Croydon is the most unsafe borough in south London for cycling, according to a senior councillor. Not that anyone was at the Town Hall meeting to register the point, as STEVEN DOWNES reports
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If Croydon Council stages a cabinet meeting at the Town Hall and no one turns up to hear it, does anything it decides really matter?
Tony Newman, the council leader, wrapped up proceedings at Monday night’s final cabinet meeting of 2016 by looking to the public gallery and, satisfied that no one had bothered to turn up, moved on to the behind-closed-doors “Part B” of the agenda.
The preceding hour and a half was a fine demonstration of the democratic deficit that exists at our local council, as Newman steamed through the agenda with barely a pause for breath. Given that at the previous council meeting he had been snapped with his eyes closed, which opposition Tory councillors suggested was him taking a snooze, perhaps Newman wanted to get things over and done with before bedtime.
No decisions were reversed, no policies altered. There it is, there you have it.
Council Tax-payers are denied any information about what went on in the “Part B” of the meeting, which is deemed to be far too important, complicated or commercially sensitive for mere members of the public to be permitted to attend. Not that any members of the public had bothered to show up. After all, what’s the point?
We think that this “Part B” of the meeting will have seen Simon Hall, the financial wizard in Newman’s cabinet, closely prompted by senior council executive, Richard Simpson, try to explain how they intend to stretch the council’s finances even further over the last 18 months of the Labour administration.
Given Theresa May’s Government’s cowardly decision to pass the buck for the responsibility for adult social care to local authorities, Hall and Simpson will struggle to avoid any nasty Council Tax increases before the next local elections.
But what larks our senior councillors, Labour and Conservative, were able to enjoy in the not-so-secret, not-so-important section of the meeting, as they laughed over what their councillor colleague Mark Watson looks like in his Lycra cycling kit.
What we did learn on Monday night is that Helen Pollard, the wife of the Tory council leader and fellow councillor Tim Pollard, has something of a thing about cyclists in tight-fitting Lycra.
The two sets of cabinet members managed to chortle their way through about half an hour of council time over the long-overdue decision to abandon a couple of unenforced by-laws from a by-gone age which banned people from cycling through Lloyd Park, Park Hill Park and Wandle Park.
People will be able to ride their bikes on agreed cycle routes, provided that they never exceed 5mph, although no one managed to explain how, if the previous ban on cycling was never enforced, how parks staff, unequipped with laser-powered speed guns, are going to have the time to patrol the parks for “speeding” cyclists. Or to catch up with them if they are ever spotted.
Now, far be it from us to suggest that Helen Pollard is not the sharpest knife in Croydon Tories’ cutlery drawer, but let’s just say that she was not re-selected in Heathfield ward in 2014, and perhaps only managed to snatch selection to stand for the Tories in Fairfield because of having a few friends in high places within her local party.
Speaking on Monday night, she’d turned up her indignance dial to 11 over these pesky cyclists who might have the affront to ride their bicycles through public parks. “The powerful cycling lobby is drowning out the views of local residents,” Pollard said, apparently in all seriousness.
Pollard did not know anyone in Fairfield ward was in favour of cyclists being allowed to ride in parks. She suspected that the figures had been influenced by “people who come shooting through the parks in Lycra”.
The Fairfield councillor had the support of her group leader… Tim Pollard. Tim backed up Helen by claiming that, “Lycra-clad people make it difficult for other park-users.” Not that he provided any evidence for this assertion. Maybe it was opposition for opposition’s sake.
Helen Pollard demanded to know how it was going to cost as much as £456,000 for three cycle paths, and who was it that had approved such an extravagant amount of spending.
Stuart King, one of Labour’s newer councillors, was asked to respond. He informed the Pollards that the cycle path funds came from an overall budget of £19.2million for a Connected Croydon scheme which was passed by the council in February 2014 – when it was under Conservative control and the measures will have been supported by … the Pollards.
King also addressed Helen Pollard’s concerns about the Lycra-clad “outsiders” whizzing through the park in the ward which she has represented for a couple of years: “She’s out of touch with what local residents think,” King said, explaining that the cycle paths are borough-wide assets, as likely to be used by cyclists from Norbury and Coulsdon as those who live in neighbouring streets.
The hope must be that given safer cycle routes, away from Croydon’s ever-busier roads, more people will opt to ride bikes than drive cars. Sean Fitzsimons, the senior Labour councillor from Addiscombe ward and a cyclist who rides to work most days but says he does not wear Lycra – possibly to Helen Pollard’s grave disappointment – provided important context for the decision.
Fitzsimons welcomed what he called “the abandonment of Victorian by-laws” and spoke from experience that riding a bike through Bromley is “much safer and nicer”.
“I am a cyclist, and I ride through many areas of London,” Fitzsimons said. “Croydon roads are the most unsafe in south London.”
Just a pity that no one was there to hear that being said.
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