Residents appear helpless to halt the ‘Curse of Coulsdon’

Ignored and unheeded, the residents of Coulsdon appear to have few options in their opposition to aspects of the Cane Hill housing development, writes ANDREW PELLING

Cane Hill Hospital badgeNone of the Conservative party’s six Coulsdon councillors attended Friday’s Community Centre meeting, which had been called to inform residents of the details of the two major planning approvals that will transform Coulsdon. Had the councillors bothered to be there, they will have heard that many Coulsdon residents fear that the “transformation” will be for the worse.

One resident, Peter Morgan, told the meeting that all the councillors had been invited to attend with only Councillor Terry Lenton giving her apologies because of pressing family concerns.

Three council planning committee permissions had been given the previous evening for the first phase of 187 Barratt homes on Cane Hill; plus a preliminary permission for another 400 homes; and for a new Waitrose supermarket replacing the Lion Green Road car park.

There was a strong sense of frustration at a fait accompli, as the Coulsdon residents felt ignored by their absent Conservative councillors. The meeting gradually lost attendees as the intricacies of the traffic implications were laid out and the meeting broke up without a clear sense of the next steps to be taken. A possibly forlorn recourse to the ballot box next month or to a Judicial Review of the decisions were suggested but not really followed through to a conclusion by the meeting.

It took 60 years to persuade the authorities to build a by-pass to relieve Coulsdon town centre of choking traffic, but poorly thought-out road arrangements for the Cane Hill and Lion Green Road developments promise a return to snarl ups in Coulsdon.

It was hard work to persuade the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to build the road. As the local London Assembly member, I asked about the by-pass so often that Livingstone accused me of living in Coulsdon and having a personal interest. I did live there as a child; snarled traffic coming off the heights above the valley has long been Coulsdon’s curse.

Lion Green Road looks likely to be overwhelmed by backed up traffic getting into an inadequate entry into a new supermarket and medical centre, both being built to service Barratt’s new town on Cane Hill. An overwhelming number of residents attending the meeting were opposed to traffic being added to the congested Chipstead Valley Road from the Cane Hill development.

It took 60 years to get a by-pass for Coulsdon, but the curse of congestion haunts the town again

It took 60 years to get a by-pass for Coulsdon, but the curse of congestion haunts the town again

These residents also disliked the impact on the living environment in Portnalls Road of their new neighbours on Cane Hill having access to West Coulsdon, preferring them only being able to secure access to Coulsdon via the valley floor. Such a ban on access, it was pointed out, would deny an easier road access to St Aidan’s and Smitham schools – “Let them walk” was the residents’ shouted reply of the three- to 10-year-olds who might attend those primary schools.

At the planning meeting the previous night, three Labour councillors had voted against the Cane Hill proposals, not to oppose the need for housing but to seek better traffic arrangements for both sites, including a second valley exit for Cane Hill off to the southern end of the by-pass. A fourth Labour councillor, Maggie Mansell, was barred from participating in the Cane Hill part of the meeting as she arrived two minutes after the hearing started. Labour was also critical of the traffic arrangement for the supermarket but was pro both developments in principle.

The Conservative position is that any flaws in the approvals can be made ironed out later. Threatened by a Judicial Review, the Conservative council leader, Mike Fisher, had already conceded that the council would pay for the building of an extra relief road to the valley by-pass so long as the residents could persuade Mayor Boris Johnson to let the road connect to his by-pass.

Having received public land worth at least £250 million gifted by the Mayor, Barratt Homes are paying Croydon Council £9 million for infrastructure improvements but Coulsdon residents, many still resentful of the running of Coulsdon from Croydon, feared that that money will go elsewhere in the borough.

Indeed, there was a justifiable suspicion that the permission that the council had given to itself on land it owns at Lion Green Road and which would be co-developed by the council through its CCURV joint venture with John Laing’s was about finding much-needed cash to pay for the £140 million council HQ far away in Croydon.

A Judicial Review was the favoured option of Chipstead Valley resident Peter Jarvis, the instigator of the previous, and successful JR initiative. While the meeting showed by a vote its support for a Judicial Review, beyond Jarvis there were no donors towards the considerable legal costs who made themselves known. With millions of pounds of property values in Coulsdon, this absence of volunteers was a bit of a damp squib.

An alternative route considered was a protest through the ballot box with long-established Coulsdon campaigner John Hornegold expressing others’ exasperation by telling residents that they had been “stitched up” by the council and that, “If we vote Conservative again, we’ll get what we deserve. The only power we have is the ballot box.”

Underlining Hornegold’s observation is the political truth that the Conservatives go seriously unchallenged in Coulsdon West. Whatever the local despair about poorly thought-out planning approvals and the arrogance of Conservative councillors absenting themselves from the community meeting, the strong likelihood is that Coulsdon West residents will still return three Conservative councillors to the Town Hall.

Croydon’s large three member wards mean that local issues even as big as this one do not count in all parts of a ward. Coulsdon West voters living opposite Purley Tesco and near Foxley Lane are unmoved by these controversies.

Labour and the LibDems will contest second place in the ward and Labour has a strong candidate in Charlie King, a transport expert and local residents’ association chair on the other side of the valley. The LibDems are concentrating their efforts in Coulsdon East and in Croham.

All the opposition parties were at the meeting, cultivating voter interest. The Greens’ Jay Ginn offered the idea of only permitting 270 homes on Cane Hill (fewer than half the proposed final number). UKIP is running just one candidate, Croydon Sadvertiser employee, Danny Fullilove.

Barfwell's office assistant: Mario Creatura, Tory councillor-elect in Coulsdon

Barfwell’s office assistant: Mario Creatura, Tory councillor-elect in Coulsdon

There was even a reference from the floor of a possible independent challenge from Coulsdon West Residents’ Association chairman Richard Thurbon, who had previously publicly ditched any possible challenge.

Mario Creatura, one of the Conservatives’ new candidates in Coulsdon at the local elections, did receive a polite hearing at the end of the meeting. The Tory councillor-elect had previously been booed when his name was mentioned. Unlike other Conservatives, he had bothered to turn up for the meeting, which considering that he lives outside Coulsdon would have meant he had to go out of his way to visit.

With some skill, perhaps learned from his boss at work, Gavin Barwell MP, Creatura acted as if the incumbent already. Creatura, with some condescension, said that he had waited till the very end of the meeting to listen to all that had been said and would now go away to work on all the helpful options that had been put forward to improve on the two approved applications. Tory voters in the audience who had been discomforted by the disquiet expressed about the local Conservatives looked relieved that they had heard something that they could latch themselves on to. A greater number of dissenting residents, though, were less open to the Creatura charm initiative.

  • Andrew Pelling was the Conservative councillor for Coulsdon East from 1986 to 1994 and the Conservative London Assembly member for Coulsdon from 2000 to 2008. He is a Labour candidate in the local council election for Waddon ward

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1 Response to Residents appear helpless to halt the ‘Curse of Coulsdon’

  1. davidcallam says:

    It seems, from Andrew’s excellent and detailed report, that Croydon Council was right to ignoire the usual suspects; in reality, the protest was a storm in a teacup.
    I suspect the Coulsdon bypass will be widened at the behest of the Croydon Shopping City development to ease the access and egress of shoppers travelling to and from the M23.
    Maybe that’s why TfL is reluctant to agree to additional access from the new estate to the existing already inadequate A23.

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