Croydon Labour is supporting a multi-million-pound road-building scheme which will destroy homes and part of a public park while benefiting developers who are Conservative Party donors. And the councillors for the ward most affected have been worryingly quiet. By STEVEN DOWNES
Has anyone heard from Waddon’s Labour councillors?
We only ask because there’s less than a week to go in an important Transport for London consultation on a £87million scheme to bulldoze an urban motorway right through their ward, destroying homes and a public park, and so far… tumbleweed.
All three Waddon councillors – Robert Canning, Joy Prince and Andrew Pelling – worked hard to win the ward from the pledge-breaking Tories at last May’s local elections. The one ward in Conservative Croydon South to turn red, Waddon was critical to Labour regaining overall control of the council.
Last May, as candidates, they issued a letter to residents in which they said that, “If we are elected as part of a Labour council we will… Campaign for improvements to Fiveways junction that will benefit local motorists, cyclists and pedestrians”. And now? What’s happened to that campaigning zeal?
There’s wide-ranging outrage and disbelief, from transport experts, environmentalists and former council engineers, at the road-building proposals put forward by TfL, which appear to be a throw-back to the car-friendly 1970s, and all to knock a couple of minutes off shoppers’ journey time as they drive their cars to the new Hammersfield supermall.
The Waddon council candidates, even a year ago, had some notion of what London Mayor Boris Johnson’s transport planners had in mind for that bottleneck along the A23 Purley Way. What was revealed this February was hardly a surprise. Inside Croydon reported on the Boris Flyover proposal last December, two full months before the official announcements.
When the consultation was launched a month ago, TfL confirmed the four/five/six-lane (delete as applicable; TfL’s staff remain worryingly uncertain over such piddling details) flyover to the Croydon Flyover, which will plough through Duppas Hill park and encourage ever more traffic to drive past St Andrew’s secondary school. The alternative is to open up Epsom Road, a plan of which Councillor Canning, now a deputy cabinet member, must have a special understanding since he lives close by.
Yet despite such local insight and forewarning, Waddon’s three councillors – the very people who should be championing the interests of the residents, businesses, schools and other interests along Duppas Hill Road – have been virtually silent throughout the consultation period.
Other local politicians have eagerly filled the vacuum. Gavin Barwell, the Conservative MP for Croydon Central, was quick to jump in and support the proposals, since it is a multi-million-pound public construction scheme which will ultimately benefit the Whitgift Foundation, the majority land-owners of the Whitgift Centre. Barwell is a board member of the Foundation. Never mind that Fiveways, and the A232 junction where the Boris flyover is proposed to be built, is not in his constituency. This, Barwell considered, was an issue worthy of his public support.
And the Green Party, too, has made public statements about the TfL proposals, with Peter Underwood – their candidate in Croydon South at the General Election – expressing opposition and launching a petition.
And Waddon Councillors Canning, Prince and Pelling?
Since a brief note when the consultation was launched to state that they would be consulting residents – which was surely something that they had already done in the previous 12 months when canvassing for votes? – not a thing. Nada. Zilch. How odd. But, in Labour-run Croydon in 2015, this is far from unusual.
Since the New Year, the Borough Solicitor issued an order to all Croydon councillors not to dare utter a word about the biggest demolition scheme to hit Croydon since the Blitz, the £1 billion Westfield and Hammerson publicly subsidised takeover of the town centre (make no mistake, that is what it is). Our elected representatives, at a time when residents and businesses need their leadership and help most, have been gagged during the course of the Compulsory Purchase Order inquiry.
And in Woodside ward, when locals turned to their elected councillors for help over the £22million building of an over-large secondary academy in their narrow residential streets, they found one ward councillor chairing the planning committee and another one sitting as a member of the same committee, while the third is the leader of the council and helped to wave through the scheme which had been devised by the previous, Tory administration. Labour councillors from elsewhere in Croydon, if they dared express a view on the Arena Academy proposals, were met with threats and rebukes from their group leadership.
Likewise with the Beddington Lane incinerator, which Labour opposed for nearly six years when in opposition. Since last May? Not a dicky bird about the dicky birds and other wildlife threatened by the proposals, and the widespread environmental threat posed by industrial-scale waste incineration on the boundary of our borough.
So it is that Labour’s position on the Boris flyover in Waddon appears to be what the word pusillanimous was invented for.
Kathy Bee, the cabinet member for roads and transport, was quick to support the road-building scheme, without offering alternative park-and-rides or tram extensions. Or bothering to hear what any residents, schools or local businesses might have to say about how it will affect them.
The Hon Emily Benn, Labour’s volunteer to lose the General Election in Croydon South in May, has issued a leaflet in which her position is utterly indistinguishable from that of her Tory opponents: “It is vital that the junction is improved to get shoppers to the new centre, bringing prosperity to Croydon with them,” she wrote, as if copying from a script presented to her by Barwell and his developer chums. “Any solution must respect the local environment,” as Benn wrote, is hardly going to the barricades and declaring opposition to the destruction of a popular local park.
It is worth reminding ourselves that shopping mall developers Westfield are generous donors to the Conservative Party, and that their executive director John Burton, over-seeing the Croydon development, was a speaker at the Gavin Barwell campaign launch.
Councillor Pelling, the former Tory MP who now sulks on the back benches at council meetings as he is rarely called to speak by his group leadership, made a brief intervention on the subject of the Waddon flyover at a public meeting with TfL officials 10 days ago. Pelling called the flyover “intrusive”, which Waddon Park Avenue and Duppas Hill residents might find euphemistic but of no practical use to them whatsoever.
With the consultation due to end soon, Waddon’s councillors are leaving things very late if they are ever to speak out on behalf of residents. Or maybe they have been prevented from doing so?
- Transport for London has announced an additional consultation session at Waddon Leisure Centre on Thursday, March 12, from 4pm to 8pm. For those of a cynical disposition, it may be that this has been arranged close to the deadline to scrape together some public support for their proposals. To do that, of course, the TfL officials attending will need to start taking some notes of what attendees are saying, something which they have not been observed to do at previous public meetings.
- Alternatively, you can write your own comments and views here as part of the TfL consultation.
- And you could put your name to the petition opposing the road-building schemes here.
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