WALTER CRONXITE finally gets his hands on a hard copy of the council’s Local Plan and finds that its sub-title is “How to hand a political advantage to the opposition”
Spite and pettiness by local politicians has seen another own goal scored by Croydon’s Labour leadership, while provoking the latest bout of hostile Nimbyism among the borough’s Tories, and all with undercurrents of racism thrown in.The council’s Local Plan is up for change, with a public consultation which closes on Friday. The substantial document can be summed up with an old saying: you can’t get a quart in a pint pot.
The Plan tries to cope with the plucked-from-the-air target of delivering almost 50,000 new homes by 2036. The Plan reckons only 31,765 homes can be squeezed into Croydon, and accepts that not all the population growth pressures can be met. Space is also needed for schools for children and factories and offices for jobs.
Not all of the borough’s residents will want to live in 50-storey-plus skyscrapers in central Croydon, nor indeed will they be able to afford the “luxury executive apartments” which speculative developers are aiming squarely at overseas property investment markets, rather than providing the many homes needed for London families.
So the Plan suggests that some cherished green spaces will have to go.
The Croydon Plan states “open space is unevenly distributed in the borough”. No shit, Sherlock.
What the Plan means is that many of the borough’s green spaces are in the south and in Croydon Central’s Tory-held Shirley and Heathfield wards. And Croydon’s very own North-South divide is once again threatening to turn into a full-on political row.
The antagonistic attitude towards the south of the borough held by some leading figures within the Labour group which now controls the council smacks of an unpleasant and unnecessarily petty point-scoring. It is our version of municipal carpet-bagging, which could yet back-fire on Labour.
The borough has long failed to make adequate provision for travellers. Some suggest that this may be why the borough’s parks and open spaces have been so regularly subjected to encroachments, which often leave rubbish and waste behind, all to be cleared up at Council Tax-payers’ expense.
The Local Plan seeks to address this by suggesting that another permanent site for 39 pitches needs to be found, and three such sites are identified. All three sites are in Conservative-held wards.
This may be good planning, but it is poor politics, and underlines again the immature attitude of the Labour leadership towards those parts of Croydon that don’t vote Labour. It is probably something of which the pet project of council leader Tony Newman, the Fairness Commission, would disapprove.
The examples are mounting up of this vindictiveness towards the south of the borough. There was the attempted closure of Purley Pool, now there is the closure of the CALAT centre in Coulsdon, the reduction in street cleaning in the south, there is the studied neglect of calls to deal with parking and traffic issues in Coulsdon, and most recently the axing of the free green garden waste collection.This regular assault on services for residents in the south of Croydon may avoid making cuts in the more densely populated, Labour-voting north, but they don’t always amount to “good” politics. Purley Pool serves large areas of Croydon Central, and the threat of closure may have just swayed enough votes to the Tories to see Labour’s Sarah Jones narrowly lose at the General Election.
There was political capital to be gained, too, in Coulsdon over the parking problems which were created by the previous Tory council’s decisions. But this was an opportunity scorned by Tony Newman’s Labour group. And the green garden waste? It is a policy which assumes that no one living outside Croydon South or Central has a garden.
Although Labour claims in public that the closure of the green waste collection is made inevitable by a more than halving of government grant to Croydon, behind the scenes Labour councillors at the Town Hall, jealous of those with bigger gardens, believe that a Labour council should not be subsidising such people with a free service.
With the traveller sites, the council did have the option of at least appearing even-handed, by including in the Plan sites in Labour wards, for instance on the Purley Way in council deputy leader Stuart Collins’s Broad Green ward.
Coombe Farm, right at the heart of Lloyd Park, appears to have been put forward for no other reason than spite, after a falling out with the former Croydon Labour donor, Anwar Ansari, who owns the site. And to think that most of Labour’s councillors were enjoying Dr Ansari’s hospitality as recently as May 2014, after their Town Hall election success which he’d helped pay towards.The council’s Plan also identifies the former council nursery on Conduit Lane to fulfill the legal requirement to find another 39 pitches for travellers. Pear Tree Farm in Heathfield ward’s Featherbed Lane is the third site. In the end, only one site may be needed, with two likely earmarked in the final plan.
