Among the many deceits of the last government was its supposed policy of “localism”. Under Conservative communities minister “Big Eric” Pickles, it was nothing of the sort.
Local councils have been stripped of so many of their powers over the past 20 years that last year’s Town Hall election in Croydon degenerated into a pissing contest between Tories and Labour over who would keep the streets cleanest. Local politicians have been rendered powerless in most other respects.
Under Pickles and his Conservative-led government, “localism” simply meant enforcing Tory dogma on every democratically elected body in England, whether they’d voted for it or not. This has been applied from the forcible academisation of the majority of the borough’s secondary schools – removing them from council control – to the 2 per cent cap on Council Tax increases which, coupled with the austerity cuts in central government grants, put such a stranglehold on all local councils that widespread reduction of services became inevitable.
The role of the council as a local planning authority has also been emasculated over many years, so as to be rendered utterly impotent. And all our High Streets are suffering for it.Two recent examples in Croydon demonstrate the futility of even bothering to have a planning process, or local council.
In a small area around Thornton Heath, there’s now 12 bookmakers’ shops. Even if we ignore, for the time being, the potential problems that encouraging gambling in an area where residents are not well-known for having lots of disposable income, the sheer domination of retail outlets in a run-down town centre by charity shops, “express” supermarkets, bookies and fried chicken shops creates a depressing monoculture which drives many people away.
Paddy Power wants to open yet another bookies in the neighbourhood. And there’s not a thing Croydon Council’s planning committee can do about it.
Our loyal reader calls it a “kick in the teeth”.
They explain here: “The application is for what would be a 14th betting stop in CR7 (and the ninth on the high street). It is proposed for the retail space under a building where flats have been sold on long leases to Orbit Housing Association (although they don’t own the freehold of the building). The building has also received significant money from the Mayor of London.
“The application came a few days after a large meeting of residents on how Croydon Council’s £2.7 million regeneration money (from the New Homes Bonus) should be spent. Bit of a kick in the teeth really and betting shop No14 feels rather predatory in what is the one of the poorest parts of London.
“Obviously, myself and a good few others will object (we have until April 13) however it is a licensing issue only, meaning the grounds for planning refusal are pretty narrow. The unit already has A2 consent for retail use, including as a bookmakers’ shop. I don’t really think the council can block it even if they tried to.”
Meanwhile, in South Norwood, it appears that it is more profitable these days to flog off the property rather than run a once-thriving pub. At least that’s the conclusion of the owners of The Ship, which despite its popularity with locals is now deemed to be more valuable if converted into half a dozen tiny flats. Yet again, there’s virtually nothing that a local authority can do as the planning authority to… well… plan for the needs and amenities in a neighbourhood.
The ever-vigilant people of South Norwood are attempting to save The Ship. They even have a Facebook page. And they have created history.
“We’ve submitted Croydon’s first Asset Community Value nomination to Croydon Council,” they announced at the start of the month. If The Ship is declared to be an Asset of Community Value, a deal could be struck which will allow the pub to become community-run, a model which has proved very successful elsewhere, such as with the award-winning The Hope pub in Carshalton. A decision on The Ship should be known by the end of May.
In the meantime, the campaigners have handed in a petition to the planning department, which has an application to be considered by the committee (date yet to be determined). It turns out that Steve O’Connell, the Tory London Assembly Member for Sutton and Croydon, suffered from premature tweeting earlier this month, when he declared on social media that The Ship had been saved at a previous planning meeting.
For once, it would have been good if O’Connell had got something right.
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