CROYDON COMMENTARY: What happens after decades of cost-cutting and Council Tax freezes when we need our council to act in an emergency? Nothing, as shown the mishandled road closures following the illegal rave earlier this month, says ROD DAVIES
The East Croydon Rave and the council’s operational response to the loss of a critical infrastructure hub – with the closure of roads to traffic, buses and trams around East Croydon Station – must have left the council’s new administration wondering exactly what they have inherited.
Once any part of the Cherry Orchard Road intersection with Addiscombe Road and Addiscombe Grove is closed it has far-reaching consequences across Croydon and the rest of outer south London. It is hard to think of another more critical point in Croydon.
Yet despite the rave starting on a Saturday night, at no point on Sunday was there any evidence in the East Croydon area that the council had deployed any operational teams to manage the flow of people and vehicles.
As Croydon’s chief executive, Nathan Elvery has a responsibility to ensure that there are operational resources available to respond to such incidents and manage the environment.
Thus Tony Newman, the new Council Leader, and his cabinet must surely have wondered where on earth were the duty council officers.
What was in evidence by midday on the Sunday was a small number of community police, drafted in from Sutton, who knew nothing of the local road layout and were clearly instructed to remain close to the police tape around the Royal Mail and NLA Tower buildings. Within sight of these positions, little more than perhaps 20 metres away, there was traffic chaos with cars being directed into narrow residential streets without any regard for where these drivers needed to get to. Motorists trying to pick-up and drop off passengers from East Croydon Station were left without any meaningful direction.
Pedestrians looking for the diverted buses relied on chance encounters with local residents and others to tell them where to go. The authorities’ stance seems to have been simply to push people and vehicles away from the “crime scene”, and what happened after that was irrelevant.
Fortunately this all occurred on a Sunday, when traffic is generally quieter. Had this been Monday morning, the consequences would have been far worse.
It also highlighted just how critical this intersection is and how vulnerable Croydon is to any disruption to it. The damage caused by the rave was minor. The closure period seemed to be about collecting evidence for a handful of possible, if unlikely, prosecutions. The cost to “Croydon Plc” of the closure of this junction must be in the tens or hundreds of pounds in lost retail sales and business.
Had it been a major fire in the building or worse still a terrorist bomb, the council’s lack of response and resources suggests that the consequences could be far, far worse. The criticality of this junction should surely mean that it should have the highest priority for a planned response? If we don’t have a planned response for this area, is there any meaningful emergency planning anywhere in the borough?
The local residential and business communities, together with the rest of Croydon and south London, need assurance that the council’s response in future to the loss of this junction will be significantly better than last weekends.
The question is not simply whether Croydon Council has the capacity to respond to an emergency and keep Croydon Plc functioning. Rather it is whether following successive rounds of workforce and service “rationalisations” that Croydon Council is a balanced organisation with resources allocated appropriately.
A compounding factor over several decades has been the belief that local authorities are inherently inefficient and the route to resolving that inefficiency is by outsourcing service delivery to the private sector, and by repeated promises to reduce taxation despite year on year operational cost increases. On top of this, we expect local authorities to have the immediate ability to respond to any crisis that arises from existing resources.
Clearly we can’t have both, as they are mutually exclusive.
The question is, what functions does the local authority deliver and why?
If we as a community decide that we are not prepared to pay tax for the full range of services, then we must decide which shall be delivered and which have to be provided by local communities through their own efforts.
Perhaps each identifiable neighbourhood should be required to recruit and maintain its own volunteer team to provide those basic emergency response services such as directing traffic, managing rest centres and so forth.
Had such a team existed in the areas adjacent to the rave, perhaps (and it is only “perhaps”) the teams could have been deployed to manage the crowds and dissuade more youngsters from entering what was already a chaotic situation, with the police being held in reserve in case things really got out of hand. Had local teams been available, perhaps the traffic could have been managed a lot better.
It could all be taken further. Why shouldn’t local communities be required to sweep their own streets and maintain the street scene at a basic level? If you had to sweep your own street, you’d soon be on the case of anyone that dropped litter or fly-tipped. Some wealthier communities (that didn’t want to sweep their own streets – too posh to push a broom) could approach poorer communities and seek to buy the service from them, thus creating community businesses and creating local jobs (radical, or what?).
However, volunteerism is not that popular.
Many people regard themselves as “customers” of the local authority, with the same “consumer rights” they would have in Tesco or M&S. Perhaps this is the real challenge that the councillors face, changing people’s perceptions of their relationship with the council and then changing the relationship.
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Coming to Croydon
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- David Lean Cinema: The Lunchbox, June 26
- Warnings to the Curious, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 27
- Metamono Secrets of Nature, Upper Norwood, June 27
- St Peter’s Village Fayre, South Croydon, June 28
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- Coast to Capital business briefing, July 4
- Basically Johnny Moped at Stanley Tech, July 8
- CODA’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at Wandle Park, Jul 30-Aug 2
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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