Businesses near or on these sites, like the Coombe Woods cafe and the wedding venue at Oaks Farm, are reportedly concerned about the impact the traveller sites might have on revenue.
It is clear that the Plan’s recommendations have been misunderstood, or willfully misrepresented. Some residents have been distributing emails with cut-and-paste objections to the traveller site plans, stating, “On behalf of residents in the Heathfield Ward (home of two proposed Traveller sites)…”, perhaps deliberately giving the false impression that both sites included in the proposals will be developed, when that is very unlikely to be the case.
The circular emails reinforce the misleading two-site claim with one of their suggested objections: “What consideration has the council given to the societal impact of
introducing both Romany Gypsy and Irish Travellers (known to feud) into two
locations just 500 metres apart on local community?”
For good measure, they throw in another bit of scaremongering, suggesting that the council is planning 49 pitches, “indicating likely expansion of a site at later date”, before mentioning Dale Farm, the Essex site where the circumstances and scale were entirely dissimilar to anything planned in Croydon.And Croydon’s Tories have been quick to exploit the undercurrents of hostility towards travellers, too, with Gavin Barwell, the Croydon Central MP, issuing a long email to constituents warning them of the traveller site plans.
Given the blatant racism displayed by a senior member of the Croydon Conservatives, and apparently tolerated, we probably ought not be surprised to see the Tories pandering to the lowest common denominator.
What is disappointing is the cack-handed manner in which Croydon’s Labour group has handed them this latest political opportunity.
Key Green Belt land such as the Sanderstead Plantation and Croham Hurst, with its Anglo-Saxon burial grounds, is recommended for downgrade to the much weaker protection of Metropolitan Open Land status. And we all know how poorly MOL is protected by local authorities – just look at what has happened on Beddington Lane and at Croydon Arena.
The Coombe Road playing fields are to be reserved for a new secondary school, as are the old playing fields on Duppas Hill that served the demolished Heath Clark school.
Much of Purley Way, in a retail world transformed by the interweb and with Croydon Council over-eager to assist Hammersfield’s town centre supermall dominate all else, sees a future with much more housing in Broad Green ward.
Some former council estates, like Shirley’s Shrublands and Tollers Lane in Old Coulsdon, are to see intensification of use.
The Shirley Oaks estate is to lose the Metropolitan Open Land protection of its surrounding area, a concern highlighted by the former Tory leader, Mike “WadGate” Fisher, at the recent Town Hall football viewing session which masqueraded as a council meeting.
The Tories think they are on a roll of public opinion here, buoyed by the 11,000-plus signatures they got to their garden waste petition – all names, addresses and emails that they will no doubt harvest for use in next May’s London elections and beyond.
The beaming grins of Conservative Croham councillors Maria Gatland and Jason Perry as they delivered another 600 letters of objection to the revised Croydon Plan reflect how the Croydon Conservatives think that Labour’s ineptness may be turning the tide their way.
What’s certain is that Labour have certainly stirred up Tory voters who may have stayed at home or voted UKIP at the last local elections. It does not look like well-judged politics by Labour, and may have reversed any gains made at the ballot boxes in 2012 and 2015 when challenging Tory incumbents Steve O’Connell and Gavin Barwell.
Angered by too much development pressure, voters may be beginning to forget the costly mistakes of the last Tory council, including Fisher’s £10,000 secret wad. Even the Tories’ £100 million overspend on the shiny new council offices has been allowed to be forgotten by Labour, as Newman has become most reluctant to embarrass the culprits.
Croham representative Perry has also pointed out how councillors have been denied hard copies of the massive set of documents that go with the revised Plan. Only in the last week of the consultation were these hefty tomes finally produced for Croydon’s 70 councillors to plough through the detail. On Twitter, Perry said: “Five weeks into a six-week consultation and 20+ boxes of Croydon Local Plan documents appear at the Town Hall. Open and transparent?”
It is a reasonable question.
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