is willing to support in the current economic climate for the following reasons:

1. For a regular Sunday road closure a permanent Traffic Management Order would have to be made to legally close the road which would involve the committee and legal process. If the committee agreed to such a proposal this would be subject to public notice and an objection period.  Any member of the public who uses the road would be entitled to object and these objections carefully considered before a scheme could be put in place. My understanding is that there have already been objections to this proposal from residents in the past.

The charge for this is approximately £2,000 and would need to be borne from the requestor.

2. South Vale is a link road between A214 (Central Hill) and Bedwardine Road and closing this road will cause local traffic congestion. If the road closure was introduced this would have parking, traffic and safety implications for nearby roads that are open to the public and the authority would need to assess and consider the implications on the neighbouring streets.

3. Installation of Permanent ‘flip down’ signing would have to be installed which would be a cost implication again the authority would need to recover its costs.

4. Ideally physical measures would have to be installed such as barriers to ensure the safety of pedestrians/children.  These would have to be stored in the near vicinity as it would be impractical and costly for them to be delivered and taken away every week.  The alternative would be enforcement but the Police are unlikely to be able to do this on regular basis.

5. There are obvious implications for the emergency services and therefore a full consultation would be required to ensure they support such a request.

6.  South Vale is in close proximity to open spaces and this is considered a suitable safe play area for children.

Based on the reasons above I am sorry that I am not able to be of more help on this occasion regarding of your proposal to close South Vale. I do however believe with the nearby parks and open spaces will assist you to achieve your initiative that will deliver community cohesion and create local volunteering opportunities.

The councils offers a number of sports and activities which maybe of interest to you and as a possible alternative, these can be found on the council website
alternatively I have provided the link to the councils parks and open spaces website which provides information regarding parks and play information across the borough

When Inside Croydon investigated this story two months ago, Miller was adamant that children playing in parks was not good enough.

“Why can’t children have choice? Play Streets are about choice on where to play; children playing in front of their front doors, close to home (so parents don’t have to leave home with the kids every time they want to play out)…

“The park is great, and new revamped, but it’s different play. Why should kids be boxed in? ‘Roads are for cars, parks are for kids’ – who says? Where is this a rule?”

Pat Ryan, the local Labour councillor, said, “I understand Mr Miller wanting his children to play, however, South Vale is a very well-used road, every day of the week, including Sunday, and is inappropriate for such use, given that the delightfully spacious Westow Park is yards away.

“Croydon Council have spoken to residents in the past and have investigated the possibility of road closure. In the event of it being possible to close the street it would force extra traffic on to the adjacent roads: Gatestone Road, Rockmount Road and Harold Road. It will also affect other surrounding roads. Road works are already are major issue in the area, and this would exacerbate the issue of traffic gridlock on Central Hill.

“The majority of residents have told me that they are not amenable to this idea.”

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7 Responses to South Vale Play Street rejected – there’s a park on the doorstep

  1. Arfur Towcrate says:

    This outcome is disturbing for local democracy.

    It spits in the face of localism, and the Localism Act 2011. The government heralded its introduction with the fine words that “Until now, many people have found that their good ideas have been overlooked and they have little opportunity to get on and tackle problems in the way they want. Voluntary and community groups often find that their potential contribution is neglected, when, in fact, they carry out some of the most innovative and effective work in public services and we should be encouraging them to get more involved. We want to pass significant new rights direct to communities and individuals, making it easier for them to get things done and achieve their ambitions for the place where they live.”

    In his analysis, Steve Iles seems to have ignored the Council’s draft Borough Transport Strategy, which says that apart from main roads like the red routes and other A roads, “all other roads … consist of local distributor roads (roads intended to provide access to local destinations and for movements within local areas) and local access roads (intended to provide access to property and also important routes for cyclists). No mention of “link roads” there (does the term have any currency in official planning circles?) and quite how and why South Vale has seemingly been promoted to the borough’s Strategic Road Network – on a par with Wellesley Road – is left unclear.

    It’s disappointing that Councillor Pat Ryan has chosen not to support this innovation, particularly since he was the one who back in 2008 asked the Council to introduce a 20 mile per hour zone in Grange Road, Queen Mary Road and South Vale because “Traffic travel (sic) along those roads at exceptional high speed and are therefore a constant threat to the safety of adults and particularly young children.” The traffic gridlock on Central Hill that Pat refers to might be down to that crazy one-way system that Labour put in at the Triangle (and which the Tories conveniently forgot to remove on regaining office).

    As for the reference to “common sense” and the question “Would your children use a Play Street when you have a park on your doorstep?”, shame on Inside Croydon for swallowing and regurgitating this rejectionist guff. Given the speeding traffic in the area, the real question is “would you prefer to have to take your kids across busy rat-runs to a park in order to keep an eye on them or have them play safely outside your own front door?”.

    It seems our streets can be closed for celebrating the Royal Family’s wedding and jubilee, Olympic sporting events and parades and roadworks – but not for kids.

    I wish Dave Miller & co luck in taking this forward – they’re going to need it.

    • Thanks, Arfur – another fine comment from you. A couple of points:

      1, The 20mph zone seems a perfectly reasonable idea, and it is unclear why Miller and his neighbours have not pursued this further.

      2, The point of localism is to support good ideas. The South Vale Play Street is not a good idea.

      Half the people on the street are either opposed to it or don’t care enough to support it.

