Croydon’s bungling Conservative opposition councillors have dropped another bollock, this time being caught out protesting over a “top secret” list of sites for housing development when the list was available on the council website, while residents in properties neighbouring the locations earmarked for building have been written to with details of the proposals.
The local Tory leadership has committed a series of embarrassing gaffes lately, after they managed to misread or misunderstand public documents, or start petitions to protest against the impact of public spending cuts being made by other Conservative-run councils caused by their Tory colleagues in Government.
But even by their own dire standards, Tim Pollard’s Croydon Conservatives have plumbed new depths after they tried to orchestrate an outcry about a “secret list” of developments when all the details are published online and is being discussed on social media.
It was at the last Town Hall cabinet meeting, on June 20, when the Labour-run council agreed to borrow money for the council-owned house-building company, Brick by Brick.
The Tories got all hot and bothered, claiming that key details were not made public, and they made dark allegations of secrecy.
If only they bothered to look at the council’s website, where even as they made their faux outraged speeches, there were 15 sites listed, together with links to more details of each development.
Meanwhile, the council has also been writing to residents liable to be affected by the proposed developments, such as those living near Tollers Lane in the Croydon Tories’ heartland of Coulsdon, where the community centre will be used for housing.
The advisory letters were openly available on Facebook.
The council’s list went offline briefly later in the week of the cabinet meeting, but that was only so that it could be updated to add details of another 14 sites.
For ease of reference for those Croydon Conservatives who remain incapable of competently operating t’interweb, here’s the list of proposed sites:
- Academy Gardens, CR0 6QL
- Chertsey Crescent garages, CR0 ODB
- Chipstead Avenue – Cheriton House, 20 Chipstead Avenue, CR7 7DG
- Coldharbour Road, CR0 4DY
- Drovers Road, CR2 6PR
- Eagle Hill Garages, SE19 3JL
- Grosvenor Road/ Belgrave Road Estate, SE25 5AW
- Heathfield Road, CR0 1EL
- Hermitage Road, SE19 3QN
- Homefield Road – Homefield House, 57 Homefield Road, CR5 1ET
- King Henry’s Drive CR0 OPB
- Leighton & Albion Estate CR2 9DY
- Longheath Gardens, CR0 7TQ
- Marston Way, SE19 3JB
- Montpelier Road, CR8 2QF
- Northbrook road / Pawsons Road Estate, CR0 2QL
- Oxford Road – 20 A-D Oxford Road, SE19 3JH
- Ravensdale Gardens, SE19 3QD and Rushden Close Estate, SE19 3QB
- Reedham Park Road – Kempsfield House, 1 Reedham Park Road, CR8 4BQ
- Regina Road, SE25 4TR
- Selhurst Road – Malton House, 193 Selhurst Road, SE25 6LE
- Stockbury Road, CR0 7YB
- Sylvan Hill Estate, SE19 3DX
- Thorneloe Gardens, CR0 4EN
- Tollers Lane Estate, CR5 1DW
- Uvedale Crescent, CR0 OBC
- Warbank Crescent, CR0 OAY
- Warminster Road, SE25 4FF
- Whitehorse Road Estate – Johnson Road/Cromwell Road, CR0 2JR
None of this is to say that there are not important concerns surrounding Brick by Brick and some of its proposed schemes. If only Croydon Council had an effective opposition capable of raising them…
For a start, they might want to prod the council leader, Tony Newman, about his latest ill-considered comments to the Croydon Guardian, when he said of the (published) housing list: “Just because they are not published doesn’t necessarily mean they are secret.”
Want to press the replay button on that one, Tone?
What is assuredly a closely guarded secret by our “open” and “transparent” local authority are the amounts of money involved.
Costs associated with developing the sites have not been made public, and as this is public money, being used on publicly owned sites, to provide public housing, there’s a strong argument that the finances should be laid out in public, to guard against profiteering by any private companies involved in the deals.
The Labour-run council appears to be repeating some of the worst, secretive practices of its Tory predecessors.
After all, Newman and his colleagues were agitated enough when the Tories set-up their CCURV urban regeneration vehicle joint venture with builders John Laing.
To this day, the money used in CCURV remains top secret; Newman’s promise to make the details public once in power have been broken; and it is why Croydon Council Tax-payers are footing the £140 million bill for Fisher’s Folly, the council’s offices, when similar sized buildings in the capital have been delivered competitively for little more than £40 million. No one has ever explained where the extra £100 million has gone.
Then there is the matter of Brick by Brick. Newman, together with his hand-picked new chief executive, Jo Negrini, have spun it off as a private company, which makes it immune from any Government measures designed to transfer public housing into private hands, usually at a significant loss to the public purse.
But in doing so, Brick by Brick is also immune from Freedom of Information scrutiny, despite being in receipt of many millions of pounds of public property and finance.
So when Newman, in the same interview with the local paper, said, “Our genuine commitment is to be open and transparent,” it needs to be taken with a fist-full of salt.
This is especially the case as Brick by Brick offers so little protection for the public purse. Without a single elected representative, from the ruling Labour group or from the Tories, among its board of directors, it fails to offer any accountability to the public. Although Brick by Brick does have a director who has worked closely with Qatari property speculators in the past.
And there are inevitably issues with some of the sites chosen for development. Not that Croydon Tories’ leader Tim Pollard seems that bothered. He has said: “With Brick by Brick most of the sites are relatively uncontroversial.”
Tell that to the existing home-owners who are worried about losing their community centre or who are anxious about overdevelopment, with the council wanting to build new homes overlooking their properties.
Residents are rightly suspicious, too, over anything which involves the notion of “council consultation”, with some already complaining of short-notice meetings being poorly advertised to those most affected.
Brick by Brick is tasked to deliver around 1,000 new homes in Croydon by 2018.
That’s the year when the next local elections are to be held.
And no one is complaining that that is a secret.
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