Barwell’s latest cunning stunt leaves him bridging alone

HAS GAV GIVEN UP (Part 94)? As election stunts go, Gavin Barwell’s latest has all the hallmarks of the desperate or the deluded. Or the desperately deluded.

But the Tory MP for the Whitgift Foundation really has been out campaigning to try to make it easier for people to get to the newly opened offices of his Labour opponent in Croydon Central, Sarah Jones.

Barwell says he wants the £23 million Bridge to Nowhere at the northern end of East Croydon station to have an exit on the eastern side of the London-to-Brighton railway lines, in Addiscombe. No shit, Sherlock.

As political campaigns go, there have been others launched with a tad more gusto and professionalism than that which Gavin Barwell, centre, managed at East Croydon yesterday with his two mates (only mates?) Jason Cummings and his election agent, Ian Parker (right)

As political campaigns go, there have been others launched with a tad more gusto and professionalism than that which Gavin Barwell, centre, managed at East Croydon yesterday with just two mates Jason Cummings and his election agent, the devoted Ian Parker (right)

That probably ought to have been in place when the bridge was built, but the work was stopped by the mega-bucks developers of the 53-storey Menta Tower – which the locals opposed but Gav’s Tory chums on the council approved.

Thus we have a new bridge, built at vast public expense and benefiting the private developments on both sides of the tracks, but without any means of it being accessed from the eastern side. Pure genius.

How we all arrived at this impasse has never been properly explained by our secretive council: it seems very likely that someone in Fisher’s Folly, or Network Rail who oversaw the project, failed to get the necessary undertakings from the Menta developers when negotiating the planning permissions. We haven’t noticed any legal action being taken by the public bodies against Menta to remedy the sorry situation.

In July 2012, Inside Croydon was the first to highlight this disconnect in what the spin-doctors who run our borough ironically describe as “Connected Croydon”  – this was nearly two full years before the Conservatives lost control of the council.

We quoted from a council official’s report which recommended that, after already spending £20 million of public cash (£6 million of which came from cash-strapped Croydon Council), forking out more tax-payers’ money to provided a temporary link bridge because the Menta developers had failed to keep their side of the bargain.

The council report stated: “On Billinton Hill the strategy is to deliver a level walkway connecting the existing station concourse with the new Network Rail footbridge (currently under construction) via a Link Bridge to be delivered by developer Menta under a Section 106 agreement related to their Cherry Orchard Road site…

“Until the Menta scheme delivers the Link Bridge there would be a circa 16metre physical gap … between the Billinton Hill walkway and the new Network Rail bridge. This would seriously compromise the objectives of the investments made by LBC [London Borough of Croydon], TfL and Network Rail.”

Note that: “seriously compromise”. “Utterly” might have been a more accurate adverb.

“It is proposed that LBC fund the construction of a temporary… Link Bridge to avoid this scenario.” Cost? £2.7 million in a “worst case scenario”, the report stated.

While the Tories that were in charge of our council in 2012, they blithely approved this added expense. But nothing much has happened. Indeed, unless or until the developers build their over-blown edifice to greed, it could prove difficult for a local authority of any political persuasion to provide any such link bridge while construction is on-going on the site.

Belatedly (ie. after Mike #WadGate Fisher and his erstwhile Tory mates managed to lose control of Croydon Town Hall), Barwell has woken up to Croydon’s ultimate disconnect. So he’s started a campaign to have a bridge which functions by having entrances and exits at both ends.

Barwell, centre with placard, alongside his new bestie mates, Steve Reed OBE and Tony Newman, demonstrating what a real launch should look like

Barwell, centre with placard, alongside his new bestie mates, Steve Reed OBE and Tony Newman, demonstrating what a real launch should look like

So there he was yesterday, “launching” his latest campaign. The only people available for the sorry-looking “launch” were his own election agent, the ever-willing Ian Parker, and Tory councillor Jason Cummings. Is that really all that Croydon Tories could muster?

There is also the Barwell online petition, of course, and the email to everyone already on the MP’s mailing list. But this had all the hallmarks of someone flailing around for something – anything – to generate a bit of attention with the electorate.

Gav’s developed a fondness for petitions lately, ever since he was slow off the mark over the Zone 4 campaign (launched by Labour’s Jones and Lambeth South’s Steve Reed OBE). The Barwell petitions are beginning to appear a bit too much like data-scraping exercises, in which the signatories’ names and contact details are the real purpose, rather more than the supposed cause.

After jumping on the Zone 4 bandwagon in the spirit of cross-party consensus, last week Barwell found himself backing another Labour-led initiative, rolling up at Westminster for the “Our Time Is Now” campaign. If the best his own office can come up with is a scheme that highlights an expensive failure of the local Tories, then Barwell must be asking himself whether he is surplus to requirements.

Barwell’s even started to agree with Inside Croydon. On Twitter, when we reacted to his bridge campaign by highlighting that Barwell’s own relationship with other multi-million-pound developers is hardly arm’s-length, he said, “You’ll remember I opposed Menta application,” which is true enough. “To be fair to council,” Barwell said, “they can’t enforce S106 until development starts.” Which sort of undermines the whole premise of his bridge campaign.

And when we put it to Barwell that the local authority had cut Menta too much slack, the MP wrote back: “I agree… I opposed the planning application in part because I suspected nothing would happen for years.”

Barwell must be hopeful that he will get more support on his special campaign day on December 13: he’s offering Tory canvassers free drinks. In true, opaque Tory style, he fails to state who is paying the bill.

You can sign up for your “Booze with Barwell” day by clicking here. Don’t worry – you won’t be alone: as we published this, as many as 12 others had already signed up, including his own election agent and one of his taxpayer-funded employees.

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1 Response to Barwell’s latest cunning stunt leaves him bridging alone

  1. Rod Davies says:

    I was somewhat surprised yesterday to be greeted at 7 o’clock by Gavin Barwell on the corner of Billington Hill and given his leaflet, and had I not been in a hurry I would have stopped to chat.
    Gavin’s campaign to get the council to construct an extension to the bridge is a bit forlorn. First of all the original idea, back in the mists of time, was to have a bridge that would allow access across the railway track to Dingwall Road for pedestrians and cyclists, and of course provide access to the platforms. The residents of East Croydon would have been able to avoid the East Croydon transport hub.
    It was therefore a disappointment to realise that the bridge was solely for train passengers, and that the eastern third of it wouldn’t be constructed in the near future.
    The primary purpose of the bridge appears to be to facilitate passengers changing trains / platforms, and linking it to Dingwall Rd for people who previously would have walk quite a distance to the station entrance and for workers / shoppers in central Croydon.
    So should the virtually bankrupt Croydon Council fund the construction of the extension out of our Council Tax? Probably not.. Billington Hill, the approach to the station from Cherry Orchard Rd, isn’t a pleasant vista, but then again it isn’t really a seriously unpleasant experience.
    So if the Council funds its construction, what doesn’t it fund? In my opinion West Croydon desperately needs investment; Cherry Orchard Road needs bringing up to the standard that Addiscombe Urban Retail Centre and the Restaurant District enjoy – nice wide clean pavements where shoppers can stop & park.
    We have survived without this temporary bridge extension (which probably will be removed once Menta start work) for a very very long time and a couple more years are ok. We need lots of other things too; improvements to local schools, environmental improvement, traffic management, etc etc that would make a significant difference to our lives. So let’s have a debate about priorities before we start arguing for one pet project or another.

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