      How can you justify a spend of an estimated £4,000 so that the children of perhaps 20 families can play in their street for two hours a week, rather than go to the end of the street and play in the already provided park?

  2. Arfur Towcrate says:

    1. You’ll have to ask Dave why he hasn’t pursued the 20mph zone – but given the knock back, maybe they don’t want to waste their time. Would a Labour-run Croydon be more sympathetic and not require a respectable bodycount before making streets safer for all?

    2. A play street is a *good* idea because it clearly indicates to residents that their street belongs to them, and indicates to drivers that it’s not a rat run. Getting 50% support in an election with the rest either abstaining or voting for someone or something else would be considered a good result by most politicians.

    3. It’s not £4k – it’s £2k – and quite how that figure is derived – and why – is beyond me. The Committee clerks don’t get paid piece rates, and Councillors get paid whether or not they turn up and vote.

    The Dutch concept of home zones – where cars are guests – would be a pragmatic compromise. Sticking sinusoidal speed bumps along South Bridge road and making it more like a private close rather than a race track for speeding lunatics would be something all could live with.

  3. It’s a shame this is seen in terms of either/or. Play Streets are a bit of a misnomer – it’s not always necessary to close streets to traffic entirely, as long as the purpose of the street can clearly be communicated to users of all stripes. 20 families x 2 kids x 100 hours – even based on those rather pessimistic figures, and on the false premise that play is only for kids, that’s only 20p per user hour over 5 years. As Arfur observed, “there’s a park just down the road” is not a valid argument against play streets.. the line of thinking that roads are only for cars, high streets are only for permitted commercial activities, and that no playing may take place outside the designated area, is a big contributing factor to the sense of alienation that so many young people feel nowadays.

    The great thing about calming traffic for the first & last mile of journeys to sub-lethal speeds is that it opens up an enormous area of street space to all sorts of users with minimal impact on car journey times (1 mile @ 20mph = 3min, 1 mile @ 30mph = 2min – and that’s assuming you can maintain peak speed the whole way). The Dutch “woonerf” home-zone model is the ideal here, but it requires both a more considerate driving culture & strict management of rat runs (usually “filtered permeability” – to let pedestrians, bikes, emergency vehicles & in some cases buses through, but not rat runners). Southwark & Hackney councils are making considerable progress towards this, and the evidence is starting to show itself (kids riding bikes & playing football in the street is becoming a more frequent sight in Dulwich, Camberwell, Walworth etc.), but Croydon I’m afraid seems stuck in the Dark Ages.

    South Vale does indeed link to Bedwardine Rd, but mostly services a very, very short stretch of it – most traffic goes via Harold Rd / Vermont Rd. In any case though, the number of houses in the entire area bounded by Church Road, Central Hill & Upper Beulah Hill is not huge; no house in the area is more than a third of a mile from the big distributor roads, and through traffic really has no place here. So a blanket 20mph zone – or better still a Dutch style Home Zone – would add no more than 20 seconds to journey times, while creating an area nearly two square miles across where it’s safe for kids to walk to school unaccompanied, ride bikes etc… It does cost money to implement, a shame really that the Council doesn’t get to benefit from the boost in house prices, or the money the NHS saves when more people get walking etc..

    Dave’s proposal has my support in any case, but seems to me that a broader scheme could be applicable here; if not focused so narrowly it might gain the support of a greater number of residents.

  4. A proposal I’ve put forward, and petitioned on in Wandsworth received overwhelming support (in excess of 90% signing) asked for an experimental traffic order to be used to trial a re-configuration of the streets. In essence blocking current rat-run using temporary infrastructure (I’ve suggested concrete flower planters) to see if the benefits will accrue.

    The issues at the moment are high volumes of non-residential traffic using the residential streets as a cut through, also some people do drive at unsafe speeds. The danger associated with high traffic volumes, and the speed they are travelling at. Pot holes which reappear due to the high volume of traffic for which these streets aren’t designed.

    The reason for asking for a trial, is so that we (local residents) and also council officers can see how people adapt to the new layout. If it doesn’t work, the planters can be removed, if it works and local people appreciate the difference they can be kept, or it can be upgraded funds permitting.

    I would like more “play streets” but I think reducing traffic volumes will be a significant 1st step in creating an environment where a play street is a natural progression.

  5. Rob Schafer says:

    One of the hardest challenges for those of us involved in the Street Play movement is to get the point accross that street play is very different from going to the park, even if that park is just a 5-10 minute walk away. Street play is an attempt to recapture what our streets were always about until, say, the last 30 years: streets as shared communal spaces rather than just a big car park and highway. The benefits to community cohesion are massive as street play projects in Bristol and Leeds have shown. Some of these were in areas exactly like South Vale, with parks nearby, but they got off the ground because they were supported by the council. The costs are negligable (they happen succesfully and safely without any of the expensive measures that Steve Illes appears to think are necessary). Please visit the national website for the movement as they explain it far better than I can. And the final point about Street Play? When it happens, the kids and adults love it.

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here Angus Hewlett and others. I now see exactly where you are coming from and you have converted me to your way of thinking. I see the idea also gets the Arfur Towcrate seal of approval. I’ve no idea who Arfur Towcrate is but I love all his comments as they are very sound.

    I wish more people would take the time to comment on Inside Croydon posts. Having read the article and engaged on twitter with Angus on the subject my view has been altered by the detailed comments on this post – something that probably wouldn’t have happened without these comments. Thanks!

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