“You don’t tell deliberate lies, but sometimes you have to be evasive”.
That’s a quote from Margaret Thatcher which appears prominently, approvingly, on the website of a firm of property consultants who have been leafleting residents in Woodside ward over the development of Love Lane Green. The consultants’ letters forgot to mention the name of the people on whose behalf they are acting…
Love Lane was yesterday named London’s Play Street of the Year, just 12 months after parents and the council set-up the traffic-free play project, with monthly temporary road closures allowing children to play in the street without any danger from traffic.
But the nearby pop-up park created on a scrap of unused ground by residents is now under threat of development – even though it is designated Metropolitan Open Land and, as yet, has no planning permission.
The land is about the size of a football pitch, with the Beckenham branch of the tram line running through it, not far from South Norwood Country Park. It was once owned by the GLC and used as a recreation ground, where residents held summer fetes and community fund-raisers.
But after the GLC was abolished – by Thatcher, as it happens – this public asset was sold off on the cheap to a private owner, without the residents being notified of its impending sale. The family who bought the land have since been frustrated by their regular applications for planning permission being rejected.
According to one resident, “The owner vandalised the green after his last failed attempt by sending a bulldozer through it and erecting an ugly fence.”
A year ago, Friends of Love Lane began to use a small part of the site as a community garden for everyone to enjoy. Around 80 residents turned up to clear the site and they continue to contribute to maintaining the site, as well as staging the monthly play street.
Using fly-tipped tyres as planters, they planted 600 crocuses donated from Croydon Saffron Central, as well as strawberries and hazel trees.
“Love Lane’s garden is a wonderful green space bringing the community together for play, learning and connection,” the resident said. “There is a thriving and passionate community in this small corner of the ward.
“We had hoped the council would compulsory purchase the land for the community, as this has been pledged several times in the past.”
The three Labour councillors for Love Lane’s ward, Woodside, are council leader Tony Newman, chair of planning Paul Scott, and Hamid Ali, who is also a council cabinet member.
Potentially, the value of the land would soar if it were ever to be granted permission for any sort of development. And there is an unhappy precedent nearby for the council allowing development on MOL: the new Oasis Arena Academy was given permission by the previous Tory council administration to build on Metropolitan Open Land, despite objections from residents. Nothing was done by the Labour group, once it took control of the council in 2014, to reverse that decision.
The sometime acrimonious planning applications for Love Lane Green stopped a while ago, and the first that residents knew that the ownership of the land had changed hands was when the letters from the consultants dropped through their letter boxes earlier this month.
Not that the letters from consultants Snapdragon, with Thatcherite evasiveness, bothered to declare who they were representing. That only emerged when some took the trouble to contact the consultants, who then said they were working for Nevyan Markov and agents Savills.
“Not properly declaring the client does raise the question: can informative and useful dialogue be initiated if the developer tries to remain anonymous? I don’t think so,” said one resident who has been active in creating the community garden.
There may be a reason for the coyness regarding the land owner’s identity. Companies House records show that a Nevyan Markov is a 39-year-old Bulgarian builder who has held directorships in a string of now dissolved companies, most notably Modis Group Ltd, which in 2010 was subject to a winding up order in the Royal Courts of Justice with debts to creditors of more than £400,000.
Inside Croydon has not been able to establish with certainty whether this is the same Nevyan Markov who now has ownership of Love Lane Green, but there is no one else by that name listed in Companies House records.
Nor have Snapdragon responded to Inside Croydon‘s question about their failure to declare the identity of their client.
But their spokeswoman did provide this statement: “We have contacted local residents regarding planning proposals for Love Lane. The current period of consultation is being undertaken at a very early stage of the wider development process. Our intention is to engage with all interested residents of Love Lane prior to formulating a detailed development proposal for the site. Do we want to just refer to Love Lane residents or make a wider reference to residents in the surrounding area?
“The project team understand the complex and extensive history of Love Lane Green and will be adopting a collaborative and accessible approach as part of this consultation, contrary to previous development proposals for this site.
“The land is owned by Mr Nevyan Markov, a private land owner. The applicant for this site is not associated with any previous attempts to obtain planning permission for Love Lane Green.
“We would like all residents to participate in the consultation process in order to help best inform us in our forthcoming design phase. The role of local residents will be fundamental to the delivery of a well considered and well designed proposal.”
As, presumably, will be the role of local ward councillors.
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