The battle for Shirley Oaks arrives on the Town Hall steps ahead of tonight’s council meeting, as residents are expected to demand answers to their concerns over outline plans to build 750 homes on Metropolitan Open Land.Nearly 50 questions have been tabled about proposals in the Croydon Local Plan to de-designate green space at Shirley Oaks village to allow development. All to be dealt with within the allotted 15 minutes for public questions, so good luck with that, Madam Mayor…
The gist of the bulk of the questions can be summarised as “Not In My Back Yard”, “What about the flooding?”, and “Why can’t you build in central Croydon?”, the latter question seemingly blissfully ignorant of some of the schemes which aim to build twice as many homes in single tower blocks than that which has been suggested for the whole of Shirley Oaks and Monks Orchard.
To underline that there is some degree of concern, a petition has been submitted with more than 1,000 signatures, which has guaranteed that the matter will also be subject of a debate. Or what passes for a debate between Croydon’s lacklustre front benchers.
Alison Butler, as the cabinet member for homes, regeneration and planning, has had her name attached to the answers to the written public questions. Subbed down, her repeated response can be summarised as follows: “Croydon has significant housing pressures to provide enough new homes both for existing local communities, and those moving into the borough. That is why Croydon Council has supported substantial developments right across the borough.
“The criteria for designation of Metropolitan Open Land are set by the Conservative Mayor of London in his London Plan.
“The Croydon Local Plan consulted on the de-designation of MOL around Shirley Oaks. The area of MOL to the south of Shirley Oaks Hospital and surrounding the Shirley Oaks development was proposed for de-designation as it does not meet any of the criteria for designation as MOL…
“In terms of site allocations, the willingness of the landowner to make a site available for development is an important factor when concluding whether to allocate land. It should be noted that proposals that follow designations in the Local Plan will be subject to planning applications.
“No decision has currently been reached and all views received during the consultation period will be taken into account.”
In truth, that last sentence might have been Butler’s entire answer. Politically, it might have done the council a great deal of good had it been so.But the leadership of the Labour group has dropped yet another bollock over Shirley Oaks, just as they did over the sale of school playing fields, the closure of Purley Pool and the Coulsdon car park saga.
It is another instance which the Tory opposition, with MP Gavin Barwell pulling the strings, has gleefully exploited, running a petition over a perceived or exaggerated threat – Barwell has seriously stated publicly that, “The only part of the borough they’re proposing to do this is Shirley” – and then data-scraping another few thousand names and addresses which they can then call upon during the next election campaign.
Where Shirley Oaks is different from true blue Purley and Coulsdon is in its geographical proximity next to Ashburton ward, which Labour won for the first time at the 2014 local elections. If the toxic feelings towards the Labour-run council just for considering a Tory Mayor’s plans spill over from Shirley into Ashburton ward, then Labour’s council majority could be very shaky in the future.
What the Town Hall questions, the petition and tonight’s protest neatly summarise, though, is that while everyone nods sagely and sympathetically when the housing crisis is mentioned, few are prepared to allow their neighbourhood to be developed or changed to accommodate the ridiculously high numbers of new homes which wonks working for Tory Mayor Boris Johnson decided are needed in Croydon.
Under the Croydon Local Plan, the council is considering plans to develop five patches of MOL, including areas on both sides of Shirley Oaks Road. The proposals signal a desire for “significanly larger” development in the area, including the building of “medium-rise blocks”.
The protests have been marshalled by the Monks Orchard Residents’ Association, Shirley Oaks Village, Spring Park, Shrublands, Bishops Walk and Shirley Hills – not all of which are directly affected by the plans – who between them claim to represent 3,600 residents.
“Residents argue the proposed intensification will allow existing houses and bungalows in a very residential part of the borough be demolished and replaced with blocks of flats, back garden developments, traveller sites on Green Belt and the redesignation of Metropolitan Open Land to allow for housing,” they said in a release issued yesterday. Although a “Save Shirley” campaign has been “launched” on social media, by lunchtime today, its Twitter account had attracted fewer than 30 followers.
As we reported last week, it is not only Labour local authorities who are considering development on MOL, or Green Belt. Just over the county border in Surrey, Tandridge, a Conservative-run council, is consulting on the possibility of building thousands of houses on previously undeveloped land.
“These policies will change the character of Shirley and place planning blight on these designated residential areas for the next 20 years,” Dave Greenwood, the campaign organiser, said. “Planners should target existing brownfield sites before wrecking residential areas.” Or “Not In My Back Yard”.
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