Candidate selections for next year’s Town Hall elections are still a long way off, as Croydon’s political parties await the deliberations of the Boundary Commissioners on the re-drawn map of the borough’s council wards.
But the “chicken run” – where some sitting councillors who might feel under pressure seek a safer seat elsewhere in the borough – may have already begun, with one of the clique of senior councillors who control the Labour group at the Town Hall understood already to be considering his options.
In the case of Mark Watson, any chicken run that he makes will be necessary because of the mishandling of the rat run traffic problems he has seen inflicted on his neighbours in Addiscombe ward.
The possibility of a move by Watson, the cabinet member for jobs and economy and a trusted member of Labour-lite council leader Tony Newman’s “Gang of Four” which has a firm grip on all their party’s activities at the Town Hall, was being openly discussed at a residents’ meeting last week.
In 2014, Watson polled the fewest votes of the three Labour candidates in Tory target ward Addiscombe, retaining his seat on the council by just 239 votes from a leading figure in a local residents’ association who was standing for the Conservatives.
Since then, Lebanon Road resident Watson has attracted the fury of many Addiscombe residents after changes to the one-way system in the ladder of roads near his home adversely affected traffic on other streets, but has miraculously managed to reduce the number of vehicles driving past his own front door.
Such has been the anger, there’s even been a new residents’ association formed to campaign on the issue, and members of TACRA – the Tunstall and Addiscombe Court Residents’ Association – were out leafleting at the weekend.
“People are really angry,” one resident told Inside Croydon. “There’s 400 residents here, all with a vote, and they all blame Mark Watson. They really do hate him – people on the doorstep on our streets have been saying that they are disgusted and that Watson’s behaviour has been disgraceful.
“Our written complaints to the council have not been answered. And Watson’s just disappeared altogether. We’re all pissed off because he’s benefited directly from the road changes, while residents in Addiscombe Court Road and Tunstall Road are suffering the consequences.
“And we weren’t even consulted.” Sound familiar?
TACRA’s leaflet says that following the introduction by the council of the one-way system in Lebanon Road a year ago, more than 2,000 cars a day have been displaced, with around 1,500 of them now channelled into Addiscombe Court Road. “Also displaced was the head-to-head traffic conflicts formerly experienced in Lebanon Road and the change has resulted in risks to public safety around Lebanon Road tram stop,” the TACRA leaflet states.
“Residents continue to suffer from a significant rise in traffic noise and environmental pollution, damage to parked cars, traffic congestion, vibration in homes near speed bumps, large commercial lorries using the roads, greatly worsened road safety, offensive and threatening behavior from and between drivers, and vehicles overtaking one another or travelling the wrong way down both streets.”
TACRA has been busy in the past few months, holding meetings, gathering signatures on petitions, talking to the other ward councillors, Sean Fitzsimons and Patricia Hay-Justice, and with Stuart King, the cabinet member for roads, and holding “walkabouts” with councillors and other nearby residents’ groups to observe traffic in the area between Cherry Orchard Road and Canning Road.
“Piecemeal approaches to the ‘rat running’ through our area don’t work,” TACRA states in its leaflet. They maintain that in July 2015 – six months before any change to the one-way system was implemented – the secretary of the Canning and Clyde Roads Residents’ Association contacted the council seeking a proper consultation on the matter. None was ever held with those who live on Addiscombe Court Road, Tunstall Road or Canning Road.
Residents are demanding an immediate solution to their traffic problems, and TACRA is even recommending that their neighbours write to the local government ombudsman over the way they have been treated by Croydon Council and Watson.
They have now run their own consultation, and have heard from 118 households, 85 per cent of whom want a return to the roads system that existed before Lebanon Road was made one way. Their petition is to be presented formally at next Monday’s council meeting. King, as chair of the council’s traffic management advisory committee, has also confirmed that the Lebanon Road issue will be on its agenda for February.
With Watson’s £1million brainchild for Surrey Street market being so badly received by residents and traders alike – yesterday, Watson’s Sunday market had just seven stalls – this problem on his own doorstep is probably the last thing that he and his political allies, like Newman, need.
For Watson, the impending boundary changes do offer an “escape route”. The council’s own recommendation to the Boundary Commission (undoubtedly heavily influenced by the local Labour leadership, potentially including Watson himself) was to split Addiscombe into two, east and west. It would make part of this Croydon Central election battleground easier to win for the Tories, but Addiscombe West might, just, offer some refuge for Watson.
The Boundary Commission is due to publish its draft recommendations for new wards in March, which will signal a six-month-long scramble for selection for safe or safer seats among most of the borough’s 70 councillors ahead of the local elections in May 2018.
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