Woodside councillor Paul Scott could be in for a rowdy reception when he speaks at a public meeting at the Stanley Halls on Monday evening. If, that is, locals are allowed to raise matters which their councillors have been avoiding talking about for months on end.
Monday’s meeting, ostensibly to discuss council plans for the regeneration of South Norwood, has nine specified agenda items, including the status of The Ship pub and the South Norwood Arts Festival (which receives sponsorship from Croydon Council, and in which Scott is involved in the organisation).
But there is nothing on the agenda about the growing concerns of residents living in the vicinity of Croydon Arena over the development of the Oasis Academy, which is being built on the site.
Some Woodside residents have been seeking a meeting with their Labour councillors – who also include council leader Tony Newman and Fairness Commission deputy chair Hamida Ali – for nearly four months.
“The best Councillor Scott has done so far is to offer us an appointment after his monthly ward surgery on November 21 – even though we’ve already told them that we cannot manage to attend a meeting on a Saturday,” said one frustrated resident.
Although Monday night’s meeting is ostensibly about regeneration, the absence from the agenda of the biggest single construction project currently going on in the area might suggest that Scott wants to avoid the subject.
Scott works as a director of central London architects’ firm TP Bennett. As well as being a ward councillor, he is the influential chairman of the borough’s planning committee. It was Scott’s committee which approved planning permission for the Arena Academy, despite public protests that a number of the committee members – including Scott himself – are past or present governors of other Oasis academies.
Inside Croydon has seen correspondence sent to the Woodside councillors which highlights mounting anger over the way they feel that they have been fobbed off by their ward councillors, while on the building site they observe regular breaches of the planning permission as granted, concerns over the scale of the building, incursions on to the neighbouring Country Park and Metropolitan Open Land, and mounting difficulties over traffic.
The scheme was originally put forward by the Conservatives when they were in charge of the council, with the project led by Tim Pollard, now leader of Croydon Tories.
Although still under construction, the school opened its doors to Year 7 pupils in September, and soon after held its first all-school event, a parents’ evening, for the current cadre of 120 pupils. “No prior warning was given to residents and cars were parked the length of Albert Road, many of them badly or illegally parked at junctions and on double yellow lines,” one resident told Inside Croydon, asking not to be identified.
“This was the inconvenience that 120 pupils created. We have very real concerns as to what will happen when the school reaches full capacity and further ‘whole school’ events take place,” the resident said.
The residents living on the narrow residential streets near Croydon Arena have been blitzed by parking wardens if they have dared to park along Belmont Road when the builders, Wilmott Dixon, have needed to bring their large articulated lorries with building supplies to the site. “The enforcement officers were conspicuous by their absence on the night of the school’s open evening,” said one resident. “Cynics would say that they were directed away from the area.”
Residents’ concerns have taken more concrete – or steel – form over the scale of the building that the contractors are working on. They claim that they were misled by the soft-focus artists’ drawings provided at the time of the planning application, which gave a false impression of the ultimate size of the building.
With advice from neighbours who work in the building industry, they say that the building frame which is now in place appears to be larger and taller than anticipated. “Some have said that had they known it was going to be so big they would have been more inclined to object.”
The travel plan for the school and pupils – which was a condition of the planning application – is still not on the website, and the number of staff parking on local roads has increased as the weather has worsened, contradicting the traffic estimates provided in the transport statement.
There’s mounting concern about the volume of site traffic using the residential roads – and more than was agreed in the traffic management plan. “The number of lorries early in the morning when children and pedestrians are making their way to school and work are of particular concern,” the resident said.
“There have been a number of instances where users of the tram stop and those that have to make their way through the car park have either had accidents or near misses because of the way that area is being operated.”
If some of this is raised with Scott on Monday evening, there’s a risk that his community meeting could turn into a bit of a car crash itself.
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