There’s another chance for residents in South Norwood to ask awkward questions about the “plans” that one or two influential council figures and their consultants appear to have for the area around Portland Road at a meeting tonight at Stanley Halls.
The meeting has been arranged by senior borough councillor Paul Scott, he of the arch tactic of staging meetings which involve as few people as possible.
Scott staged a secretive meeting on the same subject last month. This was led by Lorraine Hart, of consultants Community Land Use, attendance at that event was strictly by invitation only, which excluded local businesses and traders, and where one attendee had their notes of the meeting confiscated before they were allowed to leave.
Scott – Woodside ward councillor, chair of the council planning committee, senior figure in a London architects’ firm TP Bennett and vice-chair of the Stanley Halls – has called the “second introductory workshop” meeting tonight in his capacity as the chair of the residents’ group People for Portland Road. In his email, Scott didn’t bother mentioning any of his other roles.
The email, which has been seen by Inside Croydon, was sent out by Scott only last week.
“I hope you don’t mind me openly copying you all in,” he writes. “I thought this was more inclusive and would allow discussion between us between meetings… If you know someone who you think would like to be actively involved, please let me know and pass on this invite.”
Which is what we are doing now as a public-spirited service, in the hope that as many ordinary residents of South Norwood and Woodside as possible might attend the event.
The last meeting, which ran for almost three hours on a Saturday lunchtime, was attended by fewer than 15 residents, plus around half a dozen officials.
Scott’s email invitation for tonight appears to have been sent to less than 40 hand-picked individuals, including several of his closest mates on the council, such as Scott’s ward colleague, Tony Newman, the leader of the council, and another Woodside councillor, Hamida Ali, plus (quite properly) South Norwood councillors Jane Avis, Kathy Bee and Wayne Trakas-Lawlor. Also on Scott’s invitation list is Steve O’Connell, the Tory London Assembly Member for Croydon, and Fiona Twycross, a Labour Assembly Member who lives in the neighbourhood. Among the recipients was the manager of the Stanley Halls, where the meeting is taking place, and a couple of people with council email addresses (presumably involved in an official capacity).
So there were very few on Scott’s invitation list who are “ordinary” residents of South Norwood and Woodside. Perhaps Scott went knocking on people’s doors, pushing out fliers to the event through letter boxes or handing them to shop-keepers and other local businesses to ensure the biggest possible turn-out. Or perhaps he didn’t bother.
“At this workshop we need to decide what the nature of our plan will be for our second submission for our grant and the expert advisors to help us,” Scott writes in his email.
“Having agreed what we are aiming to do there will still be a lot of scope to decide how we will achieve it, so we are still at early stages of developing our ‘Plan’.”
The agenda for tonight’s meeting was provided by Hart, who also drafted some notes on the previous meeting. So it appears that there’s very little “scope” for anyone else to decide whether Hart and her company, Community Land Use, are in fact suitable to be “expert advisors” in South Norwood.
Elsewhere, Scott has seemed a tad sensitive over the reporting of his previous meeting, even to the point of interrogating residents over whether they were the source of Inside Croydon’s article.
Like some bad-tempered Vicky Pollard character, Scott says he’s not bothered if he gets criticised: “Personally it doesn’t both[er] me when they have a pop at me. I’m a politician after all, and despite being someone who is only involved in politics to try to make the world a better place, I appreciate that a lot of people will disagree with my views, what I say and what I do. You simply cannot please everyone.”
So it doesn’t bother him one little bit. So little, in fact, that he then goes on and writes a 500-word justification for his secretive actions.
Scott accuses Inside Croydon of “attacking the efforts of ordinary people who give up their time to try to improve their local area”. He does not offer any examples of where we have done this in the previous report. That will be because it is untrue.
On social media, Scott has tried to defend what he continues to describe as a “Community Economic Development plan for South Norwood”, where the use of the word “community” appears to be little more than lip-service to justify the grant applications made by him and the likes of Hart.
“The whole drive behind this is to find ways of improving and, yes, regenerating South Norwood, working with and for the current community. This is precisely the reverse of what many see as the negative impacts of ‘gentrification’,” he writes.
The community economic development plans provide modest government grants – £5,000 – to pay for consultants ostensibly to devise ways to “improve” areas. “To start with we need a small group of residents, representatives and other stakeholders to develop an initial plan,” Scott says.
“Only once this is done will the funding be released allowing us to hold wide-ranging consultation with the wider community.” By which stage, the real community will be told: like it or lump it.
Scott’s lengthy justification goes on: “The consultant (Lorraine) was appointed by the government to help us…” This seems to suggest that Scott and the council has had no say in the matter.
“She has a huge amount of experience in helping communities strengthen their local economies for the benefit of local residents and businesses.” That’s not what some of the residents of Wapping, Hackney or other areas of London who have had encounters with Hart’s businesses all have to say. Hart’s business partner in Community Land Use, Jon Aldenton, was the subject of an investigation in 2010 by the Charity Commission over his role in a trust loaning money to a house developer business he also had an interest in.
Scott tries to shrug off the incident surrounding the confiscation of people’s notes at the last meeting. “At the meeting she asked us all to make notes on various issues and ideas that she would collect at the end of the meeting. She collected those notes at the end to help write up everybody’s ideas.” So there’s no real control-freakery going on then.
“A wide range of people were invited to attend the meeting. They included local residents, business people, religious leaders, representatives of community groups and elected representatives.” Scott’s email invitation list for tonight’s meeting does not appear to reflect that “wide range of people”.
“All of them were people who have a track record of working positively and collaboratively within the local community.” In whose judgement? Ahhh, Councillor Paul Scott’s judgement…
“What is needed at this time is people who are prepared to actively help develop the plan.” As opposed to people who might live or work in the area, or run a shop or trade in the area, and might appreciate an early say in quite what impact these “regeneration plans” might have on their homes or businesses.
“They were invited to bring other people along who might be interested in getting involved too.” Well that worked out well then, with barely 20 at the previous meeting. Maybe that’s exactly the way Scott likes it?
“All of those who were invited and who attended were told exactly what the initiative is all about and how it works.” And anyone who was not invited or did not attend, by definition, were not told. Maybe that’s exactly the way … Well, you get the idea.
Perhaps, if you did not know about the meeting before, you might have a chance to get along there tonight and find out more. Councillor Scott is sure to welcome you.
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