The council is staging what it calls a “community day” in Norbury Park this Saturday, where many hope that Tony Newman, the council leader, will get to demonstrate his relatively new-found enthusiasm for bicycling. Or, more accurately, what they call at the Town Hall, “back-pedalling”.
Last July, the council put forward plans to plonk a BMX track in the middle of the park.
Measuring 40 metres by 70 metres, with three hairpin turns and a broad sweeping tarmac bend, with the starting ramp, bumps and jumps all included, just like a slightly smaller scale version of the exciting race circuit seen at the London Olympics, it looks like quite an exciting prospect, provided it is integrated into the park in a sympathetic manner.
Trouble is, it doesn’t look like that is what the council is planning.
Their proposal has drawn hundreds of objections from residents, most of whom are concerned at the impact that such a facility, taking up nearly three-quarters of an acre, might have on their park, despite the promised “landscaped grassed mounds”.
Residents might also be concerned at how the venture is to be paid for and how it will be built.
According to a council press release, Saturday “is particularly focused on the current planning application for a new permanent BMX track in the park. The proposed track would be situated alongside the existing pavilion and would be built by British Cycling-approved contractors and funded from developer contributions to local projects”.
The first problem with that statement from the council press office is that it is false.
British Cycling, the national governing body for the sport, does not “approve” any contractors. We know, because we checked with British Cycling and cycle track experts. Which seems more than the council has done.
“It’s not within our competency as a sports governing body to hand out approval of building works,” said a spokes-person (geddit?). “There are basic dimensions and requirements for tracks, laid down by world cycling, just as football has a set size for pitches or athletics tracks are all the same size. But no, we don’t approve nor recommend any contractors.”
So how could Croydon Council’s press department have made such a mistake? Has the council been had over by some contractor who is claiming something which does not exist?
The press release also failed to state how much the Norbury BMX track might cost. Even though it appears that it will be paid for out of funds provided by developers, given Croydon Council’s previous track record (geddit?) with being taken for a ride (geddit?) over building projects, it would be useful to know what the budget is for this project.
We contacted a couple of companies which specialise in building BMX tracks, one of whom has just finished work on a similar project elsewhere in London. Neither had been contacted by Croydon Council to tender for the work in Norbury Park, but both estimated that a permanent track for community use of the size Croydon is proposing could cost less than £100,000, and depending on the ground conditions and how many special features are included, it possibly could be done for as little as £60,000.
Or less than half the £148,000 for one forgettable night of cycle racing in the town centre, all paid for on the rates, as championed by council leader Tony “On Yet Bike” Newman. But at least the council’s strong leader managed to get on the telly as a result, even if it was ITV4.
Timothy Godfrey, the council’s cabinet member for sport and culture, is quoted in the press release. “The facility we are proposing will be a great place for local young people to get together and take part in a fun and healthy sport,” he said.
But Councillor Godfrey didn’t return Inside Croydon‘s calls when we wanted to ask about the budget for the Norbury Park scheme, the extent of the local opposition, and whether the council leader, Newman, would be on his own bike at the event on Saturday.
It would certainly be embarrassing for Labour leader Newman if residents in Labour-voting Norbury were to reject the imposition of what could be, if managed well, a real community asset. But the council’s handling of resident consultations over bike schemes has not been good, such as the Quietway on Norbury Avenue, which last year had the council back-pedalling faster than Lance Armstrong on steroids.
According to the council’s unreliable press release, Saturday’s session runs from 11am to 3pm and “is a chance to meet with neighbours and discuss plans and proposals with council officers”.
They also promised: “Michael Pusey is also expected to be among the guests, the day after he receives his MBE for building a BMX track in Peckham…” although it’s called the Peckham BMX Club, it’s actually in Burgess Park, which is more Walworth, but hey, it’s the Croydon council press office, “… which helped give local kids something to do.”
The council proposal is to create a Croydon BMX club – apparently separately from established local cycling clubs, who might have the cycle expertise, but not the facilities. Croydon BMX, the council says, would be “a new volunteer-led community BMX club for people of all ages and abilities, including toddlers and the disabled”.
They continue: “Schools and community groups would be able to use the facility in daylight hours during the week, with club sessions at weekends.”
Note the specification of daylight operation, presumably to clam nervy residents: Burgess Park has floodlights for evening training, something which is essential for any serious club training sessions for more than six months of the year.
The cheery release continues: “On Saturday there will be plenty to do, as a temporary BMX track, bikes and protective equipment are being supplied by the charity Access Sport.”
The scheme is a rarity for Croydon – some aspect of the Olympic “legacy” coming to the borough which Lord Coe promised for the whole country when London staged the 2012 Games, as Chris Hoy explains in the video below…
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