Just 53 attend Taberner House sham consultation sessions

There’s a public consultation going on over Croydon Council’s plans to build four new tower blocks on the site of Taberner House, including building out on to the Queen’s Gardens public park space.

Who knew?

Queen's Gardens: 2013 might be the last summer when residents can enjoy its oasis of greenery in central Croydon

Queen’s Gardens: 2013 might be the last summer when residents can enjoy its oasis of greenery in central Croydon

As we have highlighted many times in the past, Croydon Council has a number of ways of handling its public responsibilities when it comes to “consultations”. All provide exactly the same result: the one that the council wants.

Sometimes, the council tries to keep the results secret, makes something up that suits its own ends despite overwhelming public opposition, and goes ahead and does what it likes.

Croydon Council did this over the privatisation of the borough’s public libraries.

Sometimes, it constructs a series of specious questions, to which there can only be one real answer, all to justify a pre-conceived policy, and goes ahead and does what it likes.

Croydon Council is doing this over the imposition of a privatised security company making on-the-spot fines for littering.

And sometimes, it conducts a consultation at great public expense, holding meetings and exhibitions, provides an online survey, collates the results, and goes ahead and does what it likes.

Croydon Council is doing this with its Coulsdon Meisterplan, to such outrage of many residents in the south of the borough that they now want to declare a form of UDI and breakaway to form their own local authority.

In the case of Taberner House, Croydon Council has opted for a sham consultation, in the hope that if no one finds out about it, they will be able to claim later that no one opposes what they want to do.

It has already been decided that the key town centre site is being redeveloped as part of its £450 million CURV property speculation scheme with Laing. The design for the replacement buildings has already been determined. The building on public open space is already fixed. So for the consultation, which it is obliged to conduct, Croydon has opted to sneak it out and hope that no one in the public notices just in case they realise what outrages are being proposed in their name.

The council has farmed out the holding of the consultation to GL Hearn, a London Bridge-based property consultancy. There is nothing prominently displayed or easily found about the Taberner House consultation on the council’s own website. That would give the game away, after all.

There is a website for the scheme, tabernerhouse.co.uk, which went live at the start of September. But you’d need to know it actually existed to find it.

According to a very helpful spokeswoman at Hearn, the website’s existence was publicised with, “Stakeholder letters, cabinet member and ward councillor briefing, press releases/ media interviews, 2,300 flyers and promotion at consultation events”.

Now: Inside Croydon never received any press releases about the consultation, never mind being offered any interviews on the project, and we only have an average of around 10,000 website visits in a week (more than the local newspaper sells copies each week, but we’re not bitching about that…).

Briefing cabinet members? Well, all 10 of the members of the cabinet of our Conservative-run council already know what the scheme is, because they’ve had to authorise it so that Laing can make as much profit from it as possible for the council’s half-share towards paying off the £1 billion debt that they have managed to run up.

But 2,300 flyers? As many as that? In a borough with a population of 360,000? That’s not exactly trying too hard to reach out to people, is it?

And it is difficult to know how such leaflets were distributed. According to Hearn’s spokeswoman, their flyers went “to businesses and residents within an area agreed with LB Croydon’s planning department”. We spoke to several local residents and businesses, all within less than half a mile of the Town Hall, and not one of them had any idea that such an important consultation was taking place. Maybe the council and Hearn do not consider them to be “stakeholders”?

According to a list of places where the leaflets were left on display, Hearn didn’t even bother distributing their information to all of the borough’s libraries. Leaflets were provided only to the Central Library, even though such a prestigious scheme, part-paid for by the whole of the borough and in such a key town centre site, ought to be of interest and concern to residents and business owners around the whole borough.

Taberner House: the council's former office block remains controversial to the last

Taberner House: the council’s former office block remains controversial to the last

Otherwise, it seems that Hearn put their faith in… well, faith groups, distributing leaflets to a range of churches, as well as a couple of council quangos, the CVA and Develop Croydon. But distribution to the broader public of Croydon? Don’t be silly.

And as for “promotion at consultation events”, the two events were so poorly publicised, with just two weeks’ notice, that hardly anyone knew that they were happening, and even fewer people were able to attend.

A grand total of 53 people turned up, according to Hearn… “but the consultation is being online for a further two weeks”, the spokeswoman assured us.

Well, those two weeks end at noon this Friday. “It is important that as many people as possible view the consultation and comment,” Inside Croydon’s loyal reader pleads in an email. Although we tend to agree, we also believe that the redevelopment plans are already determined by the Tory-run council and their property developer partners.

After all, there’s more than £100 million-worth of yuppie apartment sales depending on this scheme.

As Andrew Pelling wrote in July, when the council’s Conservative-dominated strategic planning committee waved through the designs for the Taberner House and Queen’s Gardens site, the project will “gobble up a good section of the gardens for housing, with the Taberner House office block demolished and replaced by five tall developments strewn across the site. The tallest building would be 30 storeys high on the south-eastern corner of the site at the junction of the Croydon Flyover and Park Lane”.

There had been a previous plan, but this was rejected because of objections to it including building on Queen’s Gardens. Clearly, the council and Laing are determined that there should be no such public outcry this time.

The aerial shot of the Taberner House site, taken from the consultation's website, which includes the whole of Queen's Gardens

The aerial shot of the Taberner House site, taken from the consultation’s website, which includes the whole of Queen’s Gardens

The notion that Queen’s Gardens, a handkerchief-sized oasis of green space in front of the listed Town Hall building, separating it from the thundering traffic on Croydon’s six-lane urban motorway, can be bull-dozed and built over as a make-weight in a bit of property speculation is clear from one of the pictures used on the tabernerhouse.co.uk website.

The aerial photograph shows the development site outlined in red. This does not include just the site of the doomed Taberner House but, like a corpse in scene from an American murder movie, it outlines the whole of Queen’s Gardens, too.

There are other concerns, in addition to this needless and greedy encroachment on a public park. The planners excuse the building on to the park by stating that more public space will be made available in a “piazza” – or what the less pretentious people in Croydon would call a “square” – between the new tower blocks.

This smacks of developer BS: by being positioned between privately occupied buildings, this “new” space will be far from public. And there is some serious doubt about how attractive this ponced-up piazza will really be: surrounded by tower blocks, next to the Croydon Flyover, it is likely to be in shade for most of the day, subject to vortexing winds that are sucked in by the neighbouring tall buildings.

In our reader’s view, the collection of towers – including one that is 10 storeys higher than is allowed for even in Croydon Council’s own Meisterplan – “do not provide the high quality and distinctive architecture that this major gateway site deserves”.

Inside Croydon’s loyal reader writes: “Croydon deserves a world-class piece of architecture on this site not the mediocre buildings being offered.”

Coming to Croydon

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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1 Response to Just 53 attend Taberner House sham consultation sessions

  1. How much is the response also a sign of the sense of utter defeat by so many Croydon residents. There are too many areas that simply are not managed and where the end objective always seems to be either:
    a. control for the sake of control; or
    b. some thinly veiled exercise in property development, which prioritises property companies interests over community interests.

    Croydon needs more open, transparent Government that genuinely engages with the community and meets their needs.